If there is one word that frustrates me on a regular basis when it comes to supporting the embedding of and utilisation of technologies into education it is the word “appropriate”.
People use it all the time to describe the usage of technology.
“Learning technologies will be embedded into lessons where appropriate”
“The use of technology to support learning will be used when it is appropriate to do so.”
Now I don’t have a problem per se about the use of the word appropriate in this context. I don’t believe technology should be used all the time and every time.
However what has happened is that the word appropriate has been appropriated as an excuse for not using technology.
So I hear practitioners saying, and these are all actual things I have heard people say:
“I won’t use mobile devices in my classroom as they are not appropriate”.
“Using the VLE with my learners is not appropriate.”
“The use of PSPs would not be appropriate with that group”
“Using the Interactive Whiteboard would not be appropriate for this subject.”
So rather than use the word appropriate to define a time or context when and where technology should be used, the word is more often used to describe an entire course or cohort.
Sometimes the appropriate excuse is used for a single technology or in extreme cases any kind of learning technology.
To say that technology is never appropriate for an entire course or an entire cohort, often misses the opportunities that technology can offer to enhance or enrich a session.
I remember talking to one curriculum manager who was adamant that using PSPs with her cohort of HNC students wasn’t appropriate. These were adult students who would not want to “play” with shiny things and didn’t play games in lessons. The thing is, across the corridor another teacher was using PSPs with a group of management students (a fair few who were managers in the college). They weren’t playing games on the PSP, they were using them to watch a video presentation at their own pace and allowing them to review and rewind where appropriate.
So why does it happen?
Sometimes it is more appropriate to use a traditional approach or a traditional technology. For example nothing wrong with using flip chart paper or post it notes. There is noting inappropriate about not using a forum on the VLE and having a live discussion in the classroom.
For me, what is inappropriate, is never using technology using the term appropriate as a blanket reason, more as an excuse rather than an actual reason. This is why it frustrates me.
Next question, is how do we move things forward?
Well one thing I do find working with practitioners, observing sessions is the number of missing opportunities for appropriate use of learning technologies. Why are they getting missed?
Talking with learners and practitioners it is usually down to confidence or not knowing the potential. It certainly is fair to say that not everyone knows everything! However when I say “not knowing the potential” this isn’t about practitioners knowing how everything works, this is about understanding the potential of various learning technologies. Understanding the potential means when an opportunity arises, it isn’t missed, appropriate use of technology is embedded into the learning.
Practitioners need to take a certain responsibility for professional updating at training and development events to understand how different learning technologies can be used to enhance and enrich learning. Staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process with case studies, guidance, exemplars and ideas. These could be paper based, e-mail, video, podcasts, or through any various online tools.
Confidence is more difficult to deal with. Experience of using multiple technologies will build confidence in using those technologies. So you have to start using technologies to gain confidence in using technology. That first step though can be very daunting. Often practitioners will talk about the fear of “looking stupid” or “it not working”. Again, staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process by motivating staff, but also where appropriate working with practitioners in a session, to ensure that the technology “works”. Likewise IT support teams need to help and ensure that the technology is robust and just “works”. That will help to build confidence.
It is probably not appropriate to use (the same) technology in every lesson, however it is equally inappropriate to miss the opportunities that learning technologies can bring to learning, by never using it.
How do you deal with the problem of missed opportunities?