Another dot in the blogosphere?

Digital learning strong in schools, really?

Posted on: March 24, 2010

[source, MOE source, click on the above for larger archived copy]

Dr Cheah Horn Mun, the director of ETD of the MOE, responded to a contributor to the Straits Time forum who asked, “What’s the update on digital learning?”

Horn Mun was a colleague of mine in NIE before taking the post in the MOE. I wonder if he (or one of his people) will read my blog entry as I have a critique on his response. I have nothing against him, of course, as he is a really nice guy and I think I know where he is coming from. I realize that he has to represent an organization, so his personal views may be clouded. It is the content of his reply that I critique, not the person.

I am glad that he informed the public about financial assistance schemes for bridging the technology divide [see text blocked in green]. I am also glad that he mentioned the cyberwellness efforts in schools. We in NIE have introduced this concept in our ICT course a semester ago and made it part of a graded assignment so that new teachers are aware of the concept.

In trying to provide a succinct reply, it was not possible for Horn Mun to list all the schools and all their ICT and “digital learning” efforts. But I was left wondering why the usual suspects keep appearing. Are there no other schools worthy of mention?

Why don’t stakeholders (parents in particular) know what is happening in schools with regards to ICT integration? Why do they have to wait for limited and selective coverage by the press? Every school should be proudly publishing its efforts in its Web 1.0 school site, or better still, taking advantage of Web 2.0 to regularly update the school’s blog, Twitter or Facebook account.

Perhaps most schools have little to say. Why? In my opinion, they are not, as the director of ETD wrote [see text blocked in orange], “well resourced with the computing infrastructure and digital resources to harness ICT for learning”. It might appear so administratively on paper and on VIP visits to schools, but the reality is that most schools do not yet have early 21st century tools in place because of industrial age hangovers.

Yes, a few schools have 1:1 computing programmes and campus wide wireless networks. The majority do not. A few more schools have IWBs and “special” rooms. But these tools and venues are of little use (and little used) if pedagogy does not change with the times.

How do I know? I have friends and former trainees who are school principals, heads of departments or teachers. I follow teachers on Twitter, Facebook or their blogs. As a supervisor, consultant and teacher educator, I visit schools regularly and make it a point to ask about their ICT infrastructure and actually see the rooms. I do school-based research and collect uncensored information from teachers about their schools. Finally, I was a teacher before I was a teacher educator, so I know how most teachers think and react.

Teachers will complain that the infrastructure is not in place. They are right but it will never be in place because technology changes so rapidly. Instead, they could use what the students already have or think of ways to work with businesses and the community to get what they need.

Teachers complain of a lack of time despite efforts to reduce curriculum time for more innovative instruction. The integration of ICT does make lesson planning and implementation more complex, but it does not have to be overly elaborate or time-consuming.

One thing I model for my teacher trainees is how to facilitate ICT embedded activities that are only 5-15 minutes long. Think about how you might conduct a 5-minute brainstorming session using a collaboratively generated online mindmap. Think about 10-minute learning stations that students visit and where they search for information, solve mini problems (that are part of a larger problem) and reflect on them… all using iPod Touches and a wireless router. Think about a concept that no one, including the teacher, is sure about and everyone uses their iPhones or netbooks to instantly get information from the Web and then have a class discussion to clarify that concept.

What schools should invest in are technologies that will support pedagogies and strategies that last. Pedagogies that build upon experiential learning, problem-based learning, case-based learning or game-based learning. Digital learning then becomes learning that is enabled, not just enhanced, by critical, powerful and meaningful forms of technology.

So what exactly do schools need? Wireless Internet access anywhere in school and mobile computing devices like iPod Touches, variants of the Nintendo DS, Sony PSPs, smartphones or netbooks. Do schools have these in place? Most do not. Do some students already have some of these kid-friendly devices? Yes, they do and half the need is potentially fulfilled. Are most schools taking advantage of this? No, they are not. They need to put technology in the hands and minds of the learners. After all, we are in their service and preparing them for their futures, not our past.

