Informal learning, Teacher training, Deliberate use of technology

Abstract:

Context

The Interviewee, “Mr. A.”, is a male teacher of caucasian descent in his mid 30’s. He has 9 years teaching experience solely within the Alberta public school system. His current teaching context is a mid-sized k-8 school where he teaches grade 6 homeroom and physical education. The school is well funded by an active parent booster group that views technology in the classroom very positively and has aided the school in numerous large technology purchases. The school district as a whole is very diverse and covers both rural and urban settings. School sites are spread across a significant geographic area and Mr. A’s school is located roughly an hour away from the division’s central office.

 

The interview took place in the teacher’s classroom during the lunch break. There are a few students in the room having lunch or doing work. A laptop cart is open against the wall and a number of ipads are visible on the students’ tables. There is a smartboard mounted to the front wall of the classroom.

 

Themes

Three central themes emerged from the interview. Firstly, Mr. A viewed technology as an integral part of not only a student’s school education, but that technological skills would be necessary in their adult lives. It was clear from his comment ”… technology is not going away and we need integrate it more into the lives of the students that are going to be using it” that Mr. A sees technology as not only a pedagogical tool but as a necessary end in its self. This was directly reflected in his statement that  “… they [Alberta Education] should build computer science in to the curriculum. I think programming is going to be the way of the future and I that programming is going to be a need for every single kid going forward.”.  He felt so strongly about this matter that he proposed that curriculum designers should ” Take out one of the health classes and put in computer science, programming, where you have a programming expert in every classroom, in every school, starting at about grade 5 or grade 6”.

 

While Mr. A clearly embracing technology as a welcome necessity, he made it clear that it was only one tool among many in his classroom. He identified specifically the grade 4 science unit on things that move as an area where he did not want them to be using computers. He “… wanted them to build things hands on. And even wheels and levers, [He] wanted the kids to build trebuchets to see how the lever works instead of watching it on a computer they actually build it with their hands and manipulate it.”. Mr. A noted that there is an intrinsic attraction between his students and technology. So much so that “…students would rather work on the computer almost all the time but they need to have a little more hands on experience with these things like how to use a calculator or in science how to build a bridge or something with their hands.” Mr. A found that he had to take measures to ensure students were exposed to a variety of learning tools and not just computer technologies.

 

Mr. A also acknowledged frequently the difficulty of getting teachers the training they need to successfully integrate technology into their math and science classrooms. He noted that “You can ask for an expert to come out and help you with these things but it’s really hard because of all schools across the school division and only a couple of experts to come and help you. You’ve got to book the pretty far in advance.”. He identified that most of the effective technology learning happening in his context was a result of informal learning from colleagues. This seemed to be both a convenience for teachers and a necessity born of limited training staff as supported by his comment “If a teacher knows how to do something, we would go to that teacher because lots of times with the district it’s hard for them to come out and teach you…”.

 

Interview Transcript:

 

Interviewer: Already Mr. Anonymous, what do you see as the benefits of using technology in the maths and sciences classrooms

 

 

Interviewee: Well, technology is not going away and we need integrate it more into the lives of the students that are going to be using it. The sciences, for sure, where I think we’re going to a little bit more of a coding and coding will be part of science going forward. The more interactions students have with that the better. It also allows them to experience more things that are happening around the world through videos and multimedia with that. For Math, I see it as a tool to help enhance student learning. If you get the right app, instead of worksheets, works with their hands and pencils. They can do it as more of an extension of learning.

 

Interviewer: Excellent. Can you explain some of the challenges of using technology in teaching and learning as it applies to your context, in your classroom.

 

Interviewee: Some of the challenges is that students would rather work on the computer almost all the time but they need to have a little more hands on experience with these things like how to use a calculator or in science how to build a bridge or something with their hands.

 

Interviewer: So, you are saying it is one of a diversity of tools?

 

Interviewee:  Yeah, you need to have a combination of both. You need to have… need to know how to use a computer for both math and science but they also need to be able to use their hands.

 

Interviewer: Alright, so what are some of the things influence how and what kinds of technologies you chose to use?

