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Don’t feel guilty about screen time for children April 12, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Role of the family.
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by Joanne Orlando

Parents have been struggling to contain their child’s technology use to the recommended screen limit of two hours a day. With schoolwork, homework, communication , social media and fun, that limit doesn’t acknowledge our new reality. But at last authorities have listened and the guidelines for children’s screen use have caught up to the digital age.

The guidelines used by the federal Department of Health are based on those developed by the American Academy of Paediatricians. The academy’s new guidelines acknowledge the dramatic change in our device use and the need for children to use technology throughout their day. Even the long-held recommendation that children under two should get no screen time at all has been dropped.

The important message from the new guidelines is to shift our thinking from ‘‘ screen time’ ’ to ‘‘ screen quality’’ . Some new time measures are provided for younger children: one hour for children 18-months to five years. For children aged six to 18, the academy has passed the baton to parents to decide. Parents are asked to take a more nuanced approach and keep check of what their child does on a tablet, computer, TV or other digital device rather than counting minutes.

This is a sound approach as 30 minutes of playing a game that centres on stealing cars and dealing with drug lords (one of the most successful online games in the world) is quite different to spending 30 minutes creating music on a device. The previous guidelines were developed in the 1990s in response to research on children’s viewing of violent and sexual content . But the new guidelines are based on recent research that shows that use of today’s interactive devices can have valuable learning benefits . Technology can enhance the development of children’s language and literacy, stimulate creativity and allow children to work with ideas in deep and meaningful ways.

While loosening the guidelines is a great move for families, it may bring a new kind of stress. Parents often feel uneasy about guiding their child’s technology use. This is fed by the constant messages that tell us technology is bad for children . It’s a strong message that has led to parental uncertainty about what is best for children and how to guide their tech use.

The guidelines ask parents to take the lead and encourage educational content. However the term “educational” can be quite hard to pin down if you’re not an educator. There are more than 80,000 apps labelled as educational in the iTunes store but not each of them is a quality learning experience.

Unfortunately many “educational” apps are not designed by an educator, nor even someone who knows anything about education. To assess if a site or app is educational , consider what is beneficial for your child to learn and check if the app works towards that.

Educational does not necessarily mean a school lesson. Activities that are creative, stimulate imagination and allow meaningful connection with others are great – think, as examples, of developing a music playlist, video-chatting with mum while she is away, using an online recipe to cook, taking photos of the family and creating an online album, and using a video to learn how to draw.

Encourage children to apply what they have learnt on their device to an off-screen scenario. Follow up what your child has learnt online by looking at realworld examples. The more ways a child can apply their knowledge, the better the educational experience.

Many parents separate their child’s technology use from family activities and this exacerbates their unease in parenting around technology. Not only will playing or creating together online help with decisions about screen quality, but it is also a great way to bond with your kids.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was originally published in the November 22, 2016 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition.

Think again before you post online those pics of your kids February 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Role of the family.
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By Joanne Orlando

You might think it’s cute to snap a photo of your toddler running around in a playground or having a temper tantrum, and then posting it on social media. But did you ever think it might be a mistake, or even illegal?

The French government earlier this year warned parents to stop posting images of their children on social media networks.

Under France’s rigorous privacy laws, parents could face penalties of up to a year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (A$64,500) if convicted of publicising intimate details of their children without their consent.

This new legality is powerful food for thought for parenting in the Facebook era. As adults, we often express dissatisfaction at the ways young people post their lives online. But if we turn the mirror on ourselves, do we as parents actually have the right to make our family photos public? If so, which ones?

Sharing pictures

Part of the issue is our tendency for over-sharing. A recent study by Nominet, which handles the UK’s .uk domain name registry, found that parents post nearly 200 photos of their under fives online every year.

This means that a child will feature in around 1,000 online photos before their fifth birthday. We’ve even got to the point where if you don’t upload photos of our baby, others question whether you are a committed parent.

