04 October 2014

The 3rd Barrier to Tech Integration

There are barriers to effective integration, that's probably not a surprise.

The amount of barriers described varies, but probably the most useful summary that made was by Ertmer back in 1999, who helpfully simplified these kinds of barriers by categorising them into two types:

1st order barriers

External (first-order) barriers to technology integration are described as being extrinsic to teachers and include, “lack of access to computers and software, insufficient time to plan instruction, and inadequate technical and administrative support” (Ibid).

2nd order barriers

In contrast, internal, (second-order) barriers are intrinsic to teachers and teaching, and include, “beliefs about teaching, beliefs about computers, established classroom practices, and unwillingness to change” (Ibid.)

It is generally acknowledged that first-order barriers can be significant obstacles to achieving technology integration, yet the relative strength of second-order barriers may reduce or magnify their effects (Ertmer et al., 1999, Miller & Olson, 1994). Since different barriers are likely to appear at different points in the integration process, teachers will need effective strategies for dealing with both kinds of barriers – but perhaps most critically it is the barrier of belief that is most important. As Ertmer wrote subsequently (2005), “If educators are to achieve fundamental, or second- order changes in classroom teaching practices, we need to examine teachers themselves and the beliefs they hold about teaching, learning, and technology.”

Marcinkiewicz (1993) noted, “Full integration of computers into the educational system is a distant goal unless there is reconciliation between teachers and computers.” (p234). Cuban’s observation (1997) supports this: “It’s not a problem of resources, but a struggle over core values”.

So, here we are, in our 5th year of our iLearn, the TEL (technology enhanced learning) revolution that began at UWCSEA in 2010/11, and I'm wondering, how far have we come?

I'd say a long way, in fact I'd go so far as to say that the process has been kind of linear, it's been a process of working through the barriers:

First overcoming first-order challenges associated with learning how to use the actual hardware and software, distribution of devices, sharing, managing, distributing et cetera.

Then, the most significant challenge of building belief moving from, OK, now I know how to use it, but am I convinced that I really need to? And how often? Who with? Why?

I say 'kind of linear' because, clearly, achieving technology integration is a multifaceted challenge that entails more than simply acquiring and distributing computers. Although different types of barriers require different types of strategies to overcome (Ertmer, 1999) we should not try to eliminate one barrier before addressing another, like Scrimshaw (2004), any barrier can be addressed by more than one strategy, and some strategies are likely to effectively address more than one barrier.

But I'd say in our 5th year, we have largely overcome these two barriers, so, job done? No. You see there are critical, third order (and hopefully final) barriers.

Really? Yes.

3rd order barriers

Tsai & Chai (2012) describe a third type of barrier, a lack of problem solving capacity when using digital technologies, they describe these powerfully in terms of ‘design thinking’ where the ability to “re-organise or create learning materials and activities” and adapt these accordingly (ibid, p1058) is seen as necessary to overcome a ‘third-order’ barrier of a lack of ‘design thinking’.  

Design is my background, and I immediately see its relevance in this context. Any designer of any worth knows that the tools are merely a means to an end, they are tools for solving problems in unique ways. If you'll permit me to remix Wikipedia's definition of design thinking a little:

"Teachers who use digital tools seamlessly to accomplish goals and enhance learning environments, by using digital tools as a set of primitive components, to satisfy curricular requirements, subject to constraints. They have a strategic approach with digital tools that allow them (and their students) to achieve unique expectations. These tools frame their specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints, in achieving learning objectives."

In other words, the affordances, the transformative qualities of digital tools become a natural aspect of their practice, losing their initial opacity, and becoming transparent/invisible as tools for meaning making, as transparent as the tools that preceded them, tools like pens, and paper, and protractors. 

Design thinking breakthrough

Teachers who have overcome the 3rd barrier effortlessly accommodate digital tools as and when needed, who use the elements that make these tools unique, elements I describe using the acronym 'SAMMS'. Elements like the situated nature of digital technology, the ability to leverage access to processing power and information, the mutability, and multi-modality of these tools, and the power of working with them within social networks, networks as small as that of the classroom, to that of a grade, a school, a region, or even the globe—the world wide web. All of this, as regularly and as seamlessly and as naturally as breathing.

In this context the creative repurposing of tools to transform learning is ubiquitous, viewed through the lens of frameworks like RAT and SAMR, replacement is rare, amplification is common, and transformation is so common, it is often taken for granted, that is when it is invisible, assumed, the new 'normal'.

Design thinking

'Design thinking' results in practitioners who regularly synthesise the current state of technological knowledge, incorporating new findings, and delineating new dilemmas. A high degree of technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) is foundational to this final stage—a profound understanding of how teaching and learning can change, when digital technologies are used effectively. This knowledge of the ‘pedagogical affordances and constraints’ of a range of technological tools as they relate to various disciplines with “developmentally appropriate pedagogical designs and strategies (ibid)”, is precisely what gives the 'designers of learning experiences' a capacity to succeed where others have failed.

Sandholtz et al (1997) foreshadowed this decades ago, when describing 'levels of integration', from entry to adoption, adaptation, to appropriation, where the teacher is fully confident in the use of computers and integrates the technology regularly into daily routines. But the highest level, the level where 'design thinking' is required is the level of invention, where teachers, "experiment with new ways of networking students and colleagues and use project-based instruction and interdisciplinary approaches." (p53).

We need to creating a culture of "design thinking" where teachers not only use technology but become creative at repurposing it to better cope with the unique requirements of their various curricular areas. This is the 'RAT challenge'—finding ways for teachers to regularly, naturally, habitually use digital technologies to create learning experiences that would be inconceivable with traditional technologies. 


Cuban L (1997). High-tech schools and low- tech teaching. Education Week on the Web. Online. Retrieved 10 February, 2004, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-16/34cuban.h16 

Ertmer P A (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development.

