This was written by Dr. Phil McRae, an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers` Association. Dr. Phil McRae’s Biography, Research, Writing, Scholarship and Presentations:www.philmcrae.com, and you can follow him on Twitter here. This post first appeared here.
by Phil McRae
The world’s education systems are in the midst of change (aka informed transformation) unlike any other time over the past century. It’s a historical moment where governments, teachers, parents and school communities are exploring visions of an education system that would embody innovation (technologies and pedagogy), increased flexibility (curricular and otherwise) and more individualized and self-directed approaches to student learning. Within this 21st-century tsunami of change, innovative teaching and learning practices that employ emerging technologies are sweeping into our collective imaginations with the broader goal to transform education. Too often, however, the space for dialogue about the truly innovative practices that learning and technology can enable is non-existent, superficial or uninformed, and thus more thoughtful considerations and questions remain unasked or answered. This blog post is meant to share some of the perspectives and provocations around innovation, emerging technologies and educational practice.
Innovative teaching and learning with technology is a dynamic, challenging and creative act. In assessing how digital technologies might be used appropriately to engender more innovative learning experiences, educators might consider using the well-conceived Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) model (Koehler and Mishra 2009). TPACK tries to reconcile the complexity and dynamics of student learning as it relates to technology and the multifaceted nature of teachers’ knowledge. Rather than conceptualizing content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technology knowledge (TK) as isolated entities, TPACK focuses on the interplay between these knowledge sources. TPACK asks educators to consider how the various knowledge sources apply to a particular learning situation. No single pedagogical approach applies to every teacher or every student. The teacher must traverse the elements of content, pedagogy and technology and understand how they interact in the context of learning. A more thorough explanation of TPACK can be found in the thoughtful work of Koehler and Mishra (2009).
Technology should not, however, be considered the principal driver of innovative educational transformation (as technological determinists would argue), nor just a neutral and innocuous tool (as technological instrumentalistsmake claim). The reality is far more complex and it serves the profession of teaching well to dig deeper into the dialogue around innovation and emerging technologies in education.
On the more mechanistic side of the conversation related to innovation resides the technological deterministic view that envisions technology as the primary determinant of human experiences. As Selwyn (2011) notes, technological determinism has influenced discussions about innovative educational change for many years. In their day, filmstrips, radio and televisions were characterized as having the power to radically transform public education and offer the most innovative solutions to educational challenges. In the early 1920s, for example, Thomas Edison predicted that the motion picture was “destined to revolutionize our educational system and … in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks” (Oppenheimer 1997). This prediction was followed 40 years later with psychologist B. F. Skinner’s assertion that the dawn of the machine age of education had finally arrived and that “with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom” (Oppenheimer). In our contemporary setting the buzz is around the iPad or the ‘holy grail’ of digital textbooks vaunted as pedagogic panacea. The proliferation of motion pictures has not fully withdrawn the desire for educational print, and the teaching machines (whatever you imagine those to be) have not yet displaced the will for teachers and students to gather together to learn in inquiry oriented classrooms. History offers perspective and provides us with at least two important insights: (1) there have always been, and always will be, strong and weak educational practices and (2) technologies in education, as Selwyn (2011) establishes, rarely live up to the utopian forecasts of their most enthusiastic advocates. Rarely is the imagined future of innovation accurate; more often than not the predictive space tilts heavily in either an overly optimistic or a deeply pessimistic direction.
More commonly, at the other end of the spectrum, lives the technological instrumentalists deception; technology is just a “tool”; an innocent object; value-free and in the service of whatever subjective goals we chose to ascribe the device. According to this view, technology is culturally neutral and innocuous (Kelly 2005; Levy 2001). Such a view ignores Marshall McLuhan’s (1964) caution that, just as we shape our technologies, so they subsequently shape our habits of mind and physical selves. As educators champion the visible promise of technology to engage students and enhance their learning experiences, we must also recognize that technology is not neutral, nor is it “just a tool”. The more invisible perils of pervasive media exposure and its psycho-social and physiological impacts are beginning to surface in the research on public health. With the developing minds and bodies of children and youth there is an increasing need to be cautious of the impact of online digital activities for offline health and mental wellbeing. When implementing technology, teachers, as pedagogical leaders, should take into account such factors as the age, gender and education level of students, the socioeconomic status of the community and the beliefs that a student’s parents and peers hold about the value of technology both in and outside a school setting (McRae 2011).
School leadership, an important part of the visioning for how technology lives within a learning context, is constantly being (re)shaped in an era full of contradictions and paradoxes around emerging technologies. A sea of questions are constantly ebbing and flowing for school leadership (broadly defined) around how to engage students with the innovative uses of digital technologies. Some of the most pragmatic questions emerge for school leaders around how to effectively and efficiently navigate the costs, complexity, access and supports required to place information and communication technologies into the numerous imaginative learning scenarios put forward by parent communities, superintendents, students and teachers. The most challenging systemic issues, however, reside in the larger context and include poverty and inequity, a lack of parental engagement (or conversely hyper-parenting), large class sizes and complex compositions that impede more personalized learning experiences, and student readiness to learn bound up in the numerous digital and popular culture distractions impacting society.
As we swim in a sea of emerging technologies and envision their power to transform our public education system we must not forget to ask ourselves what it is that we ultimately hope to achieve. Here are two questions related to innovation and emerging technologies as a force of educational transformation that I hope you may take up in professional conversations, at the Destination Innovation conference or perhaps even on this blog.
1) How might educators engage with digital technologies so that students can become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers?
2) What technological innovations will help to create a society where people can flourish within informed, democratic and diverse communities, as opposed to a culture of narcissists that are fragmented by a continuous partial attention?
Note: This blog post is drawn from a new chapter I recently published in book entitled Rethinking School Leadership: Creating A Great School for All Students available at www.lulu.com (http://tinyurl.com/85xvrdq).
Kelly, K. 2005. “We Are the web.” Wired Magazine (8)13. Available at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/tech.html(accessed March 20, 2012).
Koehler, M J, and P Mishra. 2009. “What Is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge?” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 9(1): 60–70.
Levy, P. 2001. Cyberculture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding Media. New York: Mentor.
Oppenheimer, T. 1997. “The Computer Delusion.” Atlantic Monthly 280, no 1 (July): 45–62.
Selwyn, N. 2011. Schools and Schooling in the Digital Age: A Critical Analysis.London and New York: Routledge.