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Posts Tagged ‘integration

Yesterday I reflected on disaster-based technology integration. Today I focus on our context and what NOT to leverage on.

Singapore schools practice e-learning days where kids stay at home for lessons. Prior to this, schools send notifications to parents that explain how this helps us be prepared for the unexpected. In our context, this might mean a viral outbreak or the haze.

That type of rationale — e-learning is emergency learning — does us no favours. The viruses do not celebrate racial harmony in one day and the haze does not heed our kindness campaigns. That is my way of saying that WHEN such events occur and HOW LONG they will take is not easy to predict.

One e-learning day repeated a few times a year is not going to cut it. I know of schools that stagger e-learning content in batches to prevent server overload that one day. How prepared are we should we require constant access over a protracted period?

If there is model to look to, it is how Google ensures that YouTube is up 24×7. That sort of e-learning (entertainment-learning) is available all the time and any time.

When e-learning is relegated to a single day, the preparation to implement it is minimal both technologically and pedagogically. Content and platform access are outsourced to one of a few edtech vendors. There is practically no pedagogy beyond the blanket statement of encouraging students to be self-directed learners.

Being self-directed is important, but most e-learning days are not exemplars of that. Students are told exactly what to do, when, and how. They are following formulas, instructions, and recipes. They are not being independent.

What might self-direction look like? When learners have an authentic and complex problem they want to solve, they meet in a WhatsApp group they already have, watch a few relevant YouTube videos they look for, and discuss solutions.

Any parent with an e-learning notification letter can also tell you that e-learning days seem to coincide with days or the week right before vacation periods. Is the focus meaningful learning or administrative creativity? Does this mean that the e-learning is in excess, extra, or otherwise good-to-have but not essential?

Not many adults examine the quality of such “e-learning”. As a concerned educator and former head of a centre for e-learning, I offer some questions for both parents and teachers:

  • Bearing in mind what I just wrote, why do you have e-learning?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do the SAME as school?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do DIFFERENTLY from school?
  • What was worth the effort? What was effective and what was not? Why?
  • After answering the question above, why do you have e-learning (really)?

What might we take away when we compare our efforts with the disaster-driven technology for e-learning?

We should not be complacent when we have the time, space, and resources to do different and do better. But like the case study I summarised yesterday, we should leverage on what learners already do authentically, seamlessly, and without boundaries.

If you live under a rock, watch this video first.

Video source

If you do not, you know that everyone and their grandmother watched it and had something to say about it.

This is what I saw and say from an educational technology perspective.

Technology integration
This was an example of technology integration, not just technology use. While the effort was just a recreation of a face-to-face interview, it would not have been possible without the video conferencing software.

One alternative would have been to find some other expert nearby. But the BBC either did not have one or know one.

Yet another alternative would have been to fly the expert over, but this would have been costly and probably would have lost its impact by air time.

Technology integration makes the edtech indispensable, not just good to have. It is necessary, transparent, and practically indistinguishable from the strategy.

Managing the environment
Good technology integration is just as much about managing the environment. In hindsight, most people might have wondered why he did not lock the door.

In a subsequent interview, the expert revealed that he normally locks the door. The day he forgot, his kids took advantage.

Video source

Technology integration looks effortless only if it is planned meticulously, rehearsed diligently, and when the environments are managed skillfully.

The environment might include the physical (e.g., lighting, temperature, noise), infrastructural (e.g., availability of tools, access to electrical points, reliability of wifi), social (e.g., individual space, group space, reflection space), pedagogical (e.g., instructional tools and platforms, strategies intertwined with the previous elements) and so much more. All must be considered, balanced, and managed in when contexts change.

Keep on keeping on
When novices try and fail, it is easy to give up due to the unwanted outcomes like embarrassment, poor participation, or negative feedback.

It is critical not to give up during and after something like this happens. The professor in the video soldiered on and he had the timely support and intervention from his wife.

He behaved professionally. He shared his burden with someone else. He reflected on the experience. He showed he was human.

No matter WHAT you teach, it is ultimately about WHO you are trying to teach it to. Making that human connection — in this case, it was family and kids — is what learners remember. Those are arguably more important lessons than what is in the official syllabus.

The old saying about technology integration was that the pedagogical horse should lead the technological cart, and not the other way around. It is about what to prioritise.

The problem with this analogy is that each can function on its own. The horse can move or be ridden independently of the cart. The cart does not need the horse (it could be decoration, just like interactive white boards).

The saying has been updated. Now some like to say that technology integration is like a driver (pedagogy) in a car (technology). This seems more current and apt unless you realise some people who say this still insist pedagogy should always lead technology.

What is the person alone? What is the car alone? Alone neither gets anywhere. They need to be integrated without one being promoted over the other in order to go on a journey and arrive at a destination.

If you use this analogy, then you must also acknowledge that technology and pedagogy go together. One is not more important than the other.