This new norm means that many children will have a powerful digital identity created by someone else. This process can be likened to the manufacturing of celebrity identities, where parents can potentially shape the public persona of their child in any way they want: child genius, disobedient, fashionista, fussy eater and so on.

How do you think your own mum or dad might shape your online identity? Do you think it would be an accurate portrayal of who you are?

There is also the issue of Likes and comments on those photos. Without realising it, are we choosing to upload posts about our kids that we hope will get the most audience attention? If so, how is this skewing the identity we are shaping for them?

The web never forgets

We often tell our kids that once something is on the internet it is there forever, and this is a core concern for kids. Research shows that parents often haven’t considered the potential reach and the longevity of the digital information that they’re sharing about their child.

Your child won’t have much control over where that home video of her having an embarrassing first singing lesson ends up or who sees it.

And for this generation of kids, the publicising of their lives can start even before they are born when parents broadcast photos to all their friends and their friends’ friends of the antenatal scan.

Parents’ actions are generally not maliciously intended. In fact, they actually often see they are exposing something personal about their own life in such posts rather than that of their child.

There’s also benefit from such sharing. Posts about your child bed-wetting might help a friend find solutions, or boost their patience for dealing with a similar issue with their own child. Many parents find this community of support important.

Given the relative youth of social media, it’s hard to say exactly how growing up online could affect children’s privacy, safety and security. But social media has also been around long enough now (Facebook is now 14 years old) that it’s important to seriously consider the issue.

It’s time to question how individuals (both children and adults) should manage boundaries around sharing personal information, and how they can control information that is shared about them.

Posting embarrassing photos of others on Facebook without consent is definitely tricky territory, but what constitutes embarrassing is slightly different for everyone, which makes this new issue even more of a minefield.

Get the kids involved

The answer of how to approach this new-found issue might be to listen to what kids have to say about it. Recent research from the University of Michigan asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought families should follow related to technology.

Adults tend to think of these rules around how much time kids spend on screen, but about three times more children than parents thought there should be rules about what parents share and don’t share on social media. Many kids said parents should not post anything about them on online without asking them.

Both children and parents considered positive images, events and news more appropriate to share than negative ones. An image of the child playing on the swings at the park is a lot less likely to resurface than a YouTube video of them having a tantrum because their breakfast is not in their favourite bowl.

If you’re a parent looking for advice or sympathy about a behavioural problem, then a community approach is still very helpful, just don’t post an image and your child’s name as part of the post. This will help to limit the searchability and reach of it.

Asking your children’s consent is also part of the issue and part of the solution. Asking if your child likes the photos of them and whether you can put it up online can be a very quick and respectful conversation. It also sets up a great approach to your kids understanding digital etiquette.

Parents sharing photos of their kids online isn’t only about digital identity. It’s also about our obsession with taking photos of our kids, particularly when they shine (or don’t shine) in their respective activities.

This can make kids feel pressured to perform to help mum and dad get the right snap to share. What the children really want to see is you taking notice of them and acknowledging that they and their actions are important.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation on December 27th, 2016.

Place-based learning in teaching and teacher education November 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Ecology, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Katherine Bates

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.  (Benjamin Franklin)

Place-based education is part of the broader ecopedagogical movement in education that connects learners with and immerses them in their natural locale (Kahn, 2010; McInterney & Smith, 2011). These connections are understood to be best developed authentically, over time and with gentle positive immersions in the natural world (Sobel, 2014). This ‘in-place’ approach is also argued to be a built on process, connecting students with their local community through repeated immersions in order to develop a sense of agency with and planetary citizenship for the lived-in world (Hung, 2014; Sobel, 2014). Place-based education therefore plays an important role for engaging students with notions of ‘place’, identity’ and ‘community’ and, for developing local-global connectivity and citizenship in these times of significant environmental challenge (McInerney, Smyth & Down, 2011; Misiaszek, 2016).

