I have recently been reading some good blog posts on the relationship between technology and pedagogy when considering mobile device implementation in the classroom. Eric Sheninger’s ‘Why Pedagogy First, Tech Second Stance is Key to the Future‘ is a sound account of some of the issues to consider when implementing mobile devices, or in fact any technology, within classrooms.
A few points I would make about innovation, particularly related to digital technology use:
Successful implementation of technology needs to be well planned at both the strategic and the operational levels. In many ways, the strategic and operational should, and will, inform each other. However, during the planning and re-planning cycle of development it is useful to consider strategy separately to the issues that are necessary to consider during operational programming.
Further to the point made in the paragraph above, both the strategic and operational planning processes need to be deliberately set up to be include cyclical review and deliberate critique and challenging. Though good ideas and worthwhile innovations will withstand, and even be refined, by being challenged, most technology-based solutions have a limited period of usefulness. Even the grandest and most valuable tech-related innovation will become either refined, improved or, often, redundant over time.
Implementation of any significant technology, tool or method will not be a single-ended project that schools will ever have the luxury of signing off on as a ‘done deal’. Digital technology, in particular, changes at such a rapid pace that though we split up our endeavours into project sized pieces – often dictated to on the ‘operational’ time scale – our strategic approach needs to be long-term cyclic in nature.
Developing our use of IT and ICT in schools needs to involve a commonly understood and well communicated discourse based around an aim for progressive improvement, the acceptance of the need for repeated responsible risk-taking and a methodology based on professional research and evidence-generating systems of in-class innovation.
The interaction of pedagogy, technology and the building of culture is a worthwhile consideration here. Though being derived from looking at culture shock experienced by people working and living in foreign countries, the effect of placing teachers within innovating environments has, I think, a similar effect and similar stages to the ‘culture shock’ curve. For example, see this Communicaid.com post that contains the image below. Helping our teachers and leaders to be aware of the effects of innovation-related ‘culture shock’ is essential to helping to maintain a growth approach to innovation in our schools.
Its important that we avoiding ‘blind faith’ pursuance of trendy approaches within education and, most essentially, that we focus intently on evidence-backed practices that produce long-term and sustainable benefits for students. We should also remain alert, and seek to understand, excuses, defensive arguments and avoidance actions that will prevent educators from experiencing the scale of pedagogical innovation that would be sufficient to show the true potential of new tools and techniques to improve the education process.
These diversions relate to a lack of understanding of how much our pedagogy needs to be revolutionised. An example of this lack of insight can be seen in some reactions to the recent research on the use of pens, pencils and styli during learning.
I have heard and read of teachers saying things like ‘ we should put away our laptops and get the kids writing their notes because the research shows that use of keyboards is less effective’. The research I have read talks about the physical act of note-taking with a pen as being a positive effect in learning processes. What is missed is that it is the act of using the fine-motor / psychological affordances of human being’s that is the key point. The pen and paper are irrelevant. Liquid ink and sheets of paper were merely the tools that enabled the physical action required to bring about the fine-motor/ psychological interaction which enabled learning.
The research findings suggest to me that we must innovate so that we use the discovered benefits of writing and magnify these benefits and the efforts of students writing by using an appropriate technology. One-hundred years ago, or more, we would have done this by inventing ball-point pens and cheap paper to innovate away from chalk and slates. Maybe this would have brought about trials of types of pencils, pens, papers and then the pen licence was invented. Today we need to move to having our students use a digital stylus to produce handwritten notes and diagrams. Then we can augment and optimise the use of handwriting by the use of a digital tool such as a tablet device which can then be used to process/store/share/search/improve the hand written work.
We need educators to use good pedagogy but be willfully critical and innovative in the pedagogy they choose to develop. It is the job of school leaders, at every level, to support and enable a growth-oriented approach to the ongoing investigation of improved techniques, tools and methods.