“Our School of Education is savouring the possibilities that virtual and augmented reality… may still bring to ‘learning to teach’”. “Leveraging AI-powered learning platforms will spur an increased usage of personalisation approaches”. Every time a new year arrives we witness a flurry of excitement and attention around education’s new directions.
With increased pressure on educators to improve student performance combined with increasingly disconnected students, schools are desperate for solutions. If technology has enabled business and industry to evolve so radically, why not education?
And so once more, as 2020 gets underway, we see predictions that “we will see schools buying a higher share of school software in 2020”. More money, time and energy will once again be invested into education. However, despite the continued euphoria, there have been numerous report that teaching with technology is not bringing about the learning gains that were expected (Falck, Bulman, Robinson). However, it seems, once again schools and universities are preparing to spend more money on software solutions to education problems.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Surely before we spend billions of Rands, as South Africa’s government has committed to do (State of the Nation), we should take a careful look at what teachers really need when it comes to teaching with technology.
A Correcting Approach
Several years ago, arising out of years of research, I developed the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model. This model is a cohesive set of teaching approaches (pedagogies) that resonate with how modern students learn as well as leveraging the affordances of technology. One of the core pedagogies of the ACT model is the pedagogy of Correction. This is pedagogy looks at how to use technology to encourage learning through correction.
To this end I constantly seek out tools that both support this pedagogy and leverage the affordances of technology. One such tool is AllOurIdeas (www.allourideas.org). While the tool is designed to be used to run surveys, it powerfully illustrates how technology can adopt the correction pedagogy effectively.
Over the years, surveys have been conducted in much the same way. In the “old days” a survey was paper based. You would be asked to complete a survey on paper. Then the invention of the telephone ushered in a new type of survey - the telephonic survey. However, nothing had really changed. The only difference was that your answers were gathered over the telephone and not with you physically filling in the survey. It was still the same type of survey. And then along came the computer. Surely now this amazing technology would transform how surveys took place? And it did. Now you can send the survey via email to the respondent who fills it out online. However, once again nothing’s changed. It’s still the same survey, it’s just delivered and completed in a different way.
This is exactly the same problem we have seen taking place in education. Teachers take technology, use it in the classroom, but at the end of the day nothing has changed. The smart board is the chalkboard. The e-book is the textbook, and so on.
Traditional surveys have two problems. The first is they require a set amount of time. So if you don’t have time to answer the 20 questions the chances are you won’t do the survey. Or if for some reason you are super eager, that makes no difference. There are only 20 questions. Another problem surveys have is that there is often no place for your input into the survey. What if none of the options being offered are one you want to choose? Too bad.
Allourideas.org blended the concept of wikis and their correcting approach with surveys, and created a novel way of completing surveys. The survey presents the respondent with a pair of responses that they can choose between. In addition to being able to choose one of the pair or responses, respondents can also choose to add their own options – thus creating new answer pairs generated by users. They are then presented with another pair of responses. This continues for as long or short as they respondent wishes to continue. This means the survey responds both to the new ideas of people, and hence is correcting, and also allows anyone to participate no matter how little or much time they have.
What do teachers need?
Just over five years ago I began using AllOurIdeas (http://allourideas.org/teaching) to ask teachers to answer the key question we are still struggling to answer – “What do you think is most important for successful technology-based teaching?” To answer this, the respondent is presented with a pair of options and can select the one they feel is most correct, or they can add additional items.
Teachers' Hierarchy of Needs
The top 10 items provide an important insight into what teachers consider to be important when moving towards technology-based teaching. The score column is the estimated chance that it will win against a randomly chosen idea. For example, a score of 75 means the idea is predicted to be chosen 75% of the time.
Considering these items shows that a range of issues are raised as critical to success. They range from having the basic platform in place, to training, to support, and social aspects. What is particularly interesting is that the top 10 factors align closely with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a model to explain human motivations. Needs lower in the pyramid, such as food, sleep, clothing (Physiological Needs) must be satisfied before higher needs such as respect, self-esteem, and freedom (Esteem Needs). However, when considering the top 10 “needs” for effective teaching with technology, it becomes apparent that a similar hierarchy of needs exists, as depicted below.
The hierarchy of Teachers Top 10 Needs for effective technology-based teaching spans the same five layers. At the most fundamental (physiological) level we find three key needs – Access to working technology, Training on how to apply pedagogies, and Training on how to apply technology. Without meeting these basic needs, none of the others can be met.
The second layer are the “safety” needs and here are two needs – committed and supportive school leadership and access to expert support on pedagogy and applications.
The third layer are the “love and belonging” needs and much like our needs as humans, teachers require a keen sense of community to be effective at new teaching approaches. As such two key needs identified were buy-in from everyone and opportunities to network with teachers.
The fourth layer are the “esteem” needs and in particular this relates to freedoms to try and do things. Two key needs identified in this layer are teachers having the time and space to experiment with new teaching approaches, and learners also being given time and space to experiment with new ways of learning.
The fifth and highest layer of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualisation. This is the pinnacle need where we strive to be the best we can be. In terms of teachers needs for technology-based teaching this need is reflected in the desire to have a seamless integration of content and digital-age pedagogies.
Seeing ahead clearly
2020 is about vision, when we talk about eye-tests, but nowhere is the need to see clearly more imperative than it is in our schools and universities. The pressure to educate increasingly more disconnected students is going to increase. However, simply throwing eye-watering technologies like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence at the problem is not going help us see our way clearly. In fact, when the top 10 needs are looked at – software, AI, tablets, VR, etc. are not even mentioned.
If we are going to see clearly in 2020 to address the modern challenges of education, we need to address the 5 key needs of teachers who are passionate about change and new approaches.
Firstly, the basic substratum (physiological) needs must be addressed. Nothing else matters without working technology, which government has begun to address (ref), and appropriate training in technology and more importantly, pedagogy – which is woefully lacking.
Secondly structures must be put in place to provide support to the teachers both from school leadership and experts in technology and pedagogy.
Thirdly, a positive social space needs to be created that encourages school buy-in and spaces for teachers to network.
Fourthly, teachers and students need space – space to make mistakes, to experiment, to try new approaches. Is safe spaces are not created for this take place, just like with all other learning, progress is not going to be made.
Finally, the goal of seamless integration of technology and pedagogy needs to be established whereby all content is supported by underpinning pedagogies and associated, appropriate technologies.
Sawubona (I see you) 2020 – Let’s see clearly!
Is it possible to learn how to teach with technology in a way that is "easy", "so much fun", "awesome", "incredibly insane"? These are the responses of three law lecturers who had just tried the ACT (Activated Classroom Teaching) approach for the first time. "We should have been doing this from the beginning", "the response was electric" "something clicked". Check out the video below to get a glimpse into their experience.
If you want to find out more about these teachers' experience - Check out the full interview here.
Love it or hate it, believe in it or distrust it, Bitcoin has disrupted the very platform on which modern economies are built - currency. This cryptocurrency with its non-traceable, outside of government control approach has rocked the financial world in recent years. Blamed for fundingillegal industries, banned by some countries while lauded by free market activists, and even adopted by some countries as their new currency, it hasn't gone away. If anything it has resulted in an explosion of cryptocurrencies with some seeing cryptocurrencies as the currency of the future. A similar situation currently exists in higher education.
Degrees are simply a fiat currency for trading (buying/selling) in the job market, just as money is a fiat system for trading good and services. Fiat money, like the dollar, is a currency without intrinsic value. It only has value because governments say it has value and attempt to maintain this perceived value by getting those who use it to agree to its value. However, if the value is questioned or another system arises, like Bitcoin, the fiat system is threatened.
In like manner, if people are prepared to use another fiat “currency” for trading employees in the job market, the original currency, the Degree could lose its value. In fact, the fiat value of degrees is even more astounding than fiat currencies. As Kevin Carey puts it, degrees “ are universally recognized and never expire” and they are “ golden keys to the parts of the labor market most worth entering.” A never expiring, valuable currency for buying entry to the job market - no wonder they continue to exist.
But, what gives a degree its value? There are a number of elements that contribute to the value of degrees.
However, as Kevin Carey puts it, we don't buy drills we actually buy holes. It's not the degree that is important, it is what the degree says the holder is able to do. Yet ironically degrees provide little evidence of what students actually know or can do. In fact many organisations acknowledge this, and expect to put all new employees through their own induction training. The university of the 21st century in many ways is really the workplace. Organisations are buying drills that need to create holes knowing that that drill is the wrong size and will have to be re-engineered before it can work.
And so we have a higher education system that is propped up by governments,
It seems highly probable that education's Bitcoin moment is imminent.
Time for the Bitdegree?
What is needed to create a “Bitdegree” - a qualification “currency” that exists outside of traditional university structures, is internationally understood and accessible, and accepted by employers as evidence of knowledge and ability? One thing - employers who accept it as equivalent to a traditional qualification, just as merchants accept Bitcoins in place of Dollars. The next question then is what will cause this shift to take place?