Ertmer P A (2005). Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? ETRandD, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2005, pp. 25–39 ISSN 1042–1629.

Koehler M J and Mishra P (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Marcinkiewicz H R (1993). Computers and teachers: Factors influencing computer use in the classroom. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 26, 220–237.

Miller L & Olson J (1994). Putting the computer in its place: A study of teaching with technology. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26(2), 121-141.

Sandholtz J, Ringstaff C, & Dwyer D (1997). Teaching with technology. Creating Student Centered Classrooms.

Scrimshaw P (2004). Enabling teachers to make successful use of ICT. Becta. Retrieved 6 March, 2006 from http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/enablers.pdf   

Tsai C & Chai C S (2012). The “third”-order barrier for technology integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(6), 1057-1060.

02 July 2014

Technology, IT & ICT vs Digital Literacy

It's a constant frustration for me, the way the terms 'technology' 'IT' and "ICT' are all used interchangeably as if they all mean they same thing—they don't.

Why does it matter? That's what this post is all about.

This is IT - A focus on the machine

This is ICT - A focus on using the machine

I'm a DLC, a 'Digital Literacy Coach, I'm not an IT (Information Technology) Teacher, I'm not even an ICT  (Information Communication Technology) teacher, but this post is not about what I do, I've written about that here. No, this post is about why distinguishing between these is essential if we are serious about integrating digital technologies effectively and meaningfully into educational contexts.

Let's just clear this up at the outset, here's the difference:

Information Technology (IT) is a focus on the machines, the hardware, and the code that enables these machines to be controlled effectively, this the computing, the Computer Science, the electronic engineering, the coding, without which nothing that we call ICT or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) would be possible.* 

Information Communication Technology (ICT) is a focus on the use of these machines to communicate with each other, communicating with ordinary people who are not skilled in IT, people like you and me. ICT refers to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications. It is similar to Information Technology (IT), but focuses primarily on the kinds of communication technologies powerfully exemplified by the SAMMS framework. Communications mediums that provide situated, unprecedented access to tools that are multimodal, mutable and socially networked.

Digital literacy—Where do you want to go today?
I find a car analogy helpful in explaining this:

IT is a focus on the machine, the automobile— designing them, making them, fixing them, maintaining them.

ICT is learning how to drive the car, the driving instructor is the ICT teacher, and while this is a part of the role of someone like me, a 'Digital Literacy Coach' that's not at the heart of it. Why? Because it's still focused on the act of driving the car as an end in and of itself, what DLCs and all educators should be more interested in is, great, now you can drive - where do you want to go? On a vacation? To work? To school, college? The possibilities are endless, and with all/most of them, the technology is merely a (transformative) means to an end.

IT: Automotive engineering
ICT: Driving instruction/education
Digital Literacy: ROAD TRIP!

Technology Terminology

It is clear from the literature that many terms abound within this arena of learning, from the ubiquitous but ambiguous ‘technology’ to ‘21st Century Learning’ – used in a way where the term is assumed to bring with it an ‘obvious’ digital context, ie, the use of computers.

The term ‘technology’ is a particularly broad and ill-defined one (Ohler, 1999). Currently it is most often used as shortening of the full term, ’digital technologies’ ‘computer technologies’ or ‘ICT’, although of course it can mean, in theory, any application of human knowledge to solve practical problems. My Apple dictionary defines it simply as,

“the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” 

As such it includes not only mechanical artefacts, but also procedures and practices. Even when technology is interpreted as only mechanical objects, the range of objects is almost inexhaustible: from simple things such as an overhead projector, to a pencil, and consequentially, to more complex systems such as the computer and of course, the Internet. Even when we further narrow technology down to the computer, the list of things teachers need to know and do, using these technologies is still a challenging one. So it transpires that the issue of technology as a barrier is not new. Far from it, clearly, teachers have wrestled with technologies since time out of mind, although the ‘wrestling’ was generally more of that involving the need to sharpen pencils, or replace the ink in a pen – a dichotomy Mishra and Koehler (2006) approach by separating them into two distinct, but obviously related categories; namely, ‘standard’ technologies, “such as books, chalk and blackboard”, and more ‘advanced’ technologies, “such as the Internet and digital video (p 1027)”. So the problem then is more one of the rate of change than the actual use of technologies in teaching. As Mishra et al explain:

“… the rapid rate of evolution of these new digital technologies prevents them from becoming ‘transparent’ any time soon. Teachers will have to do more than simply learn to use currently available tools; they also will have to learn new techniques and skills as current technologies become obsolete (ibid, p 1023).”

A point endorsed by Cuban (2001) noting out that teachers’ definition of ‘technology’ is very selective, as since the 19th century, chalk and blackboard, pens, pencils, and textbooks have proven themselves over and over again to be reliable and useful classroom technologies.

“Teachers added other innovations such as the overhead projector, the ditto machine (later the copying machine), and film projector (later the VCR) because they too proved reliable and useful. But most teachers continue to see the computer as an add-on rather than as a technology integral to their classroom content and instruction. (p 163; my emphasis).
But, and it's a big but.

It is that ‘But’ that is at the heart of many barriers to integration.

‘Digital’ literacies and ‘multiliteracies’

The concept of digital literacies is fascinating both in its definition and its application. The term captures an arena of rapidly developing practices, as humans interact with technologies in new ways and for innovative purposes. The exponentially expanding ‘digital world’ of the latter part of the 20th Century and the early 21st Century are creating new opportunities for people to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills, and experiment with new forms of self-expression. 

