Blending learning and the tools for learning

Leonard makes some interesting points about educational technology and the way we work to engage teachers in using technology for learning and developing learning approaches and resources. This is his opening para:

Christy Tucker at Experiencing E-Learning has put into words what I’ve been thinking – and practicing – in my work promoting and supporting the use of educational technology to enhance learning at my Institute:

To reach those who are more resistant, in education or elsewhere, I think a focus on what can be done with the technology will ultimately be more effective than focusing just on the technology.

Mobile Learning » Separating – and interweaving – technology and learning

As an educational designer, this is something I’ve struggled with for much of my career! Certainly we need to make sure we have the next wave of the best teachers coming through! 🙂

How technology supports (or is limited by) organisational practices

There’s an organisational change argument here I’m thinking; the notion that technology supports our daily work flows and processes is still something management seems to remain suspicious of, to a degree. Even the lack of national investment in broadband infrastructure is illustrative of this type of general “distrust” I think. Perhaps this comes from a lack of understanding about the impact of pervasive and supportive technology (are you a manager with a PDA or mobile phone?) and a realisation of the behaviours we exhibit when using these technologies (do you coordinate your day using technology? If so, why so?). Explaining our patterns of behaviour to ourselves and others is as difficult as describing our thinking patterns to others; often it is so ingrained or integrated into our daily practice that we find it hard to put into words! Is it perhaps more to do with knowing less and learning more?

Teaching technology versus technology of teaching

Part of the difficulty in understanding the role technology can play in teaching and learning is that we often struggle to understand the very acts of teaching and of learning, despite the gamut of theoretical references we have at our disposal. Why is this?

In a practical sense if educators see the value technology adds to a learning approach then surely it warrants more considered follow up. Something like this paper-based blogging workshop I co-presented last year in NZ, is one way to go about this. I also like the phrase “going where people are at” as a way of drawing educators in, in the first instance – connecting with something they see as being valuable, making sense and promoting good practice and effective learning. Here’s another example by Beth

In Heun’s article, David DeBarr says that: “Technology literacy has to be technology as a tool”. I’d qualify this by adding that technology literacy goes beyond the “how tos” of technological tools to include the “why fors” and includes the ability to make decisions that inform the type(s) of technology required for certain activities, assessment tasks and other specific processes technology may support. Should I use a wiki to have my learners collaborate across their projects? How would this benefit their learning? What will they need to know and understand in order to use wiki effectively to support their projects? How will my expectations of using wiki sit with learners’ expectations, given their project based context for learning?

I was watching Leigh’s Using RSS screencast and whilst I gleaned some new ways I could use my Bloglines account, I was intrigued more by the behaviour Leigh exhibited as he demonstrated the ways in which he used RSS to manage information. Exposing ways in which we use technology to carry our daily activities may be one way to shed some light on ways to use technology to support learning. Of course, we don’t all use tools in the same way – especially networked tools and services, as our use will depend on our perception and understanding of the tool and our needs.

Taking the bus to school: developing our awareness of daily practices and habits

How did you learn to take the bus to school? Were you nervous the first time? How did you come to know about tickets, or seating arrangements, or bus stops and times?

Who else was involved in and supported you getting to know how to take a bus to school? What was often left unspoken? Assumed? Like a “rule of thumb”? Where you given conflicting information? From whom? What were the reasons?

At what point did you feel capable and comfortable with the process of taking the bus to school? Was there a point of realisation? Or, did it simply merge into your daily practice?

It is possible to use the bus scenario as a metaphor for uncovering our daily practices and experiences that involve using technology, and then to see how our practices and technological tools apply to our learning.

If you give some time to answering the questions above, how difficult is it to put into words your understanding of how you negotiated taking the bus to school? If it wasn’t so difficult, what helped to make it easier?

Now, think about how you might initiate someone else to take the bus for the first time. Can you confidently outline the approach you will take? At what point do you consider the “technology” you might use to support or facilitate this process?

I liked this quote from Lehman cited in Heun’s article:

“Just because a kid knows how to use a computer and knows their way around the Internet doesn’t mean they understand how it will transform them as students and learners,” he says. “Every school should have kids asking, how does this technology change the way I’m a student, a learner, a citizen?”