Turning to Bitcoin, we see the following four catalysts for its creation:
In the light of this let's consider the current catalysts for Bitdegrees:
The catalysts are in place, all that is now required are the following three elements to make the concept of "Bitdegrees" a reality:
And so why haven't we seen the rise of a new form of higher education? Knowledge and power. Employers haven't yet officially endorsed alternative education as being equivalent knowledge to traditional education. Governments still want to control the knowledge economy and be its gatekeepers.
Thus, it's not surprising if we find new innovative education models coming up against legislation - just as cryptocurrencies have. However, these laws are likely to be as unsuccessful at stopping advancement as the Red Flag law was at stopping the rise of the modern motor vehicle - a law that required a person to walk in front of the car carrying a red flag so it didn't go faster than the horse and carriage. Not many horse and carriages around today!
Holes not drills
Clark Kerr, the former University of California President stated that out of the 85 human institutions that have survived for the last 500 years, about 70 are universities. However, we now find ourselves at a pivotal point in the evolution of higher education. For the first time, these ancient bastions of knowledge are under threat by the very technologies their knowledge helped create.
The concept of a Bitdegree could represent more than simply the next iteration of higher education, it could represent a major leap forward in higher education. In addition to be recognised, the current core tenet of a degree, it could be universally accessible, economically and politically secure, independently verifiable, and most importantly, transparent. Employers will for the first time be able to see evidence of what the holder knows.
However, even if content is provided, the learning is curated and credentialed, these Bitdegrees only have value if organisations recognise their legitimacy. What will cause this tipping point is unknown, but what is clear is that the conditions are perfect for an inevitable change in higher education. And what may be even more surprising, when the Bitdegree becomes an accepted fiat for knowledge and ability, is that the drills will produce the holes employers bought them for with no need for re-engineering.
I have four questions for you. Your answers to these questions could determine if you're wasting a lot of money and resources, or not.
Why do businesses use technology?
I have asked audiences this question many times during my seminars, and mostly get the same answers: It helps them cut costs. It makes them more efficient. It helps differentiate them. It enables them to reach a wider market. The answers can basically be summarised in a single word - efficiency. By using technology businesses are able to make more money with lower costs.
Why do schools/universities use technology?
Once again the answers I receive are much the same. It saves time. It makes it easier to distribute content. It allows for easier scaling of content and wider reach of students. It saves costs. It makes registration and admin processes easier. So, the reasons businesses and education institutes use technology are essentially the same - efficiency.
To see why the answers above are an issue we need to answer two more important questions.
What is the primary goal of a business?
It's to make profit.
What is the primary goal of an education institute?
It's to educate students. Yes, some may have profit goals, but the primary measure of success is not profit but the performance of the students. And this is where the issues arise.
Using technology to improve efficiencies is aligned with the business goal of maximising profit. Using technology to improve efficiencies is not aligned with the education goal of maximising student performance. Student performance is not improved by efficient use of technology but by effective use of technology. It's here that we are witnessing a major problem when we consider the role of technology in education.
To further complicate the situation, education institutions often do have two goals. On the one hand they have a financial goal - even schools that are not for profit are focused on minimising costs. It is important to save money on printing by going digital. It is important to save time on student registration but moving this online. It is important to enable teachers to manage marks digitally to save time. As such schools do have an efficiency imperative. However, having an I.T. system that achieves this does nothing more than set the school up to focus on its main goal - education. However, achieving the first goal is often seen as the only and primary goal, and herein lies the problem.
Using technology for learning management is not that same as using technology for learning. It is not using technology that is key to the success of schools, it is teaching with technology that is important. It is only when we realise this difference that we will begin to see why our implementations of technology are yielding such disappointing results.
As long as we allow our education agenda to be driven by IT departments we will not see the gains we were hoping for. It's not the IT departments that are to blame. Their skillset and objective is using technology to improve processes - efficiency. Their skillset is not education.
I recently received an email from a company offering their IT services to universities:
“Hi Team, Hope this mail finds you well. I am <name>, Head Client Engagement at <Company>. <Company> is a leading EdTech consultant and Moodle Partner. We specialize in enabling Universities / Corporates in effective adoption of Education Technology.”
Sounds promising. They have used the word “effective”. So I read on...in hope.
“<Company> has 360 degree experience in implementing and optimizing Learning Management Systems, leading to efficient as well as scalable learning delivery. In the process our clients have seen shift from traditional methods to automated workflows for curriculum management, enrollments, scheduling and assessments" (emphasis added).
And there we have it. They are offering to help education institutes use technology so they can be optimized, efficient, scalable, and automated. They may well do a great job at this, however, this is not the primary goal of education institutes, and as such should not be the primary goal of our use of technology. Yet, increasingly this is how technology is being used in schools and universities.
There are two reasons education institutes are using technology just like businesses. The first is that technology companies are simply transferring their same offerings from business (one client) to schools (another client). The second is that the decision makers in education institutes are normally either management or the IT department. If it is management, then their measure is efficiency. If it is the IT department, then the email above resonates with them too, because their mandate is also around efficiencies and improved service delivery.
So, what do we need to do?
Firstly, educators need to step forward. We can't outsource the decisions as to how technology will be used at our schools to anyone who is not an educator. Secondly, we need a fundamental mind shift. We need to shift from thinking about how we will use technology to how we will teach with technology. Only when we do this will we start asking the right questions, and identifying the correct approaches. Only once we focus on teaching with technology will be shift from efficiency to effectiveness, from management to learning, from systems to students. Only once we focus on pedagogy before technology will we begin to see what technology can do for education.
So, the next time you receive an offer from a technology vendor, ask yourself (and them) the question - will this make us more efficient or more effective at teaching? And if it will make us more effective, how will it do this? How will it change how I teach?
The Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach is the first research backed, cohesive, digital-age set of pedagogies that empowers teachers to teach effectively with technology. Find out more about this unique approach that is transforming schools and universities around the world by focusing on pedagogy then technology. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.act.click.
We live in a distracted world. Our ability to focus on a single task or activity is dwindling, even though many people insist they’re good multi-taskers. Neuroscientist Earl Miller says these people are “deluding themselves”. All we are really doing is dividing our brain’s processing power between tasks as we switch from one to another. We are actually increasing the cognitive load on our brain.
Despite knowing all of this, I have checked my email at least ten times while writing this article. I’ve Googled references and then followed links down “interesting” rabbit holes. I’ve felt my phone buzz and checked to see what the message was.
Even though we are aware of how distractions affect our productivity, we still find it hard to resist them. One of the reasons is our addiction to dopamine, a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter and makes us feel good when it is released. Every time we receive new information we are rewarded with a rush of dopamine to the brain.
But if the innovations of our digital age are largely to blame for our decreasing attention spans, don’t they also hold possible solutions? There are thousands of apps that suggest this is the case. Apple’s app store has an entire category dedicated to “productivity” apps.
But simply creating a digital version of a traditional tool is often not effective. What is needed are ways to encourage people to use the productivity tools and enjoy being focused and productive.
One of the areas I have been involved in researching is gamification. Gamification is applying game principles and mechanics, such as earning badges and using leaderboards, to encourage participation. A popular example of this is Kahoot! which gamifies quizzes through leaderboards, music and countdown timers.
Combining gamification with a focus routine is one potentially promising way of improving focus in our modern world. The principle has been built into a range of approaches (as well as apps) that help people break the cycle. I’ve used some, and my students have used some. They work.
The Pomodoro technique
Take the Pomodoro technique: named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, is based on the principle that even the largest building is constructed a brick at a time. Rather than being overawed by huge tasks, the idea is to commit to single small tasks which are achievable. It has significantly improved the productivity of my students, as well as my own.
The Pomodoro technique is based on what’s called a pomodoro: a 25-minute work period followed by a 5-minute break. After three or four “pomodoros” you take a longer break. The one essential element is that during a pomodoro you commit to focus entirely on the task at hand. That means no checking email or Whatsapp, and even resisting the urge to watch an ant walking across your desk. It takes a little bit of getting used to and the first few pomodoros are often littered with errant wandering thoughts demanding a dopamine fix.
However, you quickly learn that it’s actually easy to do this for just 25 minutes and before you know it you’ve done some really productive work which itself generates dopamine, reinforcing a new habit of focus. And of course, there are digital versions. Pomodoro timers can be downloaded from several app stores.
Trees, tricks and risks
Research on gamification has shown that it can encourage learning. For example, I use gamified Kahoot! quizzes during my lessons to gauge student understanding. Students are excited to participate as they attempt to climb the leaderboard.
Gamification can also encourage increased levels of commitment and performance. For this reason more and more organisations are using it. In South Africa Discovery Health has successfully used it to encourage its members to exercise regularly and drive carefully in order to earn points and get rewards.
Discovery Health gamifies exercise and driving. Google has also gamified the submission of employee expense claims, reportedly resulting in 100% compliance.
