Realising the promise of digital technologies in learning and teaching

[image (c) Scott McLeod] A month or so ago, I was asked to give a lecture on learning technologies to Year 4 BEd students who are getting ready to do their last placement. The lecture was part of the Contemporary Education Issues Module and aimed to look at “more futuristic, cutting-edge practices”.

I’m not one to predict the future. I’d rather focus on the present, on the stage I am currently at and what I can do with the ideals I currently embrace and the tools, technologies, and support structures that are available to me. And so, with this in mind, I organised the lecture.

I started with a set of questions that aimed to elicit people’s ideas about learning and teaching in the “21st century classroom”. I know this type of phrases is not that great but they do help get the conversation started. The purpose of the lecture was to make connections between students’ use of digital technology in their daily life and the connection, or lack of it, with their professional life. I sensed that for many, connecting social and professional, daily and teaching practice was a hard thing to imagine, let alone do. And this has to do as much with preparedness as it has to do with entitlement to question established practices.

What I did not want to do was to dismiss current, “analog” practices as bad or useless, because they are not necessarily so. Rather, I wanted to trigger new ways of thinking about teaching practices in relation to the current changing society and our own practices outside the classroom, and what it meant for learning. Technology plays a massive role in our daily lives. As we grow more and more used to it, we only really notice it when it is missing. Who hasn’t felt some kind of “withdrawal syndrome” when you go abroad and all of a sudden you can no longer access mobile Internet?! … at least not at the same price. The Internet and the Web have become indispensable commodities for a large part of a society that relies of digital technologies to consume and produce information. Knowledge is still (a form of em)power(ing), and we can anticipate it will always be so. The same applies to Education. Mandela talked from experience when he said that

But as the world changes, so do our practices and approaches to living and working, and also learning.  Hence, for Education to keep its currency, it needs to keep up with the times. The way through which we can access and create information online provide alternatives as to how individuals can *be*successful learnerseffective contributors and responsible citizens as they develop their confidence as active participants and learners (see the 4 capacities). As such this begs the following questions:
  • What is the role of education in ensuring that our current, and future, generations as prepared to address these new ways of being (members of a society that is progressively relying on digital forms of living, learning and working)?
  • What is our duty in equipping children, and learners in general, with the “adequate” cultural capital to tackle the challenges posed by the digital society?

This might just be me… but I do think the Curriculum for Excellence does touch on this matter, even if ever so slightly, with the 4 capacities (see above). If we place it in the context  of what Education Scotland calls  “literacies across learning: principles and practice” and their definition of literacy as a “a set of skills that allows the individual to engage fully in society and in learning (…)” then surely the debate of digital technologies needs to be a key item on the agenda. Yet, this is not only a topic for Scotland or for primary teachers; it is rather a crucial debate to be had with regards to all levels of education as well as different forms of learning! Getting back to my lecture, there were a series of key points that I wanted to get across and which I hope to go into further detail in future blogposts. For the time being, I just want to list them here for future reference. I would be interested in knowing of your views about this debate, which although is not new, it is still very relevant.

  • Teaching and learning with digital technologies is not only a new form of practice; it is a mindset
    • Not only a change of technology; a change of attitudes
  • Digital technologies provide tools for content and context creation.
    • Teachers as context facilitators
    • Learners as content creators
  • Technology dissonance: a clash of practices and approaches
    • The place of technology in and outside the classroom
  • The role of the institution, and policy, in harmonising practices
  • A curriculum for authentic learning and assessment
    • Changing the ways learners communicate learning

Above all, I am trying to answer the following question: Can digital technologies, and the philosophies of practice associated with it, finally deliver on the promise of critical pedagogies? What do you think? I’d also be interested in knowing which of the topics above you’d like to discuss first.

NOTE:  This post was previously published on the site www.knowmansland.com – reproduced here with permission from the author