Learning how to integrate technology effectively is not easy. When more informed people try to describe to less informed people what technology integration might look like, the former tend to use analogies.

There used to be the warning not to put the technological cart before the pedagogical horse. This soon got replaced by the car model of pedagogical driver and technological accelerator. The problem with this newer model is that pedagogy and technology are kept too separate.

What teachers and educators of teachers need to realise is that the two are integrated with each other as well as other components.

One of the better models of technology integration is TPACK. Effective technology integration lies at the nexus of technology, pedagogy, and content, and when all three are embedded in authentic contexts.

But even this model has been critiqued as inadequate. For example, there is a more learning-focused model (PDF).

The cart and car models rely on current thinking. TPACK and its variants are more conceptual and highlight important elements, but they are not as easy to relate to as analogies.

I offer a different analogy to challenge old assumptions. We should be thinking about technology integration like augmented humans, i.e., cyborgs. I do not mean the dystopian or fantasy-driven cyborgs that destroy the human race. I mean the cyborgs that we already are or are becoming.

We already rely on our phones to remember phone numbers, schedules, and a host of other details. We have augmented our memories. We are not 100% human if we have devices to pump or clean our blood, strengthen a limb, replace a limb, help us see, help us hear, help us speak, etc.

We actually think of ourselves as less human or even not human (suffering or dead) if we do not have these technologies to aid or enable us to do what is human.

Technology integration is like a cyborg. The technology alone or the pedagogy alone is useless without the other. These are also pointless without the other constituent parts like content, context, and connections.

Development in any one of these areas can push the other parts. If we are honest, the technological component is often what drives and pushes for change. Who is to say that pedagogy should reign the technology in just because an older model says so?

The cyborg model of technology integration in schools and educational contexts is itself an integration of important moving and enabling parts. There are factors teaching, learner, learning, content, contextual, connective, and technological. One is not more important than another. To remove or ignore one is to create a Frankenstein’s monster.

I get the sentiment and thinking behind such a statement. It is about getting educators who have the passion to teach and are able to leverage on technology to help their students learn meaningfully and effectively.

These are the sorts of educators we need, but what are types we get and grow?

We can certainly find several individuals who have the passion and a few with the innate talent to teach. But integrating technology is a learnt and transferred behaviour that takes time and trials, neither of which most teacher preparation programmes and full time jobs in schools provide.

So what is wrong with embracing “tech geeks” who can teach? Who is to say that their focus and ability only lies in the tech and not, say, the ability to use social learning strategies?

Which is harder: To learn pedagogy or to learn how to integrate technology?

That is a trick question. It is the premise on which the original statement might have been built on. It is also a false dichotomy because you cannot separate the two.

What we need is passionate do-ers who are willing to learn by failing forward. They can be “tech geeks” or “teaching geeks”, but they will go on similar journeys with their learners.

After almost four years of leading the efforts of CeL, I have learnt that there are at least three ways of influencing faculty to integrate technology into instruction.

Video source

The first is seeding. I do not mean sowing or planting seeds (that is the second way). I am referring to providing a nucleus akin to the process of chemical seeding. This is like seeding crystals or rain.

Seeding happens when an instructor needs is an idea, resource, or process that sparks the rest of the reaction. The conditions for seeding this technology integration might have been created by you or more likely already be present.

The second method of influencing technology integration is planting. This could be the planting of seeds or seedlings into soil that may support growth. There is a greater effort in preparing the soil and knowing what kinds of plants are more likely to grow in which soils.

This method manifests itself in professional development sessions, establishing policies, and managing initiatives.

The third main method of integrating technology is nurturing. This could mean some hand-holding (guidance) or it could also mean pruning. I think most folk would focus on the former; I tend to emphasize the latter.

By pruning I mean removing bad habits, dissuading undesirable practices, and removing redundant tools or resources. It is a painful and long term process not unlike the shaping of a bonsai tree.

It is important to recognize which strategies to use in different contexts. For example, it is better to seed innovators than to prune them. It is also better to plant and manage initiatives among faculty who have little idea or motivation than to attempt to seed or prune first.

Prior to meeting my classes each semester, I send online surveys out to participants to get to know them. Depending on the class, I may also ask them to prepare other things like playing mobile games, making sure they have QR code readers, etc.

Every now and then I will get a reply to my welcome email about how the participant is worried that they might not be savvy enough with technology. I call that perceived dissonance.

That person thinks that his or her lack of tech-savvy will hold him or her back. Having facilitated courses over the years, I can confidently say that this perception does not become reality. Participants learn along the way and they get help from their peers and me.

What they should be more concerned about is the dissonance that I create (or that they come to realize) about content, their mindsets or belief systems, strategies, and so on. This is the real (and really useful) dissonance.

This is another way of saying that in good technology integration, the technology is essential and enabling, but it is also transparent. It is there to enable self-directed learning, meaningful collaboration, and deep reflection, but it does not get in the way.

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