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Teaching and technology

March 6th, 2009

Can you teach/ think about knowledge/learn in a “21st Century way” without access to technology? That’s a really interesting question! (My dog liked that question too because when we were walking this morning I was so engaged in thinking about it that I was less focused on her scavenging/ bird chasing behaviours than usual).

Anyway, my initial response was of course you can teach in a 21st Century way without access to new technologies. (That’s probably not a surprising response from someone who still struggles to use the remote control for the TV!) Then I began wondering whether you can you teach in a “C20th way” without access to paper and pens which led on to thinking about how the tools available affect what you can know, how you can know it, and who can know it….which led me (somewhat reluctantly) to engage with the possibility that modern technologies might in fact be an integral part of “C21st” learning. So it seems to me that regardless of whether or not an individual uses technology, it does inevitably affect what schools are/ or should be about.

I think technology also adds to the possibility that people will be able to change their teaching to be more future-focused. Jennifer’s wonderings reminded me of 2 conversations I had earlier this week. In the first, I was talking to a colleague about a developmental theory that suggests that the ability to reflect on the limits of our knowledge doesn’t usually emerge till late adolescence. If this is so, what are the implications of this when we are talking about developing “key competencies” in younger students? The conversation went down the track of wondering whether the real benefit of the key competencies was in helping teachers to think differently about what is important in school.

The second conversation was with another colleague who was questioning whether or not self assessment was a realistic goal for young children, when in her opinion this was a skill many adults struggled with. This conversation also went down the track of wondering whether a main benefit of self assessment in classrooms could be in helping teachers to think differently about what is important in school by highlighting the possibility of engaging students more fully in their own learning

Similarly, I think technology too could help teachers think differently about what matters in education. I am new to blogging – this is a somewhat scary and alien activity for me…but my nervousness about putting out half formed ideas for anyone to read and interact with, has made me think a lot about what I value in writing for example, where those values come from, and whether or not those values are still really important for today’s world. For me trying to interact in a new virtual community, has the potential to help me see more clearly what I take for granted normally – just as going overseas can help you see what is unique about being a New Zealander more clearly than when you are at home. Perhaps this only applies to my generation – but there are currently lots of teachers who belong to the same generation!

So reluctantly I think I would now argue that the web and modern technologies are integral to C21st education. For teachers who are technologically challenged like me it could also help destabilize some beliefs that might otherwise get in the way of change. This does not mean however that I think “technology rich” schools are necessarily C21st schools.

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Computing our way into the future?

March 4th, 2009

I’m just back from a conference in Rotorua—Learning@schools. It’s a CORE conference and there are heaps of people thinking about technology and learning and it’s got me thinking about what we mean about 21st century schools and how technology interacts with what we mean about that. The principal I was sitting next to on the flight home was reading a wide variety of tech magazines, and she and I got to talking about the way technology fosters 21st century learning but does not create that.

So I’ve been thinking about that interaction. Could you have a totally wired school with nothing that I might recognise as 21st century learning at all? I think that’s a clear yes.  You could use computers to drill facts and to be the medium for ordinary learning; that would be a very technologically-advanced school without any real 21st century ideas. I fear, in fact, that this is most of what we usually mean. “Works like a regular whiteboard!” trumpets one of the signs around an electronic whiteboard. “Bring fun into the classroom” says another ad. What is educational technology for and why does it buy us anything more than shiny toys? If we’re just using technology to have the same relationship to knowledge—but this time with a kind of video-game feel so that the kids won’t notice that they’re memorising spelling words—what have we done really? It seems to me you have all the electronic equipment in the world without ever doing a single 21st century thing.

So then my question becomes: can you have 21st century learning without a single thing that plugs in? I have wondered about the difference between 21st century schooling ideas and John Dewey’s ideas, for example. He, writing towards the beginning of the last century, certainly didn’t have his finger on the pulse of 21st century education. And yet there are so many of his ideas that carry on into our thinking about what a future-focused school looks like.  He emphasized the importance of educating children in real world experiences, connecting with the community, caring for the whole child. He was hands-on and based in a cycle of experience and reflection that would look quite familiar to us as modern learning theories. This leads me to wonder what part of 21st century schooling is really new and what part is actually just what we have thought of as progressive education for the last 80 years? Certainly we who think about 21st century ideas wouldn’t say they are the same as Dewey’s, would we? We would think there would have to be something, well, more 21st century about things, right?

This leads me to wonder: Could you have a school that had no access to computers or any connectedness and still think of that as 21st century education? I think that for me, the answer is No, but I’m not sure exactly. I guess it’s that to my mind 21st century education has to be connected to the web of information and interaction in some way, would have to be making sense of the world as it exists digitally as well as the world as it exists outside.  I guess it seems to me that the world is now bigger than just (just?!) the things we can touch and see and explore. Now the world includes the ideas and facts and stories and relationships and 21st century schooling needs to include them too. But I’m still confused about what technology adds to the possibility that people will be able to change their teaching to be more future-focused. I’m confused about how we can use 21st century technology to get closer to 21st century ways of thinking about knowledge and teaching—without creating video-game experiences that let students interact with older forms of skills and information in new ways. Do you have any ideas about that?

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Teachers’ work research project

February 25th, 2009

What are the skills, attributes and dispositions that teachers need to work successfully with 21st Century learners? This is the question that a small team of us has been thinking and talking about over the last year. To start the conversation we advertised for interested teachers to attend a workshop where we explored ideas about the qualities teachers might need to work with students in an increasingly complex, connected and fast-changing world. From that initial workshop we then invited some teachers to talk to us more about their views about the purpose of education, what is changing (or needs to change) in schools and teaching, and why.

We are now at the stage where we have quite a lot of data to think about. Today Jennifer and I met to talk about how we are going to write about what we have found out so far—not an easy task! The main problem is trying to pin down what we are actually looking for in this project and recognising “it” when we see it. How can we (who have been conditioned by our current education system) know what the characteristics are of successful teachers of the future? Yet this is an important thing to do if we are to produce the teachers we need for the future.

From the workshop and interviews it became obvious that the words that people used were not going to be good indicators of the qualities teachers need to work successfully with 21st Century learners. Phrases such as “life long learning”, “engagement” and “enquiry” for instance, were used by many participants but as a research team we sensed they had different meanings for different people…and anyway how could we differentiate between those who say they do this and those who actually do it?

We haven’t been into classrooms to see what teachers do and in any case the current context of schools may well be constraining what teachers are able to do, so looking at practice is also unlikely to help us identify this elusive “it”.

Yet, amazingly, when we have talked about our data as a team we have had high levels of agreement about which teachers seem to display what we are looking for, even though we can’t (as yet) define it! What is it that we believe we get a sense of in some places and not in others?

Given the exploratory nature of this project and the difficulty we seem to be having in identifying what exactly “it” is that we are looking for, Jennifer and I thought we might try making our wonderings about this project more public as we think about writing the article—and invite your input. By sharing our emergent, fledgling ideas maybe collectively we can get a handle on this slippery beast. We invite you to think with us and to tell us how these things make sense to you and to take this conversation about 21st century teaching and what it looks like into your experience and your life. As we publish this on the website, we look forward to hearing from colleagues we know and people we don’t yet know as we all puzzle through.

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