Teachnology: – Change Management & the Integration of ICTs in the Classroom

The world we live in is changing so fast it is easy to get disoriented. Teachers are expected to deal with these changes, and implement reforms on an almost constant basis. Some changes are minor – a change to the syllabus, or assessments required in student portfolios. Others are major – a new curriculum or the imperative of integrating ICTs in your lessons.

Change is often seen in terms of individuals adopting and diffusing innovative ideas or practices. A common model is Everett Rogers’ (1962) Diffusion of Innovation model, which, very crudely, sees change in terms of the rate at which adoption occurs.

In this model, within any school you will get teachers who adopt ICTs in their classrooms, and slowly, over time, more will join in until it reaches a critical mass and becomes part of the way things are done in the school, often mandated by administration. If it never reaches critical mass, the innovation fails.

One problem with this model is that it sees a school as a collection of individuals and ignores the social dimension. If ICT integration really worked this way we should have 100% adoption by now, and we don’t! Under Rogers’ model, ICT integration in education has not reached critical mass, and has failed. And yet, clearly, with so many devices in place in classrooms, we have crossed a Rubicon – there is no going back.

We really need to understand, first of all, what we mean by ICT integration. Many classrooms now have computers, even interactive smart boards in them. Many schools have computer labs which can be booked if not WiFi connections that allow students, and teachers to use their personal devices at any time. Most teachers are comfortable using a computer or cell phone in their personal lives, and are using computers to some degree to achieve administrative tasks in the classrooms. There is a great deal of technical support and training available, and professional development, online, has become easily accessible.

What is missing from this picture, which often leads people to assume that widespread adoption of ICTs has taken place, is integration of ICTs into pedagogical practice. In many cases ICTs have simply been grafted onto old ways of doing things, and teaching practice has not been transformed in any meaningful way. Interactive whiteboards are simply used as whiteboards were, or lectures are replaced by lecture-style PowerPoints!

Integration of ICTs in the classroom is all about how technology can be used to teach particular content better. For example, can the very brevity of twitter we used to teach summarising skills? Can Skype be used to bring real world experts into the classroom as mentors? Can cell phones be used as data collection tools in Science? When technology is integrated into classroom practice it becomes seamless and almost invisible as technology and pedagogy merge into … teachnology … how to teach with technology.

Now, how is this a social thing? Is it not a matter of individual teachers adopting technology and then championing its use, till eventually all teachers are doing it?

Much is made of the difference between old-style teacher-centered modes of teaching, and the new-fangled student-centered style, often equated with Constructivism. There is nothing in technology that automatically supports one learning theory or pedagogy rather than another. A PowerPoint can be used in Behavioural ways or Social-Constructivist, even Connectivist ways, but much of the rhetoric has devolved into an ICT integrated Constructivist good vs a teacher-centered lecture style Behaviourist bad polemic. This is extremely unhelpful and clouds the real issue, which is all about how teachers learn how to use technology to teach.

A Change model that seems to me to offer more chance of helping us do this is Michael Fullan’s Change Theory (1993). For Fullan, change is a complex system which involves the entire culture of schooling rather than just individuals. Teachers need to have their professional capital advanced, and must be convinced that the changes they are meant to be implementing are real and important. Change is then a whole-school/school district process which involves all agents as change agents. Even the resisters are positive forces for change.

What is required is a common vision for change rather than a diffusion of ideas or practices. Teachers need the space, and time to share ideas, share best practices and evolve a common understanding of what teachnology entails.

All learning is social, and this means that I can never simply acquire an understanding that you have of the world. What you do, and what you show me can help me to create my own understanding, but it always needs to be my understanding. Early adopters are important because they can be mediators of new knowledge, but change will only ever happen if all teachers are seen as change agents, and we shift to understanding that if we want change, we need to make the space available for teachers to grapple with those changes in social, collegiate ways.


Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. Free Press of Glencoe.

Fullan, M. (1993). The Change Process. The challenge of school change.

Fullan, M. (2006). Change theory: A force for school improvement.


