Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.
One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are confident in their use of technology. Gaining that confidence is not easy and often isn’t helped if they have previously used technology and it didn’t work. There have been many times I have heard teachers say that they don’t like using technology as the last time they used it and it didn’t work. They lack the confidence in the tools to work.
The way I used to approach that was by asking what they did when it snowed and the building was closed, the campus had failed to work. Someone had used a permanent marker on the whiteboard, it was unusable. There was a room change and we had to move the students, from a seminar room to a lecture theatre. In all these physical scenarios, a good teacher has the confidence to adjust and adapt what they are going to do. With a snow closure, the scheme of work needs to be adapted to allow the learners to catch up. Losing the whiteboard doesn’t mean the lesson has failed, maybe a different medium, such as paper, could be used. Again a confident teacher can adapt what they are going to do. They are also very likely to use the whiteboard again, once it has been cleaned. Similar story with the room change, adapt the activity for the learners.
I have found that often with technology, that with teachers lacking confidence, this means going into a session with a limited idea of how that technology can be used. If it doen’t work as expected, then it is seen as failure.
Having the confidence to easily adapt and use tools effectively, usually comes with experience, but I also believe that there is more to it than that. Gaining that confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they confidently know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.
Confidence usually comes from experimentation, trial and error and practice. It can be difficult to create a culture where experimentation and innovation is expected, encouraged and applauded. A culture where failure is seen as part of the learning process and is also part of the process of innovation.
So what strategies do you use to build digital confidence?
We know that change isn’t easy, if it was then all we would need to do would be buy a book on the subject and just do it.
When it comes to the embedding of digital technologies into teaching, learning and assessment I have spent over twenty years undertaking this kind of activity at a range of organisations and across different levels.
Going back to when I was a Business Studies and Economics teacher at what was then Brunel College (now City of Bristol College) I kind of fell into the use of technology to support teaching and learning. I was an ILT (or TEL) Champion before even the phrase existed. Going back a little further I was never the kind of techno geek or computer nerd many of my peers appear to be when comparing histories. I didn’t do Computer Science at school. I didn’t own a computer, I didn’t have a BBC Micro, nor the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum or anything like that. I did have a bike though!
At University in the late 1980s we had a VAX system and it was really that kind of got me interested in technology, but it was as a tool to solve problems. I discovered I could use this thing called electronic mail to send letters to a friend at another university instead of using the post! This was quite illuminating, until I got flamed by the administrator at the other university, for not using the correct format for my e-mail… Most of the time however the use of the computers was in many ways pointless as my examinations required me to hand write essays, so why would I use a word processor, having said that I did get introduced to Word Perfect 4.2 and did think that this was better than a typewriter.
After university on a business enterprise course I was introduced to spreadsheets that I used for creating balance sheets and cashflow forecasts. For me that was probably the eye opener that got me into technology, more so than anything I had seen before, well does that make me a boring person?
By the time I was working at City of Bristol College I was using my own PC at home to create presentations, photocopying onto clear acetates as initially we didn’t have a digital projector, and we were still using OHPs. When the college did buy a projector (we had one for the whole college) it was a real effort to use it, it was the size of a small suitcase and we also had to lug the screen around as well. Due to lack of processing power, I would often bring in my own PC box, as the laptop couldn’t cope with the strain of my presentations. My PC also had a Matrox Rainbow Runner video card which I used to show full screen video. There was no internet and certainly no wireless network. My what we take for granted today, looks at his phone which can stream HD and 4K video to a projector using 4G connectivity, things do change. Things did improve and we started to see more technology in classrooms.
One outcome from all this was that as I was seen as something of an innovator in this area I was asked to support and train staff, not just from my faculty, but also other areas of the college. One clear memory of this was the impact, often I would train individuals who would then go off and do their own thing (or not). Sometimes I would train all the staff in a faculty and this is where I would often see not only the most resistance, but also the biggest impact. Where a faculty set expectations about how technology would be used, you would see the greatest impact. One faculty I taught how to use Powerpoint to (probably badly) many of the staff were quit resistant or complained they couldn’t do this technology thing, there weren’t enough PCs, not all classrooms had PCs and projectors, and so on… remember this was 1998 or 1999. The head of faculty though had made it clear that not only were all staff to do the training, and create presentation materials, but that all the presentations would be stored and shared centrally. No presentations stored on floppy disks (we didn’t have USB sticks back then) being used by individuals only.