Gamification can also be used to help you focus. There’s Forest, an app that gamifies the Pomodoro approach by encouraging you to plant virtual trees. If you use your phone while the app is working, though, your tree dies. Seeing trees growing helps users to visualise their time and effort.
There’s even a group mode where multiple people commit to “focus” times. If any person in the group uses their phone, everyone’s trees die.
Elsewhere, in an attempt to address these issues, Apple’s soon to be released iOS 12 will include new distraction assisting tools and settings. These new features allow users to view phone usage activity reports, set time limits on app usage and schedule Do Not Disturb times when all notifications are muted.
My favourite high risk, high return focus app is The Most Dangerous Writing App. This app asks you to choose a time period – 3 or 5 minutes, or longer if you’re brave, and then click “Start Writing”. You’re presented with a blank screen and you begin writing. However, if you stop for just a couple of seconds you lose everything. Even my most distracted students are totally focused.
So, go ahead, plant your trees. Challenge yourself. Challenge your friends. Use whatever tools you can to make focusing a little easier. It’s a survival skill we all desperately need to sharpen in this digital age.
//Well done if you read this entire article. You’ve just concentrated for approximately five minutes.
Summary: In this article I will discuss how our attempt to fix our education crisis has staggered from one approach to another. First we threw lots of tech at the problem, and this resulted in billion dollar failures. Then we threw lots of money at training teachers to use tech, and still we are seeing failures. It is only when we realise what is really wrong that we can effectively change how we teach.
“Hi Craig, I wonder if you could come and talk to our teachers about using technology for teaching?” reads the email I've just opened. I receive many emails like this and so I'm fairly sure what I will find when I get to this school.
I arrive and am soon set up in the school auditorium. Typically, the session is scheduled after school - often on a Friday afternoon. As the room slowly fills with teachers I can already read their expressions - “Why do they force us to attend these sessions?” - “Not another presentation on using computers”.
As I stand up I can see most people are looking at their devices. I suppose that's what I'd be doing at an after school session like this. I lean forward and speak into the microphone. “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology.” I pause. Heads pop up. I can see them replaying what I just said in their minds, wondering if they heard correctly. I can see the questions forming. “Wasn't this guy meant to be telling us how to use computers?” I wait for the confusion to take hold and then I continue.
The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...
That hasn't helped. If anything they are now even more confused. Excellent! Now that I have everyone's attention I have a precious moment - a teachable moment. That moment that every teacher desires - when our students are attentive, enquiring, wanting to hear more
Who's to blame?
I keep coming across articles that attempt to explain how we can fix the modern education crisis. Yes, there is a crisis. It doesn't take studies to tell us that our world has changed dramatically and our teaching hasn't kept up.
Our students have a daily digital diet of approx. 9 hours of tech consumption. The impact is attention spans are reported to have dropped to 8 seconds - apparently below that of a goldfish. Whether this is true or not, what is true is that most teachers are struggling to keep students engaged.
So how do we reconnect with our students? How do we make our teaching relevant in the digital age? The solution seems obvious. If technology is what engages the modern generation outside the classroom, then let's use it in the classroom. After all technology has revolutionized all other aspects of life - business, entertainment, communication, sports. It only makes sense that education needs the same revolution.
And so our first attempt to fix our classrooms saw us investing billions in technology - iPads, Chrome Books, smartboards flooded into schools. And the result? At the best we could call it a mixed success. However, many would call it a failure. Headlines telling the costly story of the failed Los Angles iPad program or research proclaiming that technology in the classroom is reducing students' grades.
Something's just not right. Surely technology should have solved our education issues, not exacerbated them. What's going wrong? Is it the technology to blame or is it the teachers? It seems unlikely it's the tech - it has proven itself in so many other areas - so maybe it is the teachers. And so now we are seeing headlines like:
That makes sense. Edtech is failing because teachers haven't been trained to use the technology. And that's why I find myself standing before this audience. This is our second attempt at addressing our modern education issues - throw money at training teachers to use technology. And once again vendors have been quick to respond to this by eagerly offering courses on how to use the plethora of tools that exist.
But we have lost sight of something fundamental in our headlong rush to modernise education.
It's not training teachers to use technology that we need, it's training teachers to teach with technology.
The difference between “use” and “teach” has profound implications. The best way to understand what's going wrong, and why I began my presentation by saying “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology” is to think about cakes.
A lesson from Master Chef
Imagine some children enthused to bake their own cake after watching endless seasons of Master Chef. They're in the kitchen surrounded by everything they need - ingredients, equipment, and dollops of enthusiasm.
After hours of mixing and beating, laughing and chatting, delicious smells are wafting from the kitchen. Finally, the moment arrives. The cake is ready. The oven is opened. You reach in to extract the delicious smelling masterpiece as the children look on fibrillating in anticipation. The cake is perf....flat! It is splayed across the baking tray inelegantly like a beginner skier on a ski slope. How could all their passion, ingredients, and tools result in this disaster? Quite simple - there was no recipe. And the same applies to education.
Even the best technology mixed with enthused teachers and sprinkled liberally with the latest tech won't ensure success.
My Epic Fail
I look back at my countless forays into using technology for teaching and how often it fell flat - despite my passion and belief that it would work.
I recall one ambitious attempt in particular. I was so excited about the potential of 3D virtual worlds that I got my students to build a replica of our university - everything from the library to the lecture theatres. The detail was amazing. And so it was with great excitement that I stood at the front of a virtual lecture theatre prepared to deliver my first lesson. It took a while to settle them down as a flood of text streamed across my screen as the students “talked”. Finally, I managed to instil some order by SHOUTING (typing in uppercase) to make myself “heard”.
Behind me the first slide of my presentation was displayed. “GOOD MORNING CLASS,” I typed. “TODAY WE WILL...” and so I began explaining what was on the slide. While the talking had eased off, students were still morphing into animals, flying, walking...I pushed on. I clicked “Next” to move to the next slide. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Nothing. Again. Suddenly the presentation jumped three slides. “Oh no,” I groaned hunched over my computer.
Finally I got to the right slide. “IN THIS SLIDE WE SEE,” I slowly typed as I explained the slide. Half my time was up and we had only completed two slides. It's then that it hit me - “What am I doing? This is a poor substitute for a real lecture. In fact I would have been better off emailing the slides to the students than doing this. This just hasn't worked. Is it the tech, or is it me?”
Using or Teaching
It's not the tech. It's not the teachers. It's the missing recipe. In teacher talk the recipe is called pedagogy, but somehow we seem to have forgotten all about pedagogy.
Somewhere in our enthusiasm to fix our education challenges technology has become a proxy for pedagogy .
Herein lies our problem - where training teachers to use technology is assumed to be the same as training teachers to teach with technology. It's akin to assuming that because you know how to use a drill and nail gun you know how to build a house.
Just because a teacher has been trained to use Google Docs, or YouTube, or Edmodo, does not mean they know how to teach with these tools. This begs the question. Why have we ignored pedagogy - something all student teachers learn about, something all teachers know is vital? Could it be that our digital education agenda is now driven by technology companies? In fact, why are technology companies telling teachers how to teach? Or maybe pedagogy has been forgotten because we are mesmerised by all the tools, or maybe it's our lack of understanding of how modern students learn.
Education's Missing Recipe
What we need, if we are going to realize the opportunities that technology can bring to education, is an easy-to-apply, effective, and appropriate set of digital-age pedagogies.
What is required is not just digital age pedagogies but a Taxonomy Of Teaching And Learning (TOTAL) digital age pedagogies.
Designing a TOTAL digital-age approach requires an understanding of how modern students use technology, as well as the intentional and unintentional affordances provided by technology. It was extensive research into this that gave rise to the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model - the first cohesive taxonomy of digital age pedagogies.
The ACT model provides educators with an arrangement of five active learning pedagogies for teaching in the digital age. These pedagogies allow teachers to focus on teaching then technology.
The ACT approach empowers teachers to view technology through a pedagogic lens opening up a raft of exciting possibilities. Rather than simply seeing how to use technology, teachers are now able to see how they can teach with technology
The best thing we can do
So, why is training teachers to use technology the worst thing we can do? Quite simply because as our education issues continue and it's not the teachers to blame - as they have now been trained - it must be the technology to blame. And this is exactly what we are seeing in a new wave of reports proclaiming the failure of technology in the classroom. However the issue lies not with the technology or with our teachers, but with our training.
The auditorium is quiet. Everyone is waiting to hear what I say next. A moment of attention, so rare in our modern world. I grasp this teachable moment and say,
“The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...The best thing we can do is train teachers to teach with technology.
Perspectives make all the difference in life, and this is also true when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. A simple change in perspective can cause a radical change in outlook. See it in action below!
