Good point – Bad point

Sunday Mail Letter to the Editor - 17 April 2011

Sunday Mail Letter to the Editor - 17 April 2011

This letter to the editor appeared in last week’s Sunday Mail (17 April 2011) and was chosen as the ‘Good Point’ article for the week. The author – a secondary school teacher – argued against the use of digital technology in classrooms. This blog details my response.

Points of agreement:

“before we all rush out for the latest technological gadgets for our darlings, consider what is actually learned”

Good planning is essential when purchasing the ‘latest technological gadgets’, including building a vision for learning, a long-term strategic plan for ICT, consideration for your students and school community, understanding total cost of ownership, establishing professional development plans to build staff capabilities etc. and the list goes on.

Points of disagreement:

“It’s great these children will be able to multi-task and work with technology, but what’s the point if they don’t know the content to begin with?”

It is clear by this sentence that the author sees ICT as an extra and as a ‘bolt-on’. I am concerned that she doesn’t see ICT as a means to explore, learn and demonstrate knowledge of new content, but as something you ‘do’ after you have developed a thorough understanding… assuming through traditional modes of teaching and learning.

“A teacher myself, I had a group of high school students six years back do a research project with the goal of presenting their findings on a poster board and I had fabulous, informative results. Three years later, I had a same-age group of students perform the same task, only on PowerPoint. It would not be exaggerating to say the actual information learned was about 75 per cent less.”

Firstly, making direct comparisions between two cohorts of students three years apart isn’t good practice, or necessarily productive or useful. The P-12 Curriculum Framework [PDF, new window] explicitly states that you start with your students in planning and differentiate from there. Why were two cohorts of students three years apart still doing the same task?

Secondly, I’m concerned by the fact that this teacher is judging ‘learning’ by how well students can present someone else’s information. Where is the rigour? Where is the higher-order thinking? Where are students gathering their own first-hand data and making comparisions, judgements and arguing (as opposed to ‘presenting’) their findings? Was this actually an authentic task or just something students were doing for the teacher so she could assess and then report on their ‘learning’?

Thirdly, I’d question how this teacher is using PowerPoint. True, it is not a great tool for presenting information (and maybe this was the problem) – but, if used effectively, it can be a great tool to support a persuasive oral presentation. Were students just doing an information-dump? Copying and pasting? If this was my task, I probably wouldn’t learn much either. But this comes down to poor pedagogical choice rather than ineffective technology.

Fourthly and again, the fact that this teacher took the same ‘poster board’ task and ‘integrated’ ICT suggests she needs support in the transformative potential of digital technology with effective digital pedagogy and doing new things in new ways.

More deeply, I would like more information about the subject and content area, as it may very well be that the ‘informative results’ students were demonstrating 6 years ago are no longer relevant today. I would like to have a conversation with this teacher about connectivism and the value of content knowledge today compared to ‘process’ knowledge. Was the information students were presenting something that they could just jump on a computer and search for and find in 5 minutes any time they needed to? True, twenty years ago, content knowledge was important as students has access to less information which was accessible quickly and efficiently. Now, however, while content knowledge is important, so are the skills to be able to find and leverage the information.

Lastly, the fact that this teacher experienced these seeming poor results three years ago suggests she hasn’t engaged in new ways of working with digital technologies with any of her students since. For me, her students are at a disadvantage when it comes to the development of contemporary skill sets necessary to today’s workforce, particularly when you compare to other secondary schools in Queensland who have been operating rich, 1-to-1 programs for years.

“Students spend more time fluffing around with fonts, graphics and colours than actually researching and providing the content”

What the author here describes as ‘fluffing around with fonts, graphics and colours’ others would describe as the development of visual, media and digital fluencies.

PowerPoint is meant to be used to develop digital artefacts for an audience. Were students actually presenting their information to anyone, or just the teacher? Did the teacher actually provide explicit teaching in the use of fonts, graphics and colours to students to help them clarify their message and persuade their audience in alignment with the Student ICT Expectations? Or is this ‘someone else’s job’?

The use of the word ‘providing’ here also is concerning and further suggests students weren’t asked to critically evaluate, synthesise and engage higher-order thinking with the content. This again suggests the cross-hairs are targeting the teacher’s poor pedagogy as opposed to ineffective technology as the reason for low student achievement.

“It these children are squeezing seven hours of entertainment media into five hours every day then I don’t think we have to find a way to squeeze even more technology into every lesson; most are obviously getting enough at home”

Yes… except for the fact that most don’t have access to explicit teaching at home to learn how to use digital technology effectively, meaningfully, safely, legally and ethically. This is the role of all teachers and is part of your professional obligations, not something to opt-in or opt-out of. This is clearly stated in the draft National Professional Standards for Teachers [PDF, new window].

This is of course beside the fact that if this teacher is looking to ‘squeeze’ technology into her lessons then she’s got the wrong idea to begin with. As this teacher has demonstrated, and as my colleague Adrian Greig says, bad teaching with ICT is still bad teaching – it’s just a lot more expensive. If teachers think they can dust their hands and give themselves a pat on the back because they ‘used’ technology in a lesson then they really need to do some deep reflection. As the author rightly pointed out in the beginning of her piece, we need to consider what is actually learned when we engage in new ways of working.

Points of agreement:

“before we all rush out for the latest technological

gadgets for our darlings, consider what is actually

learned”

Good planning is essential when purchasing the ‘latest technological gadgets’, including building a vision for learning, a long-term strategic plan for ICT, consideration for your students and school community, understanding total cost of ownership, establishing professional development plans to build staff capabilities etc. and the list goes on.

Points of disagreement:

“It’s great these children will be able to multi-task and

work with technology, but what’s the point if they don’t

know the content to begin with?”

It is clear by this sentence that the author sees ICT as

an extra and as a ‘bolt-on’. I am concerned that she

doesn’t see ICT as a means to explore, learn and

demonstrate knowledge of new content, but as something

you ‘do’ after you have developed a thorough

understanding… assuming through traditional modes of

teaching and learning.

“A teacher myself, I had a group of high school students

six years back do a research project with the goal of

presenting their findings on a poster board and I had

fabulous, informative results. Three years later, I had a

same-age group of students perform the same task, only on

PowerPoint. It would not be exaggerating to say the

actual information learned was about 75 per cent less.”

Firstly, making direct comparisions between two cohorts

of students three years apart isn’t good practice, or

necessarily productive or useful. The P-12 Curriculum

Framework explicitly states that you start with your

students in planning and differentiate from there. Why

were two cohorts of students three years apart still

doing the same task?

Secondly, I’m concerned by the fact that this teacher is

judging ‘learning’ by how well students can present

someone else’s information. Where is the rigour? Where is

the higher-order thinking? Where are students gathering

their own first-hand data and making comparisions,

judgements and arguing (as opposed to ‘presenting’) their

findings? Was this actually an authentic task or just

something students were doing for the teacher so she

could assess and then report on their ‘learning’?

Thirdly, I’d question how this teacher is using

PowerPoint. True, it is not a great tool for presenting

information (and maybe this was the problem) – but, if used effectively, it can be a great

tool to support a persuasive oral presentation. Were

students just doing an information-dump? Copying and

pasting? If this was my task, I probably wouldn’t learn

much either. But this comes down to poor pedagogical

choice rather than poor technology.

Fourthly and again, the fact that this teacher took the

same ‘poster board’ task and ‘integrated’ ICT suggests

she needs support in the transformative potential of

digital technology with effective digital pedagogy and

doing new things in new ways.

More deeply, I would like more information about the

subject and content area, as it may very well be that the

‘informative results’ students were demonstrating 6 years

ago are no longer relevant today. I would like to have a

conversation with this teacher about connectivist theory

and the value of content knowledge today over process

knowledge. Was the information students were presenting

something that they could just jump on a computer and

search for and find in 5 minutes any time they needed to?

True, twenty years ago, content knowledge was important

as students has access to less information which was accessible quickly and efficiently. Now, however, while content

knowledge is important, so are the skills to be able to find

and leverage the information.

Lastly, the fact that this teacher experienced these

seeming poor results three years ago suggests she hasn’t

engaged in new ways of working with digital technologies

with any of her students since. For me, her students are

at a disadvantage when it comes to the development of

contemporary skill sets, particularly when you compare to

other secondary schools in Queensland who have been

operating rich, 1-to-1 programs for years.

