Googling the word ‘solar energy’ at the time of writing responded with 23,500,000 references. That is a lot of reading, which may be one reason that students often favour Wikipedia in which thousands of people try to define and classify the term in just a handful of pages. They don’t see the value in understanding how that summary has been arrived at. Its just there to use. Learning to how to get the answer is the part of learning that should be teaching with ICTs.
Wikipedia is not always right (as students will often tell you), but they do think it is ‘accurate enough’. For so long, they have been copying and pasting its content into essays and presentations that teacher in-action has made it acceptable.
But what are teachers doing to guide them though the critical thinking processes to evaluate information? What formative scaffolds are in place to be able to show the development in understanding though critical analysis of information from a wide range of sources?
Jenny Luca spoke recently in an online discussion in the Powerful Learning Practice network meeting. As a teacher librarian in a girls secondary school, she has noticed that non-fiction borrowing is almost nil because students turn to the internet for faster ways to get ‘facts’.
I don’t see this as a problem with ‘the internet’ or that books may become redundant,. I see a problem with assessment.
Assessment has been based on repeating ‘content’ back to the teacher in classrooms since back in the day. Mapping student response to syllabus ‘content’ and therefore meeting a learning outcome is the accepted method in most classrooms.
But there is no new learning in using the Internet to do this. It is simply a searching task. Wikipedia is as students say ‘accurate enough’ to give a matched response to question, and pass. When students present an essay or PowerPoint – teachers tick the ‘ICT box’ and the ‘content’ box. Teachers accept that is ‘near enough’ too. Seriously, how could any 14 year old not be able to present a graphical, accurate slideshow to explain ‘solar energy’.
A teacher will say ‘yeah, but I have a test – so if they don’t learn it, then they will fail’. Is that the point of learning to pass a test at the end – or to develop and support them in the process of learning. Testing is not a ‘digital insurance’ policy just in case your students Googled the answer.
Use a test to check to see if students learned ‘enough’ at the end seems to be an acceptance that what you did in the process of learning was not sufficient to gauge the depth of their learning without it.
Teachers need to learn how to use ICTs to develop independent critical thinkers and devise formative strategies that demonstrate a continued effort and growth in student understanding. This is academic not technology skill development.
Professional Development needs to be a three step process.
Firstly teachers need to become ‘media’ and ‘network’ literate and understand how technology and people impact learning. Secondly, they need to want to stop teaching. They need want to become designers, mediators and facilitators of the process of learning. They need to develop ‘media’ aware formative assessment methods that demonstrate how students derive meaning and answers, not just repeat them. Lastly, they develop greater awareness technology itself in order to learn about and select the appropriate ‘tools’ to achieve these goals. They won’t and can’t do step three without the first two.
I worry that the term Web2.0 immediately means ‘software’ when talked about in staff rooms and PD sessions. In order to begin to understand how to use any of it effectively to change learning, it is critical to start at the beginning, not the end. ‘Looking at Web2.0 tools’ is the end of the journey, not the start. It all starts with curriculum renewal, which leads to professional development onto effective classrooms, engaged learning and better outcomes – for students. It’s academic development just as much as it is technological.