Place-Based learning is also a particularly useful and energising approach in light of today’s Australian Curriculum reform and eco-pedagogy paradigm shift (ACARA, 2012). With the inclusion of an eco-pedagogical approach in curriculum and syllabus documents, immersing children in the natural world, it moves from an optional fringe pedagogy to mainstream when implementing the Humanities and Social Studies Learning Areas in the Australian Curriculum and the NSW BOSTES History and Geography Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012; NSW BOSTES, 2012). However, if we are to implement this approach in a school context for deep learning about the world around us, educators need to leave indoor classrooms so that students can be immersed in the natural world ‘up close’ (Kahn, 2010; Knight 2016; Liefländer et al, 2015).

One of the core aspects in the Human Society and Its Environment subject in the Master of Teaching at Western Sydney University provides future teachers with a sense place by involving them in place-based activities within their local university environment. These strategies provide future teachers with a starting point for understanding hands-on, nature-based enquiry and provide model lessons for implementing positive immersion nature based explorations in their future primary Geography and History teaching contexts.

Many of these place-based tasks are supported by using technology in the learning experience and in the creation of learning objects back in the classroom thus making technology an invisible tool in the learning rather than a tokenistic add on (Hunter, 2015). One of the popular choices amongst the selection of activities is the nature audit. Vertical or horizontal metres are measured out and using a mobile device, photos of the components within the metre space are taken. Students then audit the collected data, categorising the manmade and natural objects, the interaction between the objects and the dominance of, or integration between these components (Fig. 1). The photos are then generated into a ‘Zoom’ slide show with a sustainability theme.

comp-1Figure 1: Nature Audit

 

 

 

Kinaesthetic experiences are also popular with our preservice teachers such as matching paint colour swatches with colours from the natural and man-made local environment (Fig. 2). Students then ‘colour-map’ their environment, collecting data on colour dominances and tonal preferences. These data mapping activities are connected with earlier work in using Google maps, geo-mapping and geocaching for learning about local and global communities with school aged students. Conversations and ‘fat questions’ are raised about the dominant colours in our children’s school and in their wider communities. Other kinaesthetic activities involve recording natural and man-made sounds in their environment, which instigates interesting discussions about the impact of sound and the ‘white noise’ in children’s seemingly ‘always on’ world.

comp

Figure 2: Colour in my world task

 

The strategies described here are but a sample of the place-based inquiries that our preservice teachers take part in but are ones that demonstrate the opportunities for rich discussion that these activities generate in terms of implementing place-based education with primary aged students. Moreover, the significant positive in task engagement that transpires when groups of preservice teachers work collaboratively in and about the natural world reinforces the different ways of knowing and learning that the outdoors offer all ages. As facilitators of these activities our team always looks forward to working with our groups as we share a common passion for supporting our future teachers in developing students’ connections with nature and develop pro-environmental agents of change (Liefländer et al, 2015).

 So children can thrive and grow strong in challenging times ahead, let us engage them in nature, ethical conversations, and the building of caring and peaceful communities, in their schools and beyond.  Winograd, K. (2016, p 266)

 

References:

Australian Institute for Teaching and Leadership (2016). Australian Professional Standards of         Teachers, Author, Sydney.

Hung, R. (2014). In Search of ecopedagogy: Emplacing Nature in the lLght of Proust and Thoreau. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(13), 1387-1401.

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPack,

Routledge, New York and London.

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy

Movement. New York: Peter Lang.

Liefländer, A., Fröhlich, G., Bogner, F., & Schultz, P. (2015). Promoting Connectedness with

Nature through Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 19(3), 370-384.

McInerney, P., Smyth, J., and Down, B. (2011). Coming to a Place Near You? The Politics and

Possibilities of a Critical Pedagogy of Place-Based Education, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1), pp 3-16.

Misiaszek, G. W. (2016). Ecopedagogy and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization:

Essential Connections between Environmental and Global Citizenship Education to Save the Planet. International Review of Education, 62(5), pp 587-607.

Sobel, D. (2014). Place based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Green

Living:  A Practical Journal for Mindful Living, 19(1), 27-30.

