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No, it *is* about the tech . . . August 24, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Tools.
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Learning how to learn

Listening to Jenny Ashby‘s interview on the EdTech Crew’s recent podcast today brought something to mind that’s troubled me before. First let me try to paraphrase what Jenny said

‘The learning has to come first, then the technology’

I’ve heard many people say this many times; in fact I’m certain I’ve said it myself on more than one occasion. But now I’m not so sure we were right.

It goes something like this. When we’re planning our curriculum to integrate/incorporate new technologies, we should look at the learning outcomes we intend for our pupils, then consider what technologies would be most appropriate to support those outcomes. Finding a shiny new toy and then looking to see where we can shoehorn it into our schemes of work is the wrong way around and forces the learning to play second fiddle to the technology. Well I think I’m going to swim against the flow.

For those of us who are linked in with a PLN, who’ve spent some while casting around for technologies and applications which might suit the needs of our pupils, who’ve grappled to get to grips with those technologies and discarded the ones we feel aren’t appropriate (or we can’t access from behind our firewalls/filters), then the learning can and should come first. It can because we already have a mental or physical resource bank to draw on when planning new curriculum – a lesson introducing the ideas incorporated in Newton’s 1st Law? Yep, I remember a couple of great interactive resources for that, and wasn’t there a simulation the students could do? Oh and there’s that fantastic Youtube video which shows . . . and off we go into our Delicious or Diigo links to retrieve them. But how would the same scenario play out for colleagues who have not yet progressed beyond what Somekh1 terms the ‘Routine’ stage of innovation, or even those at the earlier Orientation or Preparation stages?

Let’s consider a hypothetical colleague Jim; he’s a good teacher. Jim uses ICT for his own planning and prep, mainly Word for producing resources, Excel for keeping homework marks, PowerPoint for delivering presentations to his classes and the Internet for searching for resources. The tasks he occasionally sets his pupils involve the same tools, perhaps with Publisher being on the menu too. Jim’s got a new module to prepare for next year and as always, an important element of Jim’s planning will be the learning outcomes. This is precisely what we would hope for. But where does Jim go to include some new element of ICT? Perhaps he wants to incorporate a group activity in which his pupils work co-operatively to produce a single product for the whole group.

Toolbox

You see! You’re already ahead and have a couple of ideas of tools which might suit Jim’s needs, or indeed how he could make use of functionality in those he is already familiar with. But where does Jim start? Imagine lifting the bonnet/hood of your car to change a part . . . but you’ve no toolbox. If you want to do any work under the bonnet, the first step is to gather a few tools. The more complex the task you want to undertake, the more extensive your toolset needs to become. Once you have a reasonable set of tools, you start to think of new and different jobs you could undertake. Isn’t it the same for Jim? Doesn’t he need a few tools first? Some tools are more adaptable than others and should be top of the list . . . Glogster for example might be the equivalent of an adjustable spanner/wrench.

Maybe what Jim needs then is a trickle-feed of a few tools every so often and maybe to be shown how to ‘file’ those tools for future reference. Or to be linked in with colleagues in school or beyond who might provide occasional inspiration, showing what new tools they’ve been trying. Perhaps for Jim the tech should come first?

To return to the beginning then, when some people say ‘The learning should come first . . . ,’ if they actually mean that learning should be foremost in your mind, then I can hardly disagree with that, now can I?

1 Somekh, B., 1998. Supporting information and communication technology innovations in higher education. Journal of Information Techology for Teacher Education, 7(1), 11. Available at: http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/14759399800200028 [Accessed August 24, 2010].

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