It is not enough to simply use technology into our classrooms, we need to teach with technology. The difference between "using" and "teaching" is important, and will make the difference between whether tech is an expensive version of what we have had for years, or an empowering tool to reactivate our students learning. The difference comes down to one thing - no pedagogy or pedagogy. Having an easy-to-apply set of digital-age pedagogies in place enables us to see our use of technology in the classroom in a whole new way. The fun, short video below illustrates the power of seeing things in a different way. Enjoy!
Facebook turned 14 on February 4, 2018. And the controversies continue unabated. But there’s one aspect of Facebook that should not be lost in all the noise: the extraordinary change it has brought about in how we connect, communicate, consume and share content – in the classroom, as well as in other spaces.
Putting the words “Facebook” and “learning” together may seem like an oxymoron. But my research has delved into the role Facebook has played in shaping how the new generation consumes and shares content. Understanding this is pivotal to understanding how we should be using technology to teach in the digital age. Quite simply, Facebook has changed the way that children learn.
How students learn
That’s what I’ve discovered through my research, which used a cyber-ethnography approach to try and determine how students are learning in our modern digital age. This involved essentially “living” with students while they connected, communicated, and learned in a Facebook space.
I spent an entire semester watching and interacting with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as they used a Facebook page as their primary learning portal. The students were given admin access to the space. This meant they could determine how the space was used: who had access to it, how it was designed, what was posted on the page, and even the level of anonymity of their posts.
This provided me with an opportunity to watch the students learn, unfettered from traditional learning constraints. However, it would take a while for the students to fully explore their learning within this new space. Initially the students would often attempt to defer to me and my guidance. Only after I repeatedly refused to control their learning experience did they begin to behave in a self-oraganising way and allow me to observe their “natural” learning patterns.
The research revealed that Facebook provided students with a series of learning affordances. Affordances are “can do” oppportunies, some intentional and others unintentional, that technology spaces provide. In this instance the research revealed that the affordances at play were accessibility, connection, communication, control and construction. These affordances provide valuable insights into how students learn in digital spaces.
Once I understood this, I could turn my attention to the key need: developing ways of teaching, called pedagogies, that are appropriate for the digital age. Currently the focus on technology – the what, has distracted us from pedagogy: the how. Without understanding how best to apply these new technologies’ affordances, educators will not be able to effectively impact teaching in the modern classroom.
However, providing educators with a list of “how tos” isn’t much use without a system that makes the list easy to implement. As Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, says:
Activating the classroom
That’s where the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model comes in. I developed this model in a bid to create a taxonomy of teaching and learning for 21st century classrooms. A taxonomy is an ordered arrangement of items. One of the most famous of these is Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. The ACT model attempts to provide a taxonomy of digital-age teaching approaches.
The ACT model consists of five digital-age pedagogies that seek to maximise the affordances of technology, modern students’ approaches to learning and the development of key 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, curiosity, critical thinking, etc.
The focus is a shift from passive ways of teaching (consumption) to active approaches (curation, conversation, correction, creation and chaos). This aligns with research that shows children are spending more than half their online time actively engaging: creating content, getting involved in “interactive consumption” and communicating.
Ignoring the tectonic shifts taking place in our classrooms is not the solution. Simply dropping technology into our classrooms is not the solution. Simply training teachers to use computers is not the solution. As British author and education expert Sir Ken Robinson has said, we need a paradigm shift, but it’s more than that - we need a pedagogy shift.
The young teen, Facebook, has changed how we connect and learn. But, as the OECD pointed out in its global study about educational technology: “If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”
Last year I was privileged to speak to over 20,000 delegates from around the world at EdmodoCon 2016. I was somewhat concerned as my presentation was scheduled near the end of the day - a slot any teacher knows is the "graveyard session". A combo of lunch, content fatigue and anticipation of the end conspire together to cause low levels of attention and possibly even sleep.
However, the silver lining on this somnolent cloud was that I had been able to listen to all the amazing talks before mine. Teacher after teacher from schools all around the world presented the incredible things they were doing with technology in their classroom. While this in itself would be reward, it was not just this alone that was the silver lining. I was able to see something astounding about how these world-leading teachers (and I mean this literally - some having won world top-teacher awards) were using technology. Unknowingly, they were applying one or more of the ACT pedagogies in their classroom. I was blown away by seeing this, and so standing up last, I was able to not only share the power of the ACT pedagogies to transform how we teach with tech, but also highlight how each and everyone of these amazing teachers was already doing it. However, now the benefit was they understood the pedagogy that lies beneath their success - and understanding this makes it easier to replicate these amazing success stories. In addition, they were exposed to other digital age pedagogies that can also be used with equal success.
Below is a video of the EdmodoCon 2016 presentation. It provides a brief overview of the issues we are facing in our modern classroom and how we can implement 5 digital-age pedagogies to revolutionize how we are teaching.
“Speak your mind” and “post your mind” are not the same thing. A study that investigated how messages containing different emotions spread across social networks found that “anger is more influential than other emotions like joy, which indicates that angry tweets can spread quickly and broadly in the network”.
So why do such posts persist? My research suggests that the answer lies with three issues: the accessibility of technology, the spaces it provides for communication that isn’t face to face, and how this is skewing our ideas of connection.
But all is not lost: there are some basic rules you can apply that make sure you stay out of trouble and that you get the most out of social media.
The Facebook factor
With 1.8 billion users, Facebook has had a huge impact on how people connect, communicate and consume content. It was recently blamed for influencing the outcome of the US elections by facilitating the spread of fake news.
Facebook wasn’t designed to spread fake news – but this is an unintentional consequence of the environment. Understanding such consequences – what are known as “affordances” – is key to helping us better leverage technology for learning and to mitigate its risks.
In my research I explored the affordances of Facebook on student interaction and learning. An affordance is a “can do” opportunity of something, whether intentionally designed or unintentionally possible.
From this I developed the Actant-Activity Affordance model. It identifies five key affordances that interact in a competing set of tensions in online spaces: accessibility, communication, connection, control and construction.
Accessibility, communication and connection are especially relevant when it comes to understanding why so many people vent their spleen on social media.
Accessibility, in my model, is the ability to access online spaces through multiple devices, in multiple places, at any time. This often results in “spur-of-the-moment” posts.
In the pre-technology era a person wanting to vent their anger would have to find the local newspaper’s address, write the letter, and then post it. This cooling down gap does not exist with technology.
New technologies with their ubiquitous access have changed us, largely without us realising it, from passive content consumers to active content producers. Many people have readily assimilated the benefits of permanent access to a publishing platform but haven’t been as quick to realise the responsibilities that come with our new role as content publishers.
Communication: no warm bodies
Technology now offers innumerable opportunities to both express ourselves and get exposure for our opinions. However, there are important differences between fireside chats and online posts.
Social presence theory teaches that “text based messages deprive computer mediated communication users of the sense that other warm bodies are jointly involved in the interaction”. Physical presence often tempers what people say, while the existence of a spatial gap between the poster and their online audience emboldens people to express themselves.
It’s natural to want to talk about how we feel. While some people may talk to friends, others resort to writing a private journal. However, the danger comes when online channels are falsely believed to be the “modern equivalent of writing a journal”.
Online channels are a convenient space for expression. But they come with another aspect of the communication affordance: exposure. A journal is private and can be discarded. Online posts are both permanent and public. Posting online is not the modern equivalent of writing a journal. It’s the modern equivalent of writing a letter to the editor.
Conflating the real world and online
The connection affordance, described in my model, relates to the opportunities that technology affords to develop connections between members of online spaces. In my experiment, students were given administrator status on a Facebook page. An unintentional affordance of this was that they could mask their identity when posting, which emboldened some to become more positively engaged in online class discussions.
However, a more subtle danger of connecting online, is the avatar syndrome; the conflation of real and online personas. People assume their online identities to a greater or lesser extent. This can be consciously, as in the case of role playing games, or subconsciously through our choice of profile pictures, photos and the content we choose to share about ourselves in social media spaces.
This avatar syndrome inevitably results in people making comments and sharing content that can have serious real world consequences.
How to stay out of the news and jail
Technology provides exciting opportunities to enhance how we teach and learn. In the coming years it’ll be important to keep educating school kids about the dangers of these new technologies. Here are some simple guidelines to remember when using social media, whatever your age.
Before you post it online, use the SPACE to THINK approach.
SPACE – Take these steps:
THINK – Ask yourself these questions:
Being a little more thoughtful and circumspect about your social media presence will improve the experience for everyone. Think like a publisher – because in this brave new world, that’s exactly what we’ve all become.
As the summer holidays draw near in many parts of the world, parents shouldn’t be surprised if kids choose to fill their days with technology. After all, teens and tweens are now spending more hours on their devices – iPads, phones and computers – than they are asleep.
In the same way that some food is healthy and some has no nutritional benefits, some apps are low in mental fibre. Based on my own research into how students learn with technology, here’s a guide to getting rid of “junk” apps and ensuring your tweens and teens develop healthy tech habits both in term time and during the school holidays.
From passive to active
The key lies in shifting kids from using apps that make them passive content consumers to those where they are active content producers. Encouraging the use of activating apps can help children to develop a wide range of 21st century skills like collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.
