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.
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.”
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
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.
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