Remembering the Social Contexts of Learning

Social Contexts of Learning

I continue to read, and be inspired by, blog posts, statements, tweets, etc from educators about the need to integrate technology into daily teaching and learning. I continue to see, and am inspired by, evidence of educators successfully integrating technology in their classrooms and the benefits to their students. Then I reflect on why it is that we have to constantly reiterate the need to integrate more technology into teaching and learning and I see a disconnect.

Allow me to state right here that I continue to be an advocate for increased use of technological tools to help teachers teach and to help kids learn. My concern is that it seems to me that we are spending all of our time discussing the tools and not enough on the social and political contexts of teaching and learning and how to navigate these spaces successfully in order to broaden technology integration.

I am pointing my finger a bit here at technology and curriculum specialists. I respect the work these individuals do. After all, I use to be a curriculum consultant in Academic ICT myself. I am pointing my finger in this direction because the talk is always about the ‘what’ (as in what should be done) and the ‘who’ (as in who should do it) with an overuse of the word ‘should’. Being an administrator, I feel the pressure and the guilt associated with being that ‘who’ of technology leadership and the guilt associated with not doing what ‘should’ be done as quickly as some desire.

The disconnect here is that proponents of technology, myself included, often spend enormous amounts of time and energy discussing the mechanics of technology use but do so outside of the social contexts and realities of teaching and learning.

Education is highly social and highly political. Contexts vary from city to city, area to area, school to school and classroom to classroom. We talk about, for example, mobile learning, and the mechanics of success but often neglect to consider how some schools are flooded with money that can support such initiatives while others are struggling with 10 year old Pentium I computers. Children in some schools have the social capital and leisure time to delve into the technology while children in other schools have parents working multiple jobs and spend their free time supporting the household. Then there are issues of immigration/language barriers, social makeup of classrooms, physical realities of older buildings, multiple and often competing priorities from school districts and government ministries, etc.

Working as an administrator in intercity schools had opened my eyes to these. My experiences have reminded me that the  conversations we often have online about technology integration happens in a vacuum. I desperately want to continue to champion the development of 21st century skills and the use of 21st century tools but I think that we need to move outside of this vacuum before we can start to experience broader implementation and broader success. Namely, we have to start to consider the social and political contexts of schools and learning environments and discussing the mechanics of technology-based learning within those multiple contexts. We have likely shied away from doing this because it’s hard and because it’s messy when you have to include people and subjective opinion and action in the conversation. However, it’s only by navigating through these difficult conversations that we can truly address the concerns of some and support the work of the rest. Let’s start having these deeper conversations and let’s start having them now.