Before I look at apps that will actively engage kids during school holidays, here are the “apps” you should immediately delete from their lives.
Once these “apps” are deleted, here’s a selection of apps that will not only engage your kids, but help them develop important skills. I’ve selected a few iOS, Android, and Web-based apps (accessible through a browser on any device). The full list is available here. I’ve grouped these according to the skills they will develop.
Curation: Curation apps help kids to develop key skills such as reading, categorising and organising.
Conversation: There’s a shift from learning through content consumption to learning through conversation around content in online spaces. Conversation-based apps provide opportunities to debate, discuss and enrich relationships.
Correction: Research shows that one of the most effective ways to learn is through mistakes. Technology allows us to easily experiment, make mistakes and learn through correction.
Creation: Creating content develops key skills such as logic, creative thinking and problem solving.
Chaos: Learning to make sense of too much information, missing information, and conflicting information is a skill children increasingly need to develop in our content-excessive world.
No matter which apps your kids choose, it’s important to keep track of their use. Research suggests that screen time should be limited, whether young users are consuming “junk” apps or learning while they swipe. OurPact is a great tool to automate this process. It allows parents to set usage schedules or turn off a device at any time.
Myth 2 – We need to use technology to make our teaching more efficient
We continue our myth series that explores dangerous education technology myths. You can read Myth 1 here. Each of these myths are commonly held beliefs that have huge implications on how we approach teaching with technology.
Like all myths, this myth also seems, on face value, to be both true and innocuous. However, this is exactly why the myth is so dangerous.
I often come across teachers and school management who extol the benefits of their edtech tools using words like - “Time is freed up”, “convenience”, “ease of handling”, “efficient way of collecting and storing information” and “immediate access”.
In fact, these are the same benefits you will find touted by LMS vendors. Take a look at the following list of features of the popular LMS, Blackboard. The vast majority of the features are around management and efficiencies.
These "features" point to an underlying perspective that many teachers and software vendors have about the goal of technology in the classroom - improving efficiency. In fact this same perspective also pervades students' perceptions. A research project just completed by one of my students, found that 92% of students listed technology providing “improved access to information” as a key reason for using it for learning.
And so it is no surprise that we readily believe the statement - We need to use technology to make our teaching more efficient. After all, who doesn't want to save time and make things more efficient?
Ditching Industrial Era Objectives
Efficiencies are great for business and industry, but is this what we are seeking when it comes to education? British educationist and author Sir Ken Robinson has famously called on schools to abandon the efficiency-driven, industrial paradigm and move to a new approach to education.
Increasingly we are seeing teachers advocating a new era in education that celebrates diversity, opportunities and innovation. However, most of us are simply using technology to reinforce the old industrial approaches rather than revolutionising the classroom.
Pursuing efficiencies to get students through more content, faster and with less effort, is the wrong objective. Our focus should be on effective rather than efficient teaching. Technology is not just about computerising existing processes – it is about rethinking ways to teach and learn.
The Danger of the Myth
By pursuing efficiency objectives we simply reinforce our old, outdated, industrial approaches to teaching. We are simply attempting to speed up and automate these old processes. This dangerous agenda is pushed by many vendors because it makes for a good sell. "We can make your job easier", "We can save you time", etc. However, education is more than this. It needs us to reinvent, redesign, and reimagine how we are teaching the modern generation.
Technology brings with it many exciting opportunities. The most successful modern businesses, who are driven by efficiency agendas, have also realised this. They've realised the need to move beyond simple efficiencies to reinventing how they do business. This has given rise to innovative businesses like Uber who have disrupted the transport industry, Twitter who have disrupted the news industry, and Whatsapp who have disrupted the communication industry.
It is only when we begin to let go of our outdated, industrial paradigms and see technology, not simply as a tool for improving efficiencies, but as a tool to open up new way of teaching and learning, that we will truly begin to realise the benefits of technology in the classroom. It's then that we will start to see the Uber Classrooms appear - and that will be very exciting.
A myth, according to the online dictionary is "a widely held but false belief or idea". Busting myths was made popular by the TV show "Myth Busters". However, myths continue to circulate and are readily accepted and believed, and we as teachers are not exempt.
In this EdTech Myth Busting series I will share with you some commonly believed myths that are not only false, but can, and have resulted in some costly failures when it comes to education technology.
Myth 1 – Training teachers how to use technology will result in better teaching
Do you believe this?
It seems quite reasonable, and I've heard it said many times that if we train teachers to use technology the result will be better teaching.
So, what's wrong with this belief?
It lies in the phrase "training teachers how to use technology". Training a teacher how to use technology is not the same as training a teacher how to teach with technology. At first glance, this may seem like a trivial difference, but it's a golf swing difference - where a seemingly small error on tee-off results in missing the green by far and having to search for your lost ball in a pond!
Training a teacher to use an iPad, or to use Google Docs, or to use a Smartboard does not mean they know how to teach with this technology. I could be trained how to use all the controls in a plane, but that does not mean I could fly the plane.
And herein lies the danger. All too often schools send teachers on courses that train them how to use technology, and assume this will result in effective teaching with technology. Believing this myth is part of the reason why we are seeing so many failed attempts at implementing technology in the classroom.
EdTech Success Formula
It is not simply knowing how to use technology that is important, in fact it is not even knowing how to teach with technology that we need - it is knowing how to teach effectively with technology.
If teachers are not shown how to apply an appropriate digital-age pedagogy to their teaching how can we expect our results to be anything better than hit-and-miss.
Great Teacher + Great Technology + Pedagogy = Great Teaching
Don't believe the myth that simply being trained to use technology will result in effective teaching with technology. We need our teachers to be trained in the use of a guiding pedagogy that will show them how to teach effectively with technology!
That's one myth busted. Look out for the next Edtech myth...and don't forget to share this with others, because it's up to us to stop the spread of this dangerous myth!
Learn how to teach using the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach - a pedagogy for the digital age. Get the book now and transform your classroom! What teachers are saying -
“genius”, “brilliant”, “inspiring”, “motivated”, “a first”, “doable”, “fascinating”, “thanks to infinity”, “mind shift of epic proportions”, “a renaissance for me”, “I have been doing it all wrong!”, “inspired to use technology”, “buzz of the school”, “absolutely blown away”
Bloodletting is an ancient practice where doctors would cut people to let blood out of them in the hope that this would lead to some type of cure. We may now laugh at this archaic treatment, but for centuries it was the approach that "modern" doctors thought worked. Imagine having a sore throat and the doctor says, "Don't worry, I will fix you in no time," as he reaches for the scalpel or a bowl of leaches! This is exactly what happened to George Washington...yes, THE George Washington, America's first president. On December 13, 1799 George woke up with a sore throat and was treated with bloodletting where doctors drained an estimated 5-7 pints (3-4 litres) of blood in less that 16 hours. Unsurprisingly he died a few days later!
What does this crazy approach to health care have to do with how you are teaching?
Well, according to Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Carl Wieman, how we teach today is the educational equivalent of this archaic, painful, and useless treatment. In an interview with NPR, Wieman discusses how the approach we are currently using for teaching is not only ineffective, it is detrimental to learning.
"You give people lectures, and [some students] go away and learn the stuff. But it wasn't that they learned it from lecture — they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture, it's just really small." (Carl Wieman)
Only 10% remember what is taught
For years Carl Wieman has been unsatisfied with the traditional "talk-and-chalk" or "sage-on-the-stage" approach, and has experimented with using active learning in his classroom. Prof. Wieman would give a lecture then a few minutes later he would test the students knowledge with a multiple choice test. The result?
Most of the time "only 10 percent would actually remember the answer. A lot of them are asleep, or lost, and I don't know whether they're getting anything out of it. If I'm standing up there talking at them, I have no clue what they're absorbing and not absorbing."
Active learning - The Solution
Seeing such poor results, Prof. Wieman dumped this ineffective, "bloodletting" and switched to using active learning approaches in his classroom. His students are now often found in small groups actively discussing the course content while he walks around the classroom helping guide their learning.
Now that his students are actively involved in the learning process, as opposed to being passive consumers, not only are they more engaged, but he is better able to see what they understand and what is causing them problems.
"I'm doing my best to understand what's going on in every one of those students' minds and challenge them and monitor how they're learning, If I'm just lecturing the whole time, what a terrible waste that would be. Half the material would be over their head, and half the material would be completely trivial to them." (Carl Wieman)
Research proven results
"I know you can double how much a student learns depending on what method the instructor is using." (Carl Wieman)
Listen to the interview with Cal Wieman below.
Why is everyone not using Active Learning?
With such compelling evidence, it seems strange that everyone is not using active learning techniques in their classrooms. Why is this?
Well, beyond the obvious, that some teachers might not want to change - because change is uncomfortable and invariably requires effort, there is another important reason. Dan Schwartz, who is the dean of Stanford's Graduate School of Education puts the problem of poor adoption of this effective approach down to a "mountain of goo".
