The ZX81, “…both a delight and a disappointment” – something it shares with teaching English.
Look at this Youtube video and weep. The ZX81 was my first computer and my favourite game was 3D Monster Maze.
It’s not exactly Xbox – the 3D ‘Monster’ is a blob of dots resembling an dinosaur lumbering its way towards you. In black and white.
But although it looks like the Rosetta Stone to computer geeks now, to a spotty teenager in the early 80’s this was like splitting the atom.
The ZX81 was designed by Clive Sinclair. One famous quote by him is:
‘I don’t use a computer at all…I’d much prefer someone would telephone me if they want to communicate.‘
(Interview in the Guardian, 2010)
The ZX81 was hampered by having only 1Kb of memory. That’s like ten shopping lists, or one crayon drawing. It makes the Raspberry Pi, today’s ZX81, look like the Hadron Collider by comparison.
What is more, the funky membrane keyboard on the ZX81 was a tad ‘unresponsive’. It became red hot after a marathon ‘sesh’ of banging in BASIC code letter-by-letter which meant that half the buttons would also stop working. The hopeful clattering of fingers onto smouldering plastic was often accompanied by screams of ‘GOD HELP ME WHY DOESN’T THIS WORK!!!’
‘Digital natives’ out there -you don’t know you’re born.
When I actually succeeded in just loading a game, or typing in a whole BASIC program from a computer magazine which actually functioned I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment!
Why? Because I did it all by myself, without an external authority telling me what to do. It was just me struggling to learn on my own. I didn’t need any authority, any encouragement, any ‘zone of proximal development’. I just wanted to learn because I was incredibly interested (or incredibly frustrated) and had a clear task.
People often ask me what is decentralisation and my answer is: there is no central authority telling you what to do.
Learners can learn by themselves and often do (with better results).
What’s this got to do with Demand High?
Anyone with a new approach, method or even ‘meme’ that attempts to stimulate change should also be open to criticism (myself included here). Therefore my major criticism of Demand High Teaching rests on this question:
Who is the agent of change in ‘Demand High’?
Answer: It’s the teacher.
Teachers. The low-hanging fruit of ELT – often stressed, low-paid, overworked, fully paid-up members of the Precariat.
I don’t know if the creators of Demand High have noticed but ordinary working teachers are required to work longer hours, for less money, and with less stable working conditions than ever. Again, myself included here.
So to add another weight to the burden doesn’t spark my pedagogical flame.
I’ve absolutely no problem with some of the ideas on the ‘What is Demand High‘ page, like pushing students, coming up with new activities, tweaking existing activities. But that’s nothing new.
And to ‘demand’ more of us when the industry itself does not tackle the issue of working conditions is unfair in my opinion.
An alternative might be…
Demand High at all levels…
Demand High institutions i.e. IATEFL – Why can’t we have a SIG to talk about working conditions?
Demand High coursebooks – Why can’t the industry produce more coursebooks based on corpora not intuition? (I realise this is underway but it’s a slow process…)
Demand High employers – Can we be paid according to our qualifications or experience? Can natives and non-natives have equal status?
Or does ‘Demand High’ stop at us teachers?
The Mighty ZX81. Mikey Walters on flickr. CC license 2.0.
ZX81. Barney Livingston on flickr. CC license 2.0.