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Teaching and learning with technology

October 18th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday I spoke at the Taccle project final confernce on the theme of the Future of e-learning. It is a big subject to deal with in twenty minutes and I hope that it at least was coherent. The audience were some 150 teachers – most from Belgium. My main themes were the need to develop open education and break down traditional subject barriers and institutional barriers to access to education plus the need to build on the new pedagogic approaches ot learning that social media and new technologies offer us.

There was time for a few questions and they were hard.

The first (one that I am frequently asked) was about motivation. Did I have any proof that such new approaches would motivate those students who are presently alienated by the schooling system. The answer is that I do not have any proof. We have ‘micro-examples’ of how technology and different pedagogies can inspire students who previously have not engaged with traditional tecahing and learning processes. But not on any large scale. A follow up question was as to whether any governmental, regional or even local districts have implemented my ideas. Again the answer I guess is no. We do not have large scale implementations of open education at present.

And the third question, in a slightly different vein, was if I am right about the future what are we going to do with school buildings – mostly designed for the ‘factory model; of tecahing. And that also is a herd question – although I do think the many examples of factory buildings converted for use as enterprise centres or design centres offers a vision of what could be done, given sufficient money.

The workshop mainly focused on the use of social software for learning, and coincided with the release of the excellent Taccle project handbook on the subject (will post link to PDF version in next couple of days). Many of the teachers had little – if any – experience in using technology for teaching and learning – but were keen to learn more. However, I wonder if we need to refine our approaches to training teachers. Whilst these events are useful, the common response is: “Yes I can see how good this approach is but how could I use it in my subject area.” Teachers tend to relate to other subject teachers as their community of practice. And it may be time that we moved beyond the more general how ot use a computer in tecahing ‘conciousness raising’ to looking precisely at how to use technology within different subject areas (yes – I know this runs at odds with my appeal to break down subject barriers). Of course the problem is that the research community knows little about this and they still tend to run many of the events. We now have a critical mass of teachers who are tech savvy and they should be taking the lead in such things.

This also goes for projects. I am afraid to say that too many of the European funded projects seeking to introduce technology for learning are failing just because the project partners have little expereince in teaching themselves.

An interesting event and thanks to all who helped organise it.

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4 Responses to “Teaching and learning with technology”

  1. Sigi Jakob says:

    Graham, I can imagine the situation and the questions quite well- the usual suspects- we always have to deal with- scepticism. You are a bit at a disadvantage there to tackle these questions as you are not teaching any real students. Well, I do and I can tell – you can ask my students – that their motivation is there- we have not used any English book and did not make any copies, they always had access to the internet and even though they were not always focussed on the actual topic in class ( is there any evidence that in a normal setting students stay focussed….) they all contributed and collaborated on current topics they were interested in. We do have a “fenced system” (a Moodle classroom) which cannot be abolished in the next future because of administration but I managed to kind of open it to Web 2.0 with giving them their own ePortfolios. The problem definitely are the teachers – and I do not think it is the fear of technology- it is rather their lack of imagination how these tools could be harnessed to bring teaching and learning forward. So what they need is not so much the technical training alone but I am convinced that the technical training should be done right from the start with the pedagogical and didactic possibilities combined. They should not be thinking so much about the technology but about creativity and working with other teachers across subject barriers. They also need best practice examples to see what can be done. Whenever I have a teacher training workshop on ePortfolio I have some of my students present their views and talk about their learning. They are the best ambassadors! And it’s just great how they tackle questions such as the tones you were asked. I do not tell them what they should answer and encourage them to talk aslo about any negative points. This has proved to be far more convincing than me telling teachers all the advantages of using ePortfolios!
    Graham, there is a long way to go….


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