The Poetry Slam & Digitally Reflective Practices

DSC01388We live in an increasingly reflective society. Some would say it is merely narcissism, but I believe that the key affordance of digital technologies is that they allow us to capture moments in time, moments of spontaneity, and then reflect on them. The implications of this for education are enormous. Stephan Harnad has theorized that this confluence of the immediacy of oracy with the reflective power of literacy constitutes a Fourth Cognitive Revolution. While this may be too sweeping a claim to call right off the bat, I believe it is important for teachers to start exploring how to use digital technologies to open up this immediate-reflective, oracy-literacy space.

At the end of last term I finished off with a poetry slam with my grade 10 Academy English class. The Academy is an after-school initiative by Roedean, where girls from inner-city schools in the area attend Maths, Science and English classes. I teach English and I try t try to supplement what they are doing in their own schools with a programme designed to promote digital and communicative skills generally. With the poetry slam each girl had twenty minutes to compose a poem on one of three given themes. They could compose on paper, or on computer, but if on paper had to scan their poem for digital upload. Most of the girls chose to compose on computer, although some used a combination of writing down ideas on paper and then typing their poem out.

At the end of twenty minutes we went outside to the cultural courtyard, and each girl performed her poem, to loud clapping, ululations and great support. The girls then voted on the winning performance. In the meantime, of course they had already uploaded their poems, in Word, or scanned, onto their Moodle page. I took plenty of pictures of the poetry readings, and put together a composite of pictures and poems (where permission had been granted) on the class Facebook page.

DSC01399When the girls return to school after the holidays they will have an opportunity to read the poems, and leave comments on the Facebook page. While the space of a few weeks between the performance and the reflection is not ideal, I think some distance is also helpful. In any event I needed some time to put the poems and pictures together. It is my hope that the students will be able to use the time reading the poems to reflect on what it meant for them as audience, and how it impacted on their sense of identity.

I chose to use Facebook because I don’t want the reflection to be seen as an academic exercise. I just want the students to be able to read a few of the poems (laboriously cut and pasted), and relive the photos. I was hoping that some of the girls would be checking out the Facebook page over their holidays, but no-one has to date!




Snapshot_002I have been playing around with a program called Sim-On-A-Stick which allows you to create virtual worlds on a flash drive. These can then be shared with a class, to give students a virtual space to learn in. You have to download OpenSimulator as well, and a viewer which will allow you to connect to your sim-on-a-stick! All of this is not for the faint-hearted, but there are step-by-step guides to help you navigate all of this geekiness!

Once installed properly you can begin building a virtual world. This also has quite a steep learning curve, but I had my teenage son on hand to give me a few pointers. Again there are plenty of how to videos to help out if you don’t have a teenage son spare! A few years ago I explored Second Life to see what value it might have for me as a teacher. I was impressed by the obvious benefits for language teachers in particular, but underwhelmed by the experience. For language teachers surely Skype offers more chance to get together with students or distance lessons.

The cost also put me off as did the proscription against under 18 year olds! Using Sim-On-A-Stick, however, age concerns go away. Although one use of a virtual environment is to display material via links to websites, or create physical worlds to explore as a virtual museum, if you like, to my mind the most exciting option is to use the virtual world as a space to allow students to construct representations of, say, the Colosseum in Ancient Rome, or a typical Medieval town! It thus has similar properties to Minecraft. You could even get students to build a large walk inside computer!

I have to say that at the moment the technology is such that I think the benefits for education are limited, but it does make for an interesting idea for a project, and gives students something different to do, which is always a plus!

It is great fun using Sim-On-A-Stick, and I would certainly recommend playing around with it.

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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Second Life, Virtual Reality


Platform Agnosticism

One of the hardest decisions a teacher needs to make these days is which digital platform to use. For some, school districts or the school itself may have forced a decision by selecting a particular Learning Management System. For others, given a free choice, the choice itself may present a bit of a nightmare. I think I have an account on just about every digital platform known to man, and I have dabbled in most of them at some stage or the other.

moodleAt my school the choice has largely come down to three platforms: Edmodo, Moodle and Google. Each of these has some very strong features, and some weaknesses and the school itself upholds a policy of platform agnosticism. My personal preference is for Moodle because it is so strong at managing the whole process of electronic submission and grading, and has peer assessment modules and badges and can generally handle just about any educational function you might wish for. Its affordance value is thus very high. However, it has a fairly steep learning curve, and this can be problematic. Many of our teachers have gone for Edmodo, and I can see the benefits of this in terms of ease of use, although for me the platform is seriously light on features. Google has recently burst onto the scene at our school, and is garnering some support. Students seem to enjoy using any of these platforms, but clearly with different teachers using different platforms, there is a need for a school portal allowing students to link to different class resources from a single entry point. This also helps brand the school’s e-learning, and if done intelligently can deliver a seamless experience for students and parents

I don’t see any benefit in forcing teachers to use any particular platform. Teachers really need to use whatever platform they are comfortable with. Different subject disciplines have different needs and technology offers different affordances in different contexts. The only logical approach then is to encourage a variety of platforms, and run a strong portal.


