Elastic EdTechs

picture-9Don’t invite me to a meeting, invite me to a conversation.

I am now working at Macquarie University. I am also working with some amazingly insightful and diverse people. The depth of understanding of learning and teaching can at times be a little daunting. One of priorities that the Learning and Teaching Centre is seeing as critical, is the ability to build increase capacity to renew curriculum through greater integration of technology.

One issue in achieving progression, is that educational technology is a little like an elastic band. As it tries to stretch out further, to incorporate more approaches and tools, it is not only a greater distance between entry-level users and transformational users, but there is more tension. So what do we do, relieve some of that tension by reducing the scope? The Educational Developers are few, and the audience is massive.

I think this is something at all ICT based education struggles to deal with. There are some educators barely literate in using technology, let alone understanding how transforming it can be for students.

I think that it is important to stop building ‘passive’ intranets in education, but to develop Social Networks such as Ning. Inside those, we can have conversations. We can co-ordinate our activity and use them to lift some of the anchors.

There are lots of freely available ‘videos’ online to do the basics with technology. It is also relatively easy to create screen-casts specific to common tasks. For example, a basic ‘how to’ in a Learning Management System – How to log-in.

picture-10So while a lot of people focus on extending the skills of teachers, perhaps dropping back and addressing some of the basic ‘anchor’ issues would be a wise investment. Ning can be used really well to address various ‘interest groups’ and to be effective at self-paced professional development. This would also allow EdTechs to measure the improvements in individual practice. Before starting ‘storming’ – having a 101 set of resources, relevant to the curriculum will go a long way to removing tension and to differentiate between those ready to move forward, and those at the entry, or even inactive stage of ICT use.

It will also help you diagnose the areas that you need to focus on, and also allow you to turn some of those at the ‘transformational’ end of technology use, into leaders who can fall back and support people at other stages of development.

In short, you don’t need to be at the front as you end up looking over your shoulder way too often.

Where did the work go?

What do parents think when their kids school really starts delivering on the promise of 21st Century Pedagogy? Not the end result, when they sit the exams, but right here right now. There is a possible issue if we don’t effectively communicate what happened to their work. As parents, we soon learn from primary years, that our kids get homework. We are keen to see them doing it, and keen to help them if we can. That homework used to come in a familiar book. In our school, kids also write their homework in an official diary. Parents are instructed to sign it, so they know that we’re giving them work to do.

This, to parents, is what learning looks like. A physical book, a record and observable activity somewhere between getting home and bed time. If you then start getting kids to work online, then the line becomes really blurred. There is less observable evidence, and therefore parents become concerned that their child is ‘doing less’ and therefore may be ‘learning less’.

Communicating a radical shift in the process we’ve been insisting on for a long time, must lead to some concern. For example : I have a project running with 156 kids all working online in their current project.

This is a massive shift, and we’re working hard to embed reflective, critical literacy inside the project. Writing in a community, reflecting on their learning is a critical 21st century skill, and doing it on this scale poses teachers with a very different pedagogical challenge. How do we co-ordinate feedback ‘visibly’, so that parents can ‘see’ what their kids are doing, and how their teachers are supporting this.

One way is to ensure that parents get the URL and get to observe, not just the work, but the collaboration, success, frustration and creativity that as teachers, we see, but couldn’t before give parents a value added shared experience.

Secondly, we encourage teachers to reflect on the week, using the same scaffold that we are modeling to students. It also helps with the comment challenge. If we comment too much, we are overtly interfering with the very ethos of project based learning. If we don’t comment enough, then we are seen as apathetic – doing little more than ticking off the event of posting a journal entry.

I am encouraging, and modeling, the idea of teachers using a weekly post in their page of ‘Ning’. It is an opportunity to show kids that we are learners too, and that we are listening to them. It is also a powerful way to ‘weave’ the learning scaffold – by referencing the work of kids using hyperlinks. Rather than say ‘It been great to see students understanding the project’ – we can hyperlink a few words to a few examples of what we are talking about – so we are evidencing teaching success and student support.

In a class this week I gave an example of how blogging communities give students more opportunity to demonstrate their learning than can be done in our normal mode of operation.

I asked the class a question. Immediately, a dozen hands went up, and kids all started pulling the usual faces to catch my attention – in the hope they would be selected to answer it. So I asked the teacher – “what happens to the other 11 kids, how do they feel at the very moment we make our selection”.

We empower one student and de-motive 11, that seems like a stupid thing to do. But thats how classroom questioning works. But in a classroom blogging community – every kid gets to answer it. Not only that, the kids are asking the questions, and teaching each other.

So I really think that teachers need to consider the effects of moving their classrooms online. Sure the parents like the idea that their kids are online-savvy – but they don’t really know what that means or looks like. Its critical to consider the implications to parent confidence when the ‘books’ and ‘worksheets’ suddenly stop being the normal method of evidencing activity. As kids don’t communicate what they are doing on the computer much of the time, there is a real risk that we loose some degree of confidence.

Giving parents the URL, allowing them to see the work in the community and being able to see what the teacher is thinking about, what they are doing reflectively – significantly changes the communication channels and the relationship that parents have with teachers. I think it is a great move away from the passive nature of parent-teacher relations – but equally some teachers are not going to be too happy about being ‘outed’.

