“ICT Paradox: How to Kill ICT’s Special Status Without Losing its Benefits” – Bram Faems, Belgium

Bram Faems has been a frequent voice on Daily Edventures, and for good reason. He has very passionate opinions about the use of technology in the classroom, and he’s not afraid to speak up about it.

As both a teacher and the user experience coordinator for KlasCement.net – an internationally acclaimed teachers’ network – Faems has personally experienced multiple facets of what technology can (and can’t) do for the world of education. He also understands the importance of teachers sharing best practices.

Now, as a student himself (earning his Masters in Educational Science), Faems is delving even further into the role technology should play in the classroom, and the role teachers play in helping each other become better educators. Not surprisingly, he’s arriving at some fascinating insights.

Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Bram Faems!

Why do you consider ICT in the classroom an important topic to talk about?
I see an issue with ICT, and its special status. Everyone is talking about how important it is, while we should actually be talking about what we need for good education. The problem is the focus on ICT, and the sense of guilt that forces teachers and schools to use it, while in my personal opinion, technology is not always appropriate to use for whatever you need to teach.

We should be careful about overstating the importance of ICT.

While saying this, people might think that I do not think or believe that ICT is important. However, this is not the case. Teachers should use ICT in their classrooms. Use all the fantastic tools we have nowadays to enhance the education and learning. It would be a pity to miss these opportunities, and not to use all of these tools in the classrooms.

However, there is still a strange duality on this topic. We need to stress the importance of ICT and its possibilities, but at the same time, keep the focus on the learning.

ICT should be more than the wrapping. It’s a means to enhance the learning goals that should be at the center.

If you have books in the classroom, why would you go through the trouble of bringing devices if that information is already in the book? We should not use ICT just to replace old media. It is the content that matters. If you have an equal and far easier option, why don’t we use this? There’s a famous ICT model called SAMR (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition), which says that the first form of ICT use is Substitution. I wonder if this is any good at all? Because in my opinion it only complicates things that are easy.

When implemented wrong, even Flipping the classroom can add little value compared to ‘classic teaching’. If your flipped lesson, just means listening to the teacher at home instead of in the classroom. Where’s the value in that? But when teachers use video to create extra time in their lessons to help students with difficulties or challenge the faster learners, then the magic happens. Then ICT it a tool that creates a real learning environment.

I took Flipping the classroom a step futher in my Jonatan Academy project (named after my school Jonatanschool). In this project I asked my students to create the educational movies. They had to think like a teacher to explain the lesson subject in a short educational movie. The results were amazing. By using an easy tool like PowerPoint to create the short clips, the focus was not on the technology, but on their learning.

What do you consider a good education?
Good education is all about balance. A balance between the teacher giving highly structured and clear instructions, so the pupils get to discover and investigate. A balance between doing and studying. There’s no “silver bullet” in education, no one trick that will revolutionize our teaching. Because every school, every class and every student is different. It will always be a matter of balancing the teachers’ learning goals and the students’ personal goals to get to a good education.

Do you think that ICT might be taking over some basic learning activities like writing essays?
We can agree that children now write even more than they did in the past. So writing without spelling errors is important. But they have these tools that help them. So in schools we should also learn to embrace those tools. I would want them to write digitally and use the spelling corrector.

And technology also gives us the tools to improve the structure of text. You can make side notes on the document, without altering the original work. The students will then be able to change and improve their work without losing the sense of “ownership”. Their written assignment can grow because of your feedback as a teacher. And that, to me, is the actual learning.

Some years ago, a group of students that had to write an essay, on paper, would have to hand in the paper, and then wait until the next class to get feedback. That “feedback” might not lead to corrections by the student afterwards. Where is the learning in that?

Overall, today this can be done in a simpler way, a Word document, store the document in the cloud, have access to the document. All corrections, feedback can be done almost at once. This would be a good example of technology with a benefit.

If you use technology as a replacer for something that you can do with a book or in a piece of paper, then there is no added value. My point is, let us see where technology has a benefit for learning, and not just use technology just because we feel we have to.

