Lessons from the Past

How are schools defining the use of learning technologies?

Published: 9 May 2013

When observing the use of new technology in schools it comes as no surprise to see how teachers attempt to comprehend, understand and gain comfort from new technology by making reference to the things that they are already familiar with. For instance, teachers use the interactive whiteboard and the interactive projector as an old fashioned blackboard or whiteboard. PowerPoint and Keynote presentations resemble overhead transparency sheets on overhead projectors. Laptop and desktop computers are used by teachers and students as word processors and online resources and eBooks all too often resemble traditional textbooks. These artefacts from the past have had a significant influence on how teachers use and apply new technology in the classroom. One may go further and argue that the education design principles from the pre-internet age have even underpinned the design, adoption and use of technologies and services in the education setting; such as, interactive whiteboards, learning platforms and online learning materials.


The artefacts from the past have had a significant influence on how teachers use and apply new technology in the classroom

Schools have tended to welcome the introduction of new technology with open arms. At first these resources were expensive and their use was limited to a narrow subject field. Over time the cost of networked devices and services became more affordable and schools also allocated a greater proportion of their budgets towards the procurement, use, maintenance and refresh of these new technologies. Within a short period of time the age of ubiquitous computing has arrived and many schools now provide access to networked devices and services that are second to none. Perhaps it is rather harsh to state that many schools introduced new technologies into their campuses with little thought about how these new technologies will come to shape their very existence. For technology is having a profound effect on the role of teachers, the relationship between teacher and student, what students are taught, who will teach them, how students are taught, how they are examined; and most importantly, the introduction of the Internet and networked devices and services in schools, is prompting us to reconsider the role and function of schools at the dawn of the twenty first century.

Schools have introduced new technologies into their campuses with little or no thought about how they would come to shape their very existence

The rise of the networked school and the growing power of identity will define how schools deliver education services to the communities that they serve. If identity is shaped and determined by how students learn, the place where they learn, by whom they are taught; and when, what and how they are taught we soon discover that the modern schooling system is wholly inappropriate to serve the needs of its students at the dawn of the 21st century. This is particularly the case for students wishing to enter rapidly expanding sectors such as aerospace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, information technology, electrical engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, telecommunications and the creative industries; where schools no longer have the appropriate skillset or the networks and connections that will enable them to introduce their students to these exciting opportunities. National governments and education leaders are under increasing pressure from these industries and they will need to act soon if they are to avert a crisis of educational legitimacy.

From a student's perspective the Internet, networked devices and services have always been present. There are no past experiences or artefacts which predetermine how they will come to use these new technologies. To this fortunate generation and those to come, these technologies are part of them and they are the ones who are determining the design, shape, function and use of these technologies. A minority of students are going further and they are beginning to define, control and master the devices and services around them. [1]

The cultural gap between students and teachers can be quite stark when we examine how each group defines and utilises the technologies around them. For instance, teachers of a given generation apply a much narrower definition to technology than their students. Put in simple terms the teacher may view the computing device as means to access and consume information from the Internet or as a tool to produce word processed documents, spreadsheets, databases and so on. The device is an extension of previous technologies and services such as the school library, an encyclopedia, pen and paper, the typewriter or a calculator. On the other hand students perceive technology very differently from their teachers.  They do not perceive it as a tool. It underlies everything they do. It defines their very identity and they put it to uses that are not imagined by their teachers. This is perhaps an over simplified example but it does highlight the cultural differences between teachers and their students. In the near future, this difference between teachers and students will disappear as the millennial generation graduate into the profession; but it must be noted that as technological change becomes increasingly more rapid, even the millennial teachers will have to keep their wits about them. [2]

Students perceive technology very differently from their teachers.
It underlies everything they do

The difference is no longer about which schools are providing better access to networked devices and services to their students; for all schools will in time provide ubiquitous access to computing devices to their students; but more about which schools are providing access to life changing opportunities. The digitally advantaged schools or the new supernodes will be the ones who will be providing their students with access to a much broader curriculum which will include subject matter not currently envisaged by the majority of schools. Examples include computer programming, robotics, computer animation, visual effects, interactive media, digital publishing, gaming and app development. These schools will place a stronger emphasis on these vocationally relevant pathways for their students and they will support their endeavors with additional resources that are not presently considered the norm in schools. We are already seeing evidence that the new supernodes are extending their education services across a number of partner, collegiate or federated schools in order to secure additional financial and education resources. These schools extend their networked services to enable other schools to benefit from improved connectivity, to have access to technologies and services that would have previously been beyond their reach, improved IT support and the financial benefits of belonging to a larger network of schools. The educational benefits of belonging to a participatory network of schools are many and consequently the number of these new participatory networks will continue to grow. Over a period of time the traditional structures within the education system will disappear and they will be replaced with new ones. Indeed, the emergence of the networked school would not have been possible without the availability of new technologies and networked services. One may argue that the complex nature of modern educational establishments necessitates the need for schools to belong to larger and cohesive network of schools for their own survival. [3]

The education sector in the UK has a long tradition of responding to the economic conditions of the day

The education sector in the UK has a long tradition of responding to the economic conditions of the day. In the late 1700's Schools of Industry were established to provide work based training to school children; between 1820 and 1850 over 600 Mechanics' Institutes were open across England; from 1900 Day Trade Schools provided specialist industrial training for 16 year olds; in the early 1900's Junior Technical Schools provided vocational training to 15-16 year olds; Secondary Technical Schools provided vocational training in post war England; City Technical Colleges came into being in the late 1980's and early 1990's; City Learning Centres provided ICT training to young people in the early 2000's and University Technical Colleges are currently providing technical and vocational courses to many students across the UK. [4] If industries are to be given an opportunity to expand and succeed; local, regional and national education programmes need to be in place to supply these industries with an educated and skilled workforce. In the UK, traditional industries such as coal mining, steel production, textiles, ship building, and manufacturing have been replaced by rapidly expanding sectors such as aerospace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, information technology, electrical engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, telecommunications and the creative industries. These emerging industries can only succeed with the support of an education system that recognises, learns and responds to their needs.



  1. Technology and the Self: http://www.aftabhussain.com/secondself.html
  2. The Legacy Internet: http://www.aftabhussain.com/resources/The+Legacy+Internet.pdf
  3. What are the driving forces underpinning the adoption of technologies in our schools?: http://www.aftabhussain.com/drivingforces.html
  4. Education in England: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter02.html and Technical Education Matters: http://www.technicaleducationmatters.org/publications/shorthistory/chapter1