Time for Reflection

It is hard to believe that the month of June is almost over – where has it gone?

After a busy school year, students are finishing the last of their state exams today and primary schools will finish in the next 10 days. Soon, everyone gets a chance to unwind and have a break.

In the field of digital learning, it has also been a busy year for the Department of Education and Skills, which is currently finalizing a new Digital Strategy for Schools. We all await the publication of this strategy and look forward to its implementation during the upcoming school year. But first, let’s reflect a little on where we are in terms of ICT integration in our own Irish classroom and in the world in general.

A recent Education Week article, Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach, written by Benjamin Herold, certainly got me thinking as to why we are not making greater progress on this issue? The article is well worth reading and I have highlighted a few segments that we might consider as we reflect on what some have described as a Wicked Problem within education.

“Even more important than knowledge of how to use classroom technology…may be teachers’ level of confidence in trying it out in their classrooms. If they do not believe that they can use technology to accomplish their classroom goals, they appear unlikely to seriously attempt it.

On top of that, teachers’ “pedagogical beliefs” are increasingly believed to play a central role in their willingness to use ed tech.”

As the above extract implies, the reasons are complex as to why teachers are not using ICT (or education technology in the US) to transform teaching, learning and assessment. They include issues concerning knowledge, confidence and even deeper ideas such as pedagogical beliefs.

For more than 30 years now, we have been asking the question: how can we help teachers to develop the confidence, knowledge and pedagogical beliefs that are required to truly embed ICT in our practice?

The article notes that “job-embedded” professional development is particularly effective in this regard but it is expensive and it requires people who have a deep knowledge themselves of how to embed ICT deeply into teaching, learning and assessment.

“One strategy that most researchers and experts seem to agree on: so-called “job-embedded” professional development that takes place consistently during the workday and is tied to specific classroom challenges that teachers actually face, rather than in the isolated sessions often preferred by district central offices and written into districts’ contracts with their teachers.”

The article goes on to say that:

When learning experiences are focused solely on the technology itself, with no specific connection to grade or content learning goals, teachers are unlikely to incorporate technology into their practices,” concluded Ms. Ertmer and Ms. Ottenbreit-Leftwich, the researchers who wrote the 2010 paper on the factors influencing teachers’ use of educational technology.”

Another oft-cited strategy is putting to work those “early adopters” inside a school who are making innovative, student-centered use of technology in their classrooms. “The smarter districts use those teachers to teach other teachers how to integrate tech into their lessons,” Mr. Cuban said. “The dumb ones use vendors to provide professional development and force teachers to attend those sessions.”

So it looks like there are existing strategies to assist schools to really address this issue thoroughly and not just engage in ‘drive-by workshops’ where some ‘expert’ pops in for a session and then disappears.

However, we as teachers can also take action by engaging in learning opportunities of our own. Many teachers will take a summer course over the coming weeks, or alternatively we might read some books on the topic that might help us to reflect and to consider how we can adapt or enhance or own practices for the new school year.

Here are a few books I have or am reading at present and I think they are very interesting and might help you as you reflect on how you use ICT with your learners…

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Educating Gen WI-FI is written by Greg Whitby and it provides a really good insight into how Australian teachers are using ICT in their classrooms. Greg has a very nice writing style and the book is easy to read.

He also has an interesting blog that is worth checking out also.

 

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Will Richardson’s new book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, is hot off the presses and I have only started it but it is really thought provoking. Again the book is very engaging and it provokes you think about yourself as a learner. There is nothing new in the idea of teachers as learners but this book will certainly help you to reflect on your current practices and on the children you teach.

Will also has a very thought provoking blog.

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Finally, I have also just received a copy of Ken Robinson’s new book, Creative Schools. In this book Ken and Lou Aronica argue for the end of our outdated industrial education system. This is a theme that all 3 books touch on in different ways and resonates with the opening report from Education Week.

 

 

Final Word

The big question is how can we enhance our practice and the learning experience of our students using digital technology? Ultimately how we can support principals, teachers and others in the system to make this a reality? This is not a simple question and all of us has a role to play. By informing ourselves of the issues we can better participate in the debate and in our own professional development. If you do get a chance to read any of these books we have mentioned above, or if you find some other good reads, please let us know. Happy reading.

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