The bus itself is a technology that provides us a way to access the transport network of our towns and cities. Yet, we never really identify it as such in our daily practice. Usually it is late, we’ve missed it, or enjoy reading our book or newspaper on the journey itself, or are annoyed by the person sitting next to us jiggling their knee – that is, the ins and outs of our daily experience instead. If buses were not an available technology we would no doubt have something else – a monorail, government-provided skateboards, tricycles, hot air balloons! And no doubt, we’d still be dealing with our daily experiences as described above! So, there’s more to learning “how to take the bus” that contains much about how our society operates, as Lehman’s quote states.

Looking to our behaviour sounds more fulfilling to me than simply playing with technology; although I’ll admit that often when we “play” there are other thought processes going on. Why is YouTube so popular with a wide audience and publisher base? Why is MySpace used most often by music bands compared with other blogging or social web services? Why are mobile phones such a pervasive (and arguably disruptive) technology in our schools?

To me the “whys” are way more engaging than the “hows”, as one follows from the other – and I know I’m guaranteed to learn more along the way. If we as educators are more engaged in seeking out “why” then surely we present our learners with a model with which to ask “why” too – that is, know less and learn more?

We live in very interesting times!

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3 thoughts on “Blending learning and the tools for learning

  1. valuable post! I really like your thoughts around the bus analogy and the paper based blogging workshop!

    But what behaviours did I exhibit that you found intriguing!!? Come on, don’t let it hang there, out with it 🙂

  2. Good question Leigh: what of your behaviour did I find intriguing?

    I’ve been reflecting on this too – as I was putting the bus analogy together (to make sense of it all for me) I kept coming back to these questions:

    1. What was Leigh displaying that we perhaps aren’t seeing elsewhere (in teacher and learners generally)?
    2. If we aren’t seeing this so readily, why not? What has it got to do with transfer of skills and understanding in a range of environments (on and offline)? And could this be part of the “problem”?
    3. You, Leigh, articulated some of the things you do on a daily basis, using RSS, Delicious and Bloglines, but also demo-ed stuff you weren’t articulating – like using tabs, the number of screens you had open (something I think we are seeing more of in those familiar with, and more “native” to, the internet and browsing on a daily basis), to name a few actions.

    So, I was trying to uncover more by using the bus analogy, because there are things we tend to take for granted (and often go unspoken as a result) and things we try to cover (as you did, very well).

    Learners (especially inexperienced learners) always seem to take on some of the attributes and habits modelled in their teachers: a teacher in horticulture recounted how the students began wearing the green “Hard Yakka” style tops and pants as she normally did, as they became more familiar with her as a teacher and with the subject matter (ie. gardening) – they began to embody the elements the teachers demonstrated.

    OK so, let me try to be more specific about your behaviour I was intrigued with:

    1. the way you had arranged your Bloglines folders according to your daily activities (people often use themes or people) – to me, you were maintaining/controlling the flow of information to you – you further explained this by making some comments about some of the feeds you read/grazed through/paid greater attention to. Good eg of developing an online literacy I thought.

    In addition, your comment about whether something was important to read further could be determined by the presence of a post in other blogs/RSS feeds too – I really liked that – it’s almost a bit digg-ish, but manually so!

    What’s your thinking on this potentially being “group-think”? I’m thinking of how a joke gets circulated, as a methaphor for “talk” as it goes around…

    2. using a delicious tag such as “read_more” (I think you said it was Sean’s idea) – again most people use a thematic tag or a tag such as year or month etc. This was one thing I learnt actually – I have a “follow-up” tag now (except will I ever get to them all!)…this is another way of managing information and the time taken to read or return to things at a later point.

    I guess I’m coming at this from the point of view of trying to understand where people (learners and/or teachers – whoever) currently stand (in terms of exposure, experience, maturity, etc) and how we manage and scaffold ongoing learning so we can begin to udnerstand our own learning behaviours.

    As technology becomes for sophisticated in its pervasiveness (thus often hiding the process used from the user), we might lose sight of the processes through which we coem to understand (a) how something works, (b) how to use something, (c) how to re-use soemthing, or (d) solve problems, etc.

    Hmmm, lots to think about! And thanks for putting it out there Leigh 🙂


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