My take home message from the Ulearn17 conference is that ‘the spade does not dig the hole’.
The spade needs a teacher who knows how to use it.
Digital tools on their own do not lead to powerful teaching and learning. Digital tools need talented teachers. Successful learning and achievement can only take place when teachers understand how best to use and apply these tools in their teaching spaces. The spade can only work when in the hands of a skilled practitioner.
The spade can also only work when the soil is ready.
You can’t dig through concrete. If the environment is not suitable the digital tools will have little impact. Teachers may have considerable expertise with digital technologies, but if the school is unwilling to adopt their use as part of a wider pedagogy supporting collaboration and student agency, then they will achieve little. It is only when students find themselves in situations where they need to work collaboratively, that they will start to use collaboration tools! If students are simply being asked to work in the same way they have always worked, then digital tools will simply replace, or at best augment, existing tools previously used for the same purpose. If students are to use digital tools in new ways, then they students need to be given the opportunity to work in ways that they have not worked before. The SAMR model is a helpful way for teachers to consider how to get the best out of digital tools and how to design tasks to enable learners to do something in a way that’s not possible without that technology. However, achieving the higher end of the SAMR spectrum – modification and re-invention – are hard to achieve unless a teacher is working in a more innovative learning environment.
Another aspect of readiness that is also often overlooked is the readiness of students. The flipped classroom model, for example, can only work effectively when students are accustomed to the concept of themselves as active agents in their own learning. Students who have only been exposed to traditional classroom methods will view the instruction to watch a video at home- even when sold to them as part of an exciting flipped classroom learning experience – as ‘homework’. Kid’s don’t do homework. Traditional models result in passive learners. Passive learners like to be spoon fed in the most convenient way. Students do not see watching videos in their own time as particularly convenient. We must realise how unfair it is on students to suddenly expect them to conform to ‘modern classroom practices’ and adapt to technology in the classroom when their education journey up until this point has been a traditional one. In many cases there needs to be considerable ‘unlearning’ for students, as well as teachers, before we can move forward.
In order to explore how digital tools can support learning for success, we first need to consider how ready the classroom and school is for transformative learning.