Filming Discussions – the digital fish-bowl

dialogic videoThere is nothing I enjoy more, as an English teacher, than a rousing discussion about a poem! In the past I have regularly used what I called poetry circles to encourage students to talk about poems, in a circle.

Sometimes I use a fish-bowl exercise, where some students are doing the discussing and the others have to watch and jot down questions, or summarise the discussion, or even play tag discussions, replacing “team” members when they want. I have recently started filming the discussion so that the video can be placed on the class Moodle page to form the basis for further discussion on the forum.

What I have found is that creating a video of the discussion provides powerful new tools for the flipped classroom armoury. A discussion forum can be used either before the classroom discussion or afterwards, and the video provides a chance to replay an in-class discussion and reflect on it in different ways to an in-class fish-bowl. The digital fish-bowl allows students to rewind a comment and reflect on it in ways which the face-to-face version of the exercise cannot match. I call this Flipping Forward because it takes something done inside of class and flips it on, or vice versa.

I have found 8 to be a magic number of discussants, and the key decision is whether you as the teacher are in on the discussion, or are absent from it. Some groups need more input than others, steering when they go off track, nudging when they go silent, or for drawing in of silent ones.

I find it really hard not to dominate the discussion if I am in the group, so one technique is to appoint a chair who is responsible for guiding the discussion, and to give them a cue card with some questions to ask when discussion flags. This works quite well if you choose the right chair. You also need to keep the video as short as possible because videos that are too long do not engage as well, and also take longer to download. They should not really go beyond 10 minutes! I appoint a time-keeper who will indicate to the chair when they need to do the wrap-up.


Differentiated Tasks and Flipping Foward

poetryprojectOne benefit offered by technology is the ability to offer students differentiated tasks, and to administer this relatively painlessly! You can do this on Moodle by setting conditional statements, which release particular assignments to students based on performance on other assignments, and this can be very handy, but a bit of a nightmare to set up! It also smacks of almost dictatorial teacher power!

Another approach is to allow students to choose what types of assignment they want to do – within reason, of course. In the example on the right, students can choose from any three poems on the list, and any three assignments. The only rule is that they cannot present on the same poem, or the same assignment type. They therefore need to present three assignments (on three different poems and three different assignment types).

Assignment types can vary from traditional essays, blog entries from the point of view of a protagonist, to prezis, slide-shows, videos, voicethreads, posters, quizzes and the like, I use a generic rubric which assesses the content, the structure of the assignment – how ideas are organised, and the presentation – how the technology is used. You can also get students to submit their own rubric, which forces students to think about what they are doing in a slightly different way. You can also do peer assessments (Moodle has a workshop module for this).

The great strength of this way of working is that it gives students some control over how they study the content, and how they show evidence of their learning. I think this is not only more engaging and motivating, but it also delivers a wider variety of assignments which can be used for further learning and Flipping Forward. By this I mean that the posters, slide-shows, prezis, films and so on that students produce can be used as the basis for follow-up activities, such as an in-class discussion based on the materials created. Having digital submissions really helps as everything can be stored on the LMS where it is readily accessible for Flipped Classroom purposes.

I find that students get quite excited by the idea that content they create will become the content for future lessons. They seem to take more care, and certainly turn in work of a high quality.



Presence in Teaching and Digital Becomings

Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) argue that we are losing sight of a “complex and nuanced notion of what it means to teach” with the drive towards equating student achievement, measured only in terms of high test results with teacher competency standards. It is turning education into a behavioural check-list, and ignoring that elusive essence of what it means to be a good teacher – something they term presence – something that involves “self-knowledge, trust, relationship and compassion”. They argue that in the current climate, obsessed with quantification and behavioural standards, we need to focus on the importance of this factor as key to educational achievement.

