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.