By exploring new interests, tinkering, and ‘messing around’ with these new kinds of media, we acquire various forms of technical and media literacy. Through trial and error, we add new media skills to our repertoire, (Ito et al, 2008). Within my own context, the term ‘Digital Literacy’ has been adopted as a replacement for what used to be referred to as ‘IT’. The assumption being that it fulfils the previous terms, and somehow implies something greater, more meaningful. The reality is all that has happened in most cases is the term has been misappropriated as meaning the same thing, which it does not. When Paul Gilster (1997) coined this term it is highly doubtful that he never intended for this term to be used in this way, what he was doing was introducing a term that very powerfully distinguished between the defining of a ‘thing’ to the more important business of using it. 

Move the conversation on from the mechanics and on into the potential of it to make meaning.

“The concept of literacy goes beyond simply being able to read; it has always meant the ability to read with meaning, and to understand. It is the fundamental act of cognition. Digital literacy likewise extends the boundaries of definition.” (p 2)

Of course since then others have attempted their own definitions, “digital literacy means knowing how technology and media affect the ways in which we go about finding things out, communicating with one another, and gaining knowledge and understanding” (Hague and Williamson, 2009) or “Digital Literacies are an enabling skill allowing for a broader range of learning interactions, using a greater range of tools, which then offers the possibility of a wider range of traceable meanings to be made in society.” (Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme). 

What they invariably have in common is a shift in focus from the machines (IT) to their potential as tools for making meaning (Digital Literacy).


Literacy’ is a powerful concept to centre this focus. The widespread struggle among educators, parents, researchers and policy makers to conceptualise what it is (young) people “know” or need to know when using digital technologies, and by extension, the Internet, is usefully resolved by conceptualising this knowledge in terms of literacy. Unfortunately this also broadens the argument into a debate over the nature of literacy, which in turn leads us to a deeper question, which literacies are encompassed by this term? Livingstone (2008) alone includes print literacy, audiovisual and media literacies, information literacy, advertising literacy, cyberliteracy, games literacy, critical literacy, and many more. So it is that these ‘multiliteracies’ (Gillen & Barton, 2010) generally refer to the multitude of forms of literacy made possible by the phenomenal pace of IT development. 

Digital Literacies

The term "digital literacies" itself is relatively new within the field of literacy studies. Its definition remains open, but human judgment, or criticality, is assumed in most understandings of digital literacies and at the centre of the concept of ‘multiliteracies’.

Howard Rheingold (2012) has argued that we must actively cultivate skills such as mindfulness and “crap detection” that are central to these new realities of the digital and networked world, or more commonly referred to as ‘critical thinking’. In an online world awash with knowledge/opinion with the border often blurred between the two – critical thinking is essential, the ability to literally critique content, to extricate one from the other, knowledge/opinion, fact/fiction/feeling. 

What is clear is that these ‘digital’ literacies are in a deep and profound sense new literacies, not merely the traditional concept of literacy – reading and writing – carried on in new media. (Kress, 2010)

Accompanying the plurality of these digital literacies, we find a range of terms used by different researchers when extricating one from from another, including but not limited to; internet literacies, digital literacies, new media literacies, multiliteracies, information literacy, ICT literacies, and computer literacies. Coiro, et al (2008) notes that all these terms “are used to refer to phenomena we would see as falling broadly under a new literacies umbrella” (p 10).

These literacies need a unifying context, such as the notion of the learner in the 21st Century and digital literacies: Rheingold describes digital literacies in terms of, 'civil engagement in the Digital Age', what he calls ‘21st century literacies’ (Rheingold 2009), as requiring “attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption, and network awareness.” Rheingold and Ito et al (2008; 2013) see this kind of learning as situated within the participatory online culture of 21st Century.

We find ourselves with a powerfully unifying focus, so let's stop talking abut technology and talk about literacy—whether that is linguistic, numeric, or digital, these are now the modes by which we learn everything else, it is, all of it, in the service of making and refining meaning.

* Interesting to note that as of September 2013, the term "ICT" in the UK National Curriculum, where it originated, has been replaced by the broader term "computing", I would imagine this is in order to mitigate the current confusion, and emphasise its computer science 'coding' credentials, as opposed to its capacity for communication. 

iPads vs Macs

Why use an iPad in the classroom, if you can use a Mac?

OSx vs iOS

This is a question that has plagued me for some time, and behind it lies the assumption that if you are going to use an iPad, then you should make sure that you're using it to do something that you couldn't have just used a Mac for. Of course this assumes that you have the choice of using a Mac or an iPad, for the sake of this discussion I assume a context where the students would use an iPad in the classroom exclusively in place of a MacBook or an iMac. After some initial scepticism, I now believe that these devices do have a unique contribution to make to the classroom; below I will attempt to outline my reasoning as to why I believe this may be...


Cheaper than MacBooks at about a half to a third of the price (depending on the generation you buy), this means that you can get double or triple the tech for the same cost, especially important if you're attempting to get as many devices per student as possible. This can be the difference between one computer shared between four, or the difference between a classroom that is 1:1 or 1:2 compared to a classroom that is 1:2 or 1:4. It has to be said that iPads in particular lend themselves to a 1:1 context, as sharing them is not as easy as sharing a Mac, as they do not support multiple user accounts.

There are 'hidden' costs to consider, you most likely need to include a case, (I don't believe in screen protectors) a trolley for syncing/storage, and don't underestimate the amount of tech support required to sync and keep them updated, which is most likely much greater that that required for laptops etc.

Simplicity & Efficacy

iOS is a much simpler operating system than OSX, this means, especially with younger students, the operating system gets out of the way and students instead can concentrate on actually using the tech to learn, which is the point, right? Simply put, this means that students do not need to navigate through menus, create folders, filenames, organise files and folders and navigate the many additional conventions that would be expected by using a typical desktop operating system. Of course the question that follows this is ... When do we teach students how to use these operating systems? Surely that is also an important consideration…?

Apptasticicity (Is that word? It is now.)

