During a recent visit to see family, I was enjoying helping my six year old grandson with his homework. As he struggled with one of the unfamiliar words, I tried to help him by pointing to the picture in his reading book, “What’s that Baillie?” I prompted. “Some sort of box”, he answered. And to be fair, the picture in his school reading book did not bear much resemblance to any of the computers he uses. In fact, I had forgotten just how big and clunky computers used to be. As Baillie then rather grumpily pointed out, “If my reading book was on that [pointing to the nearby tablet] then they could have proper pictures. And maybe moving pictures.”

Then with a heavy sigh, he said, ”I’m more of a screen person really”.

I was struck by the realisation that, even at age six, my grandson is experiencing a gap in his expectations of how learning materials are delivered to him and how he uses technology as an everyday part of his own life.

An intuitive approach

Without assistance, my grandson can Skype his dad when he is working away from home, select children’s programmes and films to watch, choose free computer games and astounded his parents by creating his own folder on the tablet to store his content – again without assistance. He has given his other grandma advice on how to use it and showed me how to ‘split’ the keyboard on the iPad when it was obscuring the text. I have discovered that not many of us over six year olds know that was possible, so try it – it is very useful! This demonstrates the benefit of the experiential approach children will take when they are unencumbered with pre-conceptions as to what is possible.

On this theme of a gap between everyday expectations of young people and the use of technology for learning, I have noticed a few things in recent meetings with institutions. While it is encouraging that I am encountering more and more institutions very keen to be innovative in their use of learning technologies, it is still often talked about as a real challenge, as something that they often wrestle with.

One team recently explained they have ‘been tasked to increase the creative use of technology in their learning and teaching’, and although they are very enthusiastic about this, it is perhaps a pity that this needs to be enshrined as a strategic priority, rather than a natural evolution of the way in which we now use different channels to communicate.

Another senior academic talked to me about their goal of building Google apps for their students. Again this is a great initiative, but as my colleague pointed out the focus is on the creation of the apps in the first place rather than beginning with the pedagogy and then using technology as appropriate for the specific learning requirements. As this person said, “The problem for our students is knowing what to write, not where they go to write it”.

So perhaps we need to try to stop seeing huge challenges in how we make more effective use of technology and just let ourselves relax into being more of a screen person.