As new technologies enter students’ lives and the classrooms where learning takes place, teachers are increasingly called upon to find ways to make the best of the tsunami of new media tools available.
After one rudimentary encounter with an interactive board, I understand how it is easy to feel overwhelmed about the practicalities of embracing this new technology. But if we want learning to be truly meaningful, a better approach is probably allowing yourself to be excited about the possibilities new technologies offer. At the end of the day, is there a real alternative?
In a keynote presentation to the New Zealand Association for Teaching English 2009 Conference, Andy Goodwyn, Head of the Institute for Education at the University of Reading, reported on a case study of policy and expert practice from England. I wasn’t there (sadly) but the speech notes make pretty dismal reading.
Goodwyn spoke at length about the New Opportunities Fund’s (NOF) programme on Information and Communication Technology (ICT). NOF operated from 1999-2003 and the ICT programme was created to bring all classroom teachers up to the ICT standard of newly qualified teachers.
To cut a long acronym-laden story short, critical analysis of the programme reflected a glaring gap between policy and practice. Rather than excite teachers about the possibilities of ICT, the programme seemed to turn them off in droves for a range of reasons mainly related to how the programme was delivered to them.
A glimmer of hope came in Goodwyn’s encounters with some of the teachers he met while visiting schools to assess the programme’s progress. I’m not sure if he coined the phrase but he described them as “Digi-teachers”. According to Goodwyn, Digi-teachers are:
- not usually ICT specialists but have the ability to incorporate ICT into everyday teaching
- take a pragmatic and personal approach to technology
- recognise that ICT engages and motivates students and therefore has benefits for classroom management and learning
- are not attracted to the “whizz bang” factor of gadgetry
- are concerned with their students’ learning and have a strong motivation to connect with their students’ lives using mediums that students recognise and engage with
- have normalised the use of digital and other technologies in their classrooms
As a potential teacher of Media Studies, I am acutely aware that there are gaps in my own learning when it comes to the intricacies of media production. I understand production pathways and related terminology, but I’ve never created a short film myself. Rather than have a mild coronary at the prospect of leading a class of Year 12 or 13 students through this process, one of the approaches I can take is to accept that there will be times when students are the experts and accept that we can learn from each other.
AS Goodwyn observed, teachers don’t have to be advanced technicians. It is worth remembering that by the time they reach secondary school in NZ, our students have probably been creating media products since primary school.
But that doesn’t make us redundant. Teachers can help students manage their time, talents and productivity As Jason Ohler says in his article The Media Collage (Educational Leadership; March 2009: Vol 66, No. 6, page 13), teachers should be “the guide on the side rather than the technician magician”. Nice.
We might not have grown up as digital natives but we do have broader life experience on our side. We can help students make sense of technology and use it wisely. Whatever the medium,writing is still a creative process and students will need help to hone their storytelling skills and adapt them to suit their chosen medium. As Ohler concludes “Focus on expression first and technology second – and everything else will fall into place.” Don’t know about you but I feel better already!