17 September 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 3/5)



It's easy to put technology in the classroom. Assuming a school has the resources to buy technological equipment, a cart of i-Pads, or whatever device is popular at the time, can simply be rolled in and made available. As long as I'm making assumptions, I'll assume the teachers all know how to use the device in a variety of ways that support learning goals. And that the learners will know how to use the devices. And that the devices all work without a glitch. Nervous yet? Me too, because that's a lot of assuming. First, schools do have limited resources. Second, teachers do not all know how to use technology in pedagogically effective ways. Third, devices are not always reliable.

A recent study (Inan & Lowther, 2010, p. 137) suggests that simply making technology available in classrooms ensures neither better instruction nor better learning outcomes. This is unsurprising, if one believes the adage "A woodshop does not a carpenter make." This idea is not new, and has already been related to technology integration and Instructional Design (Rieber, 1998). Now that classrooms often include media devices, the next question emerges: How can we use technology to support learning goals? Inan & Lowther's research (2010) suggests that "...professional development should show how technology can enhance student learning and how it can be used in a variety of core content areas..." p. 150. Now the challenge becomes how to provide support for these teachers? Kopcha (2012, p. 1115) identifies time as a primary barrier teachers face when trying to implement technology in their classrooms.

For me, a key suggestion from the Inan & Lower research (2010, p. 150) is the need for teachers' professional development learning goals to include abilities of using technology to address a wide range of objectives and contexts. This creates a learning goal that is in itself, complex and ill-structured. How can teachers be given the time they need to take on these new learning tasks? How can we create as much learner autonomy as possible? Teachers themselves are in an excellent position to decide how they go about learning ways of thinking about technology in the classroom; they deserve guidance, not direction. Perhaps if they are supported in the right way they can take on new leadership roles and evolve their own learning environments according learner needs and within the constraints particular to school structure within which they work—and which vary across learning environments. Perhaps a broad and flexible initial top-down design can be "filled in" by teachers and students. This would allow for flexible, bottom-up, iterative design and the result would reflect the needs and attitudes of both teachers and students. It also seems as if this approach would yield a diverse set of approaches to learning problems that could subsequently be compared and refined. Research and education can coexist at the point of impact in learning- the classroom (or any other learning environment). What a fine feedback mechanism for the design of an educational system! This would require creating a new niche in the educational public school ecosystem, as well as adjusting other niches to maintain stability and encourage slow growth. Perhaps the best feedback mechanism for informing the redesign of an educational system is the teachers and the learners. This can help the design be flexible and responsive to a host of problems associated with design, development, and implementation. A top-down design framework combined with a bottom-up design process allows teachers and learners the autonomy to find solutions that are at once grounded in practice while being informed by theory. The problem requires time and resources.

This problem is firmly grounded in available resources, and is why I find the barrier of time to be one of the more thought provoking findings of Kopcha's research (2012, p. 1115). Even the best laid plans for situated professional develop will not lead to new knowledge and application of that knowledge if time is not made available for the process. This seems like common sense, but dealing with a functioning educational system and trying to alter it is akin to making repairs to an ocean liner as it is actively in service. We need to create space and breathing room for teachers' professional development and for those teachers to test out new ideas in a supportive environment. Since our learning goal includes abilities to use a range of technology effectively to meet course and curriculum goals is an ill-structured one, simply telling teacher learners what to do will not work. When teachers are exposed to a range of technologies and their applied use to learning problems, they begin to see approaches based on sound learning theory. This knowledge gives teachers' the guidance they need to navigate the rich and confusing mix of technologies available today. Creating time for situated learning is essential for altering structures in a living, breathing system.

Time and space are critical to growth and change. This idea as it relates to learning is not new. Seymour Papert emphasizes the importance of taking the time to play with and understand a problem (Papert, 1996, p. 12). More recently, Pasi Sahlberg describes how teachers' are given time, space, and autonomy within the highly regarded educational system in Finland (Sahlberg & Hargreaves, 2011, p. 70-95). Discussing either of these two works in any depth is beyond the scope of this post. However, there is one quote from Sahlberg's book that underlines the importance of properly supporting teachers' in Finland's educational system: "Finnish experience shows that it is more important to ensure that teachers' work in schools is based on professional dignity and social respect so that they can fulfill their intention of selecting teaching as lifetime careers." (2011, p. 70). As we come to truly value and broaden the role of teachers', we are transferring energy within the system from top-down policy makers to bottom-up teachers, who are arguably in the best position to effect change that works, is responsive, and is sustainable. And considering the near hostile culture in the United States towards teachers as we determine their value via a set of assessment tools far removed from the actual classroom, and further distorted by political mainstream media, we have a long way to go.