Presence equates to the extent to which a teacher has invested themselves in their teaching. Something Prabhu discussed as the teacher’s sense of plausibility, how passionate they are about what they are doing – the extent to which they are there. The advent of digital media in the classroom challenges us to extend this notion of presence to include a teacher’s digital presence. Increasingly my interchanges with students happen via email or through online messaging and happen after hours.

To my mind presence is at base, about how a teacher models an approach to life – their overall demeanour towards what life, in the form of the classroom, throws up. A key challenge for teachers is to be honest and real, to be friendly, but remain professionally detached. In other words to care, but not too deeply, to be up-front about when they are having a  bad day, but not to let that impact on their teaching too much either.

One’s digital presence is about how one reacts to digital media and technology in the classroom, and what that has to say about one’s approach to life in general. Digital presence is about how to be there for your students in a world which is mediated by machines. It is often about how one deals with the problems of technology which doesn’t always do what you want it to do.

I remember one day when I was administering an online assessment. The network was misbehaving and every second student was unable to access the files they needed because there was something wrong with the roaming profiles. There was a sea of hands in front of me, all anxious, as only teenage girls can be about a test, and not one of the techies was available. On top of this a girl came in late, very upset about something her previous teacher had said to her. She was in tears, and her computer was also affected by the network issue, adding to her tears. After reassuring everyone in the room that if the technical issues could not be sorted out I would cancel the test, but asking everyone to re-boot (which worked incidentally), I turned to the tearful one and remarked that she seemed to be having as bad a day as I was, and that I felt like joining her in her tears. Suddenly the network seemed to be working again, the hands went away, and the tearful girl and I shared a smile of mutual encouragement. She dried her tears and went on to score well in the test. Somehow humanity won out over technological determinism – and for me, that is what digital presence is all about, conveying that sense of shared humanity in a digital world.

I have always thought that one of the most valuable lessons one learns in school comes from seeing different types of people cope in different situations, and learning from that, that anything is possible. Teachers do not have to be paladins of virtue, they don’t have to be right all the time, or be able to cope in every circumstance. In fact we learn more from a teacher’s flaws and foibles, and how they rise above those moments to somehow provide us with a model of what it is to be an effective man or woman in our society. They show us how we can overcome our own short-comings, and that we don’t have to be fearful of being nothing.

We live in a digital society and teachers are not known for being the most digitally adept as a collective. But forget all that nonsense about digital natives, teenagers are even worse. Trust me – I teach them computer skills! How a teacher handles digital media is important. Teenagers may appear more confident, and less anxious if the technology doesn’t work immediately, but a key thing teachers can help them with, is in showing them what use to put these devices to.

Left to their own devices teenagers would probably not get much beyond the like and share stages of our mashable culture. They are very much a consumer generation, and need to be shown how to be productive with their devices. Teachers may be less confident about using the devices, but we are more experienced in finding productive uses for things. How we use our own devices personally and in the classroom, the digital presence we bring is very important in helping students frame and shape their own digital selves, every bit as much as a teacher’s presence helps students in their own becomings.

As a computer teacher I like to model the steps I take when I don’t know the answer, the routines I run through when hardware, or software won’t work. I show my students how to Google for support from forums, and how to use the answers given by people online for those having similar problems. Even when I do know how something works, I sometimes pretend I don’t so that I can show students how to work something out. I try to show them that techies mess things up and that computer people don’t always know what they are talking about.

In responding to student emails and messages, the key thing  for me is to answer promptly, as I would anyone else, and to use the slightly less formal tone of email to soften all interchanges. It’s a chance to get to know your students a little better, and take some time framing a reply to make sure you hit the right tone. I’m not saying you need to answer emails at 12 o’clock at night! One of the clauses in my subject policy warns students that emails may not be answered after hours, but that they should expect a reasonably speedy reply. I believe that it is important for me to model good netiquette in my digital interchanges. It is rude not to respond to emails, but it is equally rude to expect replies late in the evening!

How are we to interface with our machines in a digital Information Age? A good teacher teaches us  with, by and through their digital presence.

Cited Works

Rodgers C. and Raider-Roth, M. (2006). Presence in Teaching. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 12 (3), 265-287

Prabhu, N. S. (1990), There Is No Best Method—Why?. TESOL Quarterly, 24: 161–176. doi: 10.2307/3586897



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