“Students spend more time fluffing around with fonts,

graphics and colours than actually researching and

providing the content”

What the writer here describes as ‘fluffing around with

fonts, graphics and colours’ others would describe as the

development of visual, media and digital fluencies.

PowerPoint is meant to be used to develop digital

artefacts for an audience. Were students actually

presenting their information to anyone, or just the

teacher? Did the teacher actually provide explicit

teaching in the use of fonts, graphics and colours to

students to help them clarify their message and persuade

their audience in alignment with the Student ICT

Expectations? Or is this ‘someone else’s job’?

The use of the word ‘providing’ here also is concerning

and further suggests students weren’t asked to critically

evaluate, synthesise and engage higher-order thinking

with the content. This again suggests the cross-hairs are

targeting the teacher’s poor pedagogy as opposed to poor

technology as the reason for low student achievement.

“It these children are squeezing seven hours of

entertainment media into five hours every day then I

don’t think we have to find a way to squeeze even more

technology into every lesson; most are obviously getting

enough at home”

Yes… except for the fact that most don’t have access to

explicit teaching at home to learn how to use digital

technology effectively, meaningfully, safely, legally and

ethically. This is the role of all teachers and is part

of your professional obligations, not something to opt-in

or opt-out of. This is clearly stated in the Professional Standards for Teachers.

This is of course beside the fact that if this teacher is

looking to ‘squeeze’ technology into her lessons then

she’s got the wrong idea to begin with. As this teacher

has demonstrated, and as my colleague Adrian Greig says,

bad teaching with ICT is still bad teaching – it’s just

a lot more expensive. If teachers think they can dust

their hands and give themselves a pat on the back because

they ‘used’ technology in a lesson then they really need

to do some deep reflection. As the author rightly pointed out in the beginning of her piece, we need to consider what is actually learned when we engage in new ways of working.

Part 4: Preconditions for digital school transformation

Urgency

Centring innovation on formal tasks and procedures and moving directly to training ignores much about the process of how people actually change and alter their beliefs (Evans, 1996). While professional development is important to support staff to develop the skills and practices necessary for the new paradigm, the conviction of a transformational school leader, even a powerful one, can inspire resistance if it simply dismisses the inevitable dilemmas of implementation including the work to establish fertile ground for new skills to be embedded in practice. Being heavily committed makes one less likely to establish the lengthy procedures vital to implementation, less amenable to modifications and less tolerant of the unavoidable delays and setbacks that ensue as others struggle to adopt the change (Evans, 1996). It is not that innovators should not have deep convictions but rather that they must be open to the realities of others, to the necessary modifications their ideas will undergo as others encounter them and to the delays this will surely cause. With this in mind, creating urgency defines an approach which compels people to change with an understanding of what is required to successfully implement a digital transformation and, through maintaining urgency, positively affect school culture.

A true sense of urgency overcomes complacency and energises and motivates a school community to work towards enabling a future vision (Kotter, 2008). Part of delivering a compelling case for change is ‘unfreezing’ (McWhinney & Markos, 2003) traditional thinking and preparing for change, where, as Mitchell and Sackney (cited in Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010) write, individuals, unless sufficiently disturbed, do not expend energy working on or working towards alternatives to old ways. However, creating urgency cannot be blind-cited as Kotter (2008) also describes a ‘false’ urgency which is driven by anxiety, anger, frustration and sometimes tiredness and creates lots of activity without much productivity. A leader who demonstrates false urgency can also create destructive conflict, such as pounding the table so that a sensible and calm meeting is impossible. Urgency is about understanding the delicateness of a change process and on prioritisation rather than frenetic activity. As discussed in previous sections, in order to facilitate the depth and breadth necessary for transformation, the school community needs to understand why traditional ways are out-dated and be intrinsically and ‘emotionally’ (Evans, 1996) motivated to commit to and work towards a digitally-rich ways of working. As a school leader establishes their driving coalition and compels a school community to engage in a vision development process, urgency is required to create meaning and frame discussions. However, as implementations of new digital initiatives don’t always go to plan, a leader needs to establish a strong foundation by managing conflict and removing obstacles in order to maintain a current of urgency.

Conflict and resistance is part of any change process (Kotter, 2008). In establishing a foundation for digital school transformation, an effective leader quells fears by articulating the scope of what needs changing along with what will remain constant (Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010). As Bridges (1995) describes in a theory of transition management, for this (often uncomfortable) transition to be successful, teachers need to feel ‘psychological safety’ (Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010) and be supported to manage the change and become familiar with new ways of working. Resourcing with time off curriculum for teachers to engage in dialogue and develop capabilities should be supported with clear, positive communication with the school community (Fullan, 2009) in order to maximise chances for a successful transition. Kotter and Cohen (2002) identify that urgency can be maintained by celebrating short-term ‘wins’ – victories which nourish faith in the change effort, reward hard workers and keep the critics at bay. However, a lack of urgency can eventuate when ‘successful’ schools understand that the status quo is already serving them well.

References are commonly made to high literacy and numeracy scores by change opponents in traditional schools – ‘why would we change a winning formula?’. This thinking can easily derail a change process and make it difficult to create urgency. One response is to understand that measures of the components of digitally-rich practice aren’t often embedded in standardised tests for literacy and numeracy competence. Another response, in reference to Handy’s (cited in Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010) sigmoid curve, is to articulate how most organisations only recognise the need for change when they are already in decline. The challenge is to stimulate and facilitate change ‘at the top of the curve’ when the organisation is thriving and the need for change is less apparent. This is a challenging prospect, with links to earlier discussion regarding management versus leadership – the desire to maintain an efficient, productive organisation while also acting as a disruptive innovator. Removing obstacles and managing opposition like this is fundamental to creating urgency in order to facilitate a transformation. Yet, while the urgency to generate a compelling case for change is important, maintaining enough urgency over a long period of time is necessary in order to penetrate culture, as will now be discussed.

One of the central lessons learned about previous rounds of innovation is that they failed because they didn’t get at fundamental, underlying, systemic features of school life and they didn’t change behaviours, norms and beliefs of practitioners (Evans, 1996). Instead, dull and incompetent teachers just taught new things dully and incompetently. Of course, this is easier said than done. Evans (1996) writes of the three basic elements of culture: artefacts, values and basic assumptions. The former is the most tangible level of culture – the physical and social environment, including the physical spaces, language, style of dress, climate, norms of behaviour, ‘stories’, customs and ceremonies. At a deeper level are a school’s basic assumptions, which are invisible and nearly invincible. It is a common psychology – fundamental similarities in thinking, feeling, perceiving and valuing – that gives meaning to the attitudes, action and artefacts of a school’s culture. Culture, though, is conservative and looks to preserve the status quo (Evans, 1996). Evans suggests more chance of affecting culture and adopting wide-spread digitally-rich practice in new or young schools, because as schools succeed and grow, they typically become more conservative, hierarchical and structured – where is becomes extremely rare for those schools to reinvent themselves over a long period of time. This cultural conservatism supports the status quo and discourages both dissent and innovation. Culture change can occur, but it is a vastly more difficult, lengthy undertaking than most people imagine (Evans, 1996). Kotter and Cohen (2002) write that a good way to test if new practices are embedded in culture is if staff, without really thinking, find ways to nudge the community back towards the school vision when things start going astray. Of course, cultural change in a school is not a precondition for transformation. A culture only truly changes when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed over a period of time – trying to shift the norms and values of a school before you have created the new way of operating will not prove successful (Kotter and Cohen, 2002). Instead, this section aimed to position urgency as a precondition for change in the context of leadership and the establishment of a school vision and as a driver to positively affect school culture and embed new ways of working over time.

Conclusion

Up until now, most of the energies of digital school transformation proponents have been invested in providing teacher professional development and establishing an environment and infrastructure to enable digital ways of working. However, this approach over-simplifies the transformation process in schools and ignores the fundamental realities and psychologies of change. This report discussed three fundamental preconditions necessary for a school to broadly and deeply embed digitally-rich teaching and learning. Leadership, vision and urgency are interdependent – removing one renders the other two ineffective. While there are many other significant aspects to consider to successfully enable this paradigm shift, these preconditions provide the three legs of the stool and a basis to work from. Leaders and change drivers in schools need to strategically invest in ensuring this platform exists as a prerequisite to other work in the area. As mentioned, each school has particular contextual considerations which need to be carefully accounted for. However, this report contributes discussion and a foundation for work in this area for schools to use in to reflect upon and to plan for work towards enabling opportunities for digitally-rich teaching and learning.

