About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thoughts on Combining Technology Integration for Educators with Primary Research

I have recently begun a new role in my college as an Education Technology Manager - an opportunity I attribute to discerning "following" decisions on Twitter and some timely post-grad study (as well as luck: the previous incumbent left). Naturally, I find myself continuously engaged with ideas about how to combine the grass-roots kind of constructivist philosophy I believe should shape learning, with my academic need to research everything. As I wrote in my previous post I am deeply interested in an approach to engaging educators in professional development which involves cultivating a meta-awareness of transferring constructivist practice from learning to teaching. The focus is not on technology tools, but on the pedagogy shaping the architecture of learning. The important question is, how can these new tools help to more effectively bring to life the ever-evolving designs of education?

What is the nature of this constructivist professional development I am talking about? Well, read my previous post. Briefly, it aims to make the focus of professional development for educators their own teaching experiences and circumstances - instead of some abstract IT agenda derived from ad hoc and disconnected imperatives determined by what new software applications are out or the latest social media trends. Just like the learners in our lectures and tutorials - particularly in the higher education environment - social context is a key determining factor in engaging learners and enabling them to practice and apply their learning in real contexts that will shape them into worthwhile human beings, and coincidentally enhance their future careers. (Swap these outcomes according to your personal philosophies).

This is not an original idea by any means. I am always reading new articles and interesting blog posts from educators like Bill Ferriter, and education technology research specialists like David Wedaman, who see the parallels between engaging students through learner-centred activities, and designing professional development for educators. If learning experiences aren't relevant for the participants it will be un-engaging and a waste of their time. The insights and interests of educators needs to be the foundation of their professional development. Those among us who take responsibility for our own professional development would hardly follow leads, attend conferences and read articles which were not relevant to our circumstances and interests. The same fundamentals should underlie design for broader audiences.

However, it isn't that easy to find out what teachers and lecturers need - especially if they don't think they need anything. My own students in Literature classes often ask me what is the relevance of Literature: "why do we have to study it?" they wail. "We aren't going to be literary critics." Literature is a core subject at my college because of the opportunities it provides to read, write, critically analyse texts and discuss new ideas in groups - all skills which the international students we teach will need when they enter an Australian University. So, whether they realise it or not, the benefits they will get will serve them in the future. But if they are wailing, its a signal I need to make my classes more interesting, relevant and engaging. (See posts below on this.) Can the same be said for educators embarking on new adventures in technology?

I recognise the uneasy tension in this analogy when applied to professional development for educators. You can't patronise professionals by "telling them what they need". Nothing would switch them off faster. But equally, if they are unaware of what's out there - what other institutions, schools and training environment are doing to engage learners and improve relevance and satisfaction - they might never know what's possible. This is where research becomes essential. I see tremendous value in combining information provision with researching the circumstances and needs of those for whom the information is provided. It should be a two-way design that never undermines the autonomy of professionals - as indeed, it should not undermine the experiences, expertise and knowledge of our young learners.

What I also really want to do while in the role I now have, is to plan now to explore beyond the two-way flow of need and information / need and application in designing professional development, and promote a meta-awareness about transferring constructivist experiences from learning to teaching contexts. So, my proposal in my previous post about educators perhaps being "inspired enough" and seeing "sufficient incentive, (might) take responsibility for their own learning and then feel motivated to share that learning with their colleagues" is the foundation I want to cultivate. On this constructivist foundation, can pedagogy and its technological tools build new flexible learning architectures?

To test if such an eventuality is possible, I will be designing and conducting a longitudinal research project on this issue with a senior colleague in our unique teaching and learning context. Is this too idealistic? Would the active intentionality I have negate findings? What do you think?


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