The plethora of applications available for this device at a low cost or even zero cost makes for an extremely powerful learning tool. Yes, there are also plenty of Applications on the MacBook and iMac, but the Apps on the iPad are cheaper, and especially focused on doing very specific things. One App for spelling, one App for TimesTables, one App for drawing - I think you catch my drift?

The power of iOS apps versus full on computer applications is another major benefit. These are generally much, much simpler versions of their big brothers. Even the Pages App on the iPad is a much simpler pared down version of the full Pages application on the Mac. Often it seems to me that when using the full version of Applications on the Mac etc., most people are using 10%, maybe 20% of the capability of a program but the Apps on the iPad appear to focus on just doing the 10 to 20% that most people actually need. This means from a teaching perspective, we focus on the use of the tools in a way that is very effective and avoid getting sidetracked by less relevant or less important features that are not required for the task at hand.


Especially for younger students the freedom from having to control a mouse device to manipulate the cursor on the screen is a huge advantage, very few younger students have the necessary fine motor skills to control a device as (relatively) large as a mouse and often struggle to do so, especially managing left and right, and double clicking, never mind the dreaded drag 'n drop. The iPad, by using a haptic interface touch system completely bypasses all of these issues and is as easy for a three year old to control as for a 43 year old to control.

The iPad is a much more "modal" device, that is, the user is focused on one 'mode' or application at a time, you don't have the problem (or some would say, the advantage) of having multiple Apps open and accessible and usable at the same time. With the iPad it is very much one thing at a time, better for teaching and learning.


Whether you choose to use a stylus or to use the digits that God gave you (no I'm not a big fan of stylii) it has to be said that it is a much more natural, authentic experience to 'draw' or ''paint' on an iPad and it has ever been or is on a Mac, even if you try to use the trackpad as a substitute surface. 'Screencasting' Apps in particular are absolutely revolutionary on this device; I really cannot see any App on the Mac that comes even close to offering the power of annotation combined with drawing and talking offered by apps like Explain Everything and Screenshot et al. When this facility is applied to drawing, painting and image manipulation Apps, it takes on a completely new level of experience - with the ability to intuitively smudge and blur with tactile swipes and dabs there really is a sense of interaction with pixels which is almost as physical as print. Yes, I said it.


The portability of the device makes it particularly appropriate for capturing content with the on-board camera or capturing video, and then seamlessly knitting this content together in a meaningful way on the device with a minimum of hassle. Yes, this can be done with a MacBook, but trying to use a MacBook as a camera is something which would be impossible for small children to do and not advisable even for older students and adults. You have to bring the content to the MacBook whereas with the iPad you can bring the iPad to the content- particularly useful for field trips or subjects that are not portable, ie cannot be brought to the device.


The ability to group apps into folders very easily very much assists the pedagogical process as teachers can direct students to a group of apps that are focused on a particular skill, this is not often the case with a typical computer operating system.

No desktop. This saves a lot of trouble for the teacher, as the desktop paradigm leads to many problems, with a plethora of icons scattered across that virtual space - trust me this is the bane of my tech integration life. Students and teachers alike struggle with the organisation of files and folders and this often leads to work that is hard to locate or difficult to save in a way that allows the same files to be easily retrieved. The way iOS stores files within the application makes things much easier for student and teacher alike.

Sharing of student work is easy, utilising the Reflection App on a Mac (although using a classroom Apple TV makes this an option for MacBooks running Mountain Lion or later). Sharing iPad content with students using AirPlay is as easy as a couple of clicks, and then the content of the student's iPad is beamed onto the board for the whole class to see.

So why would you ever use a Mac?

Using an iPad is often very much about working around the limitations, although it has to be said that what a techie person might call "limitations" is what an ordinary student or teacher might call a welcome relief from complexity. Put bluntly, a full powered computer offers so many options that it easily becomes overwhelming - the simplicity of the iPad very much restricts what is capable of being done, but for most ordinary people this restriction is a relief rather than a frustration. But, no the Mac is not dead, not for more 'demanding' users anyway. There are times when you really need to use the other 80% of features left out of iPad Apps. Here are a few of the aspects of an iPad classroom that require some patience:

Professional/advanced Applications

If you are one of those few people, (especially High School/FE teachers/students) who actually need to use more advanced applications, I'm thinking particularly here of high end video editing, production, design, VFX, 3D modelling, CAD CAM, and applications that can that model dynamic simulations, then using an iPad is far from satisfactory. All of these require a 'proper' fully featured operating system like that afforded by an iMac or Macbook, or even a PC! But, in my experience, that puts you in the bracket of the few people who know how to use the 80% of the capabilities of a professional app that are ignored by 80% of 'normal' computer users.

Difficulties with printing 

Although there are ways around this, but you actually might not want to bother, as although this seems to be a problem with the devices, I think it highlights our over zealousness for hard copies. I actually feel this is really an opportunity to discourage the propensity for teachers and students alike to print everything that they can. The iPad encourages users to find digital medium to share their work rather than relying on printed paper.

Lack of Web 2.0 support

The '3 Cs' of Web 2.0 (creativity, collaboration and communication) are arguably one of the foundational elements of what is commonly called "21st century learning" and due to the kind of cutting edge web technology these websites require, many Web 2.0 sites will will not function as effectively (if at all) on an iPad - although this is changing everyday. It should be noted that many of these Sites provide App versions of their content, albeit usually scaled down. The Google suite of Apps are definitely more iPad friendly than ever, but they still have frustrating restrictions, like not being able to edit tables in Google Docs. If you really want to utilise Web 2.0 (bear in mind that most require students to be at least 13 years of age) you are still almost certainly better off using a Mac rather than an iPad.

iPads make it more difficult for users to share their content on third party platforms, eg, Google Apps, Sites or Picasa etc., most of these platforms cannot be exported to directly from an iPad and requires a mediating device, eg a laptop or desktop computer.