Winograd, K. (2016). Education in Times of Environmental Crisis: Teaching Students to be Agents of Change, Routledge, New York and London.

Dr Katherine Bates is a sessional academic in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.  She currently lectures in Human Society and Its Environment at Western Sydney University and also in Literacy and Numeracy in Secondary Schooling at the University of Wollongong. She has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher across ES1-S4, EAL/D and literacy support, as well as senior leadership roles in curriculum and assessment with the Department of Education and Sydney Catholic Education.

Questioning Learning: Lenses from the Learning Sciences June 8, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By LΣARN

If we could equate teaching to learning, how would we account for the gaps in students’ achievements even though the students were taught by the same teacher and learnt in the same environment?  If students could learn deeply by listening quietly to a teacher, would the traditional way of schooling be viable for our digital generation? Few people will deny the need to reconceptualise the notion of learning when digital media is shaping how learning is taking place in the classroom and beyond the confines of its walls. Learning sciences research is offering us lenses to understand the science of learning, knowledge construction, digital media, and principles of effective learning environments and the role of instruction.

What is Learning Sciences?

By learning sciences, we are not referring to how science is learnt. Rather, we are referring to an interdisciplinary field that investigates teaching and learning in various settings using theories and  models from different fields such as cognitive science, educational psychology, instructional science, computer science and literacy studies. We are particularly interested in deep learning which is one of the scholarly inquiries in learning sciences. Like other learning scientists, we are interested in findings ways to understand and design innovative approaches to develop deep learning. By way of introducing learning sciences, we will present brief descriptions of some research areas in this field in the remaining parts of this blog.

What should Educators Know about Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design?

A key research focus in the learning sciences is the design of learning environments that align with human cognitive architecture. Two key components of this architecture are working memory and long-term memory. Working memory can only process 2-4 elements of new information at one time (Cowan, 2001). Long term memory consists of schemas and has no known limitations.

Research on human cognition has generated a range of practical take-home messages for educators:

  1. In general, teachers should employ direct-guided instruction when introducing students to new learning materials. Guided instruction includes the heavy use of worked examples, particularly with well-structured problems, whereas unguided instruction requires students to adopt general problem-solving approaches such as trial and error and means-ends analyses which are heavily taxing on working memory.
  2. When students have developed a sufficient level of knowledge in a learning domain, teachers should not provide guided instruction. High knowledge learners have schemas in long term-memory to guide them when solving problems. However, when presented with external guidance by the teacher, these high knowledge learners are forced to mentally integrate the information provided by the teacher and cross-reference this with their own knowledge. This results in cognitive overload of working memory.
  3. Teachers should avoid situations which result in the redundancy effect. A common example is when a teacher uses a Powerpoint presentation and reads the text, word-for-word, from the slide. Such an approach causes cognitive overload because learners must attend to two streams of data which are conveying the same information.
  4. The spatial presentation of multiple sources of mutually-referring information can also lead to cognitive overload. For example, graphics and associated explanatory text are often placed separately from each other. Learners have to attend to both sources of information, because in isolation, neither source conveys the full information needed for the learner to problem solve. The cognitive resources required by learners to mentally integrate the separate sources of information are highly taxing on working memory. The solution is to physically integrate the two sources, thus reducing the search and match processes required by learners to understand the information presented.

Are Positive Learning Environments All about Developing ‘Feel Good’ Schools?  

In our inquiry about the design of learning environments, we are also keen to examine the association between school environments and student’s wellbeing. Debates in this focus may conjure up outdated notions of teachers minimising scolding of students to preserve their self-esteem or schools saturated with posters reminding students that they are unique. There are educators who are incredulous of new curricula which invite both students and staff in schools to look at their emotional development. They most probably see it as far removed from the core business of schools and only contributing to ‘feel good schools’ which have little impact on important things in life.

