25 July 2013

Team Teaching—With Your Own Students [Techsperts]


Yeah, I'm not crazy about the name either, but that's what was in place when I got here, known as Techexperts at our sister campus (What? Isn't that 'tech-experts'?) So I've stuck with it, albeit with a slight adjustment.

Regardless of the name, it's an attempt to define a role in the process of teaching tech skills that includes students, and it's better than some others I've heard.

Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK. However, this approach requires the teachers to allow the students’ a certain degree of autonomy, for example, Jill struggled to establish this model with her students, complaining that her students,

… get themselves stuck because they haven't followed the instructions. Re-tracing their steps to sort out where they went wrong is what I find quite challenging at times - but this depends on how 'new' what I have taught/explained to them is also 'new' to me.

Students as collaborators

The students were struggling because they were not being given autonomy to learn independently, through enquiry, because their teacher was more comfortable ‘teaching’ them how to use the technology didactically, step by step, or more accurately, literally, click by click.  By shifting her approach from that of ‘instructor’, towards that of ‘mediator’ she was better able to bring together facilitative strategies, modelling a collaborative ethos—her organising influence as the teacher was still highly salient, albeit a form of leadership that was more ‘fluid’ (Peachey et al, 2008). The teachers found different ways to incorporate this model into their teaching.

Another teacher used a strategy I call “I teach you - you teach two”—each student teaches two others, and so on until the whole class has been covered. Knowledge and understanding are gained through combinations of the students’ and teacher’s co-constructing, acting together through ‘distributed cognition’. This creation of a supportive, problem-solving classroom community is essential to the development of these digital literacies (Beetham et al, 2009; Twining 2009).

Let kids lead [when they can]

The third of the teachers in my case study was eager to embrace this approach. During one of our interviews we set up a class website for him to use for class organisation and collaboration, he then designated one particularly keen student in his class to take on the day-to-day management of the site. As teachers became more comfortable with the awareness that students are going to be able to teach them, their contributions could be smoothly integrated into the fabric of a lesson. The previous teacher described how she felt this had ‘flipped’ her perspective on technology; she now feels comfortable “not knowing everything” and “letting them work it out”, which makes the prospect of using ICT much less daunting.


'Teachable Moments'

Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). In this case the teacher could give the student control of the screen, via an IWB, to guide the class (and often the teacher) through the process. The student focus group interview highlighted their approach to technical problems, an approach with a notably positive bias,

"I don't really need to have technical support and when I have trouble with the computer, I don't avoid [it] that much. I just keep going on."

That, or they just don’t see technical issues as a problem at all,

"Computers have never failed [me] in my work."

The students appear to have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception,

"Even if they [computers] go wrong, I still use them. […] In many cases it’s probably something I did wrong—not the computer."

The less you know, the more you can learn

This perspective contrasts considerably with that of many of their teachers, who, when faced with technical problems, tend to blame the machine, whereas the students are more inclined to assume the fault lies with themselves, in the way they are using it.

This way when a problem arises, rather than being a potential threat, it becomes a learning opportunity; if anything, an issue to be wary of is with teachers who are highly skilled with ICTs being too quick to offer solutions, instead of encouraging the students to find someone else in the room who has worked through that problem, so they can tutor one another. Seen this way, lacking technological expertise can be seen as a kind of enabler.

However, this can also lead to teachers who effectively ‘opt out’ of technology altogether, preferring to abdicate the responsibility for the use of ICTs entirely to their students—this raises the question of how effectively any teacher can effectively ‘mentor’ or guide their students if they have absolutely no idea what the available technology can do—teachers should at least familiarise themselves with the basic capabilities of the tools their student’s use, even if they are unable to use these themselves.