What is offered to us to work with online in education?
The content on school websites and in other parts of the school’s administration moves between being current, archived and retrieved for further use continually. There is nothing surprising in this in itself: it is why we invented newspapers, libraries and many other institutions to help us manage the creation and storage of knowledge and information.
The harder thing to plan for and execute is getting all of it working towards furthering the achievements and relationships we want to see happening in our school communities. The main reason for this is usually attributed to the repeated complaint ‘I don’t have the time’. Consider the following map of the information which appears on most school websites. Think about the relationships, actions, reporting and evaluation the individual items entail for school leaders and teachers: the plea for more time can be easily understood.
The Sublime Contradiction Of Teaching In An Information Age.
The ‘big picture’ which frames our busy lives as educators is full of sublime tensions. A particular one which, I believe, has become almost invisible to us comes from the relationship shared between the old and new technologies of print and digital media. Yet, we daily juggle the efficacy of what to do best for our students from one resource to another, applying various levels of consciousness to questions such as ‘when is it best to use ‘pen and paper’ or an iPad?’ Speaking from experience, I believe most teachers and school leaders have accepted that this is their lot, and gallantly address issues of best practice as they arise.
Who can blame us? Looking for ‘the answer’ in a knowledge-rich world invariably gives us more questions. Here are three points of view, for example, on using paper vs digital media in the classroom:
Ben Johnson in Paper and Pencil Curriculum: How Much Do You Rely on It?” in Edutopia argues that our continued dependency on paper and pencil learning in classrooms is impacting on the teacher’s ability to use 21st century pedagogies.
A more neutral position is given by Benjamin Herold of Education Week when he states that while the K-12 educational technology market has annual sales of more than $USD3 billion (mostly made up by the giant publishers such as Pearson), print resources still accounts for about 70 percent of K-12 instructional materials sales in the United States.
And then there is the information arising from studies by cognitive scientists which is, bit by bit, revealing ‘brain-friendly methods’ of learning, for instance, such as in Science Direct on how kids learn to read more quickly when they are taught to write by hand, rather than on a computer.
Of course, these three snippets of information can be replaced by literally thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of equally important evidence. So, what are we doing in education to manage the masses of information which Google search engines present to us in milliseconds? Most importantly, how are we managing to meaningfully inform ourselves on how the quantity of information can benefit the quality of life for us and our students.
Follow trusted sources that change and grow
One of the most memorable experiences that I recall from my undergraduate days in the late 1980s was a ‘tour through time’ given by Dr Neil O’Sullivan, in the Classics & Ancient History Department at UWA. The particular lecture was on Aesychlus’ trilogy of The Oresteia, which won first prize in the Athenian Dionysia festival of 458 BC: created originally on papyrus, Dr O’Sullivan presented the documents passage through time, to arrive in our hands as the text for our course of study. The lecturer’s excursion through time was accompanied by a parallel story of evolving technologies: beginning with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet in Athens, moving then to the copying of classical texts in monasteries during the middle ages, then onto the treatment of Aeschylus’ text by the printing press. Nearly thirty years later, the story would need to consider the availability of the text online: as well as in other media forms such as audiobook. I now access the text online
- Project Gutenberg (the archive with 51,000+ free ebooks)
- Various university & museum archives such as
This is not about Ancient History but what’s happening here and now…
The categories I’ve noted in the information wheel above may appear at first unrelated to plays by the Ancient Greeks. However, if we look at what researchers, teachers and students are dealing with in the field of the Digital Humanities project globally, we might be inspired to see how education content on the web is being creatively viewed and treated.
In a recent symposium, via Google Hangouts, Digital Humanities: Everything you wanted to know but haven’t yet asked, Thomas Koentges, Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Leipzig discusses two crucial points:
1. How dealing with content online builds a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching and learning.
For instance, Dr Koentges shows the following diversity of connections happening in humanities:
2. How connectivity highlights the intersections between subjects in the way each subject shapes its own particular use of technologies.
Thus, he makes the point that it’s not just that digital technologies are affecting us but that we can affect the evolving power of teaching and learning online.
What this means is that, if you thought your work in education interesting in the past, it has suddenly became even more so!
Why? Because, current use of technologies cast a long-shadow back to how we have evolved systems of communication alongside systems of education. As Tom Standage illustrates in Writing On The Wall: Social Media – the first 2000 years, education can focus us on the power and efficacy of how digital technologies and social media build on the fact that the human brain is wired for sharing.
The Answer Is In Relationships & Conversations
John Hattie suggests in his 2015 monograph, The Politics Of Collaborative Expertise, that the first task for all schools wanting to implement ‘what works best in education’ is to change the narrative from ‘fix the teacher’ to one which sees that
the onus needs to be on everyone working collectively to improve student achievement: the teachers, the school leaders, the other adults in the schools (such as teaching aides), the parents (and voters), the policy-makers and the students.
The conceptual shift Hattie advises us to commit to curriculum-wise goes on to list eight tasks which teachers and schools can undertake to secure the best education for every student. Though Hattie doesn’t refer to the content of teaching programmes specifically, the benefits of developing teaching expertise within a collaborative environment, I believe, give us some vital clues on how teachers and school leaders might deal with the mountains of information available, for instance, on the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership website and its curation of resources on the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers webpage.
If once we ‘covered’ and ‘got through’ information, could the impossibility of keeping up with the volumes of texts, images, videos, podcasts and more, on any subject on the web, ironically, ‘frees’ us to focus more on
- how specific knowledge assists us to build inspirational learning environments for our students, and
- how to use content knowledge to build agreement with colleagues on how students are achieving in particular learning outcomes.
Have you got a moment to share what you think?