Positive Learning Environments (PLE) are places of learning where the whole of person is engaged in an effort to contribute to the overall development of an individual and in turn his or her communities. The ‘positive’ is both an indication of the more traditional sense of pleasantness and safe, but also a mathematical concept of ‘addition’. It involves adding, contributing to an individual’s development. In PLE, knowledge of the factual traditional curricula of schools is intertwined with knowledge and development of the whole of self. This invariably includes an incorporation of affect in the everyday practice of schools. Affect, in this instance refers to not just the experience of feeling or emotion but also the physiological and cognitive (thinking) components of such experience. Although affect and knowledge acquisition have always been part of learning anything by anyone,  it is fair to say that systematically talking about, intervening in and considering affect regulation, quality and development as part of schooling is a relatively new phenomena for schools to take on.

The detrimental impact of aversive affective states (e.g., anxiety) and school environments with components related to high affective dysregulation for students and staff (such as racism, bullying and violence) on learning and wellbeing are now well documented. However, the need for research and development of positive learning environments is not just about the removal of unpleasantness in schools. It is also about the gains which are made when affect regulation and development are also seen as the core business of schools alongside academic development.  This research is exemplified by current efforts looking at social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. SEL is defined as a process engaged in schools where all members of their communities apply themselves to the development and understanding of emotions with an understanding that “learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging and meaningful” (CASEL, n.d.).

The economic and lifetime benefits of social emotional skills and schools’ unique position to develop them have also been acknowledged in a recent OECD report (see OECD, 2015). The report highlights and acknowledges the increases in access to education but recognises that social emotional skills are needed alongside academic/cognitive skills to foster lifetime success. It is through affect regulation (directly or as a mediator of other skills) that greater cooperation, task perseverance, and problem solving can be achieved by communities and individuals. Although current available evidence in relation to social emotional learning is growing and promising, there is still much to be discovered. What are the key skills our teachers need to engage in SEL? Are the effects of SEL universal? How do we best develop social emotional skills? For that matter, which skills do we develop? What are the best pedagogies that engage the whole of the child and how do we assist our school system to evolve from a system whose origins gave little credence to emotion to ones where knowledge and affect are treated as one.

Positive learning environments are more than just ‘feel good’ schools. They are active learning communities engaged in the education of the whole child for their and their communities benefit. They are complex communities with relationships, processes, and pedagogies directed at affect regulation and cognitive development practices. They are truly the 21st century schools.

Why Should We Study Teacher Beliefs?

In our inquiries into designing learning environments, we are not forgetting the importance of understanding teacher development and beliefs. Teachers develop a sophisticated amalgam of knowledge, beliefs, and skills to be effective in the classroom.  In particular, teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning can provide useful insights into their practice.  Beliefs are “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” (Richardson, 1996, p. 103).  Teachers’ beliefs can be classified into views of the teacher’s role in the classroom, the students’ role in the classroom, how the students learn their subject area best, and how to make the subject matter comprehensible to others (Friedrichsen, van Driel, & Abell, 2011).  These types of beliefs are often derived from prior K-12 school experiences. They are extremely robust and do not change easily (Jones & Carter, 2007).

Often, teachers are asked to implement new pedagogies in their classrooms that align with current reform efforts (e.g. inquiry-based approaches).  Yet, teachers often experience considerable difficulty when implementing new pedagogies as they develop practical knowledge and perceptions of their school contexts. Practical knowledge and perceptions of context are then filtered through core beliefs about teaching and learning which can impact classroom practice.  For example, consider a teacher who has just implemented an inquiry-based approach to instruction.  After implementation, constraints may develop in the form of practical knowledge suggesting that students have considerable difficulty with the task. The teacher may also develop perceptions of his or her school being unsupportive of reform-based strategies.  If the teacher also believes his or her role is to only transmit information to the students, this will likely cause him or her to abandon the strategies.  Conversely, in the face of practical and contextual constraints, if the teacher believes it is his or her role to facilitate guided inquiry experiences so that students have some opportunity to wrestle with the concepts, he or she is likely to make modifications to his or her teaching and attempt the pedagogical strategies again (Sickel & Friedrichsen, 2015).

