When I was about seven or eight, my father took me to his former school for a foundation anniversary celebration. I don’t remember much about the event, but one memory is still very vivid in my mind. I remember entering what must have been a lecture hall that had been preserved from the time of yore (the school was founded in 1604). At the front of the hall there was a massive chalkboard, and facing it, tiered rows of wooden desks. The desks had engraved spaces for an ink pot and a quill. I curiously asked my father about those, and I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to study at a time where those were commonplace school utensils.
Undeniably, we live in very different times from those ink and quill days, and now it is commonplace to see digital tools such as tablets, computers and mobile phones in the classrooms. With the introduction of new technologies, the pervasive question has always been how to use those technologies to enhance education. Vanessa Vega, in her technology integration research review, states that learning doesn’t necessarily improve by simply introducing technology in schools. According to her, “Successful technology integration for learning generally goes hand in hand with changes in teacher training, curricula, and assessment practices.”
In a previous post, I discussed how teaching and learning has to be reimagined to adapt to the 21st century demands, and how just including new digital tools in old teaching models is not sufficient. In that post, I discussed how the role of the teacher has changed, from being the middle man between knowledge and the students, to a facilitator and model of how to research, curate, synthesise and share information and ideas. In my last week’s post, I explored two models of technology integration, TPACK and SAMR, and how purpose and pedagogy are at the forefront of successful use of technology in the classroom.
Now, the question is, has teaching and learning in our schools experienced those profound changes that we have been touting? Do we frequently use technology to redesign learning experiences for students, or simply make substitutions, doing old things in new ways? Since I can’t speak for all, I will use my own experience to delve into this question.
Twelve years ago, when I started teaching, I was an avid user of the computer labs at school, and I proudly printed and displayed in my classroom the posters and typed work from my students. Looking at the SAMR model, I was merely substituting tools, so instead of handwriting their work or making posters with paper and markers, the students were doing them in the computer. Later on, with the introduction of the 1:1 programme and Moodle, things slowly started to change. I was able to transfer some of my “teaching”, flipping my classroom, offering students a variety of curated resources that they could use at home, leaving class time for hands-on practice, discussion and inquiry. My students also started using tools in their computers to create content by making podcasts, videos and multimedia documents and presentations. Progressively, a variety of Web 2.0 tools have made their way into my classroom, both for teaching and learning, and I constantly try to think how my students can more meaningfully engage and work towards achieving their learning goals using technology. This has provided opportunities for modification and redefinition.
Recently, in a unit where we were exploring the key concept Time, Place and Space and the related concept Perspective in the context of journeys, students used Google Maps Street View to explore various pre-selected destinations. With the 360 views, the students were able to describe in detail the locations and look at features that might make the place attractive for tourism. The students also read travel blogs, watched videos of other destinations and explored websites such as Tripadvisor, where they could access first hand reviews of the different locations they were researching. Throughout the whole time, the students were looking at how people’s perspectives affect their choices and perceptions of travel and tourism, and how we can determine the value of different sources of information. To expand their understanding, we connected with another Grade 6 class in Sioux Falls, and through Flipgrid, the students were able to share tourist experiences in Sioux Falls, USA and Suzhou, China, where we are. Lastly, the students wrote in their blogs about a location in Suzhou that might be an interesting destination for a variety of tourists.
So, does all my teaching look like this last example? Certainly not. At times, my students still use technology as a substitution tool. However, I do strive to find opportunities to innovate, even if I am not always successful. It took me years to get to where I am today, and my journey was fuelled by my own motivation and my skills. After all, although I am not a digital native, I was using internet before I graduated from high school, so I perhaps find it easier to keep up with the fast pace of technological changes and are more willing to take risks with it. All in all, through my own work, I hope to be an igniter of wider change. It just takes one domino to start a chain reaction.