Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Talking about teaching, learning and digital technologies

I had a really interesting experience recently, where I was teaching a group f2f that I normally teach online. This group is made of people from all around NZ who are learning to be secondary teachers and are doing so from their own homes, using local schools as their practicum contexts. This group covers as wide a subject area as you could possibly think of, so the conceptions about learning, about subject material and what needs teaching is very diverse.

I set a task where I offered them about 5 digital technologies to investigate in curriculum groups, asking them to focus on ones that were unfamiliar, then select one to apply the task to. With this task, they needed to outline what they learned about the tool (such as scoop.itvimeo or fakebook), including its strengths and possible obstacles to use. They then had to think how this tool could be appropriated for their subject, and then to design the outline of a lesson where this could be used. They also had to identify the key competencies that would be focused on, and the curriculum standards they were aiming for. The end point was to present their decisions to the whole group when we reconvened.

I then spent time moving from group to group to talk with them as they undertook this investigation. After a bit of targeted questioning and offering some suggestions, some groups got really stuck in. A science group for example, decided scoop.it could be really useful for curating sites for specific topics, and they described how they found stuff on photosynthesis, including videos. I asked if they realised that people could comment on specific sites, and asked them to consider what value that might have for learners. They then became even more creative in their thinking about what their learners could do with it.

After that, I talked with groups looking at fakebook. This site enthused social studies and English groups, for they could see how this could be used to express different points of view about events or issues, or create profiles of characters from books or history. They then thought of ways to use it in their imminent  six-week practicum.

Next group was a large group of hard materials technology teachers. I spent quite some time with them, for they had trouble getting past the idea that kids should be making things in the workshops. I probed them to describe something that students would make and how they would learn to know how to make it. It took a while to probe this, but eventually they started to see that something like scoop.it could be a good way for teachers to probe learners' thinking, especially if they required students to choose some site (video or otherwise) which best helped them learn something they would need to make their product, such as a table. By adding an comment to the sites they curated, students would need to explain what it was about their selection that particularly helped them. This set of sites could then be shared with everyone, so there could be a rich pool of resources for everyone to learn from, without the teacher having to do all the work.

As part of this discussion however, they said that data projectors in workshops don't work because of the dust. We then talked about chromecast and how much cheaper this might be with a tv screen. As luck would have it. we were close to one of the tvs in the cafe space on campus, so I showed them how it worked. Serendipitously, the manager of our faculty's Innovation and Technology group walked past, used his phone to take control of the tv, and joined the conversation. The group was highly engaged in that conversation, so I left them to it.

I guess the point I'm making is that anything can be a teachable moment: we need to grasp the moment when it's there and run with it. By asking this group of pre-service teachers to think more creatively rather than linearly, they were able to expand what they know and add ideas that might enhance learning for students they teach. The general feedback and recap session at the end demonstrated this clearly, for the whole group got to hear how specific curriculum groups might use specific tools new to them.

I can't wait to see what happens when they start teaching and have a go at including tools they might never have heard about otherwise.

And what about you? What digital tools are your favourites? Which ones might my students benefit from knowing about? I'd love to know.

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