With the example above, we see that helping teachers elucidate and often confront their existing beliefs about teaching and learning is an important part of the teacher development process.   A teacher with core beliefs that misalign with a teaching approach is a significant barrier to large-scale implementation.  Understanding teacher learning provides important implications for designing teacher education and professional development programs which in turn help teachers enhance their students’ learning outcomes.

How has Digital Media Revolutionised the Way Students Learn?

Increasingly, learning sciences calls for an inquiry into students’ perspectives and the ways in which their literacies are accessed, used and lived in everyday practices, both inside and outside of school (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). Existing learning sciences research shows an increasing interest in the emerging culture of learning in the virtual spaces. We sum up how students are self-directing themselves online using 5Cs of what they do in this emerging culture of participating online:

  1. Connect
  • Students are staying connected to their peers and interest-based groups to pursue passion-based learning.
  • Often, these students are learning about a specific content or skill from mentors who may not necessarily be adults but have enough experience to share their knowledge with them.
  1. Communicate
  • Students are displaying more ownership of their creative works or digital artefacts Using social media, they communicate their thoughts and “pass on” their works to solicit feedback and appreciation.
  • They create networks to stay connected and communicate with people who share their interests and are keen on what they do.
  1. Collaborate
  • Learning becomes more distributive and social. Nonetheless, with the diverse backgrounds of people whom they interact with online, learning has evolved from simply group learning to collaborative learning where multiple perspectives of a focused issue are exchanged before a shared perspective is established.
  • Conversations no doubt can include playful talks but have become more dialogic to facilitate deeper thinking in online interactions.
  1. Create
  • Digital artefacts provide strong evidence of learning. When students interact with others online, learning has become more participatory. To learn from one another means there must be learning by doing.
  • There are more bodies of research that show students are developing dispositions of experts as they learn by doing and intentionally cultivating thinking skills which classroom teachers are trying to develop in key content areas in the formal learning spaces.
  1. Curate
  • With learning becoming more distributive, collaborative and participatory, students are developing ways of managing their works and feedback online. Curation becomes part and parcel of what they do such as creating tags to organize their online artefacts.
  • Students are looking for ways to exhibit and curate their current and past works using social media using Google Plus, Facebook or using apps to create their own websites.

 

In order to pursue our work in learning sciences, we have formed the LƩARN (Learning Sciences Affect Research Network) HDR cohort group. This is a group uniquely created for HDR students within the School of Education to embark on research related to the field of learning sciences. To build our student’s research capacity, we are conducting a series of workshops and forums in the second half of 2016. You are welcome to contact anyone of us for further information about this group and the research we do. We also welcome any comment and feedback from you regarding our research interests or activities in LEARN.

Researchers in LΣARN

 chwee beng Dr Lee Chwee Beng

chwee.lee@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 

 aron Dr Aaron Sickel

A.Sickel@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 lyndie Dr Lynde Tan

Lynde.Tan@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 jose Dr Jose Hanham

J.Hanham@westernsydney.edu.au;

 roberto Dr Roberto Parada

R.Parada@westernsydney.edu.au;

 

 

References

CASEL. (n.d.).  Collaborative for academic, social and emotional learning. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–114.

Friedrichsen, P., van Driel, J. H., & Abell, S. K. (2011). Taking a closer look at science teaching orientations. Science Education, 95(2), 358-376.

Kim, B., Tan, L. & Bielaczyc, K. (2015), Learner-generated designs in participatory culture: what they are and how they are shaping learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 23(5), 545 – 555.

OECD.  (2015). Skills for Social Progress: The power of social and emotional skills. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/9615011e.pdf?expires=1461906844&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=B24ED59A273470F52724E55D6AA51152

Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (pp. 102-119). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Sickel, A. J., & Friedrichsen, P. J. (2015). Beliefs, practical knowledge, and context: A longitudinal study of a beginning biology teacher’s 5E unit. School Science and Mathematics, 115(2), 75-87.