What was a transformative moment for me was the understanding that showcasing, cascading and piloting really didn’t have the transformative impact that senior managers hoped for. Generally the main impact was that enthusiasts would become more enthusiastic and those more reluctant, would either not do anything, or just pay lip service to any initiative. What really caused institutional change was effective strategy and leadership and clarity about what was going to be done, what was expected from staff and what they needed to do and by when.
This did stick with me over the years I moved into positions where my role was to embed technology into teaching and learning. Though I often used the cascade model for staff development, but knew that this was not the ideal model for systemic holistic change across an organisation. It worked well on some individuals, but it was not transformative.
In a similar vein the use of other people’s research and running pilots was interesting and useful, but did not result in institutional change, it could inform other activities, but the idea that the best way for mainstream transformation was to run a pilot was something that I found never worked and never had the impact that others thought it would.
What I really tried to do was transform the entire institution. I would use tools such as cheeses and models, but one key aspect was culture change. Changing the culture was often about hearts and minds, but also challenging the myths and misconceptions about technology and using learning technology with learners. I would use pilots and research to inform this process.
I also knew that if something didn’t work, then to try again, but this time do it differently. Don’t keep trying to do the same thing again and again.
I know that this isn’t easy, if it was easy then we would all have done it!
One thing that came out of this was the understanding that we often make assumptions about staff capabilities and their ability to know how to embed technology and the potential of what technology can do. Just because a member of staff can has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.
At lunchtime today I was at my desk eating a very nice bold cassoulet soup from EAT reading e-mails from the various mailing lists I subscribe to. There was an interesting discussion on one of the lists about how different colleges deal with food and drink in their libraries.
I know from experience and walking around that most staff eat their lunches in their workrooms. I also know when writing or working that I quite like having a cup of coffee or a cake (or two). What this tells us is that most people may want to at some point eat or drink while they work and write. It is not too difficult to understand why learners may want to eat and drink as they study. Of course you may not always be able to accommodate eating and drinking; not everyone likes the smell of food, there is the issue of rubbish and there may be an overarching policy that says no food or drink in learning areas. So it may not be that easy to allow food and drink and that rule has to be in place.
Even if there are rules, these are often ignored so as a result the library staff are spending too much time “policing” the library rather than helping learners. Another strategy is to attempt to change behaviour by putting up signs, but experience says that doesn’t work.
One way that I have been looking at this problem, is by asking why is it a problem in the first place. Rather than ask how to stop students eating and drinking in the library, ask why are they eating and drinking in the first place?
Most colleges are providing some kind of area for eating (where do they buy the food from), why aren’t they staying in those areas to eat or drink, what’s making them move from those areas to the library.
On one campus of my current college, the eating establishments only provide food in takeaway containers, partly I guess to save on washing up and partly I guess to encourage students not to stay (as the spaces are quite small). So guess where the learners go when it is cold (as it is today) a nice warm place, the library. On another campus they use proper “china” and the library doesn’t have the same issue with food and drink. Sometimes the issue is outside the control of the Library and a more holistic approach needs to be thought through.
Conversely why aren’t they using the eating spaces for learning, why do they feel they need to move from the canteen to the library? Why not turn the canteens into libraries? Make them environments for learning.
When I was at my last College our (final) policy was to allow bottled drinks only. We had NO signs about food or drink and to be honest it wasn’t really a problem. I remember when we merged with another college, their library was full of “no food” signs and the library was full of half-eaten food. By changing the culture and the respect that the learners had for the environment, the food issue became a non-issue. The main way it became a non-issue was the respect the students had for the space and the staff. Build relationships with the learners and most issues such as rubbish disappear. I also ensured that the team went around and picked up any rubbish, regardless of the fact that there were bins about. The key was ensuring the environment was tidy and nice, not about getting the students to throw away their rubbish. If the learners see a nice environment they generally like to keep it that way.
Of course there will always be exceptions, but I see food and drink in libraries is more about external factors and respect than just what happens in the library and signs.
Many years ago, in 1999, I facilitated and delivered an online course, using First Class on how to facilitate and deliver online.
The participants were college staff, many of whom had limited experience of using the internet. My own experience was quite limited, but I had since 1998 really immersed myself in the internet and the web.
What was interesting and relevant to the ocTEL MOOC I am currently undertaking was the type of things participants were saying back in 1998 were very similar to the things the ocTEL participants are saying now.
