I asked my colleague John Connell if he would consider writing a post in response to the question “can technology change teacher practice?” I had the opportunity to visit Scotland in 2010 and caught up with John and his colleagues to talk about how systems can build teacher capacity supported by technology. John writes a thought provoking blog drawing from his experience as a teacher, leader, policy analyst and now consultant for Cisco. He was instrumental in the development of the Scottish Schools Digital Network.
John’s reflections below provide food for thought as we embark on another school year. I thank him for his generosity in contributing to bluyonder.
“I started university in 2005 and had a completely different expectation of technology to that which I have today. Many applications are now so user-friendly, and I use many technologies on a daily basis….I have changed from using technology for social use to using it for study too.”
The remarkable thing about these words from a young Students Union official at the University of Brighton, quoted in a JISC paper entitled ‘Emerging Practice in a Digital Age’ , is the timescale she alludes to. For someone like me, who has seen the world move from resolutely analogue to pervasively digital through the four decades of my teenage and adult years, the idea that a young person today can experience such tangible change in the space of just 5 or 6 years gives me pause for thought. And it ought to give every teacher pause for thought too.
The rapid technological transformation happening right now is only one reason for stopping to think; the other is that learners themselves are changing their own study practices in response to the developing technologies. And if students are changing their behaviour, then it is surely incumbent upon teachers to look closely too at how those changes might cause them to re-think their own teaching practices.
Teachers, I feel, need to think very carefully about how the technology itself can affect their pedagogy. I groan each time a see a trite phrase such as “It’s the teach, not the tech” or “Teaching first, technology second” or any of the seemingly infinite variants. I groan because it takes only a few seconds of logical thought and a modicum of historical perspective to see that they are quite meaningless, and no more meaningful than the converse (“It’s the tech, not the teach”).
You do not have to be a technological determinist to see that there is a necessary dialectical relationship between technology and pedagogy: if we succumb to the trite phrase, we will always start with what we want to teach and how, and then think of the technology that might help us achieve that. We might do something better, faster, more productively, but we will not do it differently, at least not in any fundamental way.
The digital and networking technologies carry with them a range of affordances that can have a profound effect on the way we teach, on the way we expect our students to learn, on the very nature of the relationships that operate between teacher and student, and the overall ‘lie of the land’ for teaching and learning.
The fundamental landscape for learning is shifting. John Seely-Brown would define the learning landscape as:
“…an environment that is consistent with (not antagonistic to) how learners learn…an open system, dynamic, interdependent, diverse, partially self-organizing, adaptive, and fragile…”
How many teachers today would even recognize this description as a desirable goal? Not many as yet, I guess. But teachers do need to understand that learners, of all ages, are increasingly able to create or find their own learning pathways, learning what, when, how and with whom they choose. Learning is opening up, and teaching has to extend itself by keeping the best of what teaching has always been but augmenting it with the skills, knowledge, wisdom and understanding needed to empower and free the learner to learn most effectively in the connected learning landscape they find themselves in today.