Monday, 20 February 2012

Teaching with technology

Every time I think I have teaching and learning with technology sussed, the students I am working with surprise me, cause me to stop and think and try a new approach.

I do expect resistance, fear and confusion at the start, to have some early, eager adopters, and some laggards who will do anything to avoid engaging with the technology if they possibly can, but it is also important to listen to what students tell you about their experiences.

Surprises can be "good" and "bad" -  one of the younger students asked if she might be permitted to set up her own website and as she already had skills in using Dreamweaver learned at school.....  less welcome has been the sudden upsurge in illegal file sharing. It highlights I think not the inherent criminality of the cohort, but the massive increase and tacit acceptability of this kind of behaviour.An opportunity therefore has presented itself to teach students about copyright :)

I decided this week to try and start documenting some students' responses to the task and to the wiki we are using as a platform .
I filmed an interview with one of the younger students (let's call her Jude) who seems generally at ease with the internet and who says the wiki is much easier, more attractive and more fun to use than the VLE, being easier to navigate and find things with less clicks, and providing a really useful platform for collaboration.

I then interviewed an older student (his alias is Donald). His view was that the wiki was really counter-intuitive. He found it impossible to find material he needed on it, and was anxious about editing or adding anything.

We could regard this as a typical natives/immigrants digital divide, but in fact Donald is a regular user of the internet and has Twitter and Facebook accounts, although he admits he is largely a consumer and NOT a contributor. This tends to fit more with Dave White's thesis about digital residents and visitors.

Dave's "Garden Shed" analogy for the "visitors'" view of the internet fits too:  Donald was really at ease with the VLE or the corporate intranet he uses at work because he has become familiar with them and knows where to find the tools he needs for the job.

I have incidentally now taken on board what Donald and some of his peers have told me, about being unable to find stuff, and have reorganised the wiki pages into a more logical order. What seems straightforward to me (because I created it) only becomes truly user friendly with the benefit of feedback.


So what would be my top tips for any teacher thinking of introducing technology into their teaching? (And remember - these are the things I most need to learn):

1. Don't try to be perfect. Do use and promote something that you are familiar with, have used and can fix if things go wrong, but which you are also prepared to go on learning about yourself. Showing students that you too struggle with the tech from time to time is actually reassuring for them - and if they see how you work around the bugs and crashes, that teaches them how to do it too.

2. Don't try to keep control. Structure is important. Clear instructions are essential. Setting tasks to guide students through the necessary steps to master a new tool is a good thing. Deadlines, assessment criteria, etc are all really useful. But be prepared to change things as you go, to respond to the needs of each cohort differently, to answer crisis emails at the weekends and to renegotiate criteria, topics, group membership and even the deadlines if you want to keep everyone on board. Remember that the process is at least as important as the outcome.

3. Don't be too hard on yourself. Things will go wrong. People will get upset. It is not all your fault.

4. Don't be a stranger! You may be a lone voice in your department... so... you should get out more! Network with other people in your organisation who are trying to do similar things. Get on Twitter and Google + and find other like minded souls who blog about the problems and successes they are experiencing. Develop a robust Personal Learning Network online. Go to conferences. Write your own blog and invite comments. Give conference presentations. Share it all, with anyone who wants to listen.

5. Don't expect ever to step into the same river twice. The technology changes all the time. The platform you are using today will be upgraded in the middle of a project or it will be shut down before you run the project again next year.  Students this year will be nervous about using Facebook. Next year they will all have Twitter accounts. Last year's students had no computers at school. Next year's will all have used Moodle accounts for their coursework. This year you are familiar with your university's VLE but by next year they will have a new one.... that's life.

6.  Since the first books were printed and distributed it has taken over 600 years to achieve a near universal level of literacy. The rate of change which the internet has brought about may be much much faster but for everyone to feel as comfortable with technology mediated learning as they do going to the library to read a book is going to take a while. So, finally,  don't be too impatient.


  1. 7. "Remember The Dewey Decimal System" Did that always make sense to you? When it didn't, did anyone rush to change it for you? Or did they just say "get over it -- that's the way it is!"

    We are living in a time where it seems that every time a learner whines a little bit we're supposed to immediately run and fix their problem. Life is full of problems, and overcoming them is part of the process. I'm not so sure that we're doing anyone a service by trying to make the process easy and carefree. I'd suggest that you try saying "Pull up your Big Girl Panties and Soldier On" now and then, and see what happens.

  2. Excellent! I will definitely use this (with full credit obviously)!