Getting content off the iPad is tricky. I've been using a central email account to make this easier, so students can just email content to the teacher, straight from a generic account on the device. Exporting captured video is more problematic, while it can, in theory, still be exported wirelessly, this in practice is extremely frustrating. Students do need to be taught the explicit skill to be able to transfer video from an iPad to a computer using a cable; on a Mac this is much easier if they use the Image Capture application instead of iPhoto. Sharing to Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud etc. are an option, but not if you want to avoid a whole lot of account detail entering ... Students can also utlise share Apps like Dropbox and Google Drive for this but these boil down to being variations on the email idea, and are just as useless for transferring video in my experience.


Distractions are a common temptation, this is true of any computing device but especially so with a device like the iPad that is now commonly seen by students as a gaming platform. The student may be intending to read an eBook but with the plethora of distractions only a swipe away this is something which will require close monitoring... That said this kind of monitoring is required for any acticvity is it not? I found plenty of ways to get distracted with pens, pencils and paper when I was a kid - yes, noughts and crosses, boxes, passing notes, paper aeroplanes, spit balls and biros, I'm looking at you.

There is no support for multiple user accounts; this means that in practice sharing an iPad is much more tricky than sharing for example, a MacBook. Because all of the content created by users is shared on the same device this mean they will need to be particularly careful about respecting work created by others and not deleting content that does not belong to themselves.

No Flash support

While this is gradually becoming less of an issue as more and more website shift over to content like HTML 5 etc, it is still far from being a non-issue, especially considering that so many educational websites still rely on Flash as their media tool of choice. It is possible to get around this issue by using for example the Puffin Browser App, but it is still far from satisfactory.


Logistics are a major headache with managing these iOS devices, and there are so many ways to do this although I personally find cloning one device onto multiple machines is the simplest solution. The biggest problem concerns the fact that these devices were designed to be used by one person who owns the device and not to be shared, this is clearly an argument for 1:1, but with young children many of the 'Cloud' services that are designed to make these devices so easy to use are not actually legally available for anyone under the age of 13. This effectively makes using Cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox etc quite challenging, as it often means the teacher having to create an account which is then individually created or cloned onto each one of the class and devices; with 1:1 this is easily 22 devices or more, very time-consuming and very tedious. This is something that any user of an iOS device should be wary of, the time consuming/tedious nature of attempting to configure devices individually one by one - something I believe should be avoided as far as possible! Which is why I still rely on a mediating platform, ie, a class iMac which the students can use to offload, transfer, archive, share content, etc. That said, on a literally daily basis the ever expanding capabilities of Apps like Google Drive continue to make many of these points obsolete, iteration by iteration, eg Picasa used to be a no no, but 3rd party apps like Web Album now allow students to directly upload video and image directly to their Picasa accounts, even allowing management of albums etc, what will there be next week?

Caveat Emptor

All of these devices are changing, fast. For for all I know the next release of iOS could well make all of my concerns history - the next App update could make a tool that was a fiddly frustration into a dynamic delight; the Google suite of Apps comes to mind, although these are still far from being as effective as their equivalents on a desktop operating system.

The bottom line to me is sometimes less is more (more often in my experience less is just less) and that is often the case with the choice of an iPad over a MacBook or an iMac - for the kind of things that we want our students to use these devices for, we need LESS - we rarely need a state-of-the-art computer, a state-of-the-art tablet may well be much a more appropriate choice.

Using an iMac or MacBook for just web browsing and word processing really is just using a Ferrari to deliver milk.

Feel free to add your ifs, yes buts, and whys and more besides in the comments below.

Thanks to Shaun Kirkwood @shaunyk for providing the impetus for this post and some great feedback.

14 June 2014

Don't Just Stand There, REFLECT on Something!

It has to be one the hardest things to encourage students to do well, and yet, if we are serious about our students retaining what they learn, it's something we cannot afford to ignore.

Learning by thinking

Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance: a team of researchers from HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina describe what they call the first empirical test of the effect of reflection on learning. By “reflection,” they mean taking time after a lesson to synthesize, abstract, or articulate the important points. This study sheds more light on this practice than ever, and what follows is my attempts sum up their findings as succinctly as I can.

Emphases and content [inside brackets] are mine.

You can access the original paper for yourself here.

Research on learning has primarily focused on the role of doing (experience) in fostering progress over time. In this paper, we propose that one of the critical components of learning is reflection, or the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Drawing on dual-process theory, we focus on the reflective dimension of the learning process and propose that learning can be augmented by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. [...] We find a performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection. Further, we hypothesize and find that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived self-efficacy. Together, our results shed light on the role of reflection as a powerful mechanism behind learning. (Abstract)

Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing. In doing so, we depart from previous work equating direct learning with only learning-by-doing and introduce the construct of “learning-by-thinking”—i.e., learning that comes from reflection and articulation of the key lessons learned from experience. (p 4)

Reflection— is the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.

Reflection builds one's confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. [Or appreciating ones own capacity, efficacy, achievements; eg, I am good at/better at ...] (p 5)

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by “doing” becomes more effective if deliberately coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by “thinking.” In doing so, we extend literature claiming that the capacity to reflect on action is necessary for practitioners to learn (Schön, 1983) [from surface to deep] (p 6)

The process of transforming tacit into codified knowledge requires a cognitive investment that generates a deeper understanding of this knowledge. We contribute to this literature by providing empirical evidence of the benefits associated with knowledge codification and uncovering the mechanisms behind them. Our findings suggest that the benefits of codification are not affected by whether its purpose is self-reflection or sharing know-how with others. [Whether it is a private diary, or whether it is a public journal, like a blog.]