Reference list

Bainbridge, S. (2007). Creating a Vision for Your School: Moving from Purpose to Practice. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.
Barnett, A. (2003). The impact of transformational leadership style of the school principal on school learning environments and selected teacher outcomes: a preliminary report. Paper presented at NZARE AARE, Auckland, New Zealand. Manuscript available from the author.
Bridges, W. (1995). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Crossley, D. and Corbyn, G. (2009). Learn to transform : developing a twenty-first-century approach to sustainable school transformation. London : Continuum International Pub. Retrieved September 5, 2010 from Electronic Book Library database.
Degenhardt, L. and Duignan, P. (2010). Dancing on a shifting carpet: Reinventing traditional schooling for the 21st century. Acer Press: Melbourne.
Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change: reform, resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. Teachers College Press: New York.
Fullan, M. (2006). Change theory: A force for school improvement. Centre for Strategic Education – Seminar Series Paper No.157. Retrieved August 2, 2010 from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/Articles_06/06_change_theory.pdf
Fullan, M. (2009). The Challenge of Change: Start school improvement now. Corwin: London.
Fullan, M., Cuttress, C. & A. Kilcher (2009). 8 forces for leaders of change. Journal of Staff Development, 26(4), 8–13.
Griffith, J. (2004). Relation of principal transformational leadership to school staff job satisfaction, staff turnover, and school performance. Journal of Educational Administration, 42 (3), 333-356.
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity. New York: Teachers College Press.
Harris, A. (2005). Crossing boundaries and breaking barriers distributing leadership in schools. Specialist Schools Trust. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.sst-inet.net
Kelley, C. & Shaw, J. (2009). Learning First! A School Leader’s Guide to Closing Achievement Gaps. Thousand Oaks. CA: Corwin Press.
Kose, B. (2008). Developing a School Vision: Lessons from Nominated Transformative Principals. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.aera.net/uploadedFiles/SIGs/Leadership_for_Social_Justice_(165)/Annual_Meeting/Developing%20vision%20finalKOSE.doc
Kotter, J. & Cohen, D. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Kotter, J. (2008). A sense of urgency. Harvard Business Press: Boston.
Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2002) The Leadership Challenge. Third Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2000). The effects of different sources of leadership on student engagement in school. In K. Riley & K. Louis (Eds.), Leadership for change and school reform (pp. 50–66). London: Routledge.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2006). Transformational School Leadership for Large-Scale Reform: Effects on students, teachers, and their classroom practices. School Effectiveness and School Improvement. 17 (2). 201-227.
Marris, P. (1974). Loss and Change. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
McKenzie, J. (2004). A Road Map for Change. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://fno.org/feb04/details.html
McWhinney, W., & Markos, L. (2003). Transformative education: Across the threshold. Journal of Transformative Education. 1(1). 16-37.
Patton, W. (2009). Constructing a career in the 21st century. EDN610 Course Materials. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
Prensky, M. (2005). Adopt and Adapt: School Technology in the 21st century. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-Adopt_and_Adapt-Edutopia-01.doc
Reeves, D. (2009) Leading Change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment and get results. ASCD: Virginia.
Seashore, K.R (2009) Leadership and change in schools: personal reflections over the last 30 years. Journal of Educational Change. 10(2-3). 129-140.
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
Silins, H., & Mulford, W. (2002). Leadership and school results. In K. Leithwood & P. Hallinger (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational leadership and administration (pp. 561–612). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
Somekh, B. (2008). Factors Affecting Teachers’ Pedagogical Adoption of ICT, to be published in J.Voogt and G.Knezek (Eds.) International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education. New York: Springer.
Wallace, M (2003) Managing the unmanageable? Coping with complex educational change,. Educational Management and Administration 31 (1): 9-29.
Weston, M.E. & Bain, A. (2009). Engaging with change: a model for adopting and evaluating school-based innovation. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(2), 156-175. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Part 3: Preconditions for digital school transformation

Vision

It is now widely accepted that a clear vision and sense of purpose is vital to whole school digital transformation where leaders inspire commitment to change by engaging the school community in the pursuit of shared goals (Evans, 1996). Ideally, a vision should be embedded in all school decision-making and should drive budgets and purchasing, staff recruitment, professional development and curriculum and assessment frameworks. It should inform decisions and focus strategic efforts, and should guide principals as they include or exclude priorities, initiatives, opportunities or even potential staff. As previously discussed, it should clearly define ‘what’ is required and articulate what digitally-rich teaching and learning looks like in the school’s local context. However, the development of a shared school vision which functions as a propellant and rudder for change is suitably complex. It is also arguable that the dialogue and discussions which take place during the development process are as important as the vision itself. As Degenhardt and Duignan (2010) write, a challenge in transforming traditional school practices is to develop and maintain focus on a shared vision that inspires all community members and articulates a high performing, yet achievable, new paradigm.

Establishing a shared vision requires a balanced top-down and bottom-up approach in schools. Through a series of empirical case studies, Kose (2008) identified a number of key factors necessary for an effective school vision. All stakeholders need to be included in defining a vision, including traditionally marginalised voices, to ensure a genuine sense of ownership exists in the community. Led and encouraged by the principal, large and small-group sessions should be facilitated with staff, students and community members where skills, competencies and characteristics of future ‘graduating’ students are identified and sorted into themes. As Kose found in his study, the development of a vision should occur over several months, as principals will need time to gather and satisfactorily integrate multiple ideas and viewpoints from the community. As a vision should project between three and five years forward, describing a realistic yet challenging future state is necessary. As previously mentioned, this process should be viewed as an opportunity to engage the whole school community in future-focused dialogue. Fullan et. al. (2009) describe this as engaging a ‘moral purpose’ in people, where a focus on improving society through transforming schools takes focus. To this end, the sessions to harvest ideas need to be delicately facilitated in order to ensure a safe, supportive environment allowing as many community members as possible to voice their thoughts. With many school leaders struggling to get ‘buy-in’ to new initiatives, an inclusive approach to vision development allows for shared ownership and increased commitment to action. This consultative and shared process also needs to be sustained throughout the development of a vision (Bainbridge, 2007). Even with the best intentions, a principal can undo all their work by compiling the community’s ideas and proceeding to write the vision independently ‘behind closed doors’. A shared approach which always includes representatives from staff and parent bodies increases the likelihood of distributed ownership. As is now discussed, there are particular attributes of an effective vision and an effective vision development process which need to be explored, including the need for a transformational leader to guide the process and ensure the community develops the necessary knowledge and understanding of potential new paradigms of schooling.

The development phase of a vision should also provide an opportunity for a school to engage with latest research and advice in contemporary, digitally-rich teaching and learning. For example, a vision where ICT is ‘integrated’ into the curriculum would not reflect current thinking regarding the transformative possibilities of digital technology. While a vision should also be data-driven and based on student needs, backgrounds and contexts, it should also take systemic priorities and vision into account. As schools, and government schools in particular, do not operate in isolation, consideration for and alignment to a school department’s vision and priorities means a higher likelihood of success through parallels in resourcing, opportunities and support. Of course, each school’s vision is unique and should reflect the challenges, strengths, opportunities and values of the school community (Shaw & Kelley, 2009). From his research, Kose posits that the shared vision should be specific with clear priorities, as a ‘manageable number of crisp big ideas or concepts’ allow for more focused attention than vision statements which held ambiguous, conflated or an overwhelming number of ideas. While a vision should be aspirational and engender a sense of pride it should also be realistic and fit the three to five year outlook (Bainbridge, 2007). A school vision needs to be supported by standards and the articulation of teaching strategies which help teachers to enact the vision (McKenzie, 2004). Shaw and Kelley (2009) write that the identification of a well-articulated, common instructional framework which unpacks a vision and provides a reference point for teachers to align their practice to is a fundamental part of a successful school. Wiggins and McTigue (2007) go one step further, positing that without an instructional framework derived from the mission and grounded in valid learning principles “school change becomes chaotic”. Ideally, an instructional framework provides a reference point for teachers in planning and assessment and should also provide a platform for teachers to align practice, reflect and develop capabilities, establishing a context and frame for participation in professional development. Establishing a common language for pedagogy and learning provides an opportunity for more ‘learning talk’ than busy ‘teacher’ talk.

