12 years of worksheets – game over

Today is Mr17’s last day of school. There’s one thing which is obvious. The pile of worksheets issued for this HSC. It’s a big pile of dog-eared content which irrefutably shows he was given the material.

This was predicted. Will Richardson told a similar tale well over a decade ago for his son. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know just how stable education is.

Will also said “We no longer have to be present to participate” meaning that learning is everywhere, that learning is mobile, digital and can engage us is a multiplicity of ways.

Being given a worksheet is not an invitation to participate, but a demand for compliance. Compliance keeps school inspectors happy, so worksheets prevail. They are easy to buy, easy to replicate and easy to measure. If everyone’s doing it– it’s culturally safe – unlike the digital.

The opposite of what Will wrote is also true – “We no longer have to participate when present”.

Recent media calls to ban smartphones in schools – due to their distraction suggests that students are not participating. If a quick audit of practice shows the dominant pedagogy is based on worksheets; paper, digital then there’s a fundamental problem. I don’t believe teachers exclude digital communication in their lives outside school – and yet the last decade, they claim to be working towards being competent in school; and that they need the training to do it – despite educational technology being embedded in all undergraduate programs for over a decade.

TPACK emerged in 2006. It’s probably the best-known model which acknowledges the role of the digital in learning and teaching. The point of TPACK was to engage students in a digital conversation and experience, reflecting a world in which paper communication has been removed; and the digital is a two-way conversation.

The multiple-person digital conversation is everywhere in kids lives. Unlike schools, kids won’t compose one-way announcement emails, but use technology to genuinely engage each other in conversations – often geared towards learning something — and to overcome the limitation of proximity. For example, kids get a worksheet, kids get online in group-chats to help each other do it, combining insights and knowledge to do it. The worksheet is so easily defeated and really only represents a tick on the ‘done that’ timeline. Is this cheating? Is the worksheet supposed to be individual learning? or is it used to homogenise a group of kids in order to find the average in a convenient manner?

What seems to matter is that the worksheet is handed out and comes back. What doesn’t seem to matter is the conversation which could have taken place when the student is present – and being physically present is no assurance they are invested in learning.

So why are teachers still working on basic e-learning skills and understanding yet have no problem learning how to use technology in their car, at home or to book a holiday? After 12 years, Mr17 didn’t get anything more than worksheets — but at home has managed stand at the front door of pro-gaming.

It’s a bittersweet moment: but a reminder of what might have been and what is.