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated from experience is coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by reflection. (p 8)

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by doing can become more effective if deliberately coupled with controlled, conscious attempts at learning-by-thinking. In particular, we expect individuals to perform significantly better on subsequent tasks when they think about what they learned from the task they completed. (p 9)

Theories of knowledge codification (Cowan, David, and Foray, 2000; Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Von Krogh, 2009) shed light on another potential benefit to the knowledge holder of sharing knowledge. Those theories suggest that the reflection effort needed to create the insights to be shared with a counterpart may end up generating a deeper understanding of the problem space itself. This deeper understanding benefits the knowledge holder in terms of improved problem-solving capacity. In particular, we would expect the improvement in problem-solving capacity generated by reflection aimed at sharing to be greater than the improvement generated by reflection alone. In other words, one can expect performance to increase the most when reflection and sharing, i.e., thinking and teaching, are coupled. This line of argument should be familiar to those who teach and subscribe to the adage that one learns the most on a subject by being forced to teach it. (p 10)

Though reflection entails the high opportunity cost of one's time, we argue and show that reflecting after completing tasks is no idle pursuit: it can powerfully enhance the learning process. Learning, we find, can be augmented if one deliberately focuses on thinking about what one has been doing. In addition to showing a significant performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection, we also demonstrate that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater self-efficacy. (p 26)

Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing.

Learning Journals

Our results also have important practical implications. In our field study we showed that taking time away from training [teaching] and reallocating that time to reflection actually improved individual performance. Companies [Schools] often use tools such as learning journals as a way to encourage reflection in training [teaching] and regular operations. Our personal experience is that individuals of all ages may not treat these exercises with much seriousness; however, our findings suggest that they should. Our study highlights that it may be possible to train [teach] and learn “smarter”, not “harder” (p 27)

Individual learning is enhanced by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. 

Together, our results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey:

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Di Stefano G, Gino F, Pisano GP, & Staats BR (2014). Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, (14-093), 14-093. Chicago

Schön D (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

27 April 2014

Bloom's Taxonomy - Still Relevant or Just Redundant?

Geriatric Guidance

It is amazing to me how pervasive Bloom's Taxonomy (1956) remains, despite its geriatric credentials. In particular advocates of TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) are often the most ecstatic about it, keen to categorise many of the most ubiquitous digital tools under it's reassuring tiers – well the tiers of its ‘cognitive domain’ anyway, something that is very well critiqued by Tom Woodward over at this post on his blog.

This may come as a surprise to many, but despite its 'common sensibility' Bloom’s Taxonomy was and is purely theoretical, without basis in cognitive research (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

The idea that thinking is sequential or hierarchical is highly questionable (Marzano, 2000), but nevertheless Bloom's categories capture types of mental activity that are embraced (rightly or wrongly) by many practitioners, and are therefore, it could be argued, useful as a starting point for thinking about thinking.

Anderson and Krathwohl’s revisions (2001), emphasise the importance of creativity, although understanding was still undervalued.

Understanding Understanding

Understanding is a very deep, complex endeavour, and not in any way a lower-order skill as the revised taxonomy implies (Blythe & Associates, 1998; EO Keene, 2008; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).

Cognitive research indicates that understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating, and creating but a result of it (Wiske, 1997). Thomas and Seely Brown (2009) emphasise this idea, seeing ‘learning as reflecting, learning as making, and learning as becoming’ with creative play and improvisation as essential experiences – the kinds of experiences of ‘messing about, and geeking out’ described by Ito et al (2008). Wagner (2012) considers the unique motivation generated by creating as ‘the source of all good learning’, concluding that intrinsic motivation is fuelled by playing (experimenting), purpose (wanting to make a difference), and passion (devoting yourself to something you find deeply meaningful). Creating is not a single direct act but a compilation of activities and associated thinking. Decisions are made and problems are solved as part of this process. Ideas are tested, results analysed, prior learning brought to bear, and ideas synthesised.

With computers, the act of creating has never been more accessible – almost anything is potentially ‘buildable’ on a computer, and if it’s buildable, it becomes thinkable, discussable, and ultimately, learnable (TEL Report, 2012). Robinson (2009) makes the point that

"digital technologies are now putting in the hands of millions of people everywhere, unprecedented tools for creativity and sound, in design, in sciences and in the arts (p 205).” 

Creativity is something that digital technologies excel at facilitating - people learn best when they are making things, and sharing what they’ve made with each other. Making something produces something to talk about, reflect upon, and ultimately learn with. Making is an effective way of learning – or as Luckin et al in the Nesta report (2012) neatly summarise, “mending, mashing, and making with digital tools (p 59)”, using suitable personal devices and flexible web tools to achieve clearly articulated goals.

Considering the high regard Bloom’s retains in the estimation of many educators, it could be argued that rather than rejecting it; (say in favour of simpler and more academically robust paradigms like deep and surface learning) that the process of learning in the 21st Century be better represented by ‘flipping’ Bloom’s (Shelley Wright); one that views learning as the process of joining a community of practice reverses this pattern and allows students to engage in “learning to be” (Brown & Adler, 2008) even as they are mastering the content of a discipline. This encourages the practice of ‘productive inquiry’ (Dewey, 1944) the process of seeking knowledge only as and when it is needed, in order to carry out a particular task.

Flipping Bloom’s [Revised] Taxonomy (Shelley Wright)

Transformative Teaching and Transformative Tools

The point is, education is (or at least, should be) evolving –  new ways of describing learning are just another part of this ancient process. From flint and stone, to chalk and board, to pen and paper, to screens and cursors – excellent, experienced teachers have always been effective at utilising the most appropriate tools they have access to, to transform teaching and learning. Yes, sure, a piece of chalk and a black board can be transformative in the grip of a great teacher—but to cling to those tools when more powerful tools exist is a wasted opportunity, like walking when you can fly. Teachers need to move away from the traditional methods of teaching and utilise a wider variety of techniques, the best tools, digital tools, for their students to build their own understanding through real world applications and interactions with their peers.