In summary, this section has centred on the establishment of a clear shared school vision as a precondition for digital school transformation. An instructional framework which guides and drives the alignment of teacher pedagogy to the vision and enables a common language for learning improves the likelihood of change. The final section of this report brings both leadership and vision together to focus on the urgency to propel change and positively affect culture as a precondition for transformation.

Part 2: Preconditions for digital school transformation

Leadership

Research into digitally-driven school transformation commonly identifies effective leadership as fundamental to success (Fullan, 2009). Unpacking ‘effective’ to define the style of leadership necessary to facilitate change, however, is more challenging. Distributed leadership is commonly regarded as an important component of effective schools. While some studies, particularly Leithwood and Jantzi (2000) and Silins and Mulford (2002), have shown distributed leadership to have positive influences on teacher effectiveness, student engagement and student learning outcomes, the advantage of adopting a shared leadership approach in order to facilitate a school transformation is less clear. Emerging evidence also shows that distributed leadership has a greater impact upon school development where certain structural and cultural barriers are removed (Harris 2005). Degenhardt and Duignan (2010) support this premise and posit that many leadership theories are inadequate for a transforming school, where transactional, hierarchical approaches don’t encourage community ownership while shared leadership models pay insufficient notice to the need for strategic and situational leadership and the ultimate accountability of the school principal. Further, Crossley and Corbyn (2009) describe the tension between leadership and management, where the most effective leaders are disruptive and the best managers create efficiencies, yet we require our school principals to be both. If effect, it would be unlikely for a principal who manages an efficient school for them to want to facilitate a transformation to something else. Conversely, other studies promote transformational leadership as a successful method for promoting change (Griffith, 2003; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006).

Defined by Kouzes and Posner (2002), a transformational leader inspires a shared, compelling vision for the future, enables others to act, models new practices and supports individuals and groups to achieve a future state. Transformational leadership creates unity and collective purpose, inspiring followers to higher levels of motivation. Yet, a hybrid approach which matches the needs of a school community is likely to best facilitate a sustainable change from traditional to digitally-enhanced teaching and learning. This is supported by an empirical New South Wales study of 49 secondary schools, where a balanced and contextualised transformational-transactional approach was found to more positively affect teacher motivation to adopt new practices than either exclusively (Barnett, 2003). The reference and links here to establishing a school vision are important. A transformational leader relies on the development and establishment of a whole school vision which defines and, in effect, drives change. Similarly, leadership and vision are useless without the urgency which enables others to understand the compelling case and enables others to act. With this in mind, a principal would be well served to reference practice against descriptions of a transformational leader in order to refine and develop necessary capabilities. As per the definition, a transformational leader also models the way by actively adopting and thriving in the new or desired practice. However, it is important to note a distributed leadership approach promotes the development of workforce capabilities necessary to propel and sustain a whole-school digital transformation.

In his change model, Kotter (1996) says leaders need to establish a ‘powerful coalition’ in order to effectively facilitate organisational transformation. While Kotter recognises that change is impossible without getting the leader of an organisation on board, he goes further than this, suggesting that a powerful group of senior people – in terms of formal position, expertise, reputations and relationships – is necessary in order to challenge the status quo and sustain a transformation. Along similar lines, Seashore (2009) talks of ‘organisational learning’, where a critical mass of staff develop new knowledge and ways of working before interacting, sharing and embedding new practice to affect norms, behaviours and, eventually, culture. While not directly aligned with distributed leadership, it is acknowledged that a shared-ownership approach is required for staff to commit to change and establish a powerful leadership bloc of change drivers as a precondition for sustainable school transformation. Crossley and Corbyn (2009) cite the difficulties in sustaining transformation when high leader-turnover exists and promote a distributed leadership approach as a means of succession planning and encouraging continuity. Of course, the power of a coalition and shared-leadership models will only eventuate if there is a common agreement on ‘what’ change is required, as will be discussed with regard to a shared vision. As per Kotter’s change theory as will now be discussed, the principal and leadership coalition also need to strategically promote change, remove obstacles and manage dilemmas.

It is essential that school leaders manage the micropolitics of change and remain receptive to criticism and critique during the transformation process. Transparency better ensures problems are identified and addressed and that dissent does not go ‘out into the carpark’ forming resistance and causing further problems (Degenhardt and Duignan, 2010). Change also affects power relationships on staff as it invariably produces winners and losers, where competition and jockeying for power mean that coercion, negotiation and compromise and vital ingredients in a transforming school (Evans, 1996). A school leader needs to be prepared to manage the inevitable resistance – both overt or covert – and to be transparent about the change process. Indeed, being explicit about the process for transformation, and discussing change theories and approaches supports members of the school community, including the leadership, to manage change through reflection and self-identification (Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010; Fullan et.al, 2009). Reeves (2009) also suggests leaders can promote change by identifying what members of the community can stop doing before asking them to take on new challenges and can quell fear and anxiety by making a public list about what aspects of school don’t need to change. As Reeves describes it, ‘pulling the weeds before planting the flowers’ will help combat the change fatigue experienced by many teachers and may promote a more positive approach from the community.

Summarising this section, a precondition for digital school transformation is a balanced approach to school leadership, where transformational leader creates urgency which inspires others to work towards a vision and where distributed leadership builds capacity and fosters shared ownership across a coalition to manage the change process. The next section moves on to analyse the establishment of a school vision as a precondition for transformation. Exploration of school visions is important in the context of leadership, where, as Evans (1996) writes, “followship first requires a strong initiative by a leader to articulate a clear sense of purpose – or to lead their staff in the development of one.”

Part 1: Preconditions for digital school transformation

Abstract

While over the past decade many Australian schools have come to understand the transformative potential of digitally-rich teaching and learning, traditional models of schooling continue to dominate. Even with significant investment in the area, both in terms of digital infrastructure and resources and teacher professional development, innovation has generally only occurred in individual classrooms or ‘pockets’ in schools. This report discusses three interdependent conditions which need to exist as a foundation in order to facilitate the opportunity for transformation from traditional to digitally-rich ways of working in primary, middle and secondary schools or colleges. Distributed and transformational leadership approaches are critiqued with core elements identified which facilitate change. The establishment of a vision is identified and discussed as a fundamental driver and rudder for school transformation. The importance of creating and maintaining urgency to compel a school community to adopt and embed change is unpacked. This report concludes with a synthesis of the three preconditions and recommendations for proponents of digital school transformation.

Introduction

Schools need to change because the world has changed. Globalisation, technological advances and new ways institutions and organisations operate have forever altered the role of schools (Patton, 2009; Hargreaves, 2003). Systemic shifts need to be made to ensure that schools remain relevant and engaging with teaching and learning aligned to digitally-rich practice (Somekh, 2008). Just as students need to be working towards new skillsets and digital fluencies, teachers need to develop capabilities to facilitate a learner-centred pedagogy and skills to do new things in new ways. The change required for many schools is described by Evans (1996) as a second-order change, where modifications are made to the fundamental ways schools work, affecting assumptions, goals, roles and norms. Many Australian schools have increased their investment in digital technologies, particularly with initiatives like the Commonwealth Government’s $2.3 billon National Secondary Schools Computer Fund. Similarly, huge investments have been made by schools and governments to offer teacher professional development opportunities in order to stimulate change and up-skill teachers to deliver digitally-rich teaching. Yet, even with significant work in the area, many schools are struggling to facilitate a digital transformation which is broad, deep and sustainable (Reeves, 2009). Identifying and understanding the preconditions necessary to facilitate change will realise the investments which have been and will continue to be made in this area. Before exploring the challenges of digital-uptake in schools, it is important to clearly identify the transformation required to enable digitally-rich teaching and learning.

