There has been considerable and entirely justifiable public concern about the effects of having to access education remotely in the context of the COVID-19 national emergency and the two lockdowns it has caused thus far. The educational media are re-echoing with speculation about ‘lost learning’. Rightly a lot of the focus has been about the issue of equitable access to the remote education that schools are offering to their students. A great deal of effort has been made at all levels to try to ensure that all children get access. We have certainly been concerned about that at Bennett.
There is however, in my view, a danger in focusing too much on the medium rather than the message. I am currently reading Paul Kirschner and Carl Hendrick’s excellent ‘How Learning Happens’. One of their final chapters titled ‘The Medium is not the Message’ cites the fascinating study undertaken in the 1920s by Revesz and Hazelwinkel and published in the British Journal of Psychology, comparing the didactic value of lantern slides against the new technology on the block at the time which was moving film. The 1924 research concluded that, “our investigations have shown that the energetic propaganda made for the film on the strength of its alleged didactic importance is not well-founded.” Kirschner and Hendrick go on to convincingly explore more contemporary studies which draw similar conclusions for the role of multimedia in learning today. So it remains true that in education the message remains more important than the medium that we use in instruction.
At Bennett staff have worked very hard to maximise the amount of ‘live’ teaching using MS Teams, essentially following the normal school teaching timetable and curriculum wherever possible. It has entailed considerable investment in professional development and I am immensely grateful to all of the colleagues who have learned such a lot in such a short space of time. However live video lessons have absolutely not been an end in themselves. We have taken this approach because it best replicates the experience of teaching in a classroom. What is critical here is having access to my teacher who: carefully explains the to-be-learned information, models an example of its application, guides me through practice exercises and gives me feedback on my responses. It is an approach supported by cognitive science. It is all about getting the message right.
Reading an article by Natalie Wexler https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliewexler/2021/01/21/why-technology-hasnt-boosted-learning-and-how-it-could/
I am reminded further of the claims made for technology in improving education and how, thus far, they haven’t delivered. At Bennett we remain committed to the importance of teachers and teaching. I have resisted wherever possible the otherwise ubiquitous term ‘remote learning’. Instead I have insisted on what I regard as a proper focus on remotely teaching our students. This entails using the best tools that are available to us, which bring teachers to their students and allow them to interact. Much of the feedback we have received from parents affirms us in taking this approach.