I am a deputy head teacher in a large primary school in a challenging urban area of Bradford. From a simple digital technology point of view I manage a large budget with responsibility for the technical and pedagogical vision and direction for ICT. This is in the context of leading the school with particular emphasis on 3-7 years, inclusion and assessment. It is the nature of primary schools, and perhaps effective learning, that there is tremendous convergence between the environment, curriculum, happiness and learning in the school. The segregation of departments and aspects of school life will never amount to the co-ordinated sum of the individual parts.
Before my current position I was a learning consultant in a City Learning Centre in London. This was a tremendous opportunity to investigate and promote the possibilities of digital technologies in primary, secondary and community settings. Working from a primary perspective I encouraged the use of ICT in different curriculum areas and between subjects. This challenged the subject specific approaches of secondaries and the use of IT to develop ICT capability alone. During this time I struggled with the justification for the incredible investment in ICT in proportion to the evidence or improvements in achievement.
There has been a dialectic throughout my career between helping children learn and the use of digital (or any other) technologies. Before teaching I trained in business IT, I developed databases, acquired Adobe design skills and worked in Macintosh sales and consultancy. My question was always, “What do you want to do with this computer?” against the trend of selling a computer that was capable of doing everything but rarely did more than word processing or email. This remains a key question for me in learning.
What the 21st century teacher needs to know about digital technologies, and why, and how their prowess will be assessed?If a teacher is to be effective in the development of children’s learning then the question may need to be adapted to achieve this goal? Firstly, is knowledge about digital technologies sufficient? Secondly, what kind of teacher or what pedagogy is needed to use these technologies most effectively?
It could be argued that there are four aspects of the use of digital technologies in schools: learning about ICT, learning with ICT, teaching with ICT or administering with ICT. Over the last ten years there has been some confusion between which of these functions of ICT is being applied in schools to the effect that as long as technology is present then it is being”harnessed”. This could be seen in the introduction of Interactive Whiteboards which would cover ‘teaching with ICT’ but could be seen on my teachers’ lesson plans as evidence that they were ‘covering ICT’. Dylan Wiliam (http://www.ioe.ac.uk/newsEvents/22652.html) now suggests that the entire London Challenge Interactive Whiteboard investment had no evidential impact on student achievement. Since teachers have not been clear why they were using digital technologies it then becomes a concern that they may not realise the likely benefits. Other research, such as Impact 2 from Becta (http://camara.ie/web/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Becta-impact2_pupil_learning_attainment.pdf), make statements such as this, “It is possible on the basis of these findings to estimate that high ICT use at Key Stage 2 in English can help to raise performance by 0.16 of a National Curriculum level, and in mathematics by 0.061 of a National Curriculum level.” This kind of research encouraged continued ‘use of ICT’ without a substantial evidence base for its benefits. In fact in standardised assessment system like the UK it is difficult to justify the huge investment in technologies that achieve weaker effects than ‘teaching to the tests’.
Key idea 1: A teacher needs to know why they are using digital technologies
I have produced a model which helps me think about ‘How ICT Helps us Learn’. (http://supercollision.posterous.com/pages/ict-learning)
My observation (perhaps wrongly) is that there are masters programmes in education that focus on the pedagogy and practice of technologies in learning. Alternatively there are skills based programmes such as software certification or ECDL. In both approaches something is omitted. In the former approach the teacher may know all about the benefits or impact of using ICT but have a limited skills set in using current technologies or assimilating new ones. Meanwhile the skills based approaches offer some competency, although often in a narrow definition of IT use (such as the QTS IT skills test), but they fail to contextualise this learning in a classroom context. Ideally teachers should develop a level of competency that is dynamic and flexible for today’s and tomorrow’s technology. This is a ‘way of being’ with technology.
Key idea 2: A teacher needs specific expertise but also flexibility for the next thing
The current debate in the UK around ICT as a curriculum subject with it’s own programme of study brings into focus some fundamental assumptions about the school curriculum and children’s learning. Digital technologies are sought after as an economic imperative rather than a component for children’s learning. The debate also highlights the arbitrary distinctions between subjects that we draw for different age groups. At what age should science subdivide into chemistry, physics and biology or forensics, genetics or engineering? As a primary practitioner I find it easier to see the overlaps and convergences between different areas. I have been writing a skills framework (http://homepage.mac.com/gareth.medd/MA/ICTskills.pdf) which attempts to see children’s ICT development or their wider learning development as an inter-relating set of skills from design to literacy to creative production to logical reasoning.
This is a much bigger debate than digital technologies. It is about what kind of teacher you are going to be. I am starting to build up a set of words that incorporate these characteristics: open ended, improvisation, productive, tinkering, playful, reflective… There is something about these words and their antonyms that will define the teacher you are and therefore the way in which you will approach and accept digital technologies. Ramos’ paper (https://www.scu.edu/sts/newsmedia/medialibrary/publications/upload/jrte-38-1-039-her.pdf) points to the better ways ICT was used in classrooms by those teachers who shared constructivist beliefs compared to those who did not. I find it challenging to read Crispin Weston (http://edtechnow.net/) who comes from a different perspective to this and robustly attacks simplistic views about EdTech.
Key idea 3: A teacher needs to know what they believe about learning
How will this prowess be assessed?
I am still inspired by the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow model that combined a reflective community of practice with skill development. Any assessment system should reflect the learning and development model that will best equip teachers for the competencies and characteristics above.
1. A badge system that recognises a level of expertise beyond the basics in an area of technology.
2. A portfolio system that collates and tags artefacts of learning and application.
3. A classroom practice measurement tool that effectively gauges the impact and quality of the learning environment.
Ultimately, we need to communicate a vision for the use of digital technologies and equip teachers for that vision so that they are compelled to teach for learning.