A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

The following post was written as a reply to Darcy Moore’s post Learning: A Digital Renaissance (A Draft). Please check out his wonderful post and add your own reply to keep this valuable conversation flowing.

This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks to your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop – can you? I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. Our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them.  We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and encounter the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I thought it might be simply a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of large organisations like the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be.  Yesterday I created a twitter account (@younginquirers) for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and ask them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms!

My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you mention in your post. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick/letters or calls to parents/clean-up slips/detention? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work as well as speaking openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces.  The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter and discovered that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read her tweet aloud to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus when ‘prepping’ my prac teacher for her first lesson was not about ‘how to manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lesson because I didn’t bring those things up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how these particular young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to them.

So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. And then I get all self-critical and emo – am I being irresponsible by helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her lowly position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.

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10 thoughts on “A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

  1. Loved your reply. Most of the new and future teachers in the uni course I’ve been involved with wouldn’t be this confident, sadly, the worksheet and assessment centred learning (not even teacher centred) is a case of the tail wagging the dog.
    Some of the replies on Darcy’s post also resonate: that of the challenge facing most teachers low literacy, low motivation. My feeling is that the digital, PBL way is the only option you have. Certainly by time high school arrives and they are disengaged and with the literacy/basic skills to match. Generally speaking it has been teacher centred, working towards the assessmnet that has led to this level of challenge. Maybe 20 years ago this student (like my parents in the 70’s) would have been excluded from school, to locate a seemingly meaningless working class life (of course, just because you don’t go to uni doesn’t mean you don’t succeed!)

    I feel exactly the same: My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’.

    And the fear that anything new (and PBL or digital learning is not new!) will unbalance this fine line of control.

    • I agree with you. We often teach the way we were taught and this becomes a tragic cycle for both our students and our future teachers. I find it difficult to convince my students that group work is real learning – the unlearning bit takes time. Imagine doing that at university level! I know you, David and Kelli are working hard at this, much admiration to you all!
      Working towards assessment still kills me. I’ve tried to rework a few assessment tasks (with success I might add) to ensure that at least we’re working with something effective.
      Yup – teacher control. Argh. This week we’ve got a behaviour-management specialist coming to talk to us. 😦

  2. Most school structures are based on adults’ fear of children running out of control. We always underestimate what children are capable of.

    The best indicators of student learning are the tasks that they undertake. Task predicts performance. Yet the task that students most frequently undertake in schools is listening to a teacher talk. Schools are operating on a 19th century bureaucratic model. It is a compliance-oriented structure that is not based on what we know about learning.

    We know what is involved in good teaching and we know how to bring it to scale. We know that good teaching is usually occurring when students are engaged and motivated about their learning, when students are interacting with other students, and when grading, marking, ranking and judging students is kept to a minimum.

    • Yes! Fear runs the school … and the risk-taking behaviour is seen mostly in students who attempt to ‘break out’ of the model set by the adults. The funny thing is, most adults don’t like being in a system that is based on fear and control, but we are grown ups now with responsibilities. The cost of ‘breaking out’ is too high for most to risk.

      Yes, the ‘compliance-orineted structure’ is a fantasy … it takes rigour to keep it in place. Imagine if this rigour was applied to quality teaching and learning and not just filling in paperwork to suspend another kid?

      In my opinion we need continued funding into studies on student-centred pedagogies … we need the data (and I know we have some already) to support our classroom observations that this is the future of education. Then we get the grassroots movement happening in a few more schools, especially public schools. The work of Neil Fara impresses me intensely and I will be following his project REAL with great interest. He’s a HSIE HT at Irrawong HS – look him up when you’re back in the country, OK?

  3. I just skimmed over your post, but something that really stood out to me was your comments on behaviour management. I am currently on my internship and something I am struggling with is the culture of threats for bored students, I mean ‘bad behaviour’. I cannot fault the teachers I am working with, they are passionate, doing the best they can with the time, resources and knowledge they have. However, my hand is forced and I am a puppet in the current ‘state of play’ that you mention. The lessons I have opportunities to teach and plan are embarrassing, they are everything I stand against. Because of these ridiculous lessons, I am then forced to play the ‘action and consequence game’ of “if you don’t do your work you will be staying back at lunch”. Honestly, with my current knowledge, if someone told me to participate in these lessons as a student I would refuse. I guess what I am trying to say is, I don’t believe I would have any behavior management issues if I was able to develop lessons which engaged the current ideas, interests and tools of my students.
    Your prac student is lucky and my whole cohort at my University would also be jealous of the opportunities you are giving your prac student. You are giving priceless opportunities, you do not have to go to university to hand out a worksheet and threaten students. Thanks for your post.