In the main having the time and technical skills to deal with the quantity of conversations and handling the “platform”. A lot of people have posted to the ocTEL JISCMail list saying that they can’t handle the amount of e-mail and to remove them from the mailing list, I recall similar conversations with staff back in 1998 about notifications coming from the First Class system. Likewise the “too much to read, too many e-mails” reminds me of the “too many red flags, too much to read” from First Class.
It’s true that a lot has changed, technically and culturally, in the last fifteen years, but I do find it interesting that in other areas we’ve not changed at all!
One question that does appear to resonate a lot with ocTEL participants is how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL? That’s one question we were also asking back in 1998. Back then a lot of the TEL we wanted practitioners to use was e-mail, word processing and Powerpoint.
Don’t you think it’s interesting that back in 1998 we were trying really hard to get people to use Powerpoint, and now that they are all using it really badly we are trying to stop them using it and stop them doing “death by Powerpoint”!
I wrote a few years ago a post called Well I think differently in which I explained how I had moved away from the “let’s convince people how good TEL is” to one of changing the culture of an organisation. That for me is the only way to move forward.
The question “how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL” is for me the wrong question. It’s hard to get individuals to change as they are individuals and have different personal needs. There is an assumption that “reluctancy” is a common trait that can be overcome. What I recognise when I meet a reluctant practitioner is that there is no commonality for the reasons behind the reluctancy. Sometimes it as simple as a training issue, for others it requires a complete overhaul of the way that they work. As a result you need different strategies that work with all the different individuals that work within an organisation.
Another aspect of this is that by “getting practitioners to engage with TEL” implies that TEL is a problem that needs to be solved, rather than do what most technologies actually do, which is solve problems.
We may talk about reluctancy in using TEL as though this is stopping things from changing, the reality is that though there is a undercurrent of reluctancy, and that there is consistent change and people are engaging and embracing technology all the time. The reasons they choose to use technology vary, but the main one is because it solves a problem and makes life easier.
As far as I am concerned question should be “how do we create a culture in which practitioners engage with TEL as a matter of course”. Practitioners will want to engage with TEL as they see it as part of the solution to their individual problems and not a problem in itself.
Having avoided taking part in a MOOC since they became the latest fad, I have now taken the plunge and enrolled on the ALT ocTEL MOOC.
It only started yesterday, so it is way too early to tell if I will complete the course. One of my reasons for undertaking the ocTEL is to see if this is a format that could be used for staff development in my own college.
One of the first questions that we need to look at on the oCTEL is:
What is the most important question about TEL for you?
Having been involved in TEL (and all the previous variations for a while now) the most important question I seem to have asked throughout that time and continue to ask is:
How do we create a culture in which TEL can be effectively used by all staff and learners to improve learning?
From my perspective and experience, TEL encomapasses both technology and learning, however the real deciding factor in using TEL to enhance and enrich learning is through cultural change.
Culture change is possible, but not necessarily straightforward or easy.
What I want to know and learn from others on the ocTEL is how do we influence and achieve cultural change?
Anyone who has attended one of my keynote or conference presentations recently will know I have made use of a series of quotes that I first encountered at an ALT-C Keynote by Martin Bean in 2009.
I have used the quotes to remind the audience that scepticism and concerns about the introduction of new technologies or new ways of thinking are not new and that it is “normal” to be concerned about change.
Now I’ve always had my doubts on the validity or authenticity of the quotes as my brief internet research showed that lots of people used the quotes, but there was very little real “evidence” on their authenticity. However in terms of the message I was getting across the essence of the message was much more important than the content of the message. Audiences related to the essence of the message and the scepticism that they had encountered. In more recent messages I have used actual quotes and newspaper headlines about the “dangers” of technology to reinforce the essence of the message.
Recently I used the quotes in a presentation at an ebooks event at UWE. I posted the slides online and I’ve had a couple of comments plus a really useful link that once and for all casts doubts on the quotes and pretty much says that someone in the 1970s made them up!
This set of statements was printed in the Fall 1978 issue of “The MATYC Journal”, a publication that focused on mathematics education. The quotes were assigned the dates: 1703, 1815, 1907, 1929, 1941, and 1950. But they may actually have been created in 1978. Copies of these quotes have been widely distributed and posted on many websites. They also have been published in multiple books and periodicals.
Ah well…. I knew it was too good to be true.
Though of course if you have listened to my presentations you will realise that the quotes were a theatrical device to make the audience to stop and think about change and people’s reactions to change. This is still valid, the quotes merely add a bit of dramatic licence!
So willI use the quotes again?
Probably not, but then I could do and point out that they were “made up” and use that point to make people think.
