What can teachers learn from content strategists?

I see my role as an education content strategist as primarily about communicating the complex processes of teaching and learning on the web. I believe that the benefits of digital technologies, that can maximise students learning, should not be taken as transparent. Terry Mayes and Sara de Freitas says in Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age (2007) that: 

Technology can play an important role in the achievement of learning outcomes but it is not necessary to explain this enhancement with a special account of learning. Rather, the challenge is to describe how the technology allows underlying processes common to all learning to function effectively.

Mayes & de Freitas emphasise “that in the powerful new learning opportunities that are being facilitated in an entirely new way through the Internet, we are beginning to witness a new model of education, rather than a new model of learning”.  The distinction they draw between education and learning continues to be examined by many researchers,including John Hattie and Greg Yates who make the point in Visible Learning and the Science Of How We Learn (2014) how the use of ICT resources do no “automatically facilitate either (a) deep and meaningful mental processing, or (b) alterations in the child’s information processing.”  Rather than heralding ‘easier’ ways of delivering curricula to students, Hattie and Yates raise the prospect that ICT resources “may require additional skills, such as the proficiency to evaluate the quality of surface information that dominates the web.” Even as a motivational device, ICT should not distract us from the strong effort required to learn.

What became apparent, through a careful reading of the extensive research literature, was the realisation that such positive effects are achieved through applications of the same principles of learning that apply in all other areas of human learning. This point has been also make repeated by Professor Richard Mayer, one of the leading exponents of multimedia and ICT instruction.

A picture is worth a thousand words. An interface is worth a thousand pictures.

41jQ0rWRLjL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_If, as Kristina Halvorson states, content strategy is connecting real content to real people, my question is how might we best connect real educational content to real students, teachers, school leaders and education managers on the web. 

Well… I begin with another piece of Halvorson’s advice and that is to START SMALL.

To illustrate this approach I’m currently investigating the use of photographs on various education websites.  I begin here with an analysis of my own teaching practices.

Photographing teaching & learning in the classroom

Using photographs is now common practice. But what exactly are the photos adding to the teaching and learning experience, now that we have digital tools at our disposal?

Try answering this question by looking at some classroom photos you’ve taken, as I did, when I recently looked at photographs taken as part of an after-school semester-long  ‘extension’ project that I devised in 2006 for a community arts centre: the project was entitled THE ODD & STRANGE ADVENTURE. The programme’s learning objective was to develop ‘thinking about thinking’ (metacognition) in very young children (Year 2 and under).

The adjectives of ‘ODD & STRANGE’ served to construct a metacognitive approach, fuelled by allusions of nonsensical adventures by characters in stories such as Lewis Carroll’s Adventures In Wonderland. My teaching strategies involved creating learning experiences through a combination of drama, stop motion animation, choreographed movement and pen-and-paper sketching in order to build up the children’s vocabulary, enabling them to tell the story of an ‘odd and strange’ adventure they imagined for themselves.

Looking again…and again

While we often acknowledge how the arts foster well-being, emotional resilience and personal expression, it is less common to highlight, as Elliot Eisner does in The Arts And The Creation Of Mind, how the arts make a specific contribution to the development of thinking skills in the context of each different art form. Eisner argues that to be able “to think about teaching as an artful undertaking, to conceive of learning as having aesthetic features, to regard the design of an educational environment as an artistic task – these ways of thinking about some of the commonplaces of education could have profound consequences for redesigning the practice of teaching and reconceiving the context in which teaching occurs.


Through working in both curriculum development and in the arts, I know how ‘designing’ teaching and learning experiences require creativity and rigorous, analytical exploration of factual evidence. With regards to the former, the skills I used as an actor and dramaturg are remarkably similar to the processes I apply in arranging learning experiences and writing curriculum documents and textbooks. These are, in turn, remarkably similar to ‘user-centred design’ favoured by content strategists in business and professional services.

However, in 2006, the photographs I used as feedback to parents and the wider community were simply for the purpose of publicising the arts centre’s on-going work with local schools. The most that they were expected to communicate about teaching and learning was that it was lively and full of fun.  A decade later, I revisit their use as an integral part of assisting the teacher to give students feedback about ‘learning how to learn’. What is more, I now believe, the same photographs might also serve the purpose of inspiring parents in assisting classroom teacher’s expand a child’s vocabular