References

Inan, F. A., & Lowther, D. L. (2010). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: a path model. Educational Technology Research & Development, 58(2), 137–154. doi:10.1007/s11423-009-9132-y

Kopcha, T. J. (2012). Teachers’ perceptions of the barriers to technology integration and practices with technology under situated professional development. Computers & Education, 59(4), 1109–1121. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.05.014

Papert, S. (1996). A word for learning. In Y. B. Kafai & M. Resnick (Eds.), Constructionism in practice:  Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. (pp. 9–24). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Rieber, L. (1998). The Proper Way to Become an Instructional Technologist. 1998 Peter Dean Lecture. Presented at the 1998 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), St. Louis, MO, USA. Retrieved from http://lrieber.coe.uga.edu/pdean/

Sahlberg, P., & Hargreaves, A. (2011). Finnish lessons : what can the world learn from educational change in Finland? / Pasi Sahlberg ; foreword by Andy Hargreaves. Series on school reform. New York : Teachers College Press, c2011.

03 September 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 2/5)

What can we do to improve learning on a systemic level? Ludwig Von Bertalanffy has made it clear that systems thinking involves considering not only individual elements within a system, but also the environmental aspects of the system (Von Bertalanffy, 1972, p. 417). This way of thinking has its roots in the Aristotelian notion that "The whole is more than the sum of its parts." Opposing this idea is the belief that understanding occurs by reduction, with a goal to "...resolve and reduce complex phenomena into elementary parts and processes (Von Bertalanffy, 1972, p. 408). More recently, research is showing the benefits of a holistic, open systems view when considering technology integration in classrooms (Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). The Aristotelian view has made its way back into the literature of instructional design, combined with the idea of an ecology and a call to support the keystone species in schools—teachers. Although learners are dominant in this ecosystem, teachers are the keystone species. And this makes them most important for a healthy ecosystem (Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, & Frank, 2006). It follows that technology integration could be improved by supporting teachers in their use of technology on an ecological level, which includes social and educational support.

I believe the best investment in technology is an investment in those teachers who will use it. Having achieved a high degree of technology integration already, it may be a good idea to consider ways of using it more effectively. Consider a teacher who is given a computer but no reliable access to the Internet or school network, or a teacher who has no training in the pedagogical uses of technology. How about the teacher who has innovative ideas but no support in realizing them? So called "technological" problems often have more to do with human characteristics than machines.  Simply having a piece of equipment available is not necessarily a value. It's use creates its value. Cases like these and more are described in a recent study of "...technology integrations in real classrooms" (Zhao et al., 2002). Nurturing the professional growth of the teacher base is crucial in "preparing the soil" in which technological innovations can take root and manifest themselves in creative, problem-solving ways.

Infusion and diffusion of new technologies is happening at a quick pace throughout most societies and on a global scale. Along with the excitement, there is a degree of risk taking necessary when exploring the use of tech in education. This puts teachers in an unfair and difficult position. Care should be taken to provide no risk opportunities to "try things out." To experiment with the communication of ideas in the classroom is to keep it relevant and vital to the needs of the learners. Teachers need resources and support to take on the new challenge of meeting students where they are in the "electro-social" landscape. The learning environment needs to support its keystone species in the interests of the learners. This requires more money, time, education, and status for teachers if we want to see a systemic improvement to the K-12 ecosystem. Our research should include social and subjective aspects of learning, and we should find ways of empowering teachers so they have the time to take chances and have a little fun as they do so. Another area of exploration for Instructional Design might be the recent field of biomimetics. When we are viewing learning environments as ecologies, surely we can be informed by a field that strives to solve engineering challenges by observing nature. In time, a new vision of learning will emerge as a result in the kinds of innovation we choose to support today.

References

Von Bertalanffy, L. (1972). The History and Status of General Systems Theory. Academy of Management Journal, 15(4), 407–426. doi:10.2307/255139

Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, & Frank, K. A. (2006). The Social Life of Technology: An Ecological Analysis of Technology Diffusion in Schools. Pedagogies, 1(2), 135–149. doi:10.1207/s15544818ped0102_5

Zhao, Y., Pugh, K., Sheldon, S., & Byers, J. L. (2002). Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations. Teachers College Record, 104(3), 482.