One must pity the poor bastards developing courses for ‘mature age students’ – opinionated know-it-alls with ludicrously high expectations of their courses, expecting a decent ‘return on their (time and fee) investment’. So I preface this post by acknowledging that anyone who puts together a tertiary course deserves credit for the significant effort required to do so.
Last week we finished up the component of our program that looks explicitly at the use of information technology in education. There are several important things to note here;
- with technology playing an ever-increasing role in the classroom, it is vital that teachers understand how it can be used to create effective learning environments
- from our visits to schools early in the term it is clear that teaching staff generally have very low levels of comfort and experience in introducing information technology into the classroom – particularly the interactive white boards (IWB) and laptops that are part of the ‘digital education revolution’ which is upon us
- pre-service teachers come to the profession with vastly different levels of familiarity with technology, and a suitable course must cater for this range of experience
Unfortunately, after our last lesson I was left with a feeling that an opportunity had been missed. The course had seemed somehow unsatisfying – I did not really feel more ready to enter a classroom and ‘get all digital’ with students.
To explore my unease, I went back to the unit outline and looked at the different things we spent time doing throughout the term. Roughly speaking (across lectures, tutorials and out-of-class work), this broke down into four categories;
- Literature and policy – familiarising ourselves with government policy and guidelines about technology in the classroom (such as the DER and Connected Classroom initiatives) and exploring the literature on technology use in education
- Classroom skills – hands-on skills for technology use in the class, including managing a classroom full of students on computers, and using the IWB
- Resource evaluation – looking an digital tools and content that may be used in the classroom, and assessing them to determine their value and suitability
- Resource creation – learning to use tools to develop digital resources (such as PowerPoint, animation studios, and Notebook for the IWB), and creating multimedia digital resources to deliver on specific learning outcomes
I then went through the unit outline and estimated the number of hours that were being allocated to each task. This was obviously somewhat subjective (also, I assumed that we were spending as many hours on the course outside of class as in class), but you can check my working here if you wish. The chart below shows the rough breakdown of the 44 hours of course time across these four activities;
In short, as you can probably guess from the chart, I felt that we spent far too much time creating resources and not enough time learning how to use technology in the classroom. I’m not sure where this focus has come from, and I do acknowledge that teachers having some skills in resource creation is a great thing, but I don’t believe that over half of the focus of a course on technology in education for pre-service teachers should be on multimedia resource creation.
So, what do I think we SHOULD be learning? Well, without giving it the thought it deserves, if I were creating a course of this type, I’d break it down something like this;
- Current state of play – technologies that are in the classroom (PC labs, digital video), those that are coming soon to the classroom (IWBs, personal laptops, video conferencing), and the government policy relating to them
- Digital literacy needs – what skills do we need to be equipping our students with (from typing to search literacy and critical media appreciation)
- Modes of technology use in education – what are the different ways technology can be used, what are the pedagogies that underpin these approaches
- Evidence for efficacy – what literature is there (particularly recent studies) that shows how and why technology can assist in fostering learning outcomes
- Hands-on skills – particularly for those with less experience, what are the core skills needed (this may include some time working with an IWB, a basic grounding in PowerPoint if necessary, basic overview of video-conferencing, and a show-and-tell of the Lenovo laptops being deployed to many schools)
- Issues and ethics – dealing with contentious topics like privacy, cyber-bullying (to use the term du jour), inappropriate material, disparate levels of technology in the home etc.
- The future – exemplars of projects using technology in new and innovative ways (such as School of One, whether you like it or hate it), emerging technologies and their potential (from augmented reality to Siftables)
It would be unfair not to point out that there were a number of positive aspects of the current course as it was delivered. It gave us exposure to a range of typical educational resources (the kind we might choose to use in the classroom), we had the opportunity to see the scope of different resources developed by our peers (many people seemed to find this the most interesting part of the course), and it gave us experience independently developing out skills in new media-creation tools (a realistic scenario when you are out in some remote school without support, learning new software packages).
It was, however, essentially a course in ‘multimedia resource development for the classroom’. This is a valuable skill, but perhaps more suited to an elective – what we need as pre-service teachers is a good grounding in technology deployment in the class that will enable us to be agents for change as we move out into an education system undergoing dramatic technological change.