Just an observation following a parent comment this week – “I am not sure he is studying as much as he used to”.

Ed Tech’s are stupid!

I have been thinking about comments Chris Betcher said a few weeks ago about how do we get teachers to adopt 21C tools. I’ve also been spending far too much money in three general computing rooms of late fixing petty damage. A trend that is increasing from an almost zero level a few years ago. As ICT teachers use these rooms, it is frustrating that the room they need to do their job is often not 100% due to damage to mice, keyboards etc.,

I’m thinking that in the Ed Tech rush to engage staff in the potential of Web2.0, that we have actually made it all to easy to get out of their depth. I see lessons that involve summarising the text book into power point, or Googling into a Publisher leaflet daily.

This leads to students being bored – the task is hardly new, but repetitive across multiple subjects.

Showing a video in a computer room is equally passive – and lets face it most of the good bits are now on YouTube, so there really is no valid reason for spending 2 lessons showing a video these days.

These activities can often be completed by students in a short time, so they pad out their time, often resorting to petty damange to while away their time. Classroom management is lacking – students appear to be busy, but are not challenged. To them, its probably less boring than being in the text book classroom. Yet it costs the school time and money to support this poor use of ICTs and actually prevents Ed Tech from developing further.

But herein lies the problem. We want them to use it, so access is made easy. PD is offered, but suffers from the power distribution law syndrome where a few, do most, most of the time. Teachers know that they can set some task – say a video – but don’t need to ‘learn’ to use it personally – they don’t go through the student experience – so a guessing at the value of the activity at best. They assume that the ‘digital natives’ will just get on with it – else the IT people or computing staff will be the ‘go to’ people for the students. We accept this, and of course help the kids as we figure at least the kids are using technology.

But it is not acceptable. Teachers should take the time to learn how to do the task – if they don’t then how then how do they know that it is even valid or do-able.

We allow the same excuses; I don’t have the time, I don’t have the PD; I don’t have the access etc.,

Office is not a 21C skill, its largely a solo, passive use of ICT. At best its a low end ‘mastery skill’ these days. Its been around for over a decade, and teachers have been using it in exactly the same way. How often have you seen a teacher showing kids in a Social Studies Power Point task – how to hyperlink or use navigation icons even?

Sure it has syllabus elements – but does not teach critical thinking, collaboration etc., and does not develop independant writers or reflective learners that we are all so passionate to see.

We tollerate it for the simple reason that we hope that students will at least have access to technology. When in fact it is wasting valuable time.

Use of these technologies is not tied to any level of competency. It almost like we allow it as an appology for the interruption to traditional chalk and talk teaching methods. But a decade on, teachers still cite Office as a challenge – so we never get to the ‘shift’ conversation. Teachers head it iff way before that.

We (IT) spend time and resources servicing outmoded technology, we repair damage from students who are bored, we ignore the fact that 90% of all ICT experiences are based around the same activity and so commit time and resources to facilitate minor, low level learning experiences.

An ICT teacher cannot go to a science lab and just start using equipment. We can’t go to the wood-tech room and start using tools, nor can we go to the food tech room and make Pizza, as we’ve decided to make a leaflet about it. We don’t do it, because we would be told in no uncertain terms that we don’t know what we are doing, and that these resources are NOT for ICT people. But Ed Tech is an open door to anyone – despite their level of competency or ability to manage a digital classroom.

To get to Chris’ question – I think that use of computer services has to be explicity tied to PD, to explicit ‘standards’ (perhaps NETs), and in explicit time frames. Prior to allowing them to use the technology.

If you want to use the room, then use it in a way which will engage students and not cause problems to ICT staff or replicate ICT learning in other classrooms. Instead of using IT to fix problems, use it to generate opportunities – for students – and professional development for staff.

Perhaps we might upset people in suggesting this, but I’d hope that teachers are professional enough to see that offering them opportunities to go beyond their current point of reference (the past) is not a critisism.

The staffroom is one of the most delicate ecosystems I’ve ever been in. Unlike advertising, where you’re either adding value, or being escorted to the lobby.

It seems logical to me that if I was a non-experienced (in ICT) teacher – or one with limited use of technology – in English, I’d ask for help, just as I would need help in setting up and running a science experiment.

Non-ICT staff seem to have no problem in offering criticism of the system, the room, the speed, the screen etc., if the system is not working as they want it. They assume that it is not their problem, and we accept that. Yet they are not too interested if the conversation is reversed.

I see some amazing teachers doing amazing things, and I also see shocking uses of ICT. Perhaps limiting access to ICT services, based on competency – will serve to improve the teaching and learning, and in turn will start to see flow on changes in the curriculum.

I think maybe that our desire to see change, clouds the reality that it will not happen unless access is tied to profficiency  – just as it is in every other KLA who has specialist tools.

I am sure it won’t go down well, but if there is a mentor/support program in place to provide solutions – then perhaps we can start to ‘turn the supertanker’ as Chris put it. Right now, those in the wheel house are off course, and Ed Tech is on the bow yelling ‘Iceburg’ into the wind.