Light Offerings

What value does digital add to learning?

Posted by jturner56 on December 14, 2014

Some updated thoughts in the light of the 2014 21CLHK Conference

This started with an associate posing the question: What value does digital add to learning?

My response is Socratic: what learning is valued?
This hopefully as an opening for a conversation around learning.

I have throughout been steadfast in my personal view that digital can extend cognition and can help build relevant learning through immediate feedback loops. Be it in the early days of pre-Office word processors, spreadsheets, databases and coding, through to information and media redefinitions brought on by the WWW, and more recently social communication and collaboration mediums.

Parallel and related to this I have seen power shifts, from computing power lying in schools in the 1980s and 1990s, to the power shift into home around the turn of the century, to more recent shifts of computing power into personal mobile devices. There has always been a non-standardisable element of personal computing that School as a system has as yet failed to harness (perhaps they never will). BTW, Personalised Learning is not the same as personal learning, particularly related to digital.

School as a system continues to be at odds with digital perspectives on learning, particularly the higher up a student ‘progresses’ in school. This is most evident in

  • formal standardised, high stakes assessments, usually paper based, that focus on closed knowledge or boundaried problems open for regurgitation responses.
  • inadequate teacher learning systems within a system where wash out rates in the first five years can approach 50%. Lifelong learning in the digital age is a cultural necessity for all.
  • curriculum politics within bureaucratic straight-jackets

What the 21C Learning HK Conference provided was an opportunity to review against significant researchers. I’ll focus on two in particular, Ruben Puentedura (the originator of the SAMR model for technology integration in education), and Angela McFarlane (Professor of Education at University of Bristol, Researcher in learning & e-Learning who looks at the role of digital technologies in education.)

To summarise (as a personal view) what I gleaned from the two:

From Ruben

  1. combining SAMR and TPCK provides opportunities to see where jumps in understanding (and related belief warranting such jumps) are required; but to see such progress as linear in time and effort misses the point of Kuhn’s paradigm shift theory
  2. examples put forward as justification, that were being done going on 20 years ago, points to serious questions on system progress.
  3. Tool choice geared to teacher action is but one side in a socio-cultural environment that holds sway in each school. The only way forward is flattened classrooms that value the learning and learning potential that all bring to the environment.

From Angela

  1. Good Inquiry Approaches improve motivation, and can help better prepare for future study and nurture transferable skills. Such approaches also align with what is needed to succeed in our current world
    1. being able to take on learning new things
    2. being able find, analyse and use information
    3. being able to communicate effectively what one knows
    4. being flexible
    5. being able to make decisions with an incomplete set of information
    6. and, being able to work in teams
  2. This list is along the same lines as what it means to be a successful teacher in the 21st Century
  3. However, the importance of good teaching, if Inquiry approaches are to be effective, must not be underestimated. The prevailing learning culture and style of each teacher needs to be taken into account.
    (Mark Bennett in the latest TIE magazine highlights the strengths of Inquiry approaches to value prior knowledge, build learning ownership, advance metacognition, realign assessment to student needs, embrace student perspectives and to motivate.)
  4. Value of Inquiry for advancing digital support for educational approaches runs up against Instructional Preferences deeply ingrained.
  5. Research justifications can be very selective, but has inherent shortcomings re variables and culture explanations that can be called upon. Hattie, Tamim, Voogt, Cuban were a few names bandied about (some more so than others).
  6. But in the end you cannot teacher-proof curriculum. “Effective teachers use technology effectively”. Effective technology needs to be reliable, useful and robust. Although that doesn’t stop claims that the Educational Business Model required for the Digital Age will see teacher replaced by “coaches” because educational services can be delivered to the students (the consumer) directly through making digital technologies the lynchpin of the educational system (Dorrington 2014).
  7. System philosophies cycle, although more recently focused on better balancing opportunities to learn over black or white choices have emerged (even if too often drowned out). Not helpful when Inquiry advocates such as Mark Bennett also contend “rote memory has proven to have a negligible effect in education.”

Though this I now better understand

  1. If you wish to lead group or system change through digital education then an understanding of the range of teachers is required, and support appropriately provided if the end aim is system advancement. Frost’s Road Less Traveled should be open to all, but never alone (unless we prefer Huxley’s Brave New World. Soma anyone?).
  2. System change requires support systems catering for a range of backgrounds, beliefs and aspirations. Build capacity, never assume it.
  3. Politics and Education are close if odd bedfellows. Politics is built on personal beliefs linked to communal power and preferred futures. So is Education. Lead in hope, that’s education’s greatest weapon.
  4. There is a danger in EdTech with its constant streams of change to go simple, be selective, keep it narrow, ignore history, focus on selling the future over building a better one, and ignoring cultural perspectives. The choice is there before everyone.

So in the end we are left with the preferences that individuals, groups, communities and systems wish to value. Value lies in the conversations and actions arising that are willing to be embraced. Digital is just a mirror for those who might seek to look deeper. Just as books were and are.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: