Better learning using Technologies – a community initiative #MaltaBLT

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the workshop being organised by the Department of Arts and Languages in Education, Faculty of Education, University of Malta and MITA, Malta’s National Information Technology Agency. The scope of the workshop is to bring together people and lead them to a community of practice that enriches teaching and learning or rather the term which I have so happily borrowed from Richard Culattalearning powered by technology.


Peter Ford started off by telling us that “It’s not about changing people’s thinking but about changing people’s actions”. In re-imagining teachers as designers we have to understand that teachers can be creators as much as consumers of knowledge. The video below describes in brief some ideas of teachers and the creativity process:


Peter Ford challenged us first with the question: What makes great teaching?

Possible contenders as answers to this question could be: Content Knowledge? Quality of Instruction? Classroom Climate?such as the quality of interactions within a climate that values each student? And in all of these one asks where is the technology? What position does it occupy in this list of contenders? It might possibly be that rather than measuriing how technology impacts outcomes (such as assessment grades), we could measure how technology impacts teaching and learning (for example how feedback is given).

Technology needs to become an embedded practice in everyday teaching and learning and not running parallel to it. n relation to this Peter Ford made reference to Dylan Wiliam, a professional who has done extensive work on formative assessments, who goes on to say that “teachers don’t lack knowledge. What they lack is support in working out how to integrate their ideas into their daily practice – and this takes time, which is why we have to allow teachers to take small steps”. So small steps seems to be a key term in today’s workshop – slowly but surely, as my colleague, here at the workshop so rightly put it 🙂

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Time is short…connect the dots…(part of a speech given by Steve Jobs) #ocTEL

So I feel I am running a bit late on ocTEL activities and therefore I am still catching up with Week 1 activities here on this blog even though we are now well into Week 2. So I have just spent a very good portion of my morning, re-listening the talks that I had actually seen and heard before but had in the meantime, forgotten some of their essence. My title in-fact was taken from Helen Keegan‘s PELeCON talk last year.

However if I had to choose two particular talks and two particular speakers which I think I am finding as my kind of ‘virtual mentors’ at this stage in my life, I would say that I would pick Eric Mazur and Sugata Mitra. In fact I have blogged about Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment in an earlier blog post. Their talks are so inspiring because they, to me, have brought me closer to that “aha moment”, as described by Eric Mazur  – leading the way to the “connect the dots” process that Steve Jobs mentions [I do suggest viewing this commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005]. I think that one concept which both Eric Mazur and Sugata Mitra have in common is in fact, this sense of giving responsibility to the learner for his own learning. I believe that with all the interactive whiteboards that we have, and for all the tablets that we might get, we are still so far away from actually shifting our mindsets to that direction. I ask what good is a tablet when all you use it for, are drill and practice exercises in class? What good is an interactive whiteboard in class, when all the interaction it seems to stimulate is between itself and the teacher, as the teacher presses the forward button on the powerpoint presentation that is displayed to the students?

I ask, why is it so hard for us teachers to accept that maybe, just maybe we don’t really know everything, and we therefore let go. As Mazur, rightly described – this is so easy… it is so easy to go for an information transfer approach. Me, the teacher, have the information – the content. You, the student, are there to get that information –  the content. Content in, content out on the exam paper. Easy yes? But no… the outcome is disastrous. It might certainly be less easy for the teacher to help students reach the hard assimilation process. It is so hard to watch learners try to understand, and let them explore, inquire, reach their own conclusions and be there to guide them along the way. Certain people I know, would say I am speaking in theory. In practice, this can never be done. Well in practice, it is what my young 3 year old son does. And he’s not a genius either. It’s what and how every child learns – through exploration – constructing and deconstructing knowledge. Yet when it comes to the classroom, and to the application of technology, a certain fervor seems to grab us by the throat and we decide that we are not able to handle seeing our students learn by themselves. So we instruct them. We have to be the ones to tell them how to open a Microsoft Word document. We have to be the ones to tell them that Facebook shouldn’t be used. We have to be the ones to tell them, to fill them up with something, whatever that might be.

What I have been trying to point out all along, even in previous posts is this. Technology, any technology or device or tool, if used for mere information transfer is absolutely nothing more special than a pen and paper – for what it’s worth. Information transfer is what we have been used to, what we have been taught. But today it is different. Today’s world is different, today’s economy is different, today’s society is different – their needs, our needs are different. We’re no longer secluded objects living on separate lands. So a student cannot just live on information transfer. People are showing they have very little engagement with schools and especially with the content taught at schools. I ask: why would that be? Sugata Mitra describes how in the traditional teaching setting a teacher spends his time trying to give content to the student, and the student spends his entire lifetime trying to forget it! It’s true. I have experienced this myself when I taught using the traditional information transfer, ‘sage on the stage’, kind of approach. And even if my powerpoint had an amazing design, and even if I had so many videos showing throughout the lecture, and even if I almost did acrobatics to engage my students, in the end, after the lecture, they could hardly remember one single thing which I talked about. None of them were talking, none of them were on Facebook or Twitter, none of them slept – yet none of them got any souvenirs back from my lecture.