Digitally-rich teaching and learning

Our understanding of the effective use of digital technology has matured over the years. While simply ‘using’ digital tools and devices was once seen as effective practice, we now understand that information and communication technology (ICT) needs to facilitate a transformation of learning and pedagogy and provide a platform to do new things in new ways (Prensky, 2005). Even ‘integrating’ ICT suggests a ‘bolt-on’ of digital technology to existing, out-dated practices – new things in old ways. Digitally-rich teaching and learning is built on the understanding that traditional, ‘factory-inspired’ models of education do not facilitate the pedagogies or learning modalities required to support today’s learners to be active, global citizens. While aspects will be contextualised for each school, digitally-rich teaching and learning typically

• enables personalised, constructivist, student-centred learning where learners and teachers collaboratively co-construct knowledge (Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010);
• promotes a connectivist way of learning, where students leverage knowledge networks and critically evaluate the credibility, authenticity and relevance of information (Siemens, 2004);
• fosters digital citizenship, where students work towards authentic, rich, real-life and higher-order thinking tasks and assessments, connecting, communicating and collaborating with others locally, nationally and globally to engage a moral purpose;
• supports student development of digital fluencies including team work, communication, collaboration, self-direction, innovation and effective use of ICT;
• leverages online learning spaces to transcend the traditional ‘walls’ of a classroom to offer 24/7 learning, enabling better feedback, reporting and parent involvement in their child’s schooling; and,
• focuses on creative tasks, where students work to high levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

For many schools, transitioning to a digitally-rich learning environment reflects a paradigm shift where fundamental change needs to occur. While isolated individuals or ‘pockets’ of teachers may be demonstrating elements of digitally-rich practice, existing values, behaviours and norms need to be challenged in order to bring about whole-school and sustainable transformation. In effect, digitally-rich teaching and learning requires a change in school culture and, in most schools, a powerful challenge of the status quo. As will now be explored, there are many detailed layers of complexity which have contributed to a situation where schools have been slow to challenge existing practices and adopt this new paradigm.

Complexities of change

While digital school transformation could be compared to other business-orientated change management processes, schools have particular qualities which make change more challenging in some instances including

• strong school cultures where traditional models of schooling are commonly accepted and perpetuated across sites and jurisdictions;
• a ‘silo’ effect where a culture and model of schooling allows teachers to work largely in isolation and remain unaffected – either by chance or by design – by change efforts;
• time-poor leaders, where social and community complexities which distract principals and leaders of change by the ‘unexpected or the trivial’ (Bennis, 1989, cited in Evans, 1996);
• an aging teacher population, which Evans (1996) claims is less likely to embrace change than younger generations;
• community understandings, ideals and expectations reflecting traditional approaches to learning;
• poor school resourcing for adequate ICT infrastructure and support to facilitate and propel change;
• change fatigue, where successive waves of school reform have failed to realise the improvements they promised resulting in cynicism toward new initiatives (Evans, 1996); and,
• a lack of incentive for schools, principals and teachers to prioritise and invest in digitally-rich school transformation and, at times, low government priority and value.

Further to these complexities, while learning and education are changing, change itself is also changing (Degenhardt & Duignan, 2010). As Evans (1996) writes, change is no longer predictable and incremental, were traditional organisational change now often fails because of an over-emphasised rationality and, in schools, an under-estimation of the opposition change generates and the power of teachers to resist. Just as our understandings of student and professional learning have evolved, so have our appreciation of the paradigms of change.

We now understand ourselves as pattern-seeking animals (Gould, 1991) and the profound conservative impulse which governs our psychology, making us naturally resistant to change (Evans, 1996). Marris (1974) articulates how life depends on continuity and that change usually results in loss and bereavement. With a digital transformation requiring shifts in teacher practice, this change threatens teachers’ sense of competence, frustrating their wish to feel effective and valued (Evans, 1996). Teachers require significant support to cope with the stress faced in transitioning from olds ways of working. Of course, these issues are only issues once teachers are compelled to commit to change and alter their practices. Significant professional learning is required by teachers to develop a rich understanding of and justification for digitally-rich teaching and learning. Yet, it is one thing to understand the reasons for new ways of working and another to be compelled to act to enable it. These psychological challenges, combined with the suite of other change barriers contribute to the complexities which are inherent in digital school transformation. The following sections describe the preconditions schools need to establish in order to more effectively approach digital school transformation.

Conditions for transformation

As discussed, it is widely recognised that building staff capabilities is necessary in order to understand, adopt and embed new digitally-enhanced pedagogy. Schools also need to establish the ICT infrastructure in order to provide necessary access to digital devices and resources. However, there are particular preconditions which – when established as a foundation – allow these investments to maximise the opportunity for sustainable transformation. These preconditions are defined under the headings of Leadership, Vision and Urgency.

Figure 1 : Preconditions for digital school transformation

Figure 1 : Preconditions for digital school transformation

The subsequent parts of this article (to be posted) describe and discuss these elements and processes in detail. Of course, the transformation process will be different in different contexts – from a small, rural school to a P-12 inner-city campus to a school with a toxic staff culture to a new school in a growing community to an old school in a low socio-economic area. So while every school is different, the following posts will establish particular ‘generic’ preconditions applicable across common school contexts. While discussion will been broken into three sections, each precondition is dependent on and, therefore, analysed in the context of the other two.

The subsequent sections of this article describe and discuss these elements and processes in detail. Of course, the transformation process will be different in different contexts – from a small, rural school to a P-12 inner-city campus to a school with a toxic staff culture to a new school in a growing community to an old school in a low socio-economic area. So while every school is different, the following discussion establishes particular ‘generic’ preconditions applicable across common school contexts. While discussion has been broken into three sections, each precondition is dependent on and, therefore, analysed in the context of the other two.

Connected learning fatigue

It’s been a while since I blogged. Quite a while actually. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to… in fact I’ve had some wonderful ideas and experiences over the last six months which I wanted to reflect on and share with my personal learning network. But for whatever reason I haven’t… sure, time is always an issue – or rather, my prioritisation of tasks and perceived value of blogging compared to a long list of other tasks that exist somewhere in that space between my work life and personal life…

A contributing factor I’m putting this down to is what I’m calling a ‘connected learning fatigue’.

Between all that blogging and Twittering and reading and researching and favouriting and reviewing and searching and aggregating and commenting and creating, is there a point where a connected learning fatigue sets in? Like a peak? Like a spider that has crafted a web so complex and connected that it doesn’t have the capacity or energy to catch the fly?

The thing is too is that it’s not just me – over the last year I’ve witnessed a number of my respected #eqelearn colleagues in the field also experiencing a ‘lull’ in online networked activity, particularly on Twitter and sharing through their professional blogs. Have we hit some kind of virtual brickwall? Is blogging, like, soooo 2009?

My other theory is to do with attention span. This is firstly evidenced by my lack of blog posts (requiring a sustained commitment of cognitive and linguistic effort). My other evidence for this are my hundreds of unread ‘favourited’ Tweets which, despite all good intentions, I haven’t come back to and fully given them the attention they deserve.

Or perhaps some of us have reconsidered the value of creating and maintaining a personal learning network for effectively developing personal capabilities and, at the end of the day, enhancing student learning. Do personal learning networks for teachers, in the end, demand too much time and energy for the output and measurable effect compared to other strategies for professional development or, for that matter, improving student outcomes?

Anyway, here’s to a start of a concerted effort to at least blog more frequently as I have always found it a personally and professionally worthwhile experience!!

Action eLearning as a model for effective teacher professional development

Rationale

While a significant proportion of teachers are coming to understand the benefits of using and integrating digital technology into their practice, few are taking the opportunity to consider the transformative effects ICT has had on society and to reconsider the skills and abilities we teach our students and, more so, the fundamental role of contemporary education. Globalisation, a redefined concept of knowledge, technological advances and the new ways insititutions and organisations operate have forever altered the role of teachers in 21st century schooling (Patton, 2009). Digital leaders need to be providing opportunities for teachers to reimagine teaching and learning in contemporary society and to develop their capabilities accordingly, not to simply ‘bolt on’ digital technology to existing, traditional practice. However, a paradox exists where the common and popular models of professional development designed to support teachers to embrace contemporary pedagogy have proven to be ineffective (Abadiano and Tuner, 2004; Fullan, 2001; Fullan 2006; Tafel, 2008).

At present, as Hill (2009) describes, most teachers receive uninspired and often poor-quality professional development. Such professional development programs have been described by Abadiano and Turner (2004) as

“too linear or top-down in approach… ‘sit and get’ sessions, in which relatively passive participants were made aware of the latest ideas regarding teaching and learning from ‘experts’… organized around brief workshops that were insufficient in duration or depth to bring about sustained, substantive change in practice”.

Further, Tafel (2008) states that so much of the professional development we offer our teachers to develop their capabilities in new, digital pedagogy is generic, where teachers are herded into small rooms to learn on demand, removed from classroom context. While there can be no single solution or professional development program which meets all teachers’ needs (Lloyd, 2004), the Action eLearning Program is designed to provide digital leaders in schools an evidence-based model and process for developing contemporary teaching capabilities while providing flexibility for alternative pathways and personalised, targeted, ongoing professional learning (Slavit et.al, 2003).

