I began my teaching career as an English teacher, and although in the last ten years I have been teaching mainly ICTs, I remain an English teacher at heart. At the beginning of this year I returned to the English classroom, and took up the cudgels on behalf of William Shakespeare & co once more.
This has given me an opportunity to see things from the perspective of the subject teacher seeking to integrate ICTs into the curriculum, rather than the ICT teacher trying to integrate the curriculum into ICTs! It is a very different perspective, and one which is both daunting and exciting.
To start off with, none of the classrooms I am scheduled to teach English in has a computer or interactive whiteboard. This has forced me to re-think my whole approach to integration of ICTs. It is not that the school where I teach is badly resourced – far from it, but simply that not every classroom is wired. I am used to using the interactive Whiteboard to show video clips to stimulate discussion or to display student work captured on the web camera in my other classes, and I would have turned to this in my English classes as well.
Not having a wired classroom forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of what hybrid learning models entail. It also forced me to think more clearly about the flipped classroom model and how it might be applied to my situation. While I did not have access to a wired classroom, my students did have access during the school day either on their hand-held devices, or from computers in the computer rooms, to my Moodle page.
If I could not realistically bring digital resources into the classroom, I could still use the digital sea we swim in as a backdrop to my classes. I could require students to use and access digital media as part of their homework preparation. For example, as part of my grade 8 Shakespeare studies, I got the class to watch a video of a discussion surrounding anti-semitism in the Merchant Of Venice. We then used this as background for an exercise in class.
What I found greatly encouraging about this, is that if I had had the interactive whiteboard in my classroom I would not have thought too much about it – I would have shown the clip in class and then gone on to do the activity, part of which would then have had to be finished off for homework. But because I did not have that facility, it forced me to flip the classroom and I got the students to watch the video for homework, and that enabled me to finish the activity in class, which was much more satisfactory. My time was better utilized in the classroom guiding the activity itself. I have been experimenting with other approaches as well. For example, traditionally one might start a unit on figures of speech by teaching the figures of speech and then giving the class an exercise requiring them to practise and demonstrate their understanding. I have created a few SCORMs (e-learning modules) which do the job of teaching the figure of speech, and posted these on my Moodle. I then require students to watch these, leaving the time in class free for practising the application of this knowledge. This allows me to work with individuals or groups and gives more time for more personalised interventions. The SCORMs are time-consuming to create, but once made are available as a re-usable resource. Students can watch them whenever they need to, and, because they can re-wind as often as they need, seem to master the content more readily.
In the traditional classroom, teachers are often so caught up in teaching the concepts that they do not have sufficient time to devote to teaching students how to apply the concepts. This often leaves children knowing what a metaphor is, for example, but unable to understand or discuss how a particular metaphor is used in a particular poem. This flipping of the classroom is a liberating experience, and makes one feel really useful as a teacher.
This experience has also lead me to an understanding about blended learning – that maybe we shouldn’t rush to get computers into every classroom, or to get the whole school wired. Maybe what we should be doing is just making sure that students have access when they need it.
If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d have a blog. Undoubtedly we need to use ICTs and the affordances they offer, but we need to be selective. Students need access to a wealth of digital resources, and a wealth of digital authoring opportunities, but there is a great need for the classroom as a space where the rush to digitization of our meaning-making activities can be reflected upon.
I’d always kind of assumed that the role of the teacher in the 21st century is to help students mediate the vast pool of knowing that we are increasingly wired to 24/7. Whereas the teacher in the industrial age tended to mediate the content itself, make it digestible for students, the 21st century teacher needed to mentor the student in assimilating the content for herself.
But it is a bit more complex than that, I think. If you are young and inexperienced, you can’t mediate the content for yourself until it has been partly digested for you. More particularly you can’t evaluate the content until you have assimilated and synthesised it to a degree, and some part of that still requires 19th Century teaching.
Anyone who has been in a classroom understands this the moment a class hands in an assignment they have researched on the Internet. It is true that the Internet is changing the forces and relations of knowledge production irrevocably. It is true that content is becoming less and less important. Why learn the lengths of the major rivers of the world when you can Google the answer in two seconds flat? But as teachers we can’t just teach how to access and evaluate knowledge, assuming that the content is understood by students. It isn’t.
It’s the Scholar’s Dilemma – how can you discover something if you don’t know it’s there? As teachers we still need to teach. we need to teach the concepts that our students need to be able to meaningfully evaluate and assess the knowledge pool that is now accessible to them anywhere anytime.
In short, we can’t just let students loose on Shakespeare’s blog to discover literature for themselves because they don’t yet have the tools to navigate that experience yet. We still have a role in mediating the content.
But Shakespeare’s blog does make for great homework!