Learning 2.013 Singapore – improving learning with technology

Learning2LeadersLast week saw the wrap up of the Learning 2 Conference in Singapore. Last time around in Beijing I was luckily enough to spend lots of the conference presenting with UWCSEA colleagues on Coaching and Mentoring. This time around I was part of the conference organsing committee; immersed in a world of spreadsheets, VLookUp functions, signs and catering.  I managed to get to one Extended Session lead by John Darcy focusing on transformation and change in education.  (a Google Doc of notes is available here) John is currently the Director of Student Learning at Istanbul International Community School, and in the past had led learning and technology initiatives at Canadian International School of HK.  My takeaways from the session were around the risk that the majority of technology initiatives inevitably lead to little or no improvement in student learning.

76% of technology initiatives fail to improve learning (John Hattie)

The quote above ought to be an point of reflection for most school leaders and institutions that have spent a lot of money on technology in the last 3-4 years. I think some schools with developed 1:1 laptop programmes would struggle to articulate exactly where and how technology improves learning.  A litmus test for me, when visiting a school is to ask what difference laptops make in their teaching and specifically in their subject. When some schools do explain, the teacher practice could likely be tokenistic and adhoc in nature. Even when they get close to this point of articulation, another initiative will come along that will drain the organisations energy.  John’s point was that for a change initiative to be successful, it requires a change in culture and this means looking at a longer timeframe or 5 + 5 years.

I agree technology delivers lots of efficiency gains for teachers, such as disseminating information quickly through a Learning Platform or through using an electronic grade book. It is also easy to say that students have access to greater information and collaborative tools, but I think schools need to be showcasing where the benefits of technology lie at a subject level and grade level, and even more importantly the approaches that have a detrimental impact on learning.

To this end, I have been trying to embed the use of technology in our school, through the goal setting process and have been working the concept on department technology toolkits. I want our staff to confidently identify three to four key areas, where using technology clearly benefits learning in their subject area and to then ensure that all staff are comfortable using the technique or pedagogy in their classes over the next couple of years. Schools can have many beacons of excellence, but for an initiative to improve learning, the majority of teachers need to be fluent and confident users of what we consider best practice. Our toolkits are still a work in progress, but John’s session highlighted the importance of getting more subject leaders on board with the concept and for me to continue to facilitate the process.

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The development of these toolkits is also highlighted some important ideas about change. Some teachers love to experiment and try new teaching approaches, but the majority of teachers would like a path or guide of steps to follow. I think we had got to this juncture after two years of our iLearn initiative, where some of the great experimentation had to be consolidated and documented as UWCSEA best practice. if there are true benefits of using technology in a particular subject area then we expect that all of the teachers will be using a similar approach or recommended tool.

Our toolkits clearly define a path for teachers to move forward, but at the same time the toolkits will hopefully evolve via the input of Tech Mentors or Digital Literacy Coaches. Furthermore these tool kits are becoming more focused on our school learning principles and the guiding principles like formative assessment, differentiation, flexible progression. When technology further enhances what we already acknowledge as best practice in education, then I have no doubt a learning will be improved and your school won’t be one of the 76%.

The other thing I keep going back to is that technology can improve learning in lots of different ways, but perhaps the impact that it has on skills and dispositions that are not explicit in our written curriculum is the most important. Some of the things that happen in schools in the hidden curriculum will have the most impact on students life long learning. I think my school could do so much more to develop creative spaces for making, tinkering and experimenting to happen that are not strictly linked to our written curriculum…. watch this space 🙂

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