Saturday, August 1, 2009

Thinking on it more

Thank you, Emma, mrrobbo and Adrian, for the replies to my last post. Each one of you has a slightly different take on things, which means you all have me thinking of different ways of solving the problem...maybe.

I have to agree with both Emma and mrrobbo that the learning that happens in a classroom context doesn't always have to be about the curriculum outlined in the syllabus, there's certainly a great deal more that we teach in terms of skills (21C or otherwise), concepts and understandings of the world outside of schools. This "informal" curriculum is perhaps more important that things (in my context) such as the textual features of a formal essay, the "formal" curriculum persay. I also agree that yes, "ICT can help capture, share and build on thinking - and make it visible." but so can pen and paper - that still doesn't answer the question of when is digital best?

I guess though teachers are often pressured (cornered) into focusing primarily on the formal curriculum, afterall that's what the quality of our work is ultimately judged upon by outsiders - how many students are passing or failing the formal assessment, what are we doing to help them all pass, the data. In my context I certainly feel this pressure and I admit at times it makes me feel trapped in terms of the use and integration of digital activities. As a reult, it's often the digital activities that get culled first when time starts get short in a unit, for example, Project Piglet, I don't have time to do that great little activity using xtranormal where students will create an avatar of a charcater from Hamlet to explore different ways of reading their motivations.

The xtranormal examplethen brings me to the other barriers facing teachers on a daily basis in terms of digital integration - rules and regulations. I understand why we have them, I understand that there are people who won't consider the risks, I understand that it only takes a small slip up and we all look bad (as teachers we live with that awareness every day). That being said the complexity of the rules and regulations sometimes make it far too daunting for a regular teacher to tap into the potential of digital tools in this way:

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.

These are some of the restrictions that make using it for these purposes:
  • Time (see above)
  • Resources. Even in a resource rich school such as mine we get lectured at about responsible use of resources - particularly bandwidth. When there's over 1000 kids on site who at any given time may be accessing a multitude of digital (online and offline) resources (admittedly not all for 'learning') the network slows to a snail pace, the site you want to access is SLOW (or doesn't load at all), and the learning outcome linked to the activity goes out the window as the students (and teachers) get more and more frustrated. I know that other schools have it far worse. When this is a serious consideration how do we integrate digital activities such as connecting with people and resources? (I know that where there's a will, there's a way - but for many teachers this makes digital integration high investment-low return.
  • Copyright considerations. Oh my...what a complex, rabbit-warren this is. I'm guessing most teachers are breaking some aspect of copyright at least once a day, and I say guessing because I really can't get my head around it all. When it all becomes too hard to understand (or to conform to) teachers just won't do it. We have 25-30 students in any given classroom (for some teachers they will see over 100 students a couple of days a week) - their primary focus is on those students, if something looks like it will detract from their planning or management of that (such as considering the complexities of digital copyright) it tends to go in the "too hard' basket and the tried and true pulled out. I'm not saying teachers SHOULDN'T consider copyright, by the way.
  • Organisation rules. Teachers, at this point in time, are interpreting these as "keep it in the walled garden". And I completely understand why they are. It's just too risky to breach it and be the one who gets charred for it. Like the copyright issue teachers like things simple to understand. What that's doing though is that teachers are seeing some great tools out there and turning their backs on them because they're outside the "walls", or they don't understand the HOW behind things such as giving guests (experts) access to different spaces within the wall - what is okay and what isn't? And then you get the whole layer of "if I could use _(insert name of online tool here)_ this would be easy. But it's too hard because _(pick one - space limitations with the LMS/the LMS is bandwidth hungry/students don't like the tools in LMS because of what they can use outside of school)_." I don't always agree with this attitude, but I do understand where it's coming from and Emma and Adrian you've both feilding conversations like that from me in the past.
So, when teachers are faced with what they see as "brickwalls" what do they do - throw up their own brickwalls. Which is what has happened with the teacher I spoke about originally. They're frustrated for the same reason I was frustrated a few weeks ago with my DPLA - they feel like the response they're getting doesn't take their context into consideration, they're certainly not feeling understood or supported by the DPL indicators or process. Yes, self reflection is hard but it borders on torture sometimes and makes good teachers second guess themselves and critique themselves in the harshest of ways.

Adrian, your point that:

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!

Is exactly what this teacher can do. They honestly believe that their use of digital tools has enhanced their students' learning. But that's not enough for the DPL write ups where teachers have to detail and justify their use of ICT. It's part of the self reflection process (well it is in my experience) that the justifying is the hardest part, and in order to demonstrate that they're aligned with "what the DPL is about" and show they're using implementing digital activities:

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.

I guess my (and theirs) is that engagement helps improve outcomes and publishing to a wider audience has a profound effect on student use of language and formatting. I agree that if they were the ONLY reasons there'd be a problem, but they're not in this case but the teacher now feels as though they can't talk about those things at all. It's not fair of us to dismiss these things as being lesser reasons, especially not if we're wanting teachers to engage in the DPL process with less of a fear and resentment factor (and that's pretty big out there already).

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