 

Interviewee: Availability is a big thing. What is available to us.

 

Interviewer: Ok, so what are some examples of things that are available to you?

 

Interviewee: So, for us, we’re doing flight. We would really like a wind tunnel. It would help out a lot with certain things but budget constraints and the fact that wind tunnels can be very expensive and hard to build. That’s a big constraint for us. I don’t won’t the kids to become technology dependent. So, that’s one of the big things I do in my classroom is to not have them use technology all the time.

 

Interviewer: So it’s a conscious choice to use or not use technology?

 

Interviewee: Yes, exactly

 

Interviewer: So, are there any specific situations where you definitely would not want to use technology? Can you think of a topic maybe?

 

Interviewee: Yes, Grade 4 building things that move. I did not want them to be using computers. I wanted them to build things hands on. And even wheels and levers, I wanted the kids to build trebuchets to see how the lever works instead of watching it on a computer they actually build it with their hands and manipulate it.

 

Interviewer: So, you had the option of possibly some simulations but you felt that that was a better way to go is to do it hands on?

 

Interviewee: Exactly, and then the trial and error basis was the way to do it from there.

 

Interviewer: Mhm, more possible things that can go wrong than what’s been programmed into the computer.

 

Interviewee: Exactly, yup

 

Interviewer: So, do you see any differences between how newer math and science teachers are using technology versus more established teachers?

 

Interviewee: Yes! More established teachers seemed a little bit more… apprehensive and sometimes even afraid of technology because they don’t understand it or use it as often.

 

Interviewer: okay.

 

Interviewee: So, the newer ones have grown up with using the computer or grown up with using a cell phone, so they know how to manipulate it, they know how to find it, they teach with it, whereas older teachers might not have grown up with it and its harder for them to catch on.

 

Interviewer: Ok. So, I can certainly understand how they would have grown up with it. How do you think they came to understand how to teach with these tools versus the older teachers?

 

Interviewee: Well….I don’t know. When I was going through university, you used the computer for everything. And once you get used to using that computer you want to use it and introduce it into your everyday life because you’re using it anyways. So, you find things on their that would motivate the kids that you think are cool and the kids think its cool too. So, you would use it more often.

 

Interviewer: So, there’s maybe a little less of a gender gap

 

Interviewee: Yup

 

Interviewer: Sorry, gender gap…generation gap

 

Interviewee: yeah

 

Interviewer: alright, so, can you describe some of the supports you get from your organization in using technology in the classroom. Be that your school or your district….

 

Interviewee: Uhh [long pause]….. the district [long pause] …. Is not as great at helping us out. Its more teacher helping teacher. If a teacher knows how to do something, we would go to that teacher because lots of times with the district it’s hard for them to come out and teach you when you can go to the teacher next door that knows how to do it just as well as the expert. There are some experts that will come and help you set up a web page or a moodle site or something like that but the stuff the you would use actually in the classrooms…more other teachers are the support.

 

Interviewer: So, you’re finding maybe a lot of the practical stuff is coming from peer mentors?

 

Interviewee: Yes.

 

Interviewer: So, is there any space that the district if maybe helping build in. Is there any time within your schedule to seek out these teacher mentors or anything like that?

 

Interviewee: Mostly on community of practice days. Those are self-directed professional days. You can ask for an expert to come out and help you with these things but it’s really hard because of all schools across the school division and only a couple of experts to come and help you. You’ve got to book the pretty far in advance.

 

Interviewer: So, there’s some space and time but there might be a lack of experts and training available?

 

Interviewee: yes

 

Interviewer: Alright. So, if there was something right now that was most needed to help get support for science and technology …or science and math technology in classrooms, umm, what do you think we need right now in terms of that?

 

Interviewee: I think they should build computer science in to the curriculum. I think programming is going to be the way of the future and I that programming is going to be a need for every single kid going forward.

 

Interviewer: So, when you say into the curriculum, do you mean a specific subject or just in general that it should be infused in everything…?