So it there digital learning in schools? From my point of view as a teacher educator, a researcher and a concerned parent, I’d say certainly not enough.

3 Responses to "Digital learning strong in schools, really?"

From a grade school teacher’s perspective:

Give a child technology and teach him to use it and that is education for the future?! I don’t agree. The technology we know of is not child-proof, the software too. We are blind to assume “They need to put technology in the hands and minds of the learners. After all, we are in their service and preparing them for their futures, not our past.” If technology can plug in the gaps left by open learning more suitable for mature/adult learners, I will be glad to use it in my classes. Till then, I lament just like any techno-savvy teacher about the lack of tech in schools. Recent studies have shown that mobile technology is most used for entertainment so I wouldn’t just throw it in UNLESS the pedagogy is in place to harness technology as mentioned in the earlier part of the blog. And kids can associate learning with a mobile device. Thus, I say ‘no’ to random infusion of tech in classes. Very often we look at the obstacles rather than the possibilities, we say ‘get rid of the obstacles’ but teachers on the ground know that technology means intense preparation and sorry, teachers are not not assessed on pedagogies but in getting their students to score in exams during Work Reviews, so why bother. The whole MP3, though noble, has not been implemented well. Are new teachers ready to plan such lessons? How can they since they enter schools with traditional methods and are told to focus on the notes, powerpoints, etc. Instead of the pedagogy? Sigh.

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Even though your reply might seem to counter what I said, we are actually saying similar things.

The context for put technology into the hands of learners is this: Even though three years has passed since the article was published, technology is still restricted in schools or largely in the hands of teachers.

The technologies are not stop-gap measures. Led by progressive pedagogies, they are enablers of learning and assessment previously not possible without them. Think about how kids can learn today and test themselves without a teacher. Then think about how teachers can leverage on that and add value to that process.

It is about putting pedagogy before technology. But the pedagogy must be updated first.

It is also about changing the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or waiting for assessment (or any other process) to change before doing anything about it. It is really about putting the learner and their needs first, not our outdated practices and preferences.

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I definitely understand your take on the matter. And agree with you. Apologies in my earlier comment that I disagree. It was more of a cautionary note as I have read about others who think giving technology to kids is the answer for the future education. I believe pedagogy has not changed enough to warrant the use of Tech yet. Also, pedagogy and tech must be seen to compliment one another closely. But tech and pedagogy has started and has continued to diverge on different paths. Interestingly, the USA has led the convergence of Tech in Education but the focus I have noticed is on higher education. It is a start. I cannot seem to understand Singapore’s lack of breakthroughs in this regard. I have tried to search for literature on Singapore’s 1:1 in schools like in the future schools but have found a handful and they were dated. I would like to propose to someone in authority to locate teachers-in-tech who are able to understand pedagogy and tech, place them in a super-group, then find programmers and instructional designers, and situated this group into a school and take over an entire level of kids like in Sec 1. Teach them the topics they need to learn but do it with tech across all the subjects with proper lesson plans and time set aside for discussion on a frequent basis and videotape the lessons. From this, research and study and make it known what tech can really do. We owe it to generations of Singaporeans who have gone through a system so stressful, that it is amazing we still come up tops in all educational measures. We often forget those who ‘didn’t make it’. I know about a child who is viewed as a ‘failure’ in our schools but end up doing well in Australian schools for example. If we continue on this track, I feel saddened to be a part of something that should be better but isnt. My children are entering formal school in a couple of years and I doubt anything will change for the better since almost everyone waits for announcements on sweeping changes in education without realising we don’t have to wait. We can make changes on the ground and feed back into the system to get things moving in the right direction. But many who tried it, have stopped. Why? Because it is not a priority in our schools. Creating proper notes, file checks and setting test papers continues to be the foremost measure of a good teacher. Pedagogy is just a redundant byword.

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