Action eLearning Model

Action eLearning as effective PD model

Action eLearning as effective PD model


The Action eLearning Model is built upon a number of key models and professional development philosophies, particularly action learning. Defined by a process of ‘planning-action-reflection-planning’ (Aubusson et. al., 2007), action learning expects teachers to actively engage in collaborative teams with colleagues to create opportunities to improve practice. Teachers’ development of digital pedagogy is less of a journey with a predetermined starting and finishing point than it is a cyclical process (Lloyd and Cochrane, 2006), which is reflected in action learning. However, as is articulated in the diagram, this ‘looping’ model of professional learning should also build on ‘previous loops’, with teacher development linked to prior learning and experiences. This on-going professional development is another key feature of the Action eLearning Model, where learning is sustained and occurs over time enabling personally transformative experiences (Henderson, 2007). ‘What’ teachers transform to should also be research-driven and based on contemporary understanding of best-practice. With this fundamental understanding established, teachers engage in six steps within each loop of professional learning, as will now be explored.

1. Plan professional learning

In her research, Klingner (2004) found that successful professional development programs are those which include teachers as collaborators in the process. Teachers need to take responsibility and need to negotiate their professional learning with school leaders. As a principal, cited by Gradet (2006), says “you just can’t impose professional development on people… they have to want to do it and they have to realise that it’s what they need to do in order to become more successful”. However, it’s not just how teachers plan professional development but what they plan which is important.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training (2005) suggests that teachers need to design professional development which is focused on student outcomes, not just individual teacher needs. This includes using multiple sources of student data and make teacher professional learning student-centred. Lloyd and Cochrane (2006) also suggest teachers need to refer to contemporary learning theory in their design decisions and negotiation of their individual professional development. Schools should adopt (or create) an instructional / teaching and learning model which teachers use as a basis for effective practice. In a Queensland context with consideration for digital pedagogy, an effective model would be the Smart Classrooms Professional Development Framework using the indicators from the Digital Pedagogy Licence (Queensland Department of Education and Training, 2010).

Finally, teachers and school leaders should ensure the scope of the professional development in each ‘loop’ does not affect changes which are too broad or overwhelming, as teachers may not welcome change that threatens stability or consistency in their classroom (Gersten et al., 1997, cited in Klingner, 2004) or may not complete the cycle if the barriers are too problematic.

2. Activate learning community

A community of practice (Wenger, 1998) is consistently recognised in literature as the most effective model of teacher professional development. Henderson (2007) argues that in developing teachers’ abilities to adopt contemporary ways of working, more than mechanistic, technology-focused knowledge or skills are needed and a community of practice approach can be useful in addressing these complex needs. Put simply, a community of practice is where teachers feel empowered to seek and provide help to their peers (Klingner, 2004) and where patterns of teacher isolation and privacy are eroded, essentially moving from individualism to collaboration and from conservatism to innovation (Abadiano and Turner, 2004). Another important aspect in communities of practice and action learning / research models is an emphasis on inquiry, where educators work in cohesive teams and take collective responsibility for solving the complex problems of teaching and learning and improving student outcomes (Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2006). Supporting the face-to-face interactions of the learning community needs to be an online community for asynchronous sharing, collaboration and reflection (Salpeter & Bray, 2003). By extension, teachers should also expand their online connections to create their own personal learning networks, enabled through blogs, wikis, instant messaging, social networking tools and discussion lists, to link into global communities of practice (Warlick, 2009). However, while support may be strong, many schools have failed in creating and sustaining communities of practice.

Transitioning to a community of practice is a delicate and complex process which requires a culture shift in the ways teachers work (Aubusson, 2007). Indeed, many researchers have found schools – and high schools in particular – to be amazingly resilient to change. From this point of view, support from school leaders is essential, particularly in building open lines of communication and trust essential for a learning community to operate (Klingner, 2004). However, teachers need to be supported to understand the reciprocal nature of the community and experience the value of the interactions and team efforts (Henderson, 2007). While a community of practice to explore contemporary teaching and learner cannot be ‘designed’ by digital leaders, a leader can develop key drivers for the community and can provision an environment, including physical learning spaces, in which a community of practice is likely to occur (Wenger, 1998). It is also anticipated that developing the community would be an on-going process, and as the program ‘loops’ and teachers engage in Action eLearning, the community of practice would strengthen.

3. Engage in knowledge and skill development

In typical, traditional professional development, teachers engage in workshops or explicit teaching sessions, usually run by an external provider, to develop their capabilities. However, as part of the Action eLearning Program, schools are encouraged to have professional development led by staff from within the school. This method has been shown to have increased teacher commitment to and ownership of professional development (Gradet, 2006). With professional learning primarily school-based and built into the day-to-day work of teaching, external courses, workshops or conferences should complement school-based professional development and provide a platform for teachers to bring knowledge back to the community to share (Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2005). As Henderson (2007) writes, contemporary professional development must tackle more than mere technical ICT skills, and must, as defined by Mishra and Koehler (2006), also build teacher capabilities in pedagogical and content knowledge. In this stage, teachers need to see concrete examples of how a new theory, principle or instructional practice relates to their students and their circumstances (Klinger, 2004). The knowledge and skill development teachers engage in should align to their plan for professional renewal and should lend itself to discussion and team work as part of a community of practice.

4. Action and embed new practice

After engaging in new learning or experiences, teachers require support to action and embed them in practice (Klingner, 2004), as per the action learning model. In her research, Klingner (2004) found time constraints to be a key factor impeding teachers’ application and sustainability of new practices. During this critical stage, teachers need support to effectively plan their units and lessons – including both curriculum and instruction / pedagogy – which reflect contemporary teaching and learning and the time to engage at a deep level with the strategies to embed these practices. The strategies will depend on each team of teachers and should include:

– peer mentoring, enabling reciprocal learning in a safe, non-judgemental environment with peer partners (Dalton and Anderson, 2009);
– instructional coaching, where new practices are modelled by an ‘expert’ who then supports a teacher to adopt the new practice (Knight, 2008; Robbins, 2009);
– lesson studies, with extended best-practice observations of lessons (live or by vignettes) by groups of educators who then meet to analyse the approaches and outcomes observed (Salpeter & Bray, 2003); or,
– discussion of student work, where teams analyse a variety of student work samples and reflect on the implication of what is learned for teaching (Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2006) .

5. Reflect with learning community

After undertaking new learning and actioning in practice, Klinger (2004) writes that it is important for educators to understand the student benefits as a strong influence on sustaining the innovative practice. Teachers engaging in reflection is commonly attributed in literature with embedding and sustaining improved pedagogy (Lloyd and Cochrane, 2006; Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2006). In alignment with ideas of a learning community, these reflections need to be shared and discussed with peers and even more broadly through a personal learning network.

6. Evidence new learning and align to theory

After engaging in a ‘loop’ of professional learning, teachers need to evidence their learning and enhanced practice through a professional ePortfolio aligned to the school’s teaching and learning model. A teaching portfolio is an organized collection of evidence, including work samples, observations and lesson plans, about an educator’s best work that is selective, reflective, and collaborative and describes the teacher’s abilities and effectiveness (Xu, 2004). This ePortfolio is shared with colleagues within the learning community for commenting and discussion. Professional teacher portfolios have been found to empower teachers to take charge of their professional learning and performance and encourage self-assessment and reflection (Attinello et. al, 2006; Xu, 2003; Xu, 2004). Ideally, the artefacts in the ePortfolio need to align to a teacher’s professional development plan and the school’s model for effective instruction. In a Queenland content, this is essentially how the Digital Pedagogy Licence (Queensland Department of Education and Training, 2010) looks to improve teacher effectiveness. Finally, school leaders should use teachers’ ePortfolios to evaluate the effectiveness of the professional development program.

Concluding comments

Many existing professional development programs fail to holistically consider how teachers enhance their practice to align with contemporary understanding of teaching and learning in a digital society. While there is no shortage of opportunities for teachers to participate in workshops, conferences and seminars which look to develop teachers’ knowledge and skill development (defined as step 3 in this cycle), educational and professional development leaders need to reconsider how they are supporting teachers to apply this knowledge and transform their practice through consideration of the other research-based elements in this model.

