So being half way through my teaching sabbatical (sad face!), I took a moment to stop and reflect on some of my wonderings and discoveries so far this term.
Recently I read a fantastic book called "The Learning Edge: What technology can do to educate all children." by Alan Bain and Mark Weston. (2012) This synopsis describes the main idea of the text:
After billions of dollars, thousands of studies, and immeasurable effort by educators at all levels, why is the performance of students and teachers so unaffected by technology? Moreover, what should be done to extract genuine benefit from the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution? In this groundbreaking book, technology and education experts Alan Bain and Mark Weston provide research-based evidence for how the widespread application of ICT can provide powerful learning opportunities that lead to lasting gains and achievement. They show how the integrated use of technology at all levels of the educational system can greatly expand collaborative learning opportunities by giving all educational stakeholders powerful problem-solving tools and solutions. The approaches presented here are grounded in over twenty years of experience working with classroom teachers, school leaders, association members, and policymakers.
This book gave me quite a few "A ha!" moments, though don't buy it for a bedtime read. It is hard going, but totally grounded in research. One example in particular described students during the time I was in primary school. We went to the library, researched using books, made a nice poster to show our learning and if we were really good, the teacher would photocopy us a picture to cut out and stick on our poster. Bain and Weston made the case - so how is that different today? Many teachers ask students to research on the internet, find out some information, use a tool to create a poster with some pictures. Has the learning fundamentally changed, or are we just automating tasks that we used to do?
I came across this excellent blog post by Claire Amos, who discusses MLE's, technology impact and the need for real change.
So what exactly makes these learning environments "modern"? I guess what makes them modern is the fact that they are different from the old ones (i.e. single cell rooms) and for many, rather unsettling. Historically speaking, different and unsettling seems to mean "modern" doesn't it? I guess "unsettling learning environment" was a bit of a hard sell, so "modern" it is then.
But hang on a minute, who said that modern equals good? The reality is, good (and bad) teaching can take place anywhere. I am guessing (and I am hoping) that the MLE will not simply make the teaching and learning better because it is a MLE, but that it will encourage a more open and flexible approach to teaching and learning because as a space it is exactly that, open and flexible. I hope it will encourage all those things we refer to as "effective pedagogy" in the NZC. I also hope it might discourage too much teacher led instruction and encourage a more facilitation style of teaching and learning.
Claire goes on to warn that MLE's and BYOD, could become a "smokescreen" that learning has changed, when if fact, not much has really changed at all, apart from appearances.
MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classrooms (albeit classrooms with invisible walls). Learning Technologies are pointless when the students have the use of their technology controlled and limited to little more than word processing and the odd google search. The challenge will actually be to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.
I think we very much need to proceed with caution, questioning and constantly reflecting and evaluating. It is all too easy in education to jump on the latest trend or trial something without deep, critical thinking. Bain and Weston point out in their book, that we are finally at a place where because of technology, we will have the ability to provide truly individualised learning for all students. I think that is actually the goal and the environment, pedagogy, technology and curriculum are the tools that will underpin it.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.