 

‘Click bait’ hijacks the real story about technology in Australian schools November 17, 2015

Posted by sethuws in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Jane Hunter

A recent education report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said, among many other things, young people first “need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitized society of the 21st Century”. It went on to make tenuous links between too much technology and falling literacy and numeracy, but first warned, quite early in the report, that “the findings must not lead to despair”.

That was all it took. What followed was a media frenzy, here and overseas, which produced a range of very negative stories. For example: “Are iPads a waste of money? OECD report says yes” stated The Age; in the Huffington Post in the United States: “Putting more technology in schools may not make kids smarter: OECD Report“; and in the United Kingdom the title of a BBC News story “Computers ‘do not improve pupils results says OECD“.

If you look closely at the report Students, Computers and Learning, which uses results from the 2012 PISA computer-based assessment of ICT literacy of students aged 15 in 31 countries across the globe, it is saying there is much good news. The leaps of logic in the interpretation and application of findings in the report picked up by various media outlets are considerable and unfortunate.

The examples I gave are just three of at least twelve damaging stories I read after the report’s release. They show how complex education issues in schools, and for principals, teachers, students and jurisdictions are increasingly reduced to the ‘education sound bite’. This kind of reportage serves as click bait for online readers.

Politicians may then take what reporters say as ‘gospel’. However, far more insidious, is the harmful effect such headlines have on teacher morale and the public’s view of education and schools more generally.

The real story about technology in Australian schools

In 2015 teachers’ work in technology-enhanced learning in classrooms in NSW is exciting. I have carried out research in a number of Australian primary and high schools since 2011 and my research shows there is good progress with technology enhanced learning and the pace is hastening. This research is ongoing.

Students are doing tech well in many Australian schools. They are stepping up to embrace the challenges that learning effectively with technologies demands. Results in student assessment in these schools show this. However connectivity in many schools is still far from ideal and even within major cities it is variable.

I agree with the OECD report where it states, “young people do want to be taught how to search more effectively”. My recent research indicates that. It also demonstrates that in some high schools in particular classrooms, students want teachers to leave behind the industrial model of “talking at them”, using “mindless work sheets” and “copying endless notes off the board”. Students desire many more opportunities to problem solve, work in teams, carry out long-term real-world projects, create films/animations, and use inquiry and project-based learning. The OECD report says this too.

I know from first hand experience that technology inequities exist in our schools and the “digital divide” is real. I also understand most schools make provisions for providing computers and other mobile devices to students who cannot afford them.

Something that has not been reported widely is that groundbreaking programs like the Digital Education Revolution (DER) meant for the first time every student from Year 9 onwards in an Australian public school had access to a small technological device. The program was not perfect but what it did do effectively (and there are evaluations that show this) is it placed technology in the hands of students who could not normally afford it. DER served to ‘whet the appetite’ of technological things to come, like educational apps, augmented reality, 3D printing, maker labs, geo spatial technologies, code and digital games. It enabled tech-savvy ‘early adopter teachers’ to play with technology, to see how it changed core concepts and how learning inside classrooms could be more engaging and motivating for young people, whose ‘digital bedrooms’ at home were a parallel universe to their lives at school.

Technology hardware and software is expensive. Governments must replace outdated equipment. Provide more time for professional development. This is vital investment that will allow teachers, as the OECD report contends, to become “active agents of change”.

I am about to start teaching a digital technologies course in a doctoral program for teachers in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in the United States. This is relevant because yesterday the school received a $5.6M gift from an alumnus. The donor, who wanted to remain anonymous, hopes the philanthropic commitment will inspire others. “Without properly trained teachers, our country would not have an educated population. Teachers are critical if we want a strong and vibrant society,” said the donor.

We need the Australian public and politicians to understand, and actively support, what is going on in our schools and in teacher education in universities, but how can we do this when complex issues are reduced to the lowest common denominator in the media? We are doing all educators a disservice when stories about technology in schools are hijacked as ‘click bait’.