References

Abadiano, H. R. & Turner, J. (2004) Professional Staff Development: What Works? New England Reading Association Journal, 40(2), 87-91. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 761500841).
Attinello, J. R., Lare, D. & Waters, F. (2006) ‘The Value of Teacher Portfolios for Evaluation and Professional Growth’, National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin, 90(2), 132-152. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID: 1128492761).
Aubusson, P., Steele, F., Dinham, S and Brady, L. (2007) ‘Action learning in teacher learning community formation: informative or transformative?’, Teacher Development, 11: 2, 133 — 148
Dalton, J. and Anderson, D. (2009) Professional Learning Online Tool. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from http://www.plotpd.com/
Gradet, H. (2006) ‘Maximising Professional Development’, Principal Leadership, 6(10), 16-20. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID: 1096622891).
Henderson, M. (2007) ‘Sustaining online teacher professional development through community design’, Campus – Wide Information Systems, 24(3), 162-173. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1342408011).
Hill, H. (2009) ‘Fixing Teacher Professional Development’, Phi Delta Kappan, 90(7), 470-476. Retrieved May 27, 2010, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID: 1668412971).
Horizon Research (2002) The 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education: Compendium of Tables. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Horizon Research.
Klingner, J.K. (2004) ‘The Science of Professional Development’ Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(3), 248-55. Retrieved May 23, 2010, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID: 638884261).
Knight, J. (2008) Instructional Coaching. Retrieved May 13, 2010, from http://www.instructionalcoach.org/tools/Chapter2.pdf
Patton, W. (2009) Constructing a career in the 21st century, EDN610 Course Materials. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
Mishra, P. & Koehler, M.J. (2006) Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.tpck.org/
Queensland Department of Education and Training (2010) Smart Classrooms Professional Development Framework. Retrieved May 22, 2010, from http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdframework/
Robbins, P. (2008) How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program. Retrieved May 22, 2009, from http://www.mdecgateway.org/olms/data/resource/5022/How%20to%20Plan%20and%20Implement%20a%20Peer%20Coaching%20Program.doc
Salpeter, J. & Bray, B. (2003) ‘Professional development: 21st century models’, Technology & Learning, 24(1), 34. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from ProQuest Computing. (Document ID: 397131771).
Slavit, D, Sawyer, R. & Curley, J (2003) ‘Filling your PLATE: A professional development model for teaching with technology’, TechTrends, 47(4), 35-38. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 411093651).
Victorian Department of Education and Training (2005) Professional Learning in Effective Schools: The Seven Principles of Highly Effective Professional Learning. Retrieved May 16, 2010 from http://www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/teacher/ProfLearningInEffectiveSchools.pdf
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Xu, J. (2003) ‘Promoting school-centered professional development through teaching portfolios: A case study’, Journal of Teacher Education, 54(4), 347.
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Digital pedagogy in an online environment

I was challenged recently to do some ‘blue-sky’ thinking around what effective online learning environments look like. What would students be doing in that space? What would teachers be doing? How would learning occur? How would the virtual community facilitate this?

Interestingly, the conversation immediately turned to the tools which were needed. Do we need blogs? What sort of discussion forum do you want? Do you want polls? Do you want one wiki or the ability to create multiple wikis? There was also considerable discussion around security and who had the ability to access the community and around the sorts of tasks they were able to do.

There was obviously a step missing here (and probably a few steps). In our big-picture thinking we had immediately locked ourselves into present-day online tools and their functionality without considering two of the most important aspects – learning and pedagogy. Apparently, when considering online learning spaces, this is a common occurance.

In his article Learning or Management Systems (2006) George Siemens writes that so often Learning Management Systems are built with management in mind… not learning. Siemens writes how enterprise systems – particularly BlackBoard – are popular not because of their ability to facilitate quality learning but because of their ease of management and ability to integrate into existing systems.

“The enterprise-wide, controlled, centralized learning model serves a particular type of learning (often entry-level or foundational). As learners move beyond content consumption and into stages of critical thinking, collaboration, and content creation, LMS weaknesses become apparent. For this reason, the definition of a [school’s] learning philosophy is critical in guiding LMS activities.”

Siemens writes that in considering and implementing online learning environments, schools need a “definition of effective learning, pedagogical models, and larger visions for a changed society-contrast fostering critical thinking with developing learners for the workforce”.

Lisa Lane (2008) puts it another way in her article Toolbox or Trap? Course Management Systems and Pedagogy with

“If we were building something tangible out of wood or metal, for instance, it would be silly let the tools in our toolbox determine what we construct and how we construct it. I wouldn’t set out to build a Victorian dollhouse and switch to a modernist garden bench because I couldn’t find the scroll saw. And yet this type of shift often happens when faculty encounter a CMS.”

Essentially, many BlackBoard-type commercial online environments are also content-, teacher- and tool-driven. The default homepage when you create a new BlackBoard community is the Announcements page, suggesting a teacher-controlled dissemination of information. The default “Course Content” menu item strongly suggests the virtual space be used as a repository for instructor-generated content, with no personalised or differentiated experience for the learner. The Collaboration link also takes you to a set of individual and separate tools – Blogs, Discussion Board, Wiki, Elluminate etc. So, as an example, if you want to upload an artefact, discuss it with someone and then collaborate to improve it, you need to go into three separate tools, with no way of relating your activities in each.

BlackBoard Tools

BlackBoard Tools

Can you imagine doing that in a physical learning space? Let’s pretend you present a report you’ve been working on to a group of colleagues in a meeting. So you arrange a meeting in the Staff room and present the report, but in order to discuss it you say “Uh, sorry, as we’re now in Discussion mode we need to move down the hall way to another space, as that’s where discussion happens”. And then in order to work together on it to make improvements you again say “Hold it right there, we can’t collaborate in here, we need to move to get up and move to the next block as that’s the space where we collaborate”.

Seems a bit ridiculous doesn’t it? But isn’t this – presenting a learning artefact, discussing it and collaborating – a relatively simple task which we’d ask students to do all the time? Why isn’t there an online environment where this can happen as seamlessly as it would in a face-to-face environment? Perhaps this is where Google Wave is going?

My point is that our existing, most popular ideas of online learning spaces don’t match our expectations of digital pedagogy and contemporary learning. So, my question for you is, what would?

I would like to develop a simple table to expand on this clean-slate thinking, where what we expect in P-12 contemporary learning is matched with what this could look like in an online environment.

As an example, I’ve written what personalised learning could look like in an effective online space:

Contemporary Learning In an Online Environment
Personalised The online space is personalised to students needs and learning styles. Formative assessment surveys determine the content students have access to appropriate for their zone of proximal development. Students add their personal learning goals and can submit learning artefacts for assessment which meet these goals. Students have a My Learning Tasks section, with both teacher-deployed  and negotiated learning activities. Students feel ownership of their environment through customisations. Visual and Auditory learners are scaffolded in the environment, with the ability to instructors and students to record and store audio and video as easily as they can text. Feedback from peers, teachers and parents would feature prominently to support learning.
Collaborative
Learner-centred
?
?

What else do we expect from contemporary learning? What could this look like in an online community? How would the architecture change in moving from a teacher- and content-driven community to a participant-driven community?

Appreciate your ideas.

Improving our Digital Andragogy

I’ve been developing a real frustration lately, and it all came to a head when I read a recent blog by Chris Betcher.

Chris, author of the Virtual Classroom and well-known speaker on education and the use of digital technology, wrote that he had recently been invited to present at the Australian Computers in Education Conference (ACEC) 2010. Interestingly though, the conference organisers said that he was able to present on whatever he wanted. In fact, Chris said that a conference organiser commented that he could just do “a brain dump of whatever is on your mind”.

A what?

I was a bit stunned by this. Not that Chris was being asked to speak – as I know that he has good ideas and interesting perspectives – but that there wasn’t a more strategic focus for the ACEC conference. How does asking Chris to present ‘anything’ align with meeting their intended outcomes from the conference? How does it enable participants to develop capabilities to take back to their workplaces? Is this conference actually professional development (in the truest sense) or is it just ‘dumping ideas’?

In Chris’ blog, he did actually ask his readers what he should present on, so I do commend him for attempting to collect his own formative assessment of participant needs and target his session. However, I couldn’t help thinking shouldn’t the conference organisers have conducted their own formative assessment of registered participants to find out who their participants are, what they expect the conference to deliver to meet their individual learning goals and how they need to be assisted to develop their professional capabilities. If this data was collected, shouldn’t the conference organisers know exactly what Chris needs to present in order to cater to participants?

