Teach­ers on learn­ing curve

Tech­nol­ogy is forg­ing new ways of teach­ing and learn­ing, writes Kirsten Lees

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

TECH­NOL­OGY is chang­ing the way we learn. That is a given as school stu­dents — the ubiq­ui­tous dig­i­tal na­tives — come to class equipped with skills and ex­pec­ta­tions un­par­al­leled in schools 20 years ago.

As a mat­ter of course, tech­nol­ogy is also chang­ing the way teach­ers teach — from how they en­gage their stu­dents and man­age their class­rooms, to how they shape their work­ing day, man­age their pro­fes­sional lives — and in­deed how they think about a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion.

To teacher Wendy Pet­tit, the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on her year five class at Cur­ram­bena Pri­mary School in Lane Cove in Syd­ney’s north has been grad­ual and led by the stu­dents.

For the teach­ers, she says, it was ini­tially a steep learn­ing curve. ‘‘ I re­mem­ber the seem­ingly end­less and some­times ner­vous dis­cus­sions about buy­ing the first com­puter for the school.’’

Now com­put­ers, and re­lated tech­nolo­gies are as in­te­gral to her teach­ing as any other medium. And Wendy Pet­tit ac­knowl­edges that this is af­fect­ing the way she man­ages the class.

‘‘ Firstly, I teach in smaller grabs of time,’’ she says, ‘‘ but this is a good thing. I per­son­ally be­lieve that teach­ing has long been too au­di­tory. It is im­por­tant to cater for dif­fer­ent per­cep­tual styles — vis­ual, au­di­tory and kines­thetic (learn­ing by do­ing) — es­pe­cially when teach­ing younger chil­dren.’’

The in­ter­net and re­lated tech­nolo­gies, Pet­tit be­lieves, of­fer new ways for her to en­gage chil­dren in learn­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that suit a range of learn­ing styles. New me­dia bring more variety, colour and move­ment when pre­sent­ing ma­te­rial to the class and al­low stu­dents to present as­sign­ments in dif­fer­ent ways.

‘‘ The chil­dren use Pow­erpoint, ba­sic an­i­ma­tion, as well as word pro­cess­ing pack­ages,’’ says Pet­tit. ‘‘ I have had a project from one child who was fas­ci­nated by tech­nol­ogy and in­ter­ested in mar­ket­ing. He came up with a scripted, acted, filmed and edited ad­vert, all done on the home com­puter. An­other project was a short film, again fully edited and all about bmx bik­ing.’’

To Dale Spen­der, an ed­u­ca­tion­al­ist and an ex­pert on the im­pact of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies on learn­ing, the shift is fun­da­men­tal: ‘‘ There has been a switch from pas­sive to ac­tive learn­ers,’’ she says, ‘‘ and ac­tive learn­ers need a dif­fer­ent range of sup­port staff.’’

This is more than a learn­ing revo­lu­tion for stu­dents and it opens up a range of job op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple in­ter­ested in a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to Spen­der.

Learn­ing man­agers, care-givers, coun­sel­lors, tu­tors, soft­ware pro­gram­mers, in­struc­tional de­sign­ers, net­work man­agers, con­tent creators — th­ese are all oc­cu­pa­tions and skills that she be­lieves will play an in­creas­ing part in sup­port­ing learn­ing.

‘‘ Be­fore the in­ter­net, to be a teacher you had to be ev­ery­thing in one per­son. Now there is a range of pos­si­bil­i­ties and many more peo­ple can be­come part of the ed­u­ca­tion process,’’ she says, ‘‘ whether it is man­ag­ing the process, cre­at­ing new forms of con­tent for a na­tional cur­ricu­lum, or de­vis­ing new ways of eval­u­at­ing progress and mea­sur­ing suc­cess. If you walk into a space in a school that is mak­ing good use of tech­nol­ogy, it prob­a­bly looks more like an of­fice than a tra­di­tional class­room. There are work­sta­tions, stu­dents work­ing in groups, get­ting up, wan­der­ing around, ask­ing ques­tions, work­ing things out. Projects will be de­signed to be less con­tent pre­scrip­tive and more out­come ori­ented as it be­comes less im­por­tant for stu­dents to know, and more im­por­tant for them to know how to do. School projects may be put to­gether by teams of teach­ers with dif­fer­ent back­grounds and dif­fer­ent skills.’’

