Chalk OR Talk?

simple ideas.014THERE may or may not be a crisis in the classroom, depending on your viewpoint – either of which lead you to quite polarized discourses about the effective engagement of learners

There’s small research project now running in the Educational Technology section of Macquarie University, we are trying to better understand the behaviors of some 300 conveners who opted to put a ‘new’ course online in some form this year. We want to understand what were the motivators, what were the frustrations and what is their perceptions of students learning online, verses the classroom setting. This we hope will give us a better understanding of effective engagement of Educational Technology – so that it moves from the workshop to a new habit of mind.

One fact that emerged – over 90% of conveners, when faced with using  the learning management system claim to have ‘figured it out’ themselves. When we then look at what some of these confident new digital explorers are doing –  is often focused on content and administration. Greater access and personal familiarity with two-way interchange technologies does not immediately align with improved pedagogical use it seems. We’re now ‘oil-dipping’ to learn why, how and where to change it.

Over decades we’ve move technology, from Mathematics to Science and now to Media Studies. Teachers have been told time and time again how ‘computing’ will change everything – and in doing so, we’ve set ‘technology’ apart from the learning and teaching itself. Only now are we shifting from ‘learning about’ to ‘learning with’ technology. Or that’s what you’d think. The reality is strewn over slide decks online – an abundance of sermons and lectures about Web2.0 and ‘Social Media’. On the other hand, the methods employed to help educators are largely the same as they have always been – process driven, drill and skill. Professional Development has a long way to go, and one concern I often feel, is that educators are as excitable as a bag of ferrets, and when they get in orbit around ‘tools’, the are about as productive.

This over-enthusiasm may actually be counter-productive. Put away your powerpoint, fire up a wiki, think of some authentic driving questions and work your way though them – demonstrating media literacy – but have a plan! Measure not their attendance, but their current habits of mind – focus on that – not on the blogosphere – Australia is not America, and our issues, though aligned are quite separate. How is your school going to prepare staff for the National Curriculum? – Focusing on the curriculum – or mashing it up with more relevant pedagogical approaches using technology – in hands on engagement?

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