I am not arguing that students should stop writing correctly or learning things they can look up online.  We should still focus on giving children the basic background knowledge. We should make sure that, for example, future generations still have the ability to compare, and question the information online. Because how can you reflect on the correctness of information online, if you don’t have well structured, basic background information in your head?

What is your point of view on digital literacy?

In Belgium, digital literacy gets a lot of attention. I think it is maybe a bit of a shame because here is no such thing as “digital” literacy, it’s just literacy.

What happens online isn’t that different from real life. We use the same skills, attitude and knowledge. Only the medium has changed. It’s not about making our children “digital thinkers.” We need to teach them about literacy and learn to be critical, whether they watch television, commercials, magazines or newspapers or browse the Internet.

I am not an advocate for bringing down the things that we have learned in education for so many years because of the digital era. I do not want to start a revolution, but let us use the tools we have in hand properly.

How do you suggest we teach the children to be more critical?

Things like the “Safer Internet Day” are very good initiatives, and is very important to repeat and repeat these things. My students talk about them.

Sometimes, someone from outside the school is easier to talk to than their teacher because they feel they can talk to an expert. These sessions are starting points for teachers to reflect on the children’s digital footprint and behaviour. It’s a great experience for the children and as a teacher you can repeat the conversations later on in the year.

What has been your inspiration to start a Master in Educational Science?
When you study to be a teacher here in Belgium, you are told what the best teaching practices are. There’s also a lot of advice for teachers online. I have been a teacher for the last 15 years, and I have gotten a lot of advice on how to teach. But I have started to question myself.

I want to find out how I can enhance my classroom, not to just follow an idea, but to have done the research on why teaching should be done this way. I want to know more about the science behind education.

The main focus of my masters would be how to convince teachers that sharing their ideas is a good thing. At the same, I want to focus on what motivates teachers to share ideas and experiences.

My job is to improve the design and usability of a government-run teachers network called KlasCement. Here we give teachers the opportunity to share ideas, lessons-sheets, apps, flip classrooms videos. We see that about eight percent of all the teachers in the network share ideas. The rest use the materials, but do not contribute. That’s the reason why I want to base my research on the motivational aspect of sharing expertise and experiences.

Do you have any hypothesis on why teachers are only taking information and not sharing it?

This is only my hypothesis and my experience as a teacher. Teachers come to our network KlasCement, because they have a  certain need for a video, a spreadsheet, etc. Maybe they do not have time for making it themself. At that time, they are in a mindset of a receiver.

Contributing to the our network requires commitment, and that is a different state of mind. While I certainly don’t mind that more people are receivers, it’s my duty to convince our users to contribute.

What would you suggest to encourage teachers to come out of their comfort zone to share more?

Our web site has a team of moderators who look at the material before it gets published on our portal. We try to give them a safety net. We check for copyright issues, small spelling and grammar mistakes. We try to create a safe environment for our teachers, with the hope that they feel more comfortable sharing.

You as an advisor for technology, what would be your advice to teachers dealing with the changes in the schools regarding technology?

I think it is important to take it slow. Do not start to run when you cannot walk. Really, keep your focus on what you want to do. You need to have a very strong committed team. It’s not about replacing paper with a screen, you need a vision and need to know where you are going when you are introducing technology in your school. Giving people the right skills is a very big part of this.

In Belgium, most of the schools have now replaced the old blackboard with the digital version.  But sometimes the teaching has not changed, the lessons are just flashier. While digital books and digital blackboards are nice, I think it doesn’t do much to improve students’ learning. Technology does not help if your teaching does not change.

ICT should not be about extra work, but about more possibilities. The most important question is, “How can technology help us?”.


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One Response to “ICT Paradox: How to Kill ICT’s Special Status Without Losing its Benefits” – Bram Faems, Belgium

  1. Very interesting viewspoints here that I share. I especially resonate with the idea that ICT needs to evolve from the “special” status to one of just “is” like a textbook or an essay. I think one of the most dangerous words for EdTech’s future is “integrate,” but it has been a critical part of its past and present.

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