Teachers increasingly find themselves in schools now where devices (such as iPads, Chromebooks and laptops of various kinds) have penetrated the classroom, either as a school recommendation, school provision of class devices, or as a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) (also called 1:1) policy. Each of these options will scale up the involvement of the teacher. In some schools, for example, where device use is optional, some teachers may opt not to integrate devices and associated digital technologies at all. Where classrooms may have a set of laptops or tablets, there is likely to be greater onus on the teacher to engage with the technology. In a BYOD situation, however, the more likely expectation is that teachers will not only seek to find ways of using technology and digital tools (such as the Internet and various applications), but also will actively re-think their approach to teaching as a result.
I want to follow up my previous posting (‘Technology – like the air we breathe’) with a summation of some comments I made as part of a discussion of findings for a still-unpublished book chapter. These findings are based on in-school qualitative, ethnographic research I conducted in the winter term of 2015. These contextualised findings raise some interesting points that arose for me, as I observed many students and teachers, and through the many conversations with those students, teachers and even some parents.
Some critical points
- Some teachers overestimate the digital capability of their students, and assume that young people necessarily know their way around computing and digital devices. This plays out in the classroom when teachers call on students to help each other to master the required technical or computing skills. Furthermore, some teachers may also assume that students will be ‘naturally intuitive’ in accessing, navigating and working in digital environments. This is a spin-off of the over-emphasis on a ‘digital native/digital immigrant’ distinction. There are various critiques and analyses, such as this one.
- Some teachers regard technology merely as a tool, rather than as way to revolutionise their pedagogy. The notion of technology as a ‘digital pencil’ persists. In this sense, technology has not been integrated into the fabric of the some teachers’ thinking about their work.
- While teachers understand the SAMR model, they find it challenging to get beyond substitution. ‘Electronic worksheets’ are a mere substitution of a paper handout. For some teachers, however, there is simply not enough time to develop a redefinition of tasks, not to mention the unwillingness of some to take the risks associated with possible failure, should radically new tasks go awry.
What kind of response to change should teachers aim for?
Some embrace change, as they see the opportunity to develop their imaginative abilities. Fundamental change may positively influence the way teachers think about their daily work (it may also make them question their life’s work and purpose, however). A critical change to put into action is more individualised teaching and less teacher-talk. Ironically, this kind of shift may cause some students and parents to imagine teachers have relinquished their responsibility to ‘teach’ and just become ‘glorified baby-sitters’.
Why are teachers willing to change?
Many (most?) teachers are motivated by their desire to make a difference in the lives of their students, no matter how difficult and challenging change may be. The implementation of BYOD and associated e-Learning strategies add significantly to teachers’ workload, with implications for personal health and well being. New responsibilities include writing, planning and creating new materials, and this may be akin to the first year of teaching. Technology-rich digital environments may provide a sense that teachers must be ‘experts’ who are familiar with the cutting-edge of new technologies and applications.
Technology, especially ICT, the Internet, mobile devices and the various software programs and the many and varied applications, are a boon and a burden. A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report suggests that these technologies are not yet as widely used and implemented in schools as perhaps they ought to be (given their impact on our daily lives). Yet, the same report finds that their impact on student learning is anything but clear-cut and certain. This finding is grist to the mill of those who question the value of ubiquitous device implementation in schools. What that suggests, I argue, is not to step back from the brink, but to engage more critically with the technologies that are impacting the pedagogical lives of teachers, and the way their students choose now to communicate.