“To be productive contributors to society in our 21st century, you need to be able to quickly learn the core content of a field of knowledge while also mastering a broad portfolio of essentials in learning, innovation, technology, and career skills needed for work and life.” (Trilling & Fadel, 2009, p 16)

Teachers have always needed to prepare students to be creative and innovative within professions that do not yet exist, for products that have not yet been invented, but the sheer breath of these experiences are growing exponentially. Clinging to obsolete paradigms makes no sense in a century that offers so much more than we've ever had access to before.

So next time you see another set of digital tools organised around the redundant, discredited, Bloom's hierarchy, think before you link. Aren't there better ways to structure our thinking? I think so.

18 April 2014

Digital Literacy 'Coaches' – What Do We Do?

An existentialist consideration of the role of a 'tech integrator'*.

I'm a 'Digital Literacy Coach' (DLC), a 'pedagogical technologist' (Woo, 2012) would probably be a more accurate description; that is a pedagogical coach who specialises in digital technologies. We're a rare, but fast growing breed in any TELE (technology enhanced learning environment) where the tech in question is digital, ie screens, because let's face it, all teaching environments are enhanced by some kind of technology even if it's just paper and pen/cil.

I commonly find myself on the receiving end of a blank faces; uncomprehending, incredulous, somewhat vacuous expression when I give an answer like this. Especially if the person in question is a student, or a parent. Something like,

You're a ... pedagogicawhat?
"A what?" "so, ... what do you do?"

So, 4 years of research, and 1 Master's degree later, here it is. My answer.

Studies (McGarr & McDonagh, 2013) indicate that for many schools, the provision of even one person who has this kind of role is rare. Unfortunately, it is more common to commit vast amounts of expenditure on ICTs, while skimping on financing the expertise that would enable teachers to make effective use of them. If a choice has to be made, it would be better to purchase less equipment and instead utilise the released funds to employ at least one skilled facilitator, a DLC. Without this kind of investment, expensive hardware will most likely languish in cupboards (Nesta report, 2012).

Providing technical skills training to teachers in the use of technology is not enough (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013) and teaching skills in isolation does little to help teachers develop knowledge about: how to use technology to teach content in differentiated ways according to students' learning needs (TPK); how technology can be used to support the learning of specific curriculum content (TCK); or how to help students meet particular curriculum content standards while using technologies appropriately (TPACK) in their learning (Harris et al 2009; Mishra & Koehler, 2006); this is where having a dedicated ‘coach’ is essential.

Teachers need professional development in the pedagogical application of skills to improve teaching and learning (Carlson and Gadio, 2002). One of the most effective ways to help teachers take advantage of, and integrate technology is to provide ‘situated’ professional development through the provision of dedicated technology facilitators. These are known by many titles, eg DLCs, ICT Coordinators, Tech Integrators; all of which place far too much emphasis on the digital-technological for my liking. I think it is perhaps better to described the DLC role as that of a pedagogical coach, but one who has a profound understanding of the affordances of digital technologies. The emphasis being, first and foremost, on the pedagogical aspect of the role, the technology supports pedagogy - not the other way round. This is why, despite the multiplicity of syllables, I feel the best description of this role is that of a ‘Pedagogical Technologist’ (Woo, 2012).

These are dedicated teachers who support individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) authentic technology integration; mentoring; 'just-in-time' support that addresses teachers' needs; individualised instruction; observation of technology integration in practice (or what I prefer to call FOCUS lessons), and self-directed learning (Jacobsen 2001; 2002). This approach goes beyond skill centred strategies (teaching the use of tools) and emphasises the importance of helping teachers develop and use technology to teach curriculum content using specific pedagogical approaches that support successful technology-enhanced teaching and learning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

Perhaps another question we should ask is, what happens if you NOT have a DLC? Fullan and Donnelly answer this question nicely:

"Study after study has concluded that the impact of digital technology has been stifled when there is no emphasis on the pedagogy of the application of technology as used in the classroom. this phenomenon has been recently documented by steven Higgins et al. in a large meta–analytical study on digital learning. When teachers are not taught how to use an innovation, how to adapt to the model, and provided with on–going support, they revert to their traditional behaviours and practices. And, if professional development is stacked at initial launch, it risks neglecting the need for continuous reinforcement and upgrading." (p19)

So DLCs emphasise pedagogical application of technology. And how do DLCs do this? Well, they... 

Synthesise, problem solve, filter... 

Key to this role is synthesis. A DLC must consider the curricular goals, the talents and experiences of the team they are working with, the potential connections (support, reinforcement, or duplication) of related areas and skills, and how best to determine priorities. Tsai & Chai (2012) describe this problem solving capacity in terms of ‘design thinking’, where the ability to “re-organise or create learning materials and activities” and adapt these accordingly (ibid, p 1058) is seen as necessary to overcome a ‘third-order’ barrier of a lack of ‘design thinking’.  The DLC also reviews recent practice and tries to anticipate how best to implement future projects. As they begin to develop new visions, communicate them to colleagues, and contemplate how to realise these innovations, they enter the realms of strategic leadership and creativity within the profession (Gardner, 2006). Synthesising the current state of technological knowledge, incorporating new findings, and delineating new dilemmas are critical to the work of any DLC who wishes to remain current and relevant.

This role as filter is particularly important given the phenomenal proliferation of digital tools—on a literally daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. The DLC is all that stands between the teacher and a tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.  Neither can these just be ignored, as, not unlike the prospectors of old, sometimes lying in the sludge of similarity is the odd golden nugget of greatness. Yes, Apps like DoodleCast Pro, I'm looking at you. The DLC is the prospector who wades through the mediocre with filters of failure, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, which can then be brought back triumphantly and with considerable excitement to a, maybe not so interested team of teachers. Yet.