 

This post was recently published on the blog of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), EduResearch Matters.

Postscript (Nov. 19th, 2015)

This week ACARA has released the 2014 NAP – ICT literacy report. It shows: “a decline in ICT literacy in Year 6 and 10”. Predictably it has been reported in the Australian media using headlines like “Texting isn’t enough: Australian students’ computer skills drop, new report shows” and in The Conversation on 18 November “ICT literacy is failing in schools. Here’s why”.

In this latest ACARA test more than 10,500 students were assessed in 2014 on their ICT knowledge, understanding and skills. The report shows that 55% of students in year 6 achieved the expected standards, and 52% of students in year 10 completed ‘challenging but reasonable’ tasks, for example, the creation of tables and charts, sorting data in a spreadsheet and editing graphics and text.

Dr Mike Phillips, lecturer in Digital Technologies at Monash University, author of The Conversation piece says: “this equates to a 6% and 13% decrease for years 6 and 10 respectively over the last three years”. Four reasons are cited for the decline: “late introduction of the digital technologies curriculum, teachers not equipped with the skills they need, too much choice in the range of available digital tools, and outdated examination of technology skills in ACARA’s ICT test/s”.

I agree in principle with the reasons mentioned to explain why this might be occurring – however I urge caution around concluding that technology enhanced learning and Australian students’ digital skills are in decline more generally.

In my research in many NSW public primary and high schools this year I do not see evidence (forthcoming series of research papers) of this marked decline. What I am seeing in many primary schools are huge shifts in teachers’ technology enhanced learning practices, and often it’s how teachers support very young students to develop their digital skills using a range of devices. In high schools, the picture is less rosy. But it’s improving. For example, in one study and this is supported by findings from two others, Year 10 students want more support to know how to search effectively for information, they require clear scaffolds to complete open-ended/project-based tasks and students also want to know how to take efficient notes using their mobile devices.

As stated previously, until connectivity improves, technology enhanced learning in schools remains hard. In many NSW public schools, even within the Sydney CBD access is poor. Reliable, fast internet must be a standard requirement for education in all Australian schools. It is coming … but not quickly enough.

The current NAP test in ICT is limited in what it tests in years 6 and 10 and this goes to the nature of national testing in this country more generally (as identified in recent publication by Lingard, Thompson and Sellar in National testing in schools: an Australian assessment, 2016).

ACARA’s new Digital Technologies curriculum and remember these latest NAP – ICT literacy results were a response to an ‘old curriculum’ that encouraged teachers to approach using technology isolated from its pedagogical and content potential in classroom learning. For instance, knowing how to do use an excel spreadsheet does not translate into students demonstrating higher order thinking skills in Science.

In a series of timely papers on Revisiting the Digital Education Revolution in Point and Counterpoint in Curriculum Perspectives, September 2015, 35(2): Kathryn Moyle (Guest Editor) reflects upon what progress has been made towards the aims of the DER; the series includes a paper by a school student who was a beneficiary of one of the DER computers, a teacher who worked in schools during the time of the DER, a state-based policy officer and another officer who worked at the national level of DER implementation. The papers are well worth a read. In summary they conclude that time and further research are needed to really understand the impact of DER, as long term commitment by government was not prioritized around policy on infrastructure and connectivity.

Having just spent the past three months in a number of US schools in three states examining technology-enhanced learning in classrooms I can but concur that these two factors are the most important baseline requirements. Ongoing professional learning, and giving teachers ‘time to play’ with new tools are also critical. As Wagner and Dintersmith (2015) conclude in Most Likely to Succeed – and this applies equally to the Australian education context, it is time to re-imagine our schools.

 

Jane-Photo-copy
Dr Jane Hunter teaches pre-service teachers in curriculum, pedagogy and technology enhanced learning in the School of Education at Western Sydney University. She is a researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the same institution. Jane is the author of Technology integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK, New York: Routledge published earlier this year. In March 2016 she is a keynote speaker at the Future Schools Conference in Sydney.

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