Can technology change teacher practice?

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.


5 thoughts on “Can technology change teacher practice?

  1. What a great post. Teachers really do have to catch up to their students. Once upon a time Teachers were a great source of information and knowledge. Alas, that role is now taken. What next for Teachers if technology and its capacity is not fully embraced?

  2. John I would think that we start with what do students need to or be challenged to and want to learn and how might we as teachers make direct contributions towards that and what role might technology play for both students and teachers is this quest is perhaps the question we ought to ask..

  3. Learning. Passionate about my profession, I am focused on challenging and inspiring young people. With or without technology, though I am not one to ignore technology. If technology accelerates learning, count me in. If tech gets in the way, I am as happy to ignore it. And of course, there is still plenty of room and opportunity to improvement good old fashioned ‘regular’ teaching.

    Let me share a few teaching and learning experiences from an exciting week to colour in or enhance that statement.

    On Tuesday I watched a live theatre performance brought to our school by a local drama company. Simply amazing, I mo-blogged as I watched and tweeted to other teacher colleagues. Back in class ‘we’ ipadio’d the students opinions and published straight to blog via a phone. The students loved that to.

    Wednesday I presented and shared IF (interactive fiction) for creative writing and coding. Almost all ‘old’ technology, well retro, as a motivation to stimulate students writing.

    On Friday I explored shoeless teaching with three very different groups (11-16, low ability, mixed ability and middle set) and today I explored how hexagons are better than squares (http://chrisharte.typepad.com/learner_evolution_chris_h/2011/04/solo-im-ridin-solo.html) for consolidating learning / thinking. Neither are technology enhanced, both were accessed through online professional platforms and RSS.

    It is short sighted to assume that technology enhanced teaching makes for better learning. That this mode is somehow preferential because learners are digital immersed. Yes learning is opening up, yes, students are creating or finding their own learning pathways. Yes, we should celebrate it. As we should celebrate those wonderful relationships created and forged between student and teacher. Let’s not down play the flexibility of regular teaching, many of my most effective teaching memories have been as of a result of student curiousity and questioning leading us astray. Where the value of abondoning the lesson plan has been greater than the value of sticking to it. Show me AI that can make that distinction.

    “You don’t learn because your engaged. You’re engaged because you’re learning.” With or without tech. I have little preference.Thank you for the opportunity to comment, John Connell’s thought really got me thinking.

    1. Insightful comments with good examples. We have to avoid the tool as the as the solution syndrome. It is always the teacher who makes the difference and we need teachers to know this. At the heart of powerful learning is the teacher in relationship with student(s) and content, using the right tools to support this process. Simple but powerful

  4. The technology is not only changing the way we teach, but also the way we learn. I think that even though the basics are the same, the idea that people can now learn and practice at their own rates is HUGE. For example, I have long struggled as a teacher with the idea that students do something and even though they are not ready for the next thing, we try to move them at the same rate. The value of technology is that we do not have to. The other is that learning should involve some sort of applicable idea that can motivate. For example, when you learn a language, you can learn the grammar, but until you have to understand whether someone is talking about eating now or tomorrow, then you become much more motivated. Additionally, think of this–here we all are having a conversation with each other across the miles, just that says, we should engage in communication such as this one to help our own ideas and commitment to the practice of teaching. Well, you get the idea. Use it in a constructive manner and technology can help.

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