Tag Archives: pedagogy

Laptops? Desktops? Making choices…

I am often asked my opinion about what to buy or how to organise technology in schools. I am in a privileged position working with 17 ITCPD cluster around NZ. That is a lot of schools I am lucky enough to visit and a lot of teachers and principals I converse with. I see an huge range of different set-ups in schools from the traditional computer suite to 1-1 programmes.

What works best and what would I recommend? Well that’s a really hard question to answer as I have seen every scenario work really well and allow for the integration of technology into learning but equally have seen the other side of the equation where the same set up in another school is not effectively used. We know that it is not the technology that makes for effective elearning pedagogy. Sure the access to technology is a factor but it is the understanding of and deliberate acts of teaching using technology that make it happen successfully and seamlessly.

It is hard to recommend any particular setup. Do you have 2 or 3 desktops in classes supported by mobile pods of laptops? Do you use netbooks as learning is increasingly happening in the cloud? Are laptops the only way forward? I know schools that only have 1-2 computers in each class that do amazing stuff, and then know schools that have huge almost unlimited access to computers who do pretty ordinary stuff.

What leading schools are clearly doing is projecting the way the want technology being used in classrooms in 2-3 years which is predominantly cloud based and increasingly mobile. If you look at the trends from Horizon reports, UNESCO or BECTA they support this direction as well.

My current line of thought is a little different. I am really keen on giving teachers the flexibility to makes these decisions themselves. i.e. If you have a clear budget, why not ask a teacher how they want to spend their allotment, so that the purchase clearly aligns to their pedagogical approach. They may choose laptops or even ipads, whatever. While this can be complicated and comes with lots of questions, is there really a one size fits all to a technology roll-out or should a teacher have the flexibility to choose what they use, just as they do with every other resource they use in their teaching?

Does every classroom need to have an equal share. I know that in the past I have certainly gone about strategic planning by stating, “Every class will have 3-4 desktops supported by a mobile pod of ten laptops for each team.” etc.

But should we have moved beyond this now?

I had a recent conversation with a principal who is establishing a new school. He can’t decide on IWBs or the flat screen teaching stations, so instead appointed staff will possibly get an allowance of $4000 to use either way they see fit. I think taht is just fantastic.

Sure there are lots of questions raised by using this approach. What happens when the teacher moves on? How do you manage and support a range of different technologies? What if a teacher makes the wrong decision? What happens if the need for a certain technology is no longer relevant? and so on.

But I am looking at it from this perspective: They whole process of deciding what to buy fits directly in the ‘teaching as inquiry‘ approach and would really make teachers examine their elearning pedagogy. The use/purchase of technology would be directly related to the needs of the students and the teacher’s approach/pedagogy. The teacher would be required to research, visit and answer any questions to reinforce their decision.

30 ipod touches may be a much better investment for students lacking fluency and comprehension skills rather than 6 laptops and a projector.

Have we depersonalised our teachers own elearning pedagogy by deciding what technology they should use?

What do you reckon?

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.

PEN Forum on ePortfolios

This month the PEN (Principal’s Electronic Network) is hosting a forum on ePortfolios. I have been invited to join in this discussion and initiate the forum discussion.

It is always difficult to write an initial forum post that leads on to effective discussion about the topic. How long should it be? Should you play the devil’s advocate? Do you just state the facts as we know them now? How much crystal balling should you do?

If you have any answers, let me know. Otherwise here is my initial post designed to be the starting point for an ongoing discussion about eportfolios.

The NZ Curriculum “…gives schools the flexibility to design and deliver programmes that will engage all students and offer them appropriate learning pathways.”

The document further describes effective pedagogy and assessment, recognises parents as key partners, encourages elearning to open up new opportunities, and promotes student engagement in their learning.

My suggestion is that the eportfolio is able to provide the container that will capture the essence of a learning programme that caters for all of these features.

While the traditional portfolio focused on best examples of work to be showcased, the modern eportfolio, with its ability to network learners, integrate the best of Web 2.0 and show the process of learning, focuses more on supporting learners by being an integral component in the learning process.

How are you connecting learners, parents and teachers? How are you capturing feedback before, during and after learning? How are you facilitating learners in reflecting on and sharing learning through multimedia? How are you allowing learners to collect examples of their learning in an environment similar to what they use as part of their out of school networking?

The eportfolio makes this possible. It supports effective learning, assessment and elearning as described in the NZ Curriculum. It involves parents in the learning process and most importantly, engages students. Far from being a current buzzword in education, the eportfolio is an essential component that links the essential strands of learning together.

Developing Digital Portfolios

I have just read this article:

Developing digital portfolios: investigating how digital portfolios can facilitate pupil talk about learning.
Kate Wall, Steve Higgins, Jen Miller and Nick Packard
Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Newcastle, UK.

Technology, Pedagogy and Education
Vol. 15, No. 3, October 2006, pp. 261-273

As part of this research project I read a lot of articles in the areas of eportfolios and assessment for learning. Like anything you read, be it a magazine article, novel, or newspaper, as you are reading you can immediately connect (or not) with the text and message. This article was one of those. Throughout reading it I found myself nodding my head and murmuring consent to the ideas and concepts it was discussing as they mirrored some of the central aims of my research.

If you are interested in eportfolios, assessment for learning and thinking skills I thoroughly recommend you source a copy of this article.

Some ideas the conclusions that grabbed the attention of my highlighter:

The combination of a digital portfolio and thinking skills has been revealed to be a powerful one with plenty of scope for development in the primary classroom.

The reflective nature of the pupils’ comments regarding their learning and achievement as part of the digital portfolio gives valuable evidence to support formative assessment theory.

…a digital portfolio has the potential to create independent learners who are responsible for the collection of their own evidence of achievements across the curriculum and this process has impact on the pupils and how they perceive themselves and their learning.

Another couple of reasons why this research interested my was that it included many quotes from students. The students’ voice really gave the article added authenticity for me and less academic blah.

Finally, the fact that this research was undertaken with primary aged children was a breath of fresh air as the majority of research and published articles are predominantly secondary of tertiary education based.