"The literature on how to do this stuff is a giant mountain of goo...I can tell people they need to teach better. But if I don't give them things that are easy for them to implement, they won't do it." (Dan Schwartz)
From Goo to Good
There is no doubt that the research points to the fact that as teachers we should be using active learning approaches in our classrooms. Add to this the exciting opportunities that technology brings, and we should be seeing huge innovations in how we teach. The era of bloodletting is far behind us, yet somehow while medicine has advanced it seems in many ways teaching has not. However, without an "easy way...to implement" this as Dan Schwartz points out, moving from our old approach to a new more effective approach is going to be difficult for all but the very brave.
The Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach is an "easy way...to implement" active learning approaches with technology in the classroom. This research-backed approach focuses on pedagogy before technology and guides teachers in how to effectively use technology in the classroom in a new and innovative ways. Rather than simply tell teachers that active learning is powerful, or tell teachers that we should be using technology in new ways, the ACT approach SHOWS teachers how they can do this.
Based on 5 layers of increasing activity the ACT model is a digital pedagogy for the modern age that is transforming how schools are teaching around the world. To find out more about this amazing approach watch the video below or read more here.
Article source: NPR
We live in a world of massive video content - almost 5,000,000,000 videos are watched every single day, on YouTube alone, amounting to 900 million hours per month - that's 102,739 years worth of video/month. It's crazy! It's no wonder that we are having binge watching issues that we've talked about before. Video feeds our consumption addiction, and sadly is often used as the primary way in which we engage our students in the classroom. However, if video is such an enticing medium, can't we use it more effectively?
The first step is to understand your approach to teaching with technology. The ETA (Education Technology Assessment) model helps you identify the type of teaching you are engaged in when it comes to using technology in the classroom. There are two dimensions. The first is the content that can either be based around consumption or production, and the second is the learning approach which is either passive or active.
Why are we getting it wrong?
It's not the teacher nor the technology that is to blame when it comes to being effective in the classroom. All too often I come across reports saying how technology is bad for teaching and learning. This is akin to saying that a knife is bad for cooking because a chef cut his finger. It's all about technique...not just the tools. Even the most enthusiastic amateur chef with the best equipment still needs a recipe to produce great food. So too for teachers with technology. The recipe we need is a digital pedagogy. The problem is that until recently there was no digital pedagogy, quite simply because we just didn't understand how our modern generation learns with technology.
The @CTIVATED Classroom approach, the result of years of research, is a first of it's kind digital recipe (pedagogy) that is designed to guide teachers to be more effective with using technology in the classroom. The pedagogy shows teachers how they can shift their teaching from the less ineffective quadrants of the ETA model (PC/AC/PP) to the highly effective active-producer (AP) quadrant by teaching using the various layers from curation up to the higher layers of creation and chaos.
Harnessing our 900 million hour addiction
So, we have an addiction for video content, but passively consuming content is not the most effective way to learn. So rather than consuming video content how about engaging your students in actively producing video content. There are so many ways this can be done (and I cover many of these in our online course). Here's an example of two videos created by students that show how powerful this pedagogy can be.
Not only are students motivated as they become creative, but they have to carefully think through their content before creating the script. Additionally, the movie is an artefact that remains as a testimony to the students learning and also is a great tool for further conversation and even formative assessment. What a way to develop the "World's Best Students"!
The World's Best Teacher
One of the best parts about the @CTIVATED Classroom approach is that it does not only apply to your students. We are all students after all. And so there is no reason why you can't also be actively creating videos rather than simply consuming them. Not only can you have the "World's Best Students" you can become the "World's Best Teacher". Watch this video for some real inspiration of what is possible. #ENJOY being an @CTIVIST!
If you’re a student, teacher or parent, you might have noticed there is a massive push to use technology in the classroom these days. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear somebody talking about the digital curriculum, or computers in classrooms, or teaching coding in schools.
But this push for more technology often misses the mark when it comes to improving educational outcomes. Just adding more gadgets to the classroom won’t necessarily benefit students. Rather, we need fewer gimmicks and more focus on what actually works.
Good for learning?
Schools are being forced to embrace computers. Unlike their “digital immigrant” teachers, these students are “digital natives”, born into a world where technology is an integral part of everyday life. Almost every student has access to a multitude of computers, laptops and tablet devices. It would be crazy to assume an assignment would not be written on computer in this day and age.
Many schools now have a 1-to-1 computer policy, and many districts and states in the United States have mandated computers or iPads across the state for every student, including Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the country.
But the thing is, when they tried it in LA, it wasn’t the success they hoped for. That’s because the tablets weren’t used as much as they expected. Rather, it appeared there was a gap between the digital native’s love of technology and their use of it in the classroom.
This conflicted relationship with computers is also underscored by much of the literature on education. It is also highlighted in professional development and conferences such as EduTech.
This was the second time I attended EduTech. It’s always fun to look at the technology being demonstrated and think about how it might be used for learning. There is usually a theme to the conference as well. Last year it was all about 3D printers. This year it’s all about digital collaboration.
As I wandered around the conference, I got to play with lots of cool technology, including 3D printed gears, big touch screens that can be used for collaboration, automatic drawing robots and even a massive blow up tent with a projector pointed at the roof that AARNET uses to give a 180 degree view of the solar system.
For me as a technologist, it was all endlessly fascinating. And it’s tempting to think it could all contribute to improving education. But as I wandered around, I wondered how these gadgets would genuinely benefit teachers and students? Sure the digital touchscreen might be fun to use, but how much support do teachers get to actually put this into the classroom?
Teaching teachers to use tech
When I looked into it further, I found there are a lot of presentations on technology use, but not so many presentations on practical ways to integrate technology into the classroom that target individual teachers and their needs.
If these teachers are “digital immigrants”, then how are they going to know how the digital touchscreen or the blow-up tent can be best used in their classroom, with their curriculum and their students?
I’m not questioning the ability of teachers to develop good lessons; I’m questioning how they will be able to integrate technology into their class for maximum effect without a full understanding of the technology and what it is capable of?
Google seems to have noticed this and has developed a program called Computer Science for High Schools – CS4HS – to address this. Rather than targeting students directly, this program targets teachers, introducing them to innovative new technology and helping them think about how that technology might be used in the classroom.
The CS4HS is a terrific initiative, and it would be great to see more like it, but it’s ultimately supported by a technology company. When we are talking about technology in the classroom, we shouldn’t be putting the technology first.
Instead, we should be putting the pedagogy first, finding a problem and solving it with technology, rather than bolting technology onto a classroom and hoping it solves some problem.
But what we really need, more than anything else, is more educational technologists. This role combines a love of technology with an understanding of the classroom. So instead of demonstrating a new 3D printer, an educational technologist will talk to the teacher, identify a problem and then suggest a technology solution.
No more shoving technology into classrooms like they did in LA; rather we need an approach where pedagogy comes first and technology follows.Michael Cowling, CQUniversity Australia
Can you guess what is missing in this formula? Great Teacher + Great Technology = Great Teaching
According to research the missing element is a Great Pedagogy. Without an appropriate teaching approach (pedagogy) the best teacher with the best technology will be ineffective, at best. The problem is that until recently there hasn't been a digital pedagogy teachers could use. Teachers, in the true spirit of teachers, just roll up their sleeves and give technology a try. Yet, sadly this has led to many failed attempts. However, now for the first time there is an easy-to-implement, research-based digital pedagogy - The @CTIVATED Classroom approach.
This world-leading approach, which has been featured on TV and radio, and reported on in international newspapers and journals is making a huge impact on schools. And now you are invited to attend the first online MOOC for the @CTIVATED Classroom.
As an introduction to this ground-breaking pedagogy, we will be running a 3-week online MOOC course for teachers. The course will introduce you to the key elements of the @CTIVATED approach, and in addition give you free entry into the complete 100+ lesson @CTIVATED Classroom online course.
The course commences on the 27 June, and runs online for a period of 3-weeks. This is an ideal opportunity to get warmed up into this amazing approach to teaching with technology, plus get free access to the complete course which you can complete in your own time.
Besides and already discounted price for this course, there are some great early-bird offers for those who book quickly! So head on HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW.
Good News: If your school is a registered @CTIVATED Classroom school you can attend this MOOC for FREE. Simply select the "@CTIVATED School Teacher (FREE)" option on registration.
Computers began reaching the business world during the 1980s. Companies used them to automate many routine manual tasks. This led to what economist Robert Solow dubbed the Productivity Paradox. In 1987, he famously quipped: “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”
The problem Solow had identified was that while computers could automate manual processes, real productivity gains would only be experienced when technology was actively used to reinvent business processes.
The best businesses soon realised that computers were not just a tool to improve efficiencies but to redesign business processes. This sort of thinking has given rise to many modern innovative businesses like Twitter, Uber and Airbnb.
Now schools are falling into the same trap as businesses did 30 years ago. They are focusing on the wrong objective when it comes to using technology in their classrooms.
