Things that make a difference
This was originally written in 2002 by Chris Betcher after a conversation at The Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle. I’ve edited it very slightly to keep it relevant
In-Touch Newsletter Dec 2002
While I was in Perth recently, I had the good fortune to catch up with Bryn Jones, a colleague I’d only ever known through the OzTeachers mailing list. We chatted about a topic we both take a bit of an interest in – getting teachers up to speed when it comes to using technology in a classroom.
Bryn was speaking at a conference the next day and had prepared a presentation called “Life in the Slow Lane”, which looked at some of the factors which hold teachers back when it comes to integrating technology in their work. One of the things he’s been working on and researching is a list called “10 things that make a difference”. With Bryn’s permission, I’d like to share these 10 things with you.
1. Emotional Support
If you look at how teachers are using technology in schools, it ought to be pretty clear that some really “click” with it and some don’t. In fact, if you look at statistics, about 75% are just doing it because they feel they have to, and about 16% are downright obstinate about not doing it. It’s incredibly threatening to these people if they feel they are being forced to adopt technologies and work practices they really don’t understand. I found it fascinating that the number one things that teachers need in order to integrate ICT is emotional support. Sometimes, they just need to know that other folk understand how they’re feeling and will “be there for them”.
For schools, this means they really need to ensure these teachers have support and backup to ease them into this new world. This is where mailing lists and online resources can be so great – they can offer constant support and a place to turn. It’s important that schools set up internal structures to support their staff.
2. A Shared Pedagogical Understanding
Having some understanding of pedagogy – the science of teaching – is an incredibly important part of being a good teacher, and really has nothing to do with technology, not directly anyway. But when we start talking about integrating technology it’s crucial to do it from a pedagogical perspective. You may have heard the saying that technology in a classroom can be used to do old things in new ways. If that’s all you use it for, you’re missing the real benefit. Technology lets you do entirely new things. Things that could not be done previously. Bunging a whole lot of computers into a school and using them to do the same sorts of things you’ve always done is a bit like strapping a jet engine onto a horse and cart. At the end of the day, it’s still a horse and cart. Having a good understanding of pedagogy lets you make informed decisions about where technology works and where it doesn’t. And when an entire school staff has the same shared vision… that’s when magic happens!
3. A Constructivist Philosophy
Constructivism, in a nutshell, says that if you create the right learning environment then students will build (or construct) knowledge and learning for themselves. Constructivism takes the focus off “teaching” and places it on “learning”. It sometimes means teachers have to take their hands off the controls, let go a little, and realise that the best kind of learning happens when students work things out for themselves and not always when they get “taught”. You may have heard the phrase, “I taught them, but they just didn’t learn!”
Computers and communication technologies are amazing tools for moving the centre of power in a classroom over to the students, and this is a really hard thing for many teachers to get to grips with. As teachers, we are used to “controlling the class”, having “good discipline”, and calling the shots.
In many ways, constructivism turns all of that on its head. When you introduce technology into a classroom, you suddenly invite your students to learn at different rates, about different ideas, catering to different interests and abilities. These are good things, but it certainly changes the balance of power in the classroom.
If you understand something about Constructivism, you realise this can be a great thing, but if you don’t, it’s pretty scary. That’s why adding computers to schools without developing teachers’ ability to change the things they do simply doesn’t work.
4. At Least Four Computers per Classroom
(more generally – proximity of computers to learning areas) Not two. Not three. According to research, you need a minimum of 4 computers in a classroom before you start to see a change in the way technology affects learning. This is probably more applicable to Primary classrooms than Secondary, but I found it an interesting statistic.
The bottom line is that unless you can get access to technology, it’s obviously not going to have an effect. It’s all about ubiquity of technology within a school – kids (and teachers) need to be able to get their hands on it if it’s going to have any impact.
5. Help to Access Appropriate Material
The keyword here is “help”. Sure, teachers need to be able to get their hands on the right resources. But if they don’t know how to do it for themselves, they’ll always need help. You can give them a fish, or you can teach them to fish. I know what I’d prefer.
6. Just-in-Time Technical and Skills Support
Related to Point 1, this is not just about emotional support but real, hands-on support. Having someone to turn to when you need ideas and answers. Having someone to actually come and give you a hand, show you what to do, tell you what button you need to press, whatever it takes to give you what you need.
7. Reliable Infrastructure
If you want to kill off whatever enthusiasm exists in your school for using ICT, just rev up a teacher with grand stories of what technology can do in their lessons, about how it can enthuse the kids and lead to whole new paradigms of education, and send them into a classroom where the Internet connection drops out at the crucial moment. Or floppy disks are jammed. Or the mouse ball is missing. Guarantee they won’t back to try again in a hurry. Schools really have to ensure that everything works, all the time. Not most of the time; all of the time. Everywhere, for everyone. Until you have that, it’s an awful hard slog to build excitement about the joys of technology.
8. Access to Professional Development
(but not necessarily participating in it)
It’s the last bit of that which intrigues me. Research found that if you want teachers to get on the technology bandwagon they had to have access to PD, which makes sense. But they don’t want to be forced to participate in it. Sort of like a safety net. I know when we run PD for teachers, they like to be able to focus on the things they need, and not get bogged down in the things they don’t need. We’re actually fine tuning a lot of our courseware to make sure we can do this too, breaking learning into a smorgasbord of pick-and-choose modules, so people can pick the bits they need, and feel empowered by the bits they already know.
9. Links to School from Home
If you can think of a better way to do this other than through the use of the Internet and ICT, let us know. It’s all part of the move to gain anyplace, anytime learning. Why should the school day stop at 3:30? (well, maybe for teachers that’s a good thing, but why for kids?) The school and the home, and in fact the whole community, why shouldn’t there be a blurring of the boundaries between these. There isn’t much point working with ICT on projects at school if you can’t continue with them from home.
You must have known this one was coming eventually. Putting ICT to work in a school requires leadership and vision. It takes someone to stand out the front and say “We’re going this way! Follow me!” Without that shared vision, it always comes down to a couple of keen individuals who push the technology barrow, but for a systematic change to sweep through a school it takes leadership. Lots of it.
11. Flexible Learning Spaces
Added by Bryn – I know it’s called 10 Things but since this article was written, Flexible Learning Spaces has emerged as another critical factor. Are there areas for large groups, small groups, noisy groups, quiet groups? Can students find somewhere to rehearse presentations, make films? Can a large piece of work such as a claymation or time lapse photography project or science experiment be left in place over several periods without disturbance.
Any suggestions to change or add to this list?
Please leave a comment.