Spen­der spec­u­lates skills and new ar­eas of ex­per­tise will grow.

‘‘ This is not to di­min­ish the role of ed­u­ca­tors to sim­ply and an ad­min­is­tra­tive job,’’ she says. ‘‘ Teach­ing is an in­tel­lec­tual skill. It is the art of get­ting peo­ple to ex­pand their minds, have in­sights, de­velop val­ues and to grow emo­tion­ally. That will not change.’’

Deb­bie Murray has been a high school teacher for 19 years, and her ex­pe­ri­ence largely re­in­forces what Spen­der is sug­gest­ing. As a spe­cial­ist in dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion, most of Deb­bie’s class­room hours are spent via satel­lite with classes of re­mote stu­dents. ‘‘ We can hear each other (we have au­dio), and im­por­tantly, the tech­nol­ogy al­lows the stu­dents to see what I am do­ing, demon­strat­ing tech­niques, and so on,’’ she says.

None­the­less, in or­der to fur­ther en­hance the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of re­mote stu­dents, Murray and her col­leagues are at the fore­front of re­search­ing, tri­alling and eval­u­at­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions and soft­ware tools for use in ed­u­ca­tion.

Much of what they have learned and im­ple­mented for dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion has rel­e­vance, Murray be­lieves, for face-to-face class­room teach­ers, and she is of­ten asked to visit schools to dis­cuss her work and to demon­strate dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to teach­ing.

‘‘ My role is to train teach­ers in us­ing tech­nol­ogy in teach­ing, but of­ten this means train­ing teach­ers to think in a dif­fer­ent way about how they de­liver lessons. Teach­ing has evolved from teach­ers be­ing the source of all knowl­edge and stu­dents learn­ing what the teach­ers learned. We have be­come fa­cil­i­ta­tors of learn­ing, en­sur­ing re­spon­si­ble learn­ing and safe learn­ing. Teach­ers are no longer those that sup­ply in­for­ma­tion, but di­rect stu­dents to use­ful, the most up-to-date and ap­pro­pri­ate re­search.’’

Matthew Kear­ney, se­nior lec­turer in ed­u­ca­tional tech­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy’s ed­u­ca­tion fac­ulty makes the point that tech­nol­ogy will have an im­pact on how ed­u­ca­tors man­age their ca­reer pro­files, build their re­sume cre­den­tials and gain pro­fes­sional recog­ni­tion, through the pro­lif­er­a­tion of web­based ca­reer man­age­ment tools and com­mu­nity por­tals.

‘‘ Such com­mu­ni­ties,’’ says Kear­ney, ‘‘ of­fer teach­ers a flexible and con­ve­nient way to de­velop pro­fes­sion­ally, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity to ex­change re­sources and share suc­cess sto­ries. Many pro­vide ac­cess to peer re­viewed learn­ing ma­te­ri­als or spe­cialise in learn­ing de­sign is­sues. Less for­mal com­mu­ni­ties (Teacher­Tube, teacher bl­o­go­spheres and pod­casts) are a con­ve­nient way for teach­ers to share and com­ment on new teach­ing ideas and opin­ions.’’

In Kear­ney’s opin­ion, con­tri­bu­tions to th­ese for­mal and in­for­mal on­line com­mu­ni­ties might be in­cluded on a teacher’s re­sume, and will even­tu­ally re­ceive of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion from em­ploy­ers, in time adding to the de­vel­op­ment of an ed­u­ca­tor’s pro­fes­sional iden­tity. The per­va­sive­ness of tech­nol­ogy in the teach­ing en­vi­ron­ment is trans­form­ing ca­reers in ed­u­ca­tion, just as it is chang­ing the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. But, Pet­tit sounds a note of cau­tion on her tech-savvy tenyear-olds:

‘‘ They may be used to fast move­ment, lots of colour and push-but­ton con­trol but as yet, teach­ers are only hu­man and we don’t have pause con­trol, or a fast-for­ward, or an off switch.’’

Pic­ture: James Croucher

Soft­ware for hard tasks: Stu­dents are in­no­va­tive in pre­sent­ing as­sign­ments, says Wendy Pet­tit

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