The wrong objective
I recently came across a newsletter written to headmasters of schools around South Africa. It began by posing a question:
On face value this seems like a good question to ask. But it contains two dangerous flaws. The first is that visible “improved…outcomes” is presented as the main reason for using technology. The second is assuming that the relationship is just between “technology” and “improved learning”.
The writer, from an organisation representing school leadership, went on to list the advantages of using educational technology, using phrases and words like, “Time is freed up”, “convenience”, “ease of handling”, “efficient way of collecting and storing information” and “immediate access”. These phrases point to the underlying perspective that many teachers have about the goal of technology in the classroom. It is seen as a means to improve classroom efficiency.
This perspective also pervades students' perceptions. A research project just completed by one of my Masters students, which we hope to publish soon, found that 92% of students listed technology providing “improved access to information” as a key reason for using it for learning.
Stuck in the industrial age
While businesses might be excused for initially adopting an efficiency objective when it comes to technology, schools cannot. This objective has already been shown to be ineffective for businesses. More importantly though, efficiencies – unlike for business – should not be the objective of successful teaching.
British educationist and author Sir Ken Robinson has famously called on schools to abandon the efficiency-driven, industrial paradigm.
Schools have lauded the rise of a new era in education that celebrates diversity, opportunities and innovation. However, most are actually using technology to reinforce these same industrial approaches rather than revolutionising the classroom.
Pursuing efficiencies to get students through more content, faster and with less effort, is the wrong objective. The focus should be on effective rather than efficient teaching. Technology is not just about computerising existing processes – it is about rethinking ways to teach and learn.
The missing pedagogy
The second flaw in the letter-writer’s question is the mistaken assumption that technology is the only factor that has an impact on learning. This makes the serious mistake of ignoring pedagogy, or ways of teaching.
There is a framework that sets out how this can be avoided. The TPACK model argues that there are three key elements for effective teaching with technology - Technology, Pedagogy And Content Knowledge. Teachers know their subject content and increasingly know how to use technology. However, without the “glue” of an appropriate pedagogy or method, technology can’t be effective in teaching content.
But many schools seem to assume that the technology vendors whose solutions they’ve implemented will be their teaching guides. It’s rather ironic to have teachers led by technologists! Other schools simply ignore teaching approaches, assuming by handing out iPads effective learning will spontaneously take place - leading to some spectacular failures.
The key to effective technology-based teaching is effective technology teaching approaches. Simply copy-pasting traditional approaches is ineffective. This is confirmed by research that I completed recently, which found that digital teaching methods must revolve around active learning approaches to bear fruit.
A digital pedagogy
Technology affords opportunities to move from traditional passive consumption learning to active approaches. These include curating content, engaging in conversation and developing content through iterative cycles of correction.
Such approaches form the basis of what I call the @CTIVATED Classroom model, which is designed to support those who are teaching with technology.
The letter I quoted from earlier concluded that, “Staff must be taught to use the technology.” Only part of this is correct: they must be taught how to teach with the technology. If this is ignored, educational technology will entrench the very approaches we were trying to change.
Craig Blewett, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Universities are a “thousand-year-old industry on the cusp of profound change”. That’s according to a study that explored Australia’s higher education landscape four years ago. One warning from the report rings true far beyond Australia and all the way around the world:
Warning shots are ringing out across the world. But how many academics are actually paying attention? In my experience as a lecturer at a South African university, we continue to placate the two denizens of academia – teaching and research – in the same way we always have. Teaching remains focused on instruction and content reproduction, while most research never makes it beyond journals.
If we continue to teach in outdated ways, we will increasingly lose touch with our students. Equally, if we continue to closet our findings in traditional journals, we may find our hard work increasingly eclipsed by research organisations that use new media to effectively share their findings.
Lots of attention is being given to new ways of teaching. The great news is that there are also exciting new publishing opportunities springing up.
The right to write
On May 12 2015 I published my first article with The Conversation Africa. One year and ten articles later, I’ve started to view my “right to write” in a totally different way. For more than 20 years as an academic, writing has been more of a duty than a need – let alone a right. Productivity units must be met. Papers must be written and published in approved journals. Even the joy of writing for conferences, which can generate spirited discussion, has been removed. Conference presentations don’t contribute much to one’s chance of promotion.
Of course there is great merit in writing for journals. These have been one of the primary stores of human knowledge, and their peer review process foregrounds credible research – most of the time. They teach academics how to write carefully argued pieces, and the best ones hold us to high standards of quality.
Pragmatically, they also pay. Individual academics and their institutions earn money for each article that’s published in certain accredited journals.
However, the money associated with such journals has created an entire industry that flies counter to a world where sharing knowledge is seen as the right thing to do. Journals are being accused of using the free services of academics to write and the free services of reviewers to edit. They then charge exorbitant prices so that the very same academics can’t even access their own content.
But traditional journals are no longer the be-all and end-all. At least, they shouldn’t be. Open-access journals, blogs, wikis, professional Facebook pages and YouTube channels offer academics a range of exciting, different ways to share their research. These spaces come with a range of benefits.
New media means new benefits
The first of these is the far quicker turnaround time. One of academics’ abiding frustrations with the current publishing process is how long it takes for articles to see the light of day. Research shows that it takes, on average, between nine and 18 months (and sometimes longer) from submission to publication. Writing for new media spaces means that research can be shared within hours or days, opening up the opportunity for discussion, debate and dissent far more quickly.
Your reach is far greater in new media spaces. Some studies estimate that the average journal article is read entirely by only ten people. Tools like Google Analytics can help academics to track their readership in new media spaces. Some sites, like The Conversation, have their own metrics systems – from this, I know that each of my articles is read on average 4,000 times.
Greater reach leads to far greater exposure. This can take the form of comments from academics around the world, invitations to collaborate, and TV and radio interviews. This takes academic research far beyond conferences and journals. I’ve discussed my work on different platforms, including international newspapers, and have been drawn into several local and international research collaborations. Isn’t that sort of work the point of publishing?
New media spaces can also be less intimidating for young, inexperienced academics than established journals are. Getting used to writing, finding your own voice and presenting your work on a public platform is all good practice for journal writing. Universities often offer programmes designed to help young academics develop and strengthen their writing, and these are useful tools as well.
Finally, new media spaces offer a valuable opportunity for feedback, conversation and even correction. They’re not about getting it perfect upfront – they’re about learning, arguing and altering. This encourages the kind of dialogue and idea sharing that any academic should value.
Stepping out of our academic closet
Change isn’t coming to academia – it’s here. And the one thing you don’t do in the path of an avalanche is stand still. The privilege of just talking about new teaching approaches and new publishing opportunities has passed. If academics don’t make bold moves to change how we use new platforms and technologies, we ourselves are at risk of becoming irrelevant.
I recently wrote an article that explored the impact of the current trend of binge watching on students' learning. The bottom line is that we are becoming a consumption obsessed society - a society that would far rather indulge in passive consumption that active production. The research by Common Sense Media found that 41% of a teens 9 hour tech day (yes, that's more than they sleep) is spent on passive consumption.
Now Netflix, a cultprit in this rising scourge, has revealed that there is a group of people who are not just binge watchers, but extreme bing watchers.
“There is a tiny minority of people who will just binge through the whole thing in the exact amount of time, from the second we launch it at midnight California time,” he said. “13 hours later, or exactly how many hours are in the show, they’ll finish.” (Netflix)
That's scary! These people are so consumption focused they will watch an entire series, minute for minute, without a break.
The impact of all of this is that we are increasingly becoming a content consuming generation. This is made worse by schools feeding this habit by encouraging passive engagement with technology, like watching videos, or playing games. That is not to say that these technologies can't be effective. However, if we are using technology in our classrooms simply to keep attention, we are doing little more than feeding a binge habit that will do little for developing key cognitive skills. Motivation without pedagogy is entertainment!
Technology offers amazing opportunities to engage students in learning - not through passive consumption, but through active engagement like conversation, curating, creating content etc. This is where the power of a digital learning approach lies.
Here's hoping we won't be seeing extreme binge watching schools soon!
How games can hook students with short attention spansCraig Blewett, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Ebrahim Adam, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Modern human beings have a shorter attention span than goldfish: ours is, on average, below eight seconds while the little fish can focus for nine seconds.
These decreasing attention levels are driven by people’s constant use of technology. One study found that people’s dependence on digital stimulation has become so high that 67% of men and 25% of women would prefer to experience an electric shock rather than doing nothing for 15 minutes.
Children are no different. They occupy a hyper stimulating world and find it difficult to sit through a 40 minute lesson or focus on a single task. Many schools and universities are now turning to the very technology that can be such a distraction. One of the avenues they are exploring is gamification - integrating games and their principles into learning.
Our research has shown that gamification has the potential to boost student learning and motivation.
