Thursday, July 30, 2009

I need your help.

Got asked an interesting question yesterday - "What makes a digital tool "worthwhile"?"

The 'correct' answer is, "When it enhances the curriculum outcomes."

Honestly, it's a pretty unfulfilling response. What if the digital tool is having students do something that could just as easily (if not more so in some situations) be done with coloured pens and paper? It's still enhancing their curriculum objectives, but why do it digitally? What makes an Inspiration created brainstorm better than one create on a sheet of paper?

Following on from that, if it's not better, if it's the same curriculum outcome being met, then why bother? Are we just making extra work for ourselves?

Before you all think I really have lost my mind after one of the most insanely intense weeks, this discussion is causing one of the people I am helping work towards their DPL quite a bit of angst (and that may be an understatement). They have a point - if student engagement isn't a good enough reason to use digital tools then why use them over "traditional" activities?

I'm not sure I can reassure this particular person that what they're doing is enough and that it is worth it after they feel gutted over the matter. All of the activities they do could be done with pen and paper, they haven't connected with external experts or students in other contexts.

However, the activities they do has seen students and parents using virtual classrooms to source, contribute and complete various activities (none of which couldn't have been done without digital tools), students are more engaged with their learning, students are getting access to a wider variety of multimedia and ways of demonstrating their knowledge (but the tools aren't vital in developing this). Does this mean their use of digital activities is less valid than my own (as an accreditated DPL holder)? Comparing practice and implementation - I'd say not. We're doing fairly similar things, for similar reasons.

So, help me find an answer for this person struggling to accept this situation. Which of these is an acceptable and/or appropriate reason to use digital tools in classroom activities:
a) These tools allow students to access a wider range of resources/ways of finding and making meaning.
b) Digital tools make accessing learning activities flexible, allowing students to access and complete as appropriate to them.
c) Students engage with digital tools and activities in a more positive manner than pen/paper based versions
d) Students are able to contribute to collaborative projects regardless of classroom walls (even within the same school)
When you answer keep in mind only responses about "curriculum" outcomes, ie improved learning, are valid. Can you do it without talking about connecting, accessing and engaging?


Emma said...

Hi Nic

My thoughts are that all those examples are valid uses of ICT. The question really is not about validity - if the teacher finds using ICT in those ways worthwhile for the students, then they should continue. I think the struggle in this case is about what the Licence is about.

The premise of the Licence was to move a workforce beyond the sexiness factor of ICT (thinking about ICT for motivation or engagement purposes) and the publishing factor (using ICT to make things look pretty or 'good copies'), and to start considering new ways of working where ICT can improve learning opportunities.

You are absolutely right, if an activity can be done with pen and paper, then is it really worth the investment (time, money, effort). I doubt it. I wouldn't say that is enhancing the curriculum at all. Using ICT should enable learners improved opportunities. Otherwise, in business terms, return on investment is pretty low.

ICT provides unprecedented access - to people, information and resources. Used well, it can break barriers of time and place and provide experiences that are unsafe or impossible to do in a non-virtual way. ICT can help capture, share and build on thinking - and make it visible.

I also don't think I agree that improved learning always has to be about the curriculum. We want our kids to be lifelong learners, so we need to equip them with ways of learning and working that are transferable (21C skills stuff).

I am wondering if the issue you are having is a matter of language. My best encouragement would be to keep referring back to the Licence indicators, and let those assist the teacher in unpacking their practices (rather than the other way around of starting with their practices). Otherwise they may just end up going around in circles and getting even more frustrated!

Emma said...

Me again...
Just thought I should clarify my statement around curriculum. For the Licence, a teacher needs to demonstrate how they use ICT within the curriculum. This is because we want teachers thinking about eLearning in their classroom practices, rather than submitting items in their portfolio about lunchtime computer clubs etc. You'll find in a lot of cases that 21C skills are part of the curriculum (ways of working within the Essentials etc.)

