Back on the rollercoaster of the Masters! I’m both excited that this is my final module, and also recognising that I will miss the intense interaction with ideas, research and people.
Our first colloquium was led by Bruce Dixon, and provided an opportunity to go back to the very beginning and ask some of the big questions around learning in a digital age.
A crucial note that the discussion opened with was the elephant in the room when we talk about the interaction between technology and education – if we thought digital / technology was going to change education we were mistaken. Despite the utopic vision presented by many experts and academics, the relationship between learning and technology is problematic, often affected by issues around access, equity and training. Despite the billions that have been spent by governments around the world, the impact of technology on learning is patchy, uneven and poorly understood. Despite the fact that in the western world our children’s lives are shaped by technology, we are not really sure of exactly what the impact is, whether it has really changed their brains (or not), and what the long-term effects of it are.
We just don’t know.
But we do know that things are different.
Equally, if we are to engage in a discussion of the impact of technology on learning, we need to go back to an even more fundamental question, what is learning, and what does it look like.
What do we mean by “learning”?
How do students learn?
It’s a little like jumping on a train, without knowing your destination.
This seemingly simple question is one that most schools don’t really engage with, meaning that the way they then engage with technology is consequently poorly thought-through. If we don’t tackle the question of what learning is, then we can’t effectively employ technology to enhance it. Just because we’re using technology, doesn’t mean the learning is transformational or powerful.
So the next question should be –
How can technology enable more powerful learning?
“Our goal must be to find ways in which children can use technology as a constructive medium to do things that they could not do before; to do things at a level of complexity that was not previously accessible to children” Prof Seymour Paper
What other skills do students need to flourish?
One thing that we do seem to be increasingly sure of is that the “soft” skills are the ones that schools should be focussing on, the skills of learning how to learn, to be able to ask questions, and know how to go about finding answers, to do that collaboratively, to be able to communicate. Schools were traditionally set up to teach hard skills, discrete skill sets for the future world of work they were heading into, but many of those skills are now irrelevant, and it is the capacity to be flexible and adaptable that students need to thrive.
Students need to be given greater ownership of their learning – but let’s also be real and acknowledge they need to be re-engaged, to care and to be taught how to direct their own learning. We hear in the media that students are increasingly disengaged, particularly boys. Perhaps the reason so many students are not engaged is for that reason – they are powerless, they cannot connect what they are learning at school, with their lives or their future.
Much of this has to do with moving out of the industrial mode of schools that creates a dichotomy between teachers as powerful and students as passive. We need to reshape our thinking to see that everyone in the school is a learner, that it is a community of learners.
Our current schooling structures in Australia are test and results-driven and are not conducive to such discussions, but I would contend that good learning can occur alongside this system. That the two are not mutually exclusive, but that it takes a deliberate and concerted effort to shift a school’s focus on the learning that lasts beyond the NAPLAN and ATAR reporting.
Some final questions to think through, to keep coming back to, that I will keep asking not only throughout this final module, but that will shape my professional journey in education are –