In September last year, the Education Minister Leighton Andrews announced a Task and Finish group to look into digital classroom teaching in Wales. We discussed a number of the issued raised in two special #addcym chats, but I was determined to make a submission myself. With the deadline looming, I’ve finally written it. I’ve included a link to this post in my submission to the group, so more than ever I’d love your comments below!
To the Review of Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group
I’m pleased to be able to make a submission to the Task and Finish Group exploring these key issues.
I’m a full time teacher, primarily of history, but also ICT, Welsh Bacc and Sociology, at Olchfa Comprehensive School in Swansea. I am also part of the #addcym network of teachers mentioned by the Minister in his statement.
1) How should high quality, Welsh and English language accessible digital classroom content be developed?
One of the ideas we kicked around during the #addcym chat on the subject is one that I think has real potential and is based on the fact that across Wales there is a wealth of digital classroom material being developed. What we really need therefore is a way of harnessing and sharing that. Some kind of platform that allows teachers and schools to upload, tag, and share resources, coupled with a voting and feedback mechanism could encourage informal collaboration to develop between teachers, and would allow the ‘cream’ to rise to the top. These could then be taken and further developed and translated to provide the kind of resources currently being developed by NGfL Cymru. A version of this exists within the Scottish ‘Glow’ platform, and perhaps it would be useful to look at their experience before developing something for Wales. Certainly this wouldn’t need to be an expensive custom built piece of software – there are many free platforms that could be deployed. The key thing would be to provide an easy way for teachers to locate relevant resources. This is probably the biggest flaw with the current NGfL Cymru interface – there are some great resources, but it takes too many clicks to find them.
This approach would have several advantages. It would widen the awareness of teachers across Wales of the high quality resources currently available via NGfL Cymru as well as encouraging resources from an even wider range of practitioners. This in turn, would hopefully increase the range of materials useful to teachers at various stages of personal ICT development. It might also be able to harness the work being undertaken by Professional Learning Communities up and down the country, both within and between schools.
The main two sticking points would be that of copyright (which could be dealt with in part by greater awareness of Creative Commons licensed materials) and of getting teachers to take part. This cultural change towards sharing resources is a larger issue which will need to be addressed if the full potential of the digital classroom is ever to be realised. Certainly my experience of mentoring PGCE students is that many of them set up informal networks to share resources during their training. They may therefore form one natural group of change agents in this situation. Additional ‘carrots’ may need to be offered to teachers or schools initially. Perhaps designated inset time for sharing, searching, rating and developing resources?
2) How should teachers get the digital teaching skills to use ICT to transform schools?
I must confess myself a little confused by this question. I think perhaps we need to uncouple the ‘digital teaching skills’ from ‘use ICT to transform schools’. I’ll take the first one first.
If teachers are to develop ‘digital teaching skills’ (which for now I’ll take to mean the skills required by a teacher to use various pieces of technology in their teaching) then the following ingredients are key:
1. They need to be shown how it will have a positive impact on their teaching (rather than being told that they are going to have it)
2. They need time to play with it, and they need help on hand when they need it (not on one day, put aside for ‘inset’). This should either come from a teacher mentor or a student through a ‘digital leader’ scheme. (Such as that being developed at Ysgol Bryn Elian by Mr Allen Heard (twitter.com/mrAHeard / twitter.com/ybedl) )
3. They need to work in a culture where teachers are encouraged to be learners. Visibly be learning. Visible to colleagues and to students. And that includes the acceptance of, and willingness to make, mistakes. Of all of this, this is by far and away the biggest challenge, but also potentially the most wide reaching in terms of benefits.
These three are important for everything from Interactive Whiteboards to VLEs. However, if teachers simply use technology to teach the way they always have done, then we’re not using ICT to “transform schools”.
Dr. Ruben Puentedura has developed the ‘SAMR’ model of technology integration that has gained some traction online in recent years. (See http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/ or http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/perils-of-shiny-edtech/ or http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/models-of-learning-tmoxon-presentation/ ] for more details) I’ve seen it referenced in a number of blog posts, and it was also used at a seminar held by Apple 2 years ago looking at how their technology could be used to genuinely transform learning (I know the Minister is keen on the iTunes U model of content delivery for example). In brief it identifies four levels of impact that technology can have on education – the first two (Substitution and Augmentation) allow us to enhance our learning with technology, while the second two (Modification and Redefinition) allow us to be genuinely transformative in what we do.
If we’re going to use ICT to transform schools we need to re-imagine schools in light of what ICT makes possible. Knowledge is no longer scarce, so why is it still the basis of our public examinations system? If ICT allows world wide free and cheap communication, why is Skype blocked in so many schools? I appreciate that this goes beyond your remit, but I would suggest that that is exactly what needs to be pointed out to the Minister. Look at the work being done by people like NoTosh around the world with design thinking schools. Look at the possibilities offered by Opening Minds in schools that are using that as a basis for their curriculum.
While I’m going beyond what you asked, I’d make one more point!
While it was great to see the Minister recognise the importance of digital networks to teachers and learners (and indeed teachers as learners), I was disappointed that he didn’t extend that to the terms of reference for your group. For me, the real power in ICT has not been in the digital content is has given me, but in the network of other professionals I have been able to build up. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many brilliant resources (digital or otherwise) exist ‘out there’ on any platform, it’s the context that I really need in order to make them effective for the learners I’m working with. It’s that that we need to focus on, and quickly. To be blunt, another five years spent just developing more resources will be another five years wasted.
Similarly, any national VLE needs to provide students with opportunities to interact with each other, rather than simply ‘access resources’. I’ve recently been experimenting with Edmodo as a platform for my KS4 and 5 classes, and a WordPress blog for my KS3 classes. Both are free. The real power has been in the students having a platform for their work, as well as being to access materials and ask questions as and when they need to. This is the real power of the ‘digital classroom’, rather than providing any quantity of ‘high quality digital content’.
The very best of luck in your task, and I look forward to reading your report. If I can be of any further help, please do get in touch.