Anonymous said...

I completely agree about the fact that use of digital tools need to enhance the curriculum, else there use is somewhat fruitless.

However at the same time I feel it doesn’t always need to be about the curriculum and reaching objectives. Why can’t we teach students about things that are happening in their world? Now that isn’t going to be a convincing enough response to give to the teacher your working with, but I feel it has to play a small role in why I choose to include digital tools in my classes.

At the same time I still choose to use a variety of traditional and digital tools based on what I think will enhance the teaching/learning/engagement of the subject or the unit of work. With that in mind, if a piece of work calls on a traditional approach it gets done in a traditional way and vice versa.
In my mind Inspiration in a digital format is much more than its traditional equivalent. The ability to link to and include pictures, videos etc is incredibly powerful. Also the nature of online mind mapping tools that allow collaboration outside of the classroom walls has to be a positive. Finally the fact that it uses digital text means that it can be remixed over and over again in a million other formats. Something a piece of paper would struggle to complete.

Great post Nic, keep it up

Adrian said...

Hi Nic,

Don't know what happened to my comment last night. Tapping away on my mobile was probably not the best approach but was all I had access to at the time..... anywho....

What I said last night was that I feel personally that it really should not be too hard to make the decision. I sometimes think people overthink it. Then again it is good to see some people do think about it... what's that called again? Self reflection? :)

Anyway I often ask a question around when do we choose ICT based activities over more traditional methods. To me it is a simple decision. We should choose at times to use ICT based activities within the programs over more traditional methods because they are the best way to achieve the outcomes desired. If they are the best way it is a no brainer.

I'm not saying ICT are always the best however. Doing it digitally does not equate to better. I often use the intentionally overly simplified examples of learning about the concept of 'apples' or the concept of 'shade'. Yes you can learn both concepts well with technologies. But to me the best way is to buy apples and get the kids to cut into and eat them. Or in the case of shade... go outside and sit under a tree.

Again I do admit these are very simple examples. More complex ideas or cuuriculum examples need much more thought to nut out the best methods to 'teach' or for students to 'learn'.

Personally I believe when it comes to ICT many teachers plan backwards. I see so many who have decided on their technology of choice and how they will use it (or more likely make it fit... think square peg in a round whole) in a curriculum unit. Such an approach will often lead to poor examples of trying to make ICT integral to learning. I think in such cases student engagement is often used as THE reason for using the tech.

Instead teachers need to be clear about their purpose of the unit, without consideration/thought of ICT. Once this is very clear a teacher can then start considering a full range of strategies that will best enable the outcomes desired (mainly learning/curriculum ones but as others have said here are wider considerations). These strategies can be ICT based or traditional. The final decision should only be based on what gives the kids the best chance of success. So what if the decision is made to use traditional methods! If we are honest about it and if they ARE the best then so be it.

The only caveat here is that we don't know what we don't know. If we are comfortable with traditional and we don't know much about ICT based strategies where will the decisions then fall? Probably more traditionally orientated.

The only way around this is to do exactly what your collegue did (pat on the back for your staff member). By reflecting on their practice, s/he decided they needed more information for clarification. Thankfully there was someone they could ask (pat on the back to you Nic).

An old deputy of mine who had to sign off on my probationary report, once told me that if I ever get to the stage where I am comfortable and do not feel I need to consider new ways to teach, then it's time to retire. We need to keep reflecting on our practice and the pedagogy. Being honest to one's self in this regard means continual learning for you as the teacher but it also mean potentially the best learning outcomes for your students.

Continue the discussions Nic! Encourage them. You are helping this to occur ( ). They will not always be fun, many will in fact be very challenging (think committed sardines). The benefits though will outweight the challenges.

Anyway last word is keep it simple. If the teacher can answer the question "Is this THE best way to improved student learning outcomes?", with an honest and informed "YES!" then in my mind the whether it is traditional or digital is irrelevant!