This particular instance had started to make me realize that technology without the right approach and methodology is really quite glitzy and shiny, but it’s as shallow as cheap costume jewellery. There is no depth there. What Sugata Mitra was talking about, and what always impresses me when I watch this talk, is that the kids, during his many experiments, and wherever in the world they were (be it in the slum areas of a tiny village in India, or in the UK) managed to reach a depth in their level of understanding that could not even start to compare with what any teacher can ‘pour’ into them. And this is not to say that teachers are useless. We, as teachers, have to stop feeling scared of letting go. Both of the speakers focus on an approach that sees a major involvement of students, to solve problems that might be more complex than we think people of that age can handle. And yet, using the technology as a “conduit for connections” – (taken from the interview with George Siemens) they both manage to create learning experiences that are not only fascinating and engaging for the learners, but that manage to run deep in the learner’s minds.

I think that in essence technology is not just about the tools or the devices. I think it’s about the pedagogy, the art and science of teaching – and this centers around the teacher. I think that the technology is all about the use and application and how the teacher/mentor manages to apply this as  the “catalyst that fosters connections” (another quote by George Siemens) and as Steve Jobs says, something that “helps us connect the dots”.  Whether or not, technology has to be used everytime, everywhere is a debatable issue. I think that as with everything, there isn’t a clearcut black/white line… there are different shades that most often depend heavily on the context in which the learning experience is set.

The war against mobile devices…can we really say we’re moving towards digital literacies?

I have just read this really interesting blog article from a public school teacher, as she describes how despite the age gap, and despite all the myths which surround young people and their digital know-how, she managed to introduce her son to a Google tool (Google Forms) to be able to collect data for one of his school projects. The article shows how in this one instance, the teacher (and the mother) had much to contribute to the digital education of one youth. One can only imagine what one can do for many other youths.

In another article which I also happened upon today, I was reading about the war that many school administrators and educators seem to wage upon mobile devices and their usage in class and on the school premises. It reminded me of an observation session I recently experienced in one of the local secondary schools here in Malta. As I waited in the school’s headmistress’ office, I noticed a box lying on one of the tables. Students seemed to be pouring in at 7.45am in the morning to leave their mobile phones in this shoebox, before they started their school day. Another school, a private independent school, which I also happened to walk into a few months ago, had clear instructions above the entrance that stated that no mobile devices should be allowed on the school premises.

Yet, recently during our last election campaign, many of our politicians, were promising the use of tablets in the classroom. Couple this to the fact that most of the Internet access in the schools is controlled solely by a single agency dedicated to the Information and Communications Technology. I find it very strange that many teachers at schools, do not have access to a number of social media sites, as well as a number of sites, that may not be considered as ‘strictly educational’ – whatever that means. I also very much wonder, who holds the power to allow for sites to be accessed in schools, or otherwise. To my mind, the person or persons responsible for schools should be working hand in hand with teachers and higher education researchers to be able to define what should be kept out of schools.

So back to the article discussing the war waging against mobile devices, I found it very interesting that the author focused on school administrators and leaders calling upon solutions to be found to the behavioral issues that many seem to have with allowing mobile device usage in schools. I think that we have this tendency of rather than addressing problems, we try to ignore them, hoping that eventually we wouldn’t have to deal with them. In the case of mobile device usage, technology use and applications in schools, the consequence we’re facing is that of having a society that is not considered as a digitally literate society. Despite the records showing how more than half the population of Malta seems to have an active Facebook profile, I believe that we’re still a long way from being called digitally literate. It takes more than the ability of updating personal status, to be effectively digitally literate. And the problem is that inside schools, and even universities, rather than embracing change, and finding solutions to problems, we keep ignoring 21st century practices in the hope that eventually everything will sort itself out. I have a bad feeling that unless we really get our acts together in Education, we will have to sort out very bad consequences ourselves.

 

What most schools don’t teach

See on Scoop.ittech to learn

Subscribe Please http://www.youtube.com/user/TheHollywoodClip What most schools don’t teach Watch Zuck, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, & Others In Short Film To In…

Vanessa Camilleri‘s insight:

What most people should be aware of …. this video really shows why pushing tools into the classroom may not work. We need people who know the how and why of these tools. We need people with computational thinking skills! We need people who think! because the glitz of gadgets may be short lived. But creating your own gadgets is EPIC!

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Digital Learning Futures – a great address by Prof Steve Wheeler

It has been some time now that I have been following Professor Steve Wheeler’s work in learning technologies and Educational technologies. Today I have stumbled across one of his most recent addresses. I think that no more comments are needed from my end.

Digital learning futuresSteve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Plymouth University

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