The game is changing
Gaming has become a huge industry and is now even more valuable than the movie industry. A recent study found that teens spend an average of nine hours each day on their devices, with nearly four of these hours spent playing games.
But schools are starting to realise that merely putting devices in pupils' hands won’t magically restore their attention during lessons. Children need new teaching methods to accompany these new devices. To this end, some schools are turning to gamification.
Gamification normally involves game-like elements such as leaderboards, levels and badges. These are underpinned by storylines and delivered using creative and appealing aesthetics. Leaderboards rank participants, while levels typically give the player additional benefits. Badges are symbols of achievement.
In a sense this is how education has always worked. Individual examinations are challenges, passed across a number of years - or levels. Pupils then earn a certificate, or badge. But a qualification is not a gamified experience because it doesn’t adequately fulfil the key principles of a well designed game: clearly defined goals, a transparent scoring mechanism, frequent feedback, a personal choice of approach and consistent coaching.
Gamification of the classroom
Gamification is slowly proving its classroom mettle. Some research suggests that, if it’s properly applied, gamification can improve attendance, enhance understanding of content, encourage engagement and ultimately improve academic performance.
We decided to integrate gamification into an existing fourth year course at a South African university. Traditionally, the course is delivered to students through social media platforms. This time around we built in an additional game layer. This created a scenario that saw students pursuing a corporate career and competing for executive positions at a large company. Throughout the course, corporate aesthetics and a corporate style of communication and feedback were adopted.
Students were recognised for meeting learning objectives, displaying academic progress, collaborating around activities and socialising with peers. They were awarded badges and points, which opened up opportunities for real-world benefits: marks, privileges like choosing their own project teams, and even letters of recommendation. They constantly competed to appear in the top 10 leaderboard.
Our research found that students were highly motivated by gamification. They worked hard to try and master the content, as well as engaging with their peers about it. Since the game was based on rewarding learning outcomes and sharing their knowledge, students found gamification relevant and beneficial to their learning.
Crashing the game
There were challenges alongside the benefits. For starters, students had to invest more time in the course than they might ordinarily. To stay ahead of the game, they had to keep up with their peers. Those who simply couldn’t keep up fell out of the game, which made it harder to re-engage them. Some students also gave up because they weren’t receiving rewards frequently enough for their liking.
Teachers, too, must invest a lot of time in running the game - never mind the demands of the traditional course. Gamifying a classroom requires a significant investment in time and sometimes money.
We also found that there was a need to ensure a balance between competition - something gamified courses encourage - and helping develop socially cohesive students. This requires care from the teachers, who must ensure that collaborative tasks and social skills like empathy and mutual respect are rewarded within the game.
Despite the challenges, our research suggests that gamification techniques can provide interesting avenues to motivate student learning.
There are several free tools available to help teachers implement gamification in the classroom. Kahoot!, for instance allows teachers to run gamified quizzes where students participate with their own devices and are placed on a leaderboard that the whole classroom can see.
Gamification could, quite literally, be a game changer in the classroom if implemented correctly. As a teacher who recently tried gamification for the first time told one of the authors:
The world is changing - it's getting more exciting, more stimulating, more addictive. However, this comes at a cost. Our attention span, which according to some research is now below that of a goldfish!
One of the ways of trying to recapture our students' attention is to gamify their learning experience. For those of you who were at "@CTIVSIT 2016 - Durban" you heard about the research Ebrahim Adam and myself have been involved in and the impact it has on learning. Below are the slides that discuss our key findings re. gamification and learning.
What strategy can you use that will double your student learning gains? The answer, according to 250 studies is formative assessment. Unlike summative assessment which typically takes place at the end of a section and evaluates learning according to a benchmark, formative assessment is intended to check understanding during learning.
One of the layers of the @citvated classroom model is Correction. It is this layer that not only encourages the use of tools that enable students to learn through mistakes, but it is also the layer that encourages the use of formative assessment tools.
The exciting thing is that there are a wide range of amazing tools that can be used not only for formative assessment, but for fun formative assessment.
Tools like Socrative and Kahoot provide ideal places to quickly setup assessments and get students enthusiastically engaged in the learning process.
Kahoot makes use of a gamification element where the students compete against each other in a race to top the leaderboard. In addition to being easy to use Kahoot allows teachers to both prepare questions before a lesson or to have pop-quizzes where questions are created on the fly.
The Most Dangerous Writing App
Or how about something totally different, something that combines creation, correction and conversation all into one. One of the most powerful ways of doing formative assessment is to get students to summarize what they have learned during the lesson. They could quite simply turn to their neighbour and chat about this - but then in all likelihood they will talk about sport or fashion, and not the lesson.
Well, here's a unique way to use technology to get them to think quickly about what they've just learned...because if they don't think quickly, there's a price to pay!
Get them to all visit "The Most Dangerous Writing App" website. It's free - uncluttered, and simply asks one question. "Session length?"
The students can be given anything from 5 mins to 60 mins to write down what they have learned. However there is a catch...if they stop writing for just 5 seconds, they lose everything and have to start again. In the words of the site:
"Because 'tis better to have written and lost, than never to have written at all."
This is a great way to force students to write, and think while they write. No time for looking at their friend or daydreaming about what they've missed on Snapchat, or when the lesson will end. It's write or start again.
Yet another exciting and active way to get students to share their thinking and for teachers to use formative assessment as a tool to improve learning, because after all, @activists do!
Schools must get the basics right before splashing out on technologyCraig Blewett, University of KwaZulu-Natal
For years, schools and education experts have debated whether technology belongs in the classroom. Now the discussion has shifted and even schools that had thus far resisted the educational tech revolution are being swept into what’s become a multi-billion-dollar market.
The question now isn’t whether technology has a place in schools, but which devices would work best: laptops, tablets, smartphones or something else entirely? However, maybe it’s not the device that schools should be preoccupied with – but rather how students use them to learn.
Leaning back or leaning forward
The “lean back” vs “lean forward” model was originally developed by Danish academic Jakob Nielsen in 2008. It considers the position people use when engaging with technology and the impact this has on its use.
For example, when I grab a laptop I naturally want to sit at a desk. This is lean-forward device usage. When I use my iPhone or iPad I am more likely to do so while sitting on a chair – lean-back device usage.
Using a lean-forward device typically leads to greater brain activity. This is associated with skim reading, searching and content creation. But it also shortens users' attention spans.
Lean-back devices, on the other hand, encourage deeper reading and consumption of content, particularly during “dead time” when the user is commuting or waiting.
One of the problems that’s arisen from this shift is the phenomenon of “second screen” syndrome. This sees people simultaneously using their smartphones or tablets while watching TV. From a learning perspective, this practice is resulting in shorter attention spans and increased cognitive load.
While Nielsen’s model is useful, it predates the rise in the past five years of smartphones and tablets. As such it doesn’t consider other potentially important aspects, especially when it comes to education. A newer model may hold the answers for schools.
A new way of thinking about learning
Craig Will, a cognitive psychologist working for Cognitive Research & Design Corporation in California, has proposed what he calls the Mind:Engagement model.
Will maps activity and absorption. The middle area of this graphic is dominated by consumption. The upper right quadrant, which would be considered the goal of educators – high activity and high absorption – is where students are using their devices for search, curation and communication. In other words, activity.
Educators should be focusing on that upper right quadrant. It’s also where educational technology marketers ought to concentrate, too.
This is because it’s not the device – the mode of consumption – that matters. Instead, it’s how that device is put to use in a classroom. As my research has found, schools tend to simply replicate old consumption based approaches with new technology devices.
And so blackboards have become smartboards, books have become ebooks, and teachers have become YouTube videos. Approaches grounded in consumption are simply receiving a new silicon coating. What is needed are methods that encourage active engagement in the classroom, not passive content consumption. So which device is doing this best?
What’s the next big thing?
The rapid rise in tablets has prompted predictions that tablets will take over the classroom. But those analysts who favoured lean-back devices such as tablets over lean-forward devices have been surprised.
A recent report revealed that Google’s Chromebook makes up half of US classroom devices. Chromebooks – also called Netbooks – are lightweight laptops that have little onboard storage. Most of their applications and data reside on the web.
Has this shift arisen from the highly publicised failure of a massive school iPad program in the US? Or is it an organic move by schools from consumption-based approaches to more activated classrooms?
Whatever the reasons, technology giant Apple has already taken note, as indicated by the recent entry of the iPad Pro into the market. This new device, which combines a larger screen size plus an optional keyboard and pen, is clearly targeted at both content consumption and content production. That’s everything from the middle to the top right quadrant of the Mind:Engagement model.
Early reports suggest that the iPad Pro is already eroding Chromebooks' dominance in US classrooms.
Don’t get distracted
These developments suggest that blogger Jason Saltmarsh was right when he warned Huffington Post readers to:
I would add that when it comes to education technology, it’s important to focus on the education – not on the technology. Train teachers rather than choosing devices. It’s when we consider how technology is used that schools will have the best chance at transforming their classrooms.
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
Get Free Magazine