eLearning Expectations?

Within our school leadership team we have been having a few interesting conversations as of late centered around the current immersion of elearning at our school. Not the run of the mill use of technology, but the really powerful higher order or  integrated project based use. Our discussions have caused us to look honestly at our school wide practice and realise that a cohesive understanding of our beliefs and to a certain extent our expectations of technology usage and the direct planning of, needs to be looked at and discussed.

We have excellent access to ICTs throughout the school. Our digital classes are highly immersive environments. We have sent teachers to iSchools, Apple Bus Tours and ULearn conferences consistently over the last 4 or  5 years. We have a handful of staff who also participated in the ICTPD cluster we lead from 2001-3. While PD in elearning has not been a priority for a number of years, we have maintained fortnightly iTips sessions throughout the year.

So why is it that when walking through some classrooms, computers are wearing out their screensavers? Why in some classes is there not a sustained use of technology throughout the day? I will be the first to admit that there are some parts of learning that are simple best done in a blended approach or traditional ways with no use of technology. However, for me this is still not a valid reason for having times throughout the day when technology is not being used, apart from of course those whole class teaching/discussion situations. The concept of the 21st Century classroom and learning removes that traditional approach where all students are involved in the same learning at the same time. A multidimensional approach to facilitating learning allows the teacher to orchestrate learning that sees different ‘packages’ of learning, for want of a better word, happening simultaneously. Why can’t a group of students being researching and creating knowledge digitally while others are working with the teacher in numeracy. Why can’t students be blogging while others are completing art or following up their numeracy with an activity or game? At the very least, if all students are, for example, working on their written language, why isn’t there one student on each computer completing this digitally? When you complete handwriting, or should that be, if you complete handwriting, why are there not students practicing their typing on the computers? Is one not the digital equivalent of the other?

Does this interpretation of the 21st Century learning environment, that simultaneous multidisciplinary approach to facilitating learning, mean relearning classroom management strategies? Taking a whole new approach to planning and implementation? Modeling and facilitating independence, self-management and thinking in students? Yes to all. Unquestionably.

So am I actually talking about elearning expectations here? Is it best looked at as 21st Century learning environments? Do we need PD in and/or develop a school wide vision/guidelines/expectations in what learning looks like in our 21st Century classrooms? Is that being too prescriptive? Our school already has assessment guidelines, describing clearly what assessments are required and why, we have an AtoL booklet that describes what formative teaching looks like in our classrooms and the learning language we will hear. Is it time for 21st Century learning expectations, of which elearning becomes a strand, intertwined with a formative approach and other skills and competencies? Is that any different from unpacking and implementing the NZ Curriculum?

As a side thought this is where I have problems with the way that some learning, such as numeracy, is demonstrated and described as best practice and what you should see when numeracy is happening in a classroom. I really bothers me that the ideal model of numeracy teaching sees all students being ‘numerate’ at the same time. To me this leads to a poor use of elearning where students use the technology for computer directed instruction, completing drill and practice activities or ‘games’ that are ultimately controlled by the computer. I don’t want this. I want my students being innovative, creating their own knowledge and sharing it with others.  Don’t get me wrong, I value numeracy very highly, but simply don’t agree with they way I have interpreted the perceived numeracy programme model classroom.

Another bug bear I have at the moment is with the one off use of an application or tool. While it is OK to try out something new, such as a new Web 2.0 site, how often are these tried but not sustained over a long period of time to really embed a deep learning intention or big concept? This thought was backed up by a statistic I recently read that stated that 60% of Twitter users quit within the first month of signing up. Do we jump on band wagons too quickly?

I think it is the sustained use of a technology or software that really makes us understand how it best can be integrated. I have always held the belief that a core number of applications for the students is best. It allows them and the teacher to become really proficient in their use, building a skill capacity to a high, independent level over a number of years. In my experience, when students are given the choice about how they will present and share their learning and new knowledge digitally, they always choose the tools they are most familiar with and enjoy using. While once this frustrated me as they chose not to use that really cool Web 2.0 tool I had given them a snapshot of the week before, they are happy, engaged, being successful and creating. I guess that is what we mean at our school when we state that the use of ICTs is normalised. It is part of everyday learning and how our students learn not a showcase of the latest and greatest.

So what am I trying to say here? As usual I have asked a lot of questions and provided few answers.

I believe elearning is a vital component in the 21st Century classroom. I have championed the idea that the effective use of ICTs provides the catalyst for teachers to change from traditional models of teaching. I look back over the years and see how professional development has moved away from the skill based technology first->pedagogy second model to the elearning pedagogy first->technology second model. That is the way I interpret the difference between ICT and elearning. ICT is about technology, elearning is about learning in new and different ways.

Will having a document describing elearning expectations really promote change? It may well do but only on a surface level, but for a deeper use rich in effective pedagogy it is that concept of the 21st Century learning environment that really needs addressing.

2 thoughts on “eLearning Expectations?

  1. Reading therough your post I am pretty certain that the questions you have posed really should be statement of belief from you 🙂 Strung together (without the question marks!) they frame pretty much the eLearning journey of more than a decade I have been on in my own school, and more recently with the cluster. I have visited and worked with schools through the country and some overseas, and I feel confident that where you see eLearning embedded in 21st century eLearning environments, AND student achievement outcomes being raised, there is a school vision, strong leadership from the top, foundational shared beliefs about how the 21st century students in this particular school learn best, and an intentional explicit school-wide pedagogy underpinning how this is to occur.
    Too prescriptive you ask? It is too easy for teachers to forget that these are other people’s precious children they are dealing with and if we have used our professional integrity as a staff and developed a pedagogy (and have evidence it is effective) then it jolly well should be prescribed so that ALL students benefit from it and not just the lucky ones who have teachers who are prepared to engage with it.
    I had similar sentiments in response to Pete Hall’s latest post too.
    Oops, Saturday here, enough said, back to house cleaning 🙂

  2. I love what new technology can do for us, and I really know your frustration in seeing it go to waste. There are so many personalities in teaching that each need to be led to the power of good ICT practice. Still, I get an awkward lump in my throat when I see videos like the one in your latest post. I can’t shake the vivid memory of working with some incredible teachers who didn’t use ICT at all really. But they were great teachers. No. They were STUNNING. I would personally drag a classroom full of laptops to the lower field and watch them burn to have any child of mine in their room. I listened to poorly informed rumor about their poor IT practice and felt frustrated.
    I’d love to see a video like that that really celebrates teaching, even more than the technology. There is magic in good teaching, and magic in good teachers. That always shines no matter what the tool. I’ve no doubt that with your insights you know your teachers well and are thinking of ICT as the tool their good skills would put to use, but the shininess of technology is often bright enough to blind those less skilled in seeing how good application is made. Some are happy to push the tool first believing good practice will follow. I wonder if that works? I’m really not sure.
    A pedagogically vacuous teacher with 30 laptops open may just as well grab a pack of marshmallow and come to field with me to warm their hands.
    Please share your successes with getting those tools up and running. Change is a mongrel.

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