Friday, 20 November 2015

More on the OECD report on digital technologies in education

The previous blog post I wrote on this issue in September 2015 was in response to some of the media reports that took one item and made it the central focus of the report, when it was nothing of the sort. I have now come across a blog post that puts together comments from a range of international academics who have also commented on ideas the report covers. Essentially, the blog post  by Maria Perifanou outlines comments that strongly advocate for the deliberate acts of pedagogy that are crucial for learning. Yes!

It has never been more important for teachers to have active, deliberate control of designing the learning activities and processes (this includes learning where students are active participants and decision-makers). This is, however, no mean feat, especially if teachers keep the long goal in mind of developing tomorrow's citizens/adults who can ethically, morally, and safely, take their places as decision-makers in their own societies. This doesn't happen in a vacuum or by happenstance, but by deliberate and careful design over long periods of time.

Deliberate acts of pedagogy that facilitate critical thinking, the ability to interrogate texts of any kind, and to not believe politicians' words all the time, is crucial for the health of our communities. With the growth also of strong efforts to turn everyone into consumers to buy, buy, buy!, we must educate our learners to think first of all: what are the messages I'm receiving? What and how am am I being persuaded? This also links to understanding political persuasion.

For example, in the advertising context, I'm thinking of the relentless advertising for the machine that says it creates healthy smoothies that a juicer can't. This advertising does not compare like with like. If it did, it would have little to offer that a blender can't do, other than being a bit easier to clean afterwards. A juicer is about removing pulp; a blender doesn't do that. So why would there be a deliberate effort to mis-compare? It is about creating need when there isn't one, playing the health-conscious card to potential consumers. is this justified? Such a question could raise all sorts of ethical considerations that might not be thought about. In 2007 for example, Ribena was left red-faced by New Zealand schoolgirls who unearthed its levels of Vitamin C. The began with a question about which of the comparable fruit drinks had the most Vitamin C.

So why aren't we using common texts such as these to interrogate in our classrooms? These can leverage the affordances of the internet to offer students the opportunity to come up with answers to relatively disarmingly simple questions like:

Does this product compare like with like? How do you know? How did you test the argument of the advertisement? What do you learn from this investigation? What would you advise potential buyers about this product? If you had the money, would you buy one? Justify your decisions. 

Imagine classrooms where students are encouraged to use the internet, check out the purposes of certain pieces of equipment, make comparisons, draw conclusions, and report their findings to their peers? This could include investigating the value of educational Apps- are they fit for purpose? Do they help learning or so they stop at drill and rote memory?

Deliberate acts of teaching are about the end game of critical thinking and using readily available tools and texts to facilitate this development. it doesn't require much technological nous, but keen pedagogical expertise. Tasks that begin with a problem and leave the process open, are ones students can easily attempt. They combine the skills of close reading, analysis, discussion, using literacy strategies such as creating tables of comparisons, drawing conclusions, and writing up reports of some kind (blog, printed text, video, poster, infographic etc) to present to peers. This is mathematics, science, technology, English and the entire range of Key Competencies put together. A teacher at almost any level could justify such problem-based learning tasks. The differences, I suspect will be of degree - of complexity, the sophistication of the resources, and the expectations of the final outcomes.

So let's take back the power and claim what is rightfully ours as educators - the ability to provide deep, meaningful learning that transcends narrow technicist views of who teachers are and what they should do. My colleague Dianne Forbes' last blog post is entirely relevant here for she outlines teachers' roles in actively creating learning from positions of strength and clear purpose.

So what do you think about this argument? Discussion is really welcome!

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