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Posts Tagged ‘impact

Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.

Seth Godin recently made this declaration:

Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.

He said this while providing examples of how computers do things better, faster, or cheaper than people can. His examples were from daily life and commerce.

Something similar could be said about schooling and education. The “perfection” is the general insularity of the classroom from the outside world. Technology needs to destroy this status quo, but it is only chipping away at this mountain of change.

Today’s classroom walls are potentially more porous thanks to our phones. These allow teachers and students to connect with experts and content beyond traditional means.

Why is the change so slow in schooling and education?

The same people who use their phones in their personal lives might see how the changes are better, faster, or cheaper. However, they probably do not see how the same applies in the classroom or other learning contexts.

Technology will need a lot of help to overcome this human impasse. Training and professional development that addresses skills and behaviours will do little to make this change. To enable the impossible, we must start first with mindsets.

While the technology affords change, the teachers and leaders must allow it. They might be aware of what technology can do and perhaps even how, but they must also know why.

I think that most educators become educators not for short-term gain but for long term impact. We realize that our impact is often not felt next week, next month or even next year. Our impact is also mediated by many other factors, so if something good were to result from a move on our part, we can only claim partial credit.

I was reminded of all that over a pleasant email exchange with a former trainee and Facebook wall postings of some current ones.

The current trainees are in their third year of study. One of them reposted a photo that they took in their the first year of some of them learning about video games-based learning at the MxL. I did not think that it was possible to get nostalgic over such an event. But I guess when you compare that experience with the hum-drum of what they are experiencing now, the past seems heavenly.

More recently a former trainee who took my ICT course two years ago tried implementing game-based learning principles in his own classes. He was pleasantly surprised that his students not only took the experience like fish to water but that they seemed to learn better too. I wasn’t surprised at all, since you are just putting the fish back in their preferred environment. Doing otherwise is like putting fish on a counter and ordering them to swim.

But I digress. It’s great to hear from my former trainees, particular those who actually try to push pedagogy. Few try to be different. Even fewer write back to let me know the direct impact that I had on their development. To those few I say: You make my day.

Teachers know that their efforts are likely to manifest only over after a long time. They bump into former students and they see how far they have come (or how far they have fallen).

What about teacher educators? When do we see the fruits of our labour? I recall telling one batch of my teacher trainees that, while my impact on them was important, I was more concerned about the impact they had on their students. So I guess my impact on teachers is over an even longer term.

By impact I don’t mean the “thank you” cards or handshakes I get when the course I facilitate is over. I am talking about shifts in mindsets and or major “ah-ha” moments when my former trainees become practitioners.

So it was a pleasant surprise for me to get an email from a teacher trainee I taught just one semester ago. He mentioned that it was only during his practicum that he realised the applications of the ICT course. He thanked me for “forcing” him to reflect by blogging and was grateful for the fact that I pushed him (and his peers) to think and work hard.

Teaching can be a thankless task and I do not mind because I see rewards in what I do each week. But that email was put a big smile on my face. More importantly, it reminded me to keep doing what I do.

In an entry on Aug 4, I highlighted some issues that my preservice teachers mentioned in one way or other in their blogs. The two that I would like to comment on are:

  • Does using technology actually improve learning outcomes?
  • If the assessment systems (currently mostly paper and pen-based) do not change, can using ICT in innovative ways make a difference?

I do not know if MOE has conducted a system-side study on learning outcomes as a result of technology use and integration. But countries like the USA have studied the impact of technology country-wide and we can learn from their experiences. Here are two ERIC documents, both from 1999:

The first study concluded that the use of educational technologies resulted in “positive gains in achievement on researcher constructed tests, standardized tests, and national tests.”  The second study highlighted that “educational technology has been shown to stimulate more interactive teaching, effective grouping of students, and cooperative learning.”

But each study came with warnings and caveats. The first suggested that technology “is less effective or ineffective when the learning objectives are unclear and the focus of technology is diffuse.” The other study mentioned that while technology was a catalyst for changing the learning environment, it required “teachers who are well-prepared to function in more open, flexible, student-centered environment.”

A Straits Times interview with a university don painted a more negative picture, albeit with what seemed to be anectodal data or a personal point of view. The headline read “Why tech has failed education“. Reading the article carefully, it should become obvious that it is not technology that failed education, but people who misunderstood, misused, or mismanged it who did. (The headline is not accurate, but it draws people in to read the article!)

In short, technology can contribute positively to learning outcomes like test scores and the quality of certain desired forms of interaction. However, the studies suggest that these can happen only when teachers put their pedagogical prejudices behind and integrate technology in focused ways. In addition, measures of success must not be based solely on test results.

That said, I’d add that the assessment system needs to change for technology integration to have an impact. Why? Largely because we teach to the test. Our educational system is still based largely on an industrial model: Mass, standardised instruction followed by traditional tests that serve as quality control. If technology allows people to socially construct knowledge, then assessment (more properly, evaluation) should measure the value and impact of such forms of learning. Offhand I can think of peer appraisal as one form of formative evaluation. I know of at least one educator and researcher found a way to marry traditional grading with social evaluation. For more information, read this AFP article.

I have no doubt that our national assessment system will change to stay relevant. Gradual changes have already started, and I think that NIE can take the lead. Assessment here in NIE could be more progressive and meaningful if preservice teachers maintained e-portfolios instead of taking tests and writing disparate papers or doing projects that do not relate to other courses. After all, NIE is in the business of preparing PRACTITIONERS, not educational theorists. Such teachers need to show evidence that they have met standards, not in the traditional, industrial way, but in a more humanistic and meaningful way!

A blog subject like “Things I hate about teaching” is bound to catch the eye and set tongues and fingers a-wagging. It was posted on around Teachers’ Day no less.

This blog entry by a teacher was featured by stomp, but I don’t know how many 1) bothered to read everything, 2) understood what a teacher might go through, 3) read the original source, and 4) realised that it was posted two years ago (based on the time stamp)!

From a teacher educator’s point of view, this makes me ask:

  • Did the teacher cross any lines? Just what are these lines?
  • How does edublogging differ from mainstream blogging? What are the trade offs?

Here’s my observation: At the moment, the 25 responses for the blog entry span two years and included comments from teachers from other countries. How’s that for engagement and impact?

Click to see all the nominees!

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