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Teaching ICTs – Infusing ICTs: The Scholar’s Dilemma

29 May

Most models of teacher implementation of digital technologies in the classroom describe stages in which teachers move from Entry to Invention (Apple Classrooms Of Tomorrow), from Emerging to Transforming (UNESCO). Most of these stage models describe a movement from using computers in the classroom initially to do what teachers have always done, but now with technology, towards exploring new and innovative uses of the technology which transforms practice, moving from the deeply instructivist instincts most of us above a certain age grew up with from our own experience of schooling towards constructivist and even connectivist pedagogies which empower collaborative and problem-solving classroom routines.

IMG_9717I have to say that I am somewhat uncomfortable with this picture – not because I do not think of myself as a constructivist, or even a connectivist – but because I am nervous of any model which privileges any single pedagogy. Teachers are pragmatists, and we will use anything which we think will work for us, regardless of where it comes from. Let’s put it this way, I think it would be fair to say that any teacher who uses only one pedagogy, one set of routines, one method, will very quickly lose the ability to hold and keep a class engaged. The idea that the movement from entry-level awareness of computers in education to transformative practice is uni-directional is mistaken. Of course a teacher moves from the stage of being exposed to computers and beginning to see the benefits of using them to the heady utopian classroom of the future where virtual reality, educational gaming and flipped classrooms rule: where students are blogging, and making wikis and posting their musings on forums. But most importantly, teachers will oscillate up and down this spectrum, just as we oscillate between being instructivists one moment and connectivists the next.

If you come to my classroom, one day you will see me giving an old-fashioned lecture like any old dinosaur, with nary a computer in sight, and put that cell-phone away, I’m trying to tell you something! The next day you will see that same class on their computers using Flash Professional to create an eLearning presentation for their peers. It all comes down to the scholar’s dilemma. Until someone teaches you something, you don’t know that there’s something you need to learn! The scholar’s dilemma ensures that there is still a substantial place for some old-fashioned instruction.

IMG_9741When it comes to using ICTs in the classroom, the problem is compounded by the fact that until you are taught how to use a computer in a certain way you don’t know that you can. For many commentators, the integration of ICTs in the classroom will entail a move away from teaching ICTs towards teaching with ICTs. It’s not just because I’m a computer teacher that I am somewhat sceptical about this idea. Without a doubt we will see more ICTs in every classroom, infused in the teaching and learning environment, and ICTs will be more transformative of the pedagogies being deployed, but computer rooms and instruction in how to use computers is not going to go away. Many argue that we need to move away from general computer instruction to just-in-time instruction. You should be shown or learn by yourself how to create a database or edit a video not in a specialised computer class, but when you need to know it to do your English assignment. This is a wildly optimistic idea. It is as optimistic as the mistaken idea of the digital native, children born knowing how to use a computer. They may have ready facility with the new technology, but I’ve never met a teenager yet who instinctively knows how to use a database or the conditional function in a spreadsheet, or even how to add layers and masks in PhotoShop or add sub-titles to a movie they are editing. Many will be able to discover some of these skills for themselves given enough time, but only when it is something they see a need to accomplish. Just-in-time instruction is still instruction, and it is still necessary! And the most efficient way of doing it is still in a dedicated computer room where you can receive the information you need, and explore and learn by yourself at the same time!

Yes, we need more fluid, more just-in-time models of teaching and learning, we need more problem-based, more collaborative, more connectivist models of learning, but we also need some good old-fashioned teaching too, and we need a good deal of that teaching to be analogue. The stages of ICT adoption are not linear or one directional. ICTs simply add more tools, ideas and methods to a teacher’s bag of tricks!

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