A ‘low power distance’ (Hofstede et al, 1991) is a crucial aspect of these roles, within a loose, decentralised hierarchy, where teachers are colleagues, not subordinates. A high degree of technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) is at the heart of this role—an understanding of how teaching and learning can change, when particular technologies [tools] are used effectively. This includes knowing the ‘pedagogical affordances and constraints’ of a range of technological tools as they relate to various disciplines with “developmentally appropriate pedagogical designs and strategies (ibid).”

Design (interventions)

Interventions significantly influenced by the need to use, "small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).” Helping teachers making even small progress in meaningful work is a powerful stimulant to inspiring them to want to do more. If people are involved in meaningful work, and if they feel capable, and if they are helped to make even small progress, they become more motivated and ready for the next challenge (Fullan, 2013).

All interventions should incorporate three essential elements (Rodríguez et al, 2011) they should be first and foremost pedagogically centred, collaboratively designed, and expected to result in transference.

A focus on pedagogy has been shown to be effective in ‘freeing’ the practitioner from the myth that they need to be the ‘tech expert’ in the room, instead focusing on their classroom management skills, seeing technical “pitfalls as teachable moments” (Steve, 2011, p 16). This pedagogic model requires the definition and design of tasks for teachers and students, supported by ICTs. The interventions are how the pedagogic model is adopted, leading towards “autonomous implementation” (Rodríguez et al, 2011, p 84).  They are composed of planned activities, such as training sessions for teachers, practical experiences, and classroom observations (Rodríguez et al, 2010). In addition to this, during the intervention, the DLC continually monitors and evaluates progress in order to assess the suitability and efficacy of implementation and to determine the extent to which the pedagogical model is actually being adopted (Wagner et al, 2005). This is expected to lead to arguably the purpose of the entire initiative - transference, teachers who have adopted these practices to the point where they are intrinsic and habitual, where the vast majority teachers effectively and faithfully “carry out the intervention” (Rodríguez 2008).


None of these attributes count for anything unless the ‘coach’ or ‘facilitator’ is a “pedagogical leader and champion” (McGarr & McDonagh, 2013)—a “charismatic individual who throws his or her weight behind an innovation, thus over-coming indifference or resistance... (Stuart et al, 2009, p 734).” These champions are “the individuals who emerge to take creative ideas […] and bring them to life” who “actively and enthusiastically promote the innovation, building support, overcoming resistance, and ensuring that the innovation is implemented (Howell & Higgins, 1990, p 40).” Confidence, persistence, energy and risk-taking are key characteristics (ibid). Champions can be distinguished from non-champions because they can communicate a clear vision, display enthusiasm, demonstrate commitment and involve others in supporting innovation (ibid). Champions are also an important part of the innovation process in an organisation (ibid; Rogers, 2003), and are “especially important in the implementation of new technology (p 3).” Loucks & Zacchei (1983) describe these facilitators as “cheerleaders” (p 29); building commitment early and maintaining it through constant encouragement; as ‘linkers’, bringing in outside expertise and ideas—linking resources and expertise; and trouble-shooters, helping teachers solve problems.

But for how long? Role obsolescence

The long-term viability of the role of the DLC needs to be considered. This marks my fourth year, and it is important to be wary of allowing the success of a TEL initiative to be dependent on one person’s expertise and determination to succeed. Certainly, in the earliest phase of implementation of a TEL model the need for a full time DLC is necessary, but the efficacy of this initiative will only truly be realised when, in effect, every teacher is a ‘pedagogical champion’, effectively rendering the role of the DLC obsolete. Implementation of change takes at least two years (Fullan, 1991), even then, with an infrastructure in place, it takes several years of effort before teachers start using ICT intensively in preparing and conducting their teaching activities (Feldman et al, 1999; Hakkarainen et al, 2003); only then can we consider that change has really become implemented, that it has ‘gone viral’, that there has been transference.

If we're doing our jobs properly, surely we should be aiming for obsolescence, to coach every teacher and student into a similar sense of tech capacity and familiarity as we have, to effectively make each one a 'mini me'—after all what originally qualified the teacher who became a DLC for this role, other than a profound sense of excitement about the potential of digital technologies to amplify and transform learning and teaching. 

By expanding the role of all of teachers who we have discovered, or successfully enabled, or even 'converted' to that of a ‘tech mentor’ or tech enthusiast' we can distribute this kind of coaching more effectively, thinner but wider. These teachers can work closely with a DLC to pilot pedagogically focused use of ICTs in innovative ways. If successful, these are shared with the team with the prospect of grade wide adoption and development. 

More is more

These roles, these 'tech mentors and enthusiasts' could 'go viral', they could conceivably evolve into many part-time DLCs at each grade level, in every department, lots of 'mini DLCs' everywhere, the more there are, the less 'non-contact' time they would need, until … well, until every teacher, every student is, in effect, a digital literacy coach. Reaching this utopian ideal would be the realisation of  “autonomous implementation”, the transference, described by Rodríguez et al, (2011; 2008). Where teachers have adopted these practices to the point where they are "intrinsic and habitual".

This state would not be sustainable without an inter-disciplinary, cross phase, school-wide network of DLCs could continue, develop and facilitate professional learning through a collaborative, peer-mentoring programme (Glazer et al, 2009). One situated in the practice of a teacher, familiar with the curricular content, and the everyday stresses and strains of classroom practice that a full time DLC is not, no matter how sympathetic they might be.

Of course that begs the question of who would/could co-ordinate, guide, support this network of pedagogical technologist, who would coach the coaches? Probably someone who already has a decade or two or more of experience with pedagogical technology, hmm, looks we're going to need a new name.

So, obsolescence? Bring it on. I look forward it.

*Or Digital Literacy Coach, ICT Coordinator, Technology Coordinator, Technology Facilitator, Pedagogical Technologist ... there are more... 


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