Those of you who have heard me present in recent years may have heard me talk about how we have a culture based on “we do what do, because we have always done it that way” and talk about the start of term in September and the long summer break and how this is because in the past we needed to let the children get the harvest in…
So I did enjoy reading Mick Water’s column in the TES in which he talks about the long summer break and that getting in the harvest is a bit of a myth…
There are many myths about the school year’s provenance. The pattern of the harvest is a favourite but not very solid: the people who drove the beginnings of our public-school system did not really need their children home to help with harvest as they had workers for that. The universities, though, needed time to assess the results of their entrance examinations so that they could organise their new autumn intake. The school holidays mirrored the pattern of Parliament, with the long summer break for the wealthy of the time.
Indeed, the long summer holiday was essential for public schools so that children could do proper things with their parents like go on the grand tour of Europe, join a safari, learn to shoot things, and visit museums and theatres. After that, schools would “top up” the pupils’ education by teaching them things beyond their families’ scope.
Well going to have to now go and edit my presentations and remove all those harvest pictures.
Even so the point I was making still stands, we do things, because we have always done them that way. The origin of the long summer break isn’t the important point, the point is that we continue to have long summer breaks, because we have always had long summer breaks. We don’t even really know why we have long summer breaks, but we continue to have them, because we have always had them.
Culture of organisations and the people within those organisations is often based on doing what they have always done. They continue to do what they do, as they have always done. There is no reason or incentive to change. Generally change only comes about when there is a shock to the system and we are forced to change.
As a learning technologist I see myself as an agent of change. However I see my role as changing the organisation, not just individuals. It is more challenging to change the culture of an organisation, but the impact will be greater.
On a final note (and I am sometimes guilty of this as much as the next person).
The summer break remains a chance to learn about the real world. The broader a child’s outside school experience, the easier it is to learn in the artificial world of the classroom.
Just to point out, though we sometimes think this, school, college or university is the real world and we should stop thinking it is something different, it sends the wrong message to learners, the wrong message to parents and the wrong message to politicians. If we think school isn’t in the real world then where is it? Mordor?
This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.
What are cats up to at dawn, when nobody’s around?
Sneaking around the back alleys? Probably!
Going through garbage cans? Not likely!
Playing Donut Games? Most certainly!
Join the cats in their favorite midnight ball game: CAT PHYSICS!
The objective is simple — Pass the ball from one cat to another!
Sounds too simple?
Oh, wait… did we mention flip boards, glass windows, trap doors and other obstacles?
I don’t normally mention games in this series, though of course games certainly have their place in learning and to give learners new skills.
However the reason I am bringing Cat Physics to your attention is not that it is the holiday season and therefore an ideal time to play games, but for two reasons.
Firstly it was recommended to me by a senior manager in my college. A year or so ago this manager would be quite open about her lack of learning technology knowledge, but was eager to see the potential. I did lend her one of my MoLeNET iPod touch devices and this year she did go out and buy an iPad. Cat Physics was one of the games she bought, enjoyed and brought to my attention. Bizarre I thought that a senior manager who wasn’t really that much into learning technologies, is now advising the learning technologies manager on what applications he should buy for his iPad!
I do find it really interesting how consumer electronics can have such an impact on society and social change and the resulting impact that these devices have on learning and learners. I am sure that devices such as the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones, the Nintendo DS and Wii, the PSP and other consumer devices have probably had more of an impact on changing the culture of education towards learning technologies than anything learning technologists have done in terms of training or staff development. I have seen many staff totally change their attitudes to the use of technology in the hands of learners as soon as they buy (or have been bought) a device such as the iPod touch or the Nintendo DS.
So what of the second reason?
Well when the iPad first came out, anything designed for the iPhone to be honest looked awful on the iPad, the x2 button though worked, didn’t result in a clear look to the application. The results were often fuzzy or pixellated. However Cat Physics was the first time I didn’t notice any issues. My first thought was that it was in fact an universal app for both iPhone and iPad. However upon close inspection it was certainly an iPhone sized game with the x2 button. The reason it looked so sharp and clear was that the game had been designed for the new “retina” display for the iPhone 4 and as a result the game which was designed for the 960×640 resolution of the iPhone 4 looks fine and dandy on the 1024×768 resolution of the larger iPad. So even if you don’t have an iPhone 4, the new versions of iPhone only applications, designed to work with the “retina” display of the iPhone 4 now look really quite good on the iPad.