 

Interviewee: I think it should be almost like a new subject. Take out one of the health classes and put in computer science, programming, where you have a programming expert in every classroom, in every school, starting at about grade 5 or grade 6 when kids are getting pretty…pretty inept [sic. {adept?}]with computers….or not inept, but pretty good at computers and have them learning how to program from then on. And start it for about 3 years and then in grade 8 or grade 9 have it as an option if they want to keep going forward with it.

 

Interviewer:  So, have you ever had experience teaching in a school that had a computer class? I’ve heard that they used to happen some times?

 

Interviewee: When I was in high school, they had a computer class but now it seems to be…there’s not really a computer expert. Every teacher needs to be a computer expert but there’s just like a mechanics teacher, I think we should have a computer science teacher. Somebody to be able to teach these kids to program.

 

Interviewer: Alright, well thank you very much for your time.

 

Interviewee: Thank you.

 

 

4 comments

  1. Warning: Wall of text below!

    In reading through the interviews of Gloria, Anne, and Mary this week, I had the opportunity to see the perspectives of teachers at different stages of their careers and with a full spectrum of levels of comfort around technology.

    One of the most interesting interview subjects was Gloria’s early career teacher who is resistant to the use of technology. It appears that her views are largely influenced by those of her teaching partner who seems very against technology use.

    This contrasted sharply with Mary’s interviewee’s who seem very adept at using technology to support learning for students in varying situations and in flipped classrooms. If I don’t miss my guess, it seems that these two are in either the same school or same district.

    It appears that there is a strong peer influence to teachers’ attitudes towards technology. This seems further validated by the comments of my own interviewee who noted that the most effective assistance he receives is from tech savvy peers in his own school. There was another cluster of skill/comfort in Anne’s interview where her subjects were both eager to learn but seemed frustrated by lack of division supports and limited resources.

    Overall, it appears that school divisions need to foster a positive atmosphere around technology in order to get a critical mass of teacher buy in. Utilizing positive peer mentors in informal settings would seem to be one way districts can get their technology initiatives of the paper and in to the classrooms. Many interviews noted the need for “play time” with technology and the amount of time it takes novices to develop skill. It seems like Mary’s case of the teacher who was going to have students away just before a provincial exam is very demonstrative in what will motivate a teacher to make the necessary investment of time. It seems like districts must show a significant problem that educational technology’s can solve in order for teachers to change their thinking….Their conceptions in fact [major brainwave hitting me right now!!!] To link back to our previous readings, Posner et. Al (1982) specifically dealt with the conditions needed to create accommodations versus assimilations of concepts. One of those was, in fact, the need to demonstrate that a new conception is plausible and the 5th way in which this might be demonstrated is that the new conception solves some kind of a problem. Here they all are in full:

    “Initial plausibility can be thought of as the anticipated degree of fit of a new conception into an existing conceptual ecology. There appear to be at least five ways by which a conception can become initially plausible.

    1) One finds it consistent with one’s current metaphysical beliefs and epistemological commitments, i.e., one’s fundamental assumptions.
    2) One finds the conception to be consistent with other theories or knowledge.
    3) One finds the conception to be consistent with past experience.
    4) One finds or can create images for the conception, which match one’s sense of what the world is or could look like.
    5) One finds the new conception capable of solving problems of which one is aware (i.e., resolving anomalies)”

    (Posner et. Al, 1982)

    Other useful frameworks include Khoeler and Mishra’s (2009) explanations of the TPACK model, Mitra’s (2010) work on collaborative learning with technology, and the work of Bates and Sangra (2011) on encouraging faculty development around educational technology in post-secondary institutions.

    The TPACK model shows that it is necessary to develop competency in not only pedagogy, content, and technology separately, but the unique interrelations of them such as how to we teach science effectively with technologies geared towards that subject. Towards this end, it seems that many teachers are stuck at the technology learning phase while the most competent users seem not to even realize that technology is “hard”. The teachers in Mary’s interviewee appear to have move from the technician level of “how do I work this thing” to a design level of making active choices about the best methods for teaching with technology in a given subject.