This wouldn’t be so bad it if was an isolated instance of conferences failing to align to and meet personal and systemic goals. However, I’m finding that it is a frequent occurrence in teacher professional development.

After looking at the program for an upcoming teacher ICT-focused conference in Queensland, I got the sense of a lack of rigour in the content, particularly in consideration of what we’re trying to achieve with transformational learning. So, I listed some essential elements which teachers need to be enabling for their students in order to meet the eLearning transformation agenda:

  • personalised learning
  • collaboration with others in local, national and global contexts
  • rich, problem-based, authentic learning focusing on high levels of Blooms
  • safe, secure 24/7 access to learning
  • developing 21st Century Skills and literacies
  • quality instruction including regular feedback

I then sifted through the conference program and tallied the number of sessions which explicitly looked to develop capabilities in these areas. Out of 34 sessions here are the results:

  • personalised learning – 0
  • collaboration with others in local, national and global contexts – 0
  • rich, problem-based, authentic learning focusing on high levels of Blooms – 1
  • safe, secure 24/7 access to learning – 2
  • developing 21st Century Skills and literacies – 1
  • quality instruction including regular feedback – 0

There were lots of sessions which looked to develop teachers’ digital skills and literacies. There were also lots of ‘oh, that’s nice’ workshops information sessions. But only about a tenth of sessions explicitly looked to develop teacher capacities to enact and lead transformational learning at their school.

Since when did teacher conferences become about something other than teaching?

Why aren’t we develop teacher capabilities in collecting formative assessment data to personalise student learning? Why aren’t we up-skilling educators to connect their students with peers and experts in a global context? Why aren’t we modelling for educators evidence-based instructional strategies including proven methods for providing feedback to students to enhance performance?

Why aren’t we focusing on what’s important? Is this really how adults learn, or are ineffective focus-lacking conferences just embedded in professional development culture now and what’s ‘expected’?

Why do we expect so much in our digital pedagogy and deliver so little in our digital andragogy?

What I’d like to know is if anyone has ever measured the impact of conferences on teacher professional practice and student learning outcomes? Or has ‘success’ just been measured on participant feedback?

Perhaps I’m considering the mode of the conference in the wrong way. I’m not under-estimating the networking and collegial value of conferences, nor the ability to spread new ideas, nor the potential for these down the track, with extra support and application, to lead to improved practice. However, they surely can’t be considered in the same realm of effective professional development as action learning, communities of practice, peer mentoring and instructional coaching. But how often do you see these forms of professional development enacted?

Coming to a point, I’d really like to see student learning front-ended in professional development as a first step. For example, we’re not ‘setting up a virtual classroom’, we’re enabling online learning spaces for 24/7 access to enhance learning productivity and increase parental involvement. We’re not ‘learning now to integrate Interactive Whiteboards’, we’re learning how to deepen knowledge and understanding and increase cognitive load. We’re not ‘learning about the iPod Touch’, we’re finding better ways to personalise learning and enrich instruction. Sure, you can use those digital technologies, but that’s not the end in itself.

If you’re going to do one of these information-session-style presentations at a conference, at least frame your sessions with what’s important so participants can make sense of them in relation to student learning.

Appreciate other opinions?

Pedagogy Science

In a recent lively group discussion around transformational learning, a colleague of mine – someone who I have the utmost professional respect for – made an interesting point which made me stop and think.

He was making a point that teachers and educational organisations need to ensure that the pedagogy which we employ and condone is grounded in evidence-based research. He cautioned against educational fads and ‘warm and fuzzy’ practices and invited us to consider what really works in terms of instructional strategies. “Pedagogy needs to become more scientific” he said.

I did some follow up reading that afternoon, keen to make more sense of what this actually meant. I revisited Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? by John Hattie (2003) – a great article which I hadn’t read in over a year. In his article, Hattie looks to ‘highlight that which truly makes a difference’ and identifies particular practices which – backed by extensive research – are most likely to enhance student learning. His first point, however, establishes the role of teachers as a key source (30%) of variance in student achievement – second only to the student themselves (50%). This means that, according to Hattie, the home, school, principal and peers make very little difference to student achievement.

Hattie then goes onto list the influences in order of effect on student achievement:

Influence Effect Size Source of influence
Feedback

1.13

Teacher
Students’ prior cognitive ability

1.04

Student
Instructional quality

1.00

Teacher
Direct instruction

.82

Teacher

Apart from students’ prior cognitive ability, the top influences on student achievement – feedback, instructional quality and direct instruction –  are all sourced from the teacher themselves. These came in much higher than computer-assisted instruction (.31), individualisation (.14) and team teaching (.06). I mention these three influences primarily because they were influences strongly encouraged in my previous school – personalising learning for students in a community-based, flexible learning environment with embedded digital technologies.

I’m not saying that these aren’t important elements – and neither is Hattie, as they are all positive influences on student achievement. I also note that this article was published in 2003, and that ‘computer-assisted instruction’ was probably quite different (along with the digital technologies) than what it is today.

What I am saying, though, is that perhaps we need to focus on our teaching practices and what teachers actually DO in a lesson – particularly around the elements of how we provide feedback to students, how we ensure quality of our instruction / productive pedagogies and that we embed components of explicit teaching in our day-to-day. Which brings me to the second article I read as part of this re-think…

In his discussion around educational effectiveness, Rowe (2007) states in his article The Imperative of Evidence-based Practices for the Teaching and Assessment of Numeracy that “a good deal of this student-centred ‘discourse’ and its impact on policy and practice is not supported by existing and emerging findings from evidence-based research”.

Rowe takes a swipe at student-centred, inquiry-based teaching practices when he states  “the widespread and mostly unquestioning adoption of constructivist orientations towards teaching in most areas of the curriculum in Western, English-speaking schools and higher education institutions is problematic, and especially in the teaching of mathematics.”

An important point that Rowe makes here is the constructivism is a theory of learning, not a theory of teaching. What I’ve taken this to mean here is that just because a student may learn through inquiry and may socially-construct knowledge through play and exploration, this doesn’t mean that I, as a teacher, setup an environment for this to occur and then dust my hands and consider my job done.

In describing the features of constructivism, Rowe states “the implicit assumptions underlying such rationale are that ‘intrinsically motivated’ learners, independent of explicit instruction provision, have acquired sufficient prior knowledge and skills (particularly basic literacy, numeracy and study skills) to engage effectively and productively for generating new learning in a given subject matter domain”.

I was also interested in his description of what direction instruction actually meant:

Direct instruction (DI) – sometimes referred to as explicit instruction – “is a systematic method for presenting learning material in small steps, pausing to check for student understanding, and eliciting active and successful participation from all students” (Rosenshine, 1986, p. 60). DI modes of instruction are well grounded in findings from evidence-based research in cognitive science, and give little attention to the ‘causes’ of under-achievement, learning difficulties, or to students’ underlying abilities (Casey, 1994; Coltheart, 2005). Thus, DI programs are designed according to what, not who, is to be taught. Individual differences among students are allowed for through different entry points, reinforcement, amounts of practice, and correction strategies (see: Engelmann, 1999; Hempenstall, 1996).

Summarising the rest of his article, Rowe doesn’t necessarily believe constructivism is ineffective in all situations with all students. What he does posit, however, is that students need to have a high level of explicitly-taught basic literacies  in order to learn effectively through social-constructivism.

While I’m not yet ready to throw out my ideals of rich, personalised, negotiated, authentic, collaborative learning just yet, I see value in – as my colleague stated – focusing on what the research actually says works. Of course, this does not mean we revert back to traditional practices and sit 25 kids down in 25 desks to all learn algebra from the blackboard. But we do need to focus more on our pedagogy – digital or otherwise – and how and why the quality of our instruction enhances student learning.

From my own organisation, the Productive Pedagogies and the Smart Classrooms Professional Development Framework support this.

My argument in this post, therefore, is that we need to offer more opportunities for teachers to engage with professional development which focuses on what quality teaching looks like.

My questions for you:

When did you last participate in professional development which looked at how you provide feedback to students?

When did you last participate in professional development which looked at how you explicitly teach concepts?

When did you last participate in professional development which looked at how you conduct formative assessment and measure understanding?

When did you last participate in professional development which looked at how you put in practice quality, evidence-based pedagogies?