So what of Cat Physics itself?
Well I actually really enjoyed the game. It works well as an iPad or iPhone game in that each level can be completed in the few minutes that you find you have for these kinds of casual games. The five minutes before your TV programme starts. Whilst the adverts are on before the film at the cinema. The few minutes waiting for that train or tube. Part of the success of the iPhone has to be down to the casual gaming potential of the device, Angry Birds is a prime example of how people are using their phones.
There are (at the time of writing) eighty levels of varying complexity in Cat Physics, each requires a modicum of skill in working out both the puzzle behind each level, but also the physics of how the ball will travel on the screen.
It’s an enjoyable game and at 59p is certainly worth buying, check it out.
My keynote presentation from last week’s RSC eFair.
The world is changing.
Technologies are changing.
Learning is changing.
Our learners are changing. How they learn, where they learn and with whom they learn, all are changing.
Web 2.0 technologies allow learners to remove the social, geographical and physical barriers to communicate and learn with others.
Mobile technologies allow learners to be more mobile and be able to access learning and learning communities in ways which have never been possible before.
Both allow for an enhanced and enriched learning experience.
James Clay has extensive experience of mobile learning and has a vision that goes beyond mobile technologies and focuses on the mobility of the learner, blurring the demarcation between formal and informal learning. His current vision for education encompasses the use of Web 2.0 technologies embedded into an institutional VLE which can be accessed through mobile technologies. Allowing learners a focal point for their studying, whilst allowing the depth and breadth of Web 2.0 to bring a personalised learning experience to students at a time and space to suit them.
For the future, James hopes that institutions and others will allow for a flexible, personalised, accessible learning experience for all.
One of my favourite quotes from Terry Pratchett is that “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”. When something awful happens, or freakish, we hear news reporters say “it was a million-to-one chance that this would happen”.
In February 2009 we had the worst snow for twenty years. Across the UK many schools, colleges and universities closed for a few days as travel made it impossible (and unsafe) for learners to get to their lessons and classes.
As it was the worst snow for twenty years, any idea of planning to use the VLE or similar to support learning from home was thrown out of the window, as it was obvious that such bad snow probably wouldn’t happen again for another twenty years…
Of course less than twelve months later, we had even worse snow. We saw even more closures and for even longer!
What were the chances of that happening?
What are the chances of it happening again?
Probably less than a million-to-one!
Even if it doesn’t snow really badly next year, other things may happen that result in the physical closure of the educational institution. It could be floods, high winds (remember 1987), flu or similar viral infections, transport strikes, fuel crisis, anything…
So how should educational institutions be responding? How should they prepare?
Personally I think that it is not about preparation, but having the staff and learners in the right frame of mind about using online and digital tools before any such million-to-one chance happens.
Culturally, most institutions do not incorporate online or virtual learning into everyday working cultures, at any level: management, staff or students. Those who do not routinely use digital options can’t see that closing the physical institution need not have a significant impact on the business of the institution, if that business can be carried out at home or online. The issue is not to focus upon contingency planning, but to focus on changing the way people work when there isn’t snow and changing the way people think when there is. Although this debate will centre largely upon Web 2.0 methods, it will take an outcomes-focused approach, rather than a tools focused approach, in line with William Morris’s quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. We consider what is necessary, not just in times of crisis, but in implementing everyday e- practice to meet learning and teaching needs.
With a focus upon communities rather than machines, and a recognition that no tool offers “one size fits all”, each panellist will focus upon a specific relationship, specifically ‘Institutional Representation’, ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Teaching Purposes’. What institutional cultural factors will need to be addressed? What do electronic communications approaches offer that previous methods haven’t? What drawbacks are acknowledged in the use of each with regards to the outcomes required? Which tool is most appropriate for the outcome required, and what are its pedagogical purposes?
It also links in nicely with Dave White’s keynote that happens immediately before our panel discussion.
The education sector is constantly chasing the tail of the latest technology. Innovation ‘out there’ on the web generates paranoia that we might be missing the latest opportunity and the suspicion that our students are experts in everything. We create profiles on every new platform just in case they become ‘the next big thing’, collecting solutions-looking-for- problems and losing our focus on what students and staff might actually need.
How can we change the culture of our organisations when we sometimes focus too much on the new tools that appear in our Twitter stream?
Changing the culture is going to take time, having access to the right tools can help, but attitude towards those tools is just as important. Culturally we have some way to go I think before snow or any other “disaster” only closes the physical location and doesn’t close the institution.