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Laptops support rising to the technology challenge in teacher education September 23, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Jane Hunter

The Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017 published in May notes there are Ten Top Challenges for the tertiary education sector over the next five years. The list of technology challenges includes:

  1. economic pressures
  2. appropriate metrics of evaluation
  3. evidence of academics not using new and compelling technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research
  4. institutional barriers
  5. commercial providers delivering ever more credible educational content
  6. digital media literacy
  7. demands for personalized learning
  8. changing roles of tertiary educators
  9. under-resourcing of critical campus infrastructures, and
  10. the global drive to increase student numbers in university courses

(Johnson, Adams & Cummins, 2012, p.19-20).

I read with interest what this report suggests and couldn’t help but commence some further thinking about what it might mean for my practice as a tertiary educator in teacher education.

One action underway at the University of Western Sydney in the School of Education is the 24/7 distribution of laptops to individual students in a project titled “Next Practice – Ubiquitous ICT Access Pilot”.  This step allows School of Education academics and the University to examine how groups of early childhood, primary and secondary teacher education students access online and associated collaborative technologies, infrastructure, software and practice. The project aims to:

Build the capabilities of both teaching staff and students in classroom management and pedagogical practices in a technology rich teaching environment. It will also provide an opportunity to research the pedagogical aspects of using the technology within the School of Education and its impact on beginning teachers.

A small group of Human Society & Its Environment students (known as the ‘HSIE laptop group’) are participating in the project this semester. As an educator interested in technology and learning I wanted to understand what these students would do with their devices, and how it might make a difference to their learning in HSIE. We know computers make a difference to learning in schools – that is game-over. You may recall it was Seymour Papert  who in the early 1960s first wrote about creative uses of computers in school classrooms? So the challenge for me was – what would this ‘HSIE laptop group’ do with their own devices, both collectively and as individuals?

Were there extra opportunities that might occur? The unit already integrates technology in a variety of ways, for example:

Each week students used their laptops throughout tutorial and lecture sessions. In the first week we negotiated an ‘extra task’ as a response to their learning with the laptop.  This task was voluntary, and it wasn’t to be onerous and would be submitted after other course commitments were completed. The agreed task involved writing a short paragraph and/or submitting an artefact or product as a response to the following question:

How did having the laptop enable learning something more about HSIE?

It should be noted that while all students in the program are postgraduate students the ‘HSIE laptop group’ represents a variety of ages and backgrounds, with some very savvy technology users, and others who are less confident.

Early data (N=26) from the ‘HSIE laptop group’ suggests having the laptop enabled easier access to course materials, further experimentation with new software applications, deeper engagement with unit content, enhanced opportunity to practice using technology prior to being in front of a ‘real class’, and a greater appreciation of the importance of technology integration in the primary school classroom. Detailed below are just three of the ‘voices’* from the ‘HSIE laptop group’ including screen shots of some of the artefacts produced:

Artefact from the first HSIE assessment

Artefact from the first HSIE assessment

  Lara says:

I was able to download lecture/tutorial notes and view them during lectures and tutorials thus ensuring they were not printed, saving on ink, paper and the environment. I also viewed links given at the time of the lecture/tutorial that ensured engagement in the topic and the links were immediately saved for later reference. The useof OneNote for note-taking saved on paper and ink, and notes could be organised by topic therefore it makes it easier to search and refer to them in the future. I have now used interactive activities during the teaching of HSIE on prac, for example Google Earth and YouTube. I liked being able to use email to communicate with group members during presentation preparation and being able to check vUWS (UWS Blackboard)anywhere, anytime for announcements, discussions and all the links to the library for readings and research. 

Artefact from the field visit to the Powerhouse Museum

Artefact from the field visit to the Powerhouse Museum

Thianh explains:

The laptop facilitated my HSIE learning, as it allowed me to research websites, topics and ideas right ‘then and there’ as the internet and laptop was readily available for use. We used our laptops to organise meetings with each other for the Powerhouse Museum trip and group meetings after that to discuss how we wanted to take on the assessment. I also used the laptop when you spoke about TaLe (NSW Department of Education’s Teaching and Learning Exchange digital resource) and instead of trying to visualise what you were saying, I went to the laptop and then you could also show me how to look for specific “rainforest” topics using the site. This was beneficial to me, and also my fellow class mates. It allowed us to look into the website and be guided by your knowledge. Therefore, having the laptop gave greater accessibility to further enhance my learning in this subject and I saw it as a very powerful tool.

The Big Dig artefact includes interactive timelines

The Big Dig artefact includes interactive timelines

Anna remarks:

Whilst I am tech savvy in my personal life, I hadn’t really considered the application of technology, to a great extent, in the primary classroom. The creation of very simple artefacts merely scratches the surface of technological capabilities. I’ve used a small selection of images, however in the classroom, colourful artworks can be scanned and added, videos can be made. In HSIE at school, I remember lots of worksheets and making posters to show knowledge. An artefact like this gives scope for so much more in terms of assessing knowledge and engaging in learning. Students can integrate their own creativity, whilst presenting the knowledge they have acquired. 

*Thank you to the ‘HSIE laptop group’ for the rich data they have submitted to the project thus far. Names are pseudonyms and artefacts are reproduced with permission.

Final comment

The data described here will be added to the total project outcomes, and it only gives a taste of a few experiences, however it was encouraging that for many students having their own laptop had increased interest in aspects of HSIE not previously considered. Neil’s comment was typical:

During my time in HSIE this semester, I have particularly grown fond of parliamentary procedures. Using the laptop, I have used the website from Parliament House to view proceedings and watch Senate, House of Representatives and Federation Chamber discussions.  In a society where technology is growing and advancing, I have been reassured exactly why it is important to provide technology in all educational sectors.  It is an important tool for future teachers and students as it provides resourceful materials for learning about society … all part of HSIE.

What this group of Master of Teaching (Primary) students in HSIE write about and show they can create using laptops provided by one tertiary education institution is very positive. An important contribution to some of the “ten top challenges” identified in the Horizon Report.

Reference:    Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. NY: Basic Books.

Jane Hunter is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She has written a number of other very popular posts on our Blog on technology and education.

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