    • Thanks for your comment Anne!! I feel your frustrations … believe me, it doesn’t all happen quickly and ca really depend on the culture of a school and staffroom. I can say/do these things because I have established myself in my school having worked there for 7 years and I also have an extremely supportive HT.
      I don’t envy the next few years for you – keep at it though. You’re better off than many of us were because we didn’t even know that there were alternatives – and we didn’t have a support network like twitter!
      Keep agitating for change. I does happen. Slowly.

  4. Your prac student is very lucky to have a mentor like you Bianca. Someone who leads change and exemifies it every day in her teaching. My husband did his prac teaching last year and was told not to use technology in his classes. He ignored this ‘advice’ and used it anyway to great success – with the students anyway – unfortunately his master teacher felt the need to comment on his report about his overuse and reliance on technology, that it was a distractor for the students. I saw his lesson plans and they were student-centred inquiry learning. It is sad that only a small handful of the truly progressive teachers make their views known publicly and push for change.

  5. I finished my training as a primary teacher just over 10 years ago… And almost immediately decided I was much more interested in secondary teaching; I stayed on at uni to do a few postgraduate things – including an M.Ed in (wait for it) Information and Communications Technology in Education and Training, which I finished in 2006.
    To be brutally honest, I was so disappointed with the course. The vast majority of our required readings were from the 1980s… We were taught skills tlike simple photoshop (which I already had, through years of playing on my Mac) and – wait for it – PowerPoint. (Ok; our options are many more varied now than in 2006, but still – having Masters students build PowerPoints? That wasn’t what I was hoping for.)
    Still, that degree helped me get the job I have now – Teacher of HSIE and Computer Coordinator. I am responsible for running my school network. For fixing printer jams. Purchase new hardware… But my favorite part of the job is introducing new ways of using technology to the school. (I think back to my last temporary job, 6 years ago… I don’t think I took my yr10 class to a PC lab once. This year? I’m borrowing pooled DERvices for my yr12s, and my yr8s have a cross school blog with another NSWDEC school from 800km away, where we post the fantastic web-creations they’ve made using their brand new Japanese skills.)
    I teach Information and Software Technology to yr9-10 and am accredited for IT-VET, but I realised just last week, that my passion is to not to “teach computers” but to “teach my subject areas (HSIE & LOTE) using computers” – and I want to help others to do the same.
    There is some resistance in my school – mainly from those who still think of ICT as “something else” to teach. It is fading, though, and it will disappear almost entirely before long. Why? Because old staff will see the efficiency with which people like your praccie teach – and the engagement that her students have – and there will be no loss of outcomes. Yes, it will be a bit more work for old-style teachers in the short-term, but ultimately, these connected, collaborative teaching and learning methods will free up our time to actually help those students who need more support, and will give our students access to many more teachers during our lessons – their peers in the room, their peers on the web, and the real experts.
    (Let us know when you class gets its first Twitter reply from a modem author they are studying.)

  6. (I thought it best to hit Post on my ling rambling comment above, and start afresh with what was to be my original point!)

    My Other half has just finished his final Prac, and has just one assignment left to submit in his Grad Dip Ed… I’ve been so very jealous of him as he’s done this course – his assignments were all to be submitted via a blog (which he created as part of task one), and students were encouraged to live tweet the lectures they attended (with twitter accounts created as part of assignment one!). When he got his LitePortal account, he even signed up for Yammering (I believe the first praccie to do so?). On twitter, he created a hashtag, #onprac11, and shared it with his uni peers, but it’s now being used by praccies all over the place!

    My point? Your praccie is not alone. She will form part of the new critical mass which will reinvigorate and enthuse (or at least, outlast) teachers who are merely counting the terms they have left. Also, Education degrees have come a long way in the last 6 years, if my M.Ed ICTET was anything to go by!

  7. Pingback: Reflecting on #Pedagogical Implications of Technology and the #Digiverse « Maximos' Blog

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