Has there ever been a more exciting time to be a teacher? There is certainly more choice and opportunity, with access to tools that were merely an idea a decade ago. Global interconnectivity through technology has transformed the world of work. Offices are paperless; conferences are virtual and information is shared instantly. This is the real world; the future for our students. So how do we make the link? How do we ensure the learning is relevant? How does the pedagogy need to adapt to seize the moment and equip our students for success in this world? The journey is underway. Access to certain technology through which learning can be enhanced, means students can be interactive; enquiring, self- reflective and connected to the social, economic and global contexts in which they live.
However, we seem to be embroiled in a period of political meddling, which irrespective of motive, is a distraction and is causing disruption for teachers and students. Nevertheless the average student who is a product of our schools is evidence that current practices threaten to damage the education system for years to come. Is it not frustrating that in recent international academic tests, our students’ ranking was little more than a disappointment? Yet reaction to concerning levels of achievement is not helpful. A government convinced by the need for ‘old fashioned’ examinations and thus more than likely outdated pedagogy is at odds with the technology available to teachers and students. In turn, owing to the emergence of the tablet, there has never been an easier time to curate, create and express learning than today. Yet, rigor and progress do not have to be mutually exclusive. It is time to adopt a sensible and progressive philosophy on learning and thus pedagogy. It should always be pedagogy first.
‘Pedagogy first’ is of course a truism that you would struggle to find a teacher disagreeing with. You don’t have to look far for educational commentary and literature pointing to the need to address pedagogy in this time of disruption. The issue is that for many teachers a change in pedagogical methods is not easy or natural. Therefore, many might consider a pedagogical shift involving technology as merely adding to this period of upheaval. You have to question the extent to which technology is benefiting the pedagogy because it is disrupting education and this doesn’t sit well with all stakeholders in education.
Consider terms like ‘flipped learning‘, ‘transformational feedback’ and ‘MOOCs‘. These words alone can immediately present barriers to teachers who have really only known education to be about a school, the books and the examinations. The fact is those terms now exist because of the technology available, but don’t they also represent what we have always wanted to do? Haven’t we always wanted to transform our students’ progress through the feedback given?
Let’s take ‘flipped learning’ as an example. I am not necessarily in favour of the generalisation but in essence, students watch a video of ‘content’ prior to the lesson and then complete homework style tasks in the lesson. The benefit lies in the help the teacher can give the student, if they are stuck on a problem, rather than always delivering content in the lesson. Precious face to face questioning time is therefore more readily available. Students are developing the higher order analytical and evaluative skills with the help of the teacher. Skills are relevant to the outside world, aiding a grasp of content. But learning only content leaves students without the independence to tackle new situations. There are obvious benefits to using contact time in this way, and some pitfalls. It represents the need to consider the context and therefore the pedagogy. Who are the learners? What is the subject material? And what outcomes does the teacher expect to see? From my own practice I believe there is a real advantage to students arriving at my lesson with knowledge that I have conveyed to them. It isn’t out of a book or via a worksheet and is delivered with their context in mind. The key is that it takes very little effort to manipulate the resources and create the video because of the technology that is available. It is also easier for the students to view because of the prevalence and relevance of technology in society today. Again this comes down to context. The learners have to have access to resources that enhance knowledge and help develop skills for later life. If this is not the outcome, the choice of pedagogy is wrong in this instance.
The pedagogy behind ‘flipped learning’ is that the teacher will tailor a content based resource specific to their learners. A textbook or generic video cannot possibly do this for everyone. We have always wanted to be able to personalise learning for all our students and here is one way we can achieve it, depending on the context. Therefore the process should be based on how a teacher wants to enhance learning and then find the resources to help produce the best outcome. Herein lies the rub, once a teacher has decided on a change in pedagogy, barriers begin to appear. If a teacher has never used the technology then it is not as easy as touching a screen a few times. Which brings me on to my next point…
We are all learners. Again another truism. It makes sense that we should be always be looking to adapt and develop in every walk of life. But, has that always been the case for teachers? I should state at this point I am not trying to undermine the profession and its outstanding practitioners of the last 100 years. However, it is often said that teaching looked very similar in the 1960’s as it did in the year 2000 and that teachers have often taught in the way they were taught in school.
Historically technology has changed the normal methodology, but has had little impact on outcome and teachers have been delivering excellent lessons in a ‘standardised’ way for decades. This way has been challenged by the introduction of tablets into schools. And, it is a challenge to understand the change in pedagogy that comes along with a device that acts as a portal to the world. The ability to access information, give instant feedback and communicate outside ‘lesson time’ restructures the learning process. This is difficult for some teachers to comprehend because the process they have always known is content, followed by homework and test.
Consider the ‘Feedback Loop‘. The typical loop involves the issuing of an assignment during a lesson and submission of the completed assignment the following lesson. The teacher will then give feedback on the assignment and hand this back in a subsequent lesson. The student will then act on the feedback and perhaps submit a final piece of work, again, in the following lesson. The time taken for this process could easily be two weeks from start to finish. With new technology this ‘Feedback Loop’ can look very different.
Students can now submit their work online at a time when the teacher has an allocated period to provide feedback. The teacher can then annotate the work and provide audible feedback to the student which can be sent back to them on the same day. Essentially the tools are now available to ensure the next contact time with a student is more meaningful. Not only is the material still fresh in the mind, but also the feedback can inform the content of the next lesson.
Reducing the time taken for the ‘Feedback Loop’ is something teachers consider to enhance learning. It is not using the technology for its own sake but rather using it to achieve something they have always wanted to do, make feedback as effective as possible. The barrier is understanding how to use the technology to facilitate this feedback. It shouldn’t be knowing that the sooner a student receives feedback the more effective it is.
So we return to the concept of a school is full of learners. Teachers need to understand the pedagogy first and then know how to use the technology to facilitate the pedagogy. Teachers require support to understand what a device can do and then help to normalise its use so it doesn’t present a barrier. However, without an understanding of the pedagogical philosophy, the technology is a barrier. This is an ongoing issue for schools and it is a concern that tablet implementation has not been suitably resourced with the training required for all stakeholders in schools. Without ongoing support, tablet implementation will fail because it has to become a tool that is used when and where it is appropriate. I’m sure there are teachers who understand the pedagogical opportunities of tablets in education but are put off by not knowing where to start with the device.
With reportedly over 15 million tablets in education across the world it seems that a host of school decision makers have taken the plunge and introduced the technology. Did they all consider pedagogy first? I’m not sure, but there is no doubt in my mind that the technology enables teachers to do what they have always wanted to do, but found it very difficult to make happen. The device allows teachers, students and parents access to opportunities that can’t be ignored. As well as succeeding in examinations, students learning with tablets are being equipped with the independence, organisation skills and creativity required in today’s world. The key to success with technology in education is ensuring schools understand how usage works as part of the learning process. Pedagogy first….