Jan 27

My PLN Thinks… “Looking For Another Dimension” by Patrick Jackson

It’s a bit awkward. Most of my living is made from adoptions in far flung lands. I am frequently made to feel like the scum of the Earth and I read a lot of things that suggest my work is soon and inevitably going to disappear like something out of The Day After Tomorrow. Frozen out. Despised. You see, I’m a textbook author. Paper books mainly. You know the ones. Front and back cover. Pages and so on. Educational materials you can roll up and whack someone with or let your dog chew. Things that go soggy in the bath. Faced with the long-heralded demise of my career and in an attempt to keep working while helping Ireland pay back our German friends I’m also involved in digital projects. Online teacher training and digital language learning. That sort of thing. It’s a bit complicated but very enjoyable and everything stews away nicely. Mutton, onions, barley, an onion and of course, potatoes.

I am also one of the parents of two children. One of those children is an 8 year-old who would spend his whole day looking at screens of various sorts if he was let. Both my children go to a school where they have IWBs in all the classrooms and a computer room for a bit of variety. There are four computers in our home, two TVs, and a pile of other hand-held devices from Mp3 players to iPod touches. And of course the DS. And the Wii.

Doing what I do, I was very interested in what Apple had to say the other day. If you haven’t seen it already, basically they have announced to the world that they intend to take over the textbook market, from content creation, through delivery all the way to consumption. Of course this was couched in the sort of quasi-religious language we have come to expect from Apple. We are going to be liberated. It’s a Good Thing. I think we all have our doubts about their actual motives but that’s not what has been bothering me. It’s something else.

Will it be a case of iPride comes before an iFall?

So the interactive books are cool. Yes. So authoring is in some ways more accessible and the software is so very clever. Yes. So the iPad is possibly more fun to have on your desk than a book. Yes. So what’s my problem then? Why don’t I jump up and down with iJoy? It certainly isn’t because I’m worried about my living because I have already talked about this to a friend who knows and he says that ‘this sort of thing’ will only serve to enhance the power of brands such as the big publisher to whom I am wed. It’s something else that bothers me.

It goes back to the things I feel my kids don’t get enough of at school. Off the top of my head I mean music, art, exercise, singing, dancing, running, jumping, making things with their hands, touching things, experimenting with real objects, putting on plays, doing projects, cooking, mixing, interacting with each other, interacting with the people in our community, observing nature. Playing. I’m a believer in Ken Robinson. Actually, I would like to set up a Robinson School one day. I think he’s right.

Kid doing what it was made for

So back to Apple. Yes. Now I know what the problem is. All this cleverness has replaced one 2D environment with another one. It’s a trick, kids! You’ll still be staring at a flat surface (iPad) that’s sitting on the flat surface of your desks (to be renamed your iPodium) with your backsides for a large part of the day on an iStool. Me this weekend (to my son): ‘Put that thing down and go and do something 3D!”.

I would have been way more excited if Apple had come up with a way for our kids to be doing something apart from looking at either flat books or flat screens but in my heart of hearts I don’t think what education needs is going to come from some technical cleverness or some big company’s announcement. What we need is going to come from communities. So what am I going to do about this? I’ve already done it. Can you guess what it is?

Patrick spent a year that turned into 15 teaching kids in Japan. He now lives in Dublin where he writes ELT materials. Patrick is co-author of Everybody Up,  a seven-level primary course that motivates children by linking the English classroom to the wider world and Potato Pals, a series of readers for young learners, both published by Oxford University Press. He tweets as patjack67 and blogs here.


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  1. Penny Hands

    Thanks for this, Patrick. I really thought I must have somehow got up in the night and written this post myself! I spend half my life peeling my children off screens and hauling them out into the countryside, and the other half stuck to a screen developing digital learning materials.

