ICT: Interested in Conversations and Thinking
Abridged version in Education Weekly |
September 8, 2008
Too often ICT is assumed to be about
technology. "Not so" says MoE E-Learning Fellow Michael Fenton,
technology just improves the lines of communication between teacher and
“There is a myth in education that students as 21st Century
learners are somehow different...that they are the so-called "digital
natives". As a geneticist I can assure you that there is absolutely NO
evidence that our students genetics, and consequently their brain
function, is any different from when they were 20th Century learners.
So what HAS changed? He points instead to the rapid developments in
technology both in homes and classrooms.
"Technology has always been employed as a
communication tool, whether it is papyrus, paper or computer
programmes. All teachers need to worry about is what is being said. For
some students 21st Century technology provides real benefits to get
across their ideas and feelings. But that doesn't mean teachers have to
stress about keeping up with their students!"
"Technology should come second to what
teachers' are really interested about…what the students have
learnt from the experience."
For those familiar with Michael's
Real-world Interactive Games and Electronics Link (RIGEL) this may seem
an odd comment. But he says this philosophy fits well with his research
into the use of mobile sensor technology and authentic learning in
Primary and Secondary schools.
His "black box" sensor unit has been
attached to standard Texas Instruments and Casio graphic calculators to
turn them into data loggers. The calculators were also converted into
remote control units capable of driving a model Mars Rover robot in his
He has enjoyed seeing students "fly" a
bike connected to a 3D virtual world this term. But he doesn't like
being labelled an ICT "expert".
Michael says that any teacher would be hard
pressed to keep up with the rapid changes in ICT and E-Learning and
should not worry about trying to keep up with their students. As an
example, it doesn't matter if the student uses Google Apps, or if hard
copy, e-copy, static or animated presentations are created using
applications the teacher is unfamiliar with.
Social networking technologies and mash-ups
add to the confusion of possibilities for learning experiences and
"It seems the only constant in
ICT is change".
"That's OK if you realise that technology
should be seen as a scaffold for the student to build their
understanding on. Give them a chance to show off their expertise."
"With the games and robots this year I can
see how students have developed their thinking by being stimulated
through using the technology. So why not let them do things their way
as long as it also meets assessment criteria?"
He goes on to add "Unless the task
specifically looks at the technology itself, why not let the students
be the expert users while the teacher takes the role of the expert
assessor? For instance, I might judge a student as working at
Excellence level if their dialogue and presentations suggests a
peer-to-peer level conversation is taking place. Simple recall of facts
would indicate Achieved level. "
This concept of "levels of conversation"
has appealed to the colleagues Michael has sounded out about his idea.
The Inglewood High School teacher’s
approach is based on discussions with other E-Learning Fellows and
colleagues from various schools.
"The medium used should be irrelevant, the
focus has to be on what the student is saying and how well
they understand it. Students can converse orally, on paper, or via any
appropriate ICT in use or yet to be devised. Teachers should be aware
of different technologies as a matter of good professional practice,
but don't let them be seen as something to be afraid of."
As one example, Michael arranged for his
RIGEL sensor system to be used as the basis for primary school students
to organise an Olympics Games morning. It was a wonderful example of
authentic learning in practice with the students producing an event
their peers thoroughly enjoyed.
"The technology wasn't what mattered. The
teacher and students had a totally different focus...