    1. Patrick Jackson

      Hi Penny. Answered your post above…Maybe Burcu will sort this out somehow for me…

  2. Dina Dobrou

    Key words/phrases I’m keeping from this post: “interacting” / “making things with their hands” / “go and do something 3D”…

    I have a class of 9 year-olds (opening a parenthesis to confess I’m a recent EdTech addict…closing the parenthesis). At the end of a set of Units in our book there was a task: Create a poster. My kids really love technology. We have a blog, a wiki and they enjoy their IWB version of “the book” so I immediately thought of Glogster and asked kids to create an online poster. And then it happened: A young girl stood up, stomped her feet and said: No! I want to draw!

    Others followed suit so I gave them Glogster as optional. I’m now glad to say all of them created 3D versions which we now proudly display on our classroom walls. May I add one more word to the mix? “Balance”. We should know where to draw the line.

    Thanks. iEnjoyed your post! :)

    1. Patrick Jackson

      Absolutely agree with this, Dina. I want my children to learn all sorts of skills. Mightn’t super-attactive digital tools become an easy option for schools with less space and we end up with yet another generation of students being spoon fed and in rows?

  3. DaveDodgson

    Hi Patrick,

    I had the exact same thoughts as you last week when a rep from one of the publishing companies came to showcase an ‘exciting new’ product. It turned out to be a library of readers available online in digital format with all sorts of activites, sound effects, audio narration options and the ability for th teacher to keep track of what everyone’s been reading.

    There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from my usually tech-shy colleagues and it was naturally assumned that I, the ‘tech guy’, would be all for it. At the risk of being seen as pedantic (moi?), I actually found myself questioning the whole thing!

    I’m all for reducing the amount of books we use in class (sorry!) and I’m all for incorporating more tech into class BUT when it comes to stories, a part of me screams out ‘keep the books!’ There is something satisfying about retreating to a quiet corner with a book in your hand and losing yourself in it for a while. We need to be encouraging kids to love doing that rather than adding another fancy colourful multisensory tool to the kitbox.

    Publishing work online – all for it. Blogging for homework – great. YouTube videos for authentic listening and discussion – fantastic. Hot Potatoes instead of gap-fills – why not? But let’s keep the storybook. :)

    1. Patrick Jackson

      Hi Dave. Thanks for the comment and this insight. I think it’s also overlooked that you can really get physical with a book somehow in a way you can’t with a screen. If you know what I mean. Drop ’em and stuff. So did your school end up getting the online readers? Not sure about these learner manager systems either but maybe they help motivate. What do you think?

      1. DaveDodgson

        Hi Patrick,

        That’s the thing about my school – we’re never sure if these presentations are because they have ordered the product on display or are thinking of it and want our feedback. Usually it’s neither – just keeping the publishers happy I guess :)

        I wish Learning Managment Systems had a different name – it all sounds a bit regimented, doesn’t it? ‘Content Delivery Systems’ sound just as bad. The website I use with my students doesn’t really have a name. We kind of use it for everything but it is a great way to motivate them and get them doing things with English outside of lesson time.

  4. Barb Sakamoto

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Patrick! And thank you, Burcu, for starting what looks to be a brilliant series. I’m looking forward to reading about what more people in your PLN think.

    1. Patrick Jackson

      And thank you too, Barbara. As a leader in both the book and the screen worlds…and Second Life (?) , I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on how these can all work in harmony.

  5. Stephen Mayer

    I love ur website and i will follow you, Mrs. Akyol

  6. Patrick Jackson

    Hi Penny. I think we wrote it together. I could feel a guiding spirit! Just back from a wonderful day on the beach cooking sossies on an open fire and filling our boots with Dublin Bay (but were back in position in front of our screens now). Have you come across geocaching? It’s getting really popular around here. A nice blend of technology and outdoor adventures http://www.geocaching.com/.

  7. Sarah Howell

    Bravo, Patrick! I totally agree – excellent post! And love the “go and do something 3D”…will quote you on that!
    Thank you.

  8. Helena

    Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading about what more people in your PLN think.

  9. David Warr

    A very nice read :-)

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