    In terms of STEM, the TPACK framework really helps bring into focus the sorts of tools we may wish to focus on. These would include technologies most used in the fields themselves as well as those that support learning of STEM concepts most clearly. Schneps (2014) is a prime example of this. Schneps compared the use of scale and non-scale digital models of the solar system and their effectiveness in remediating misconceptions about astronomical scale and distances within the solar system. The zoomable scale model proved to be the more effective technology for this particular topic and thus a useful TPACK tool in the science teacher’s toolbox.

    One of the major areas addressed in most interviews was access to technology. Mitra’s (2010) work in rural India showed that students working collaboratively to learn technology showed drastic improvements even over 1-1 technology time. This is salient both for the issue of limited resources for our students and in learning for teachers. Working socially in groups with 1 device may be useful in solving the hardware crunch if we can figure out how to still manage individualized learning and direct assessment at the same time. Does anyone have any particular tools or techniques to manage this?

    In order to get there, however, teachers need support and many of our subjects felt they were not getting enough. Bates and Sangra (2011) noted that faculty development in the area of technology often requires some sort of status or benefit. In post-secondary settings, they suggested that technology use be considered in the tenure process, that new educator be required to undertake basic technology fluency course provided, for academic credit, buy the university, or that release time or a reduction of duties be available to prevent overwhelming faculty who are trying to grow their skills.

    In the primary/secondary situation, in may be useful for boards to communicate an expectation of certain level of competency to teacher training institutions and that it will be considered in their hiring practices. For in-service teachers, a recursive program of professional development with frequent check ins and a clear problem to solve is needed. Leveraging experts on the ground as mentors will require consideration in the form of release time for both the mentor and the learning teacher.

    Well, that’s it for now. Please let me know below if you have any further evidence that corroborates or refutes the points above. I am particular interested in any solution you might have as to how to assess and tech in an individualized manner with limited devices.

    – Dan

    Bates, A. & Sangra, A. (2011). Managing technology in higher education.
    San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

    Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge.
    Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), 60-70.

    Mitra, S. (2010). The child-driven education [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education

    Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W. and Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Sci. Ed., 66: 211–227. doi: 10.1002/sce.373066020.

    Schneps, M. H. (2014). Conceptualizing astronomical scale: Virtual simulations on handheld tablet computers reverse misconceptions. Computers and education, 70: 269-280. Doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.09.001

  2. Hi Daniel,
    Your interviewee, Mr. A seems to be where many teachers I have spoken to are in terms of technology. They view technology as important, but not the be all, end all of learning.

    I was thinking specifically about his comments regarding his students building trebuchets, and levers and wheels. He wanted his students to have the hands on experience of building the machinery themselves rather than watching it built on a computer screen. One of the teachers I spoke to (informally, it was not one of the interviews I conducted), I saw them looking up similar science concepts to Mr. A. When I asked what they were doing they said they were finding videos about how these things were made so that students could actually see it. When I said would it not be better for them to build them rather than watch it being built he responded, “oh ya of course, but I have none of the materials to build it with so isn’t seeing a video better than looking at static pictures in a text book?” Which I had to agree it was. Funny how our perspective changes given our materials to use. I think getting kids active with their learning is super important. Thus my love of makerspaces, but I have to agree there is a limit to the amount I could spend (of my own money) on materials for my classroom.

    A conversation around materials and resources in our school is a hot topic at the moment. We are about three months away from moving into a new school (very welcomed seeing as snow builds up in our current gym because of cracks in the bricks and three classrooms leak like crazy in wet weather) but at the same time the school right now is functioning in a supply desert. All of the parent funding for the past three years had been earmarked for the new school (sound systems, gym floor, library, [sadly, very little tech]) so nothing has been put into classrooms to help provide consumables and aide with the delivery of programs. It is pretty frustrating.

    For so many schools it continues to be the haves and the have nots.

    Catherine

  3. With the Alberta science curriculum, can you say more about to what extent this has happened from the interviewee’s perspective: I think they should build computer science in to the curriculum. I think programming is going to be the way of the future and I that programming is going to be a need for every single kid going forward?

    Thank you Daniel for this window into an Alberta teacher perspective on the questions about technology, Samia

    1. In each grade there is a “problem solving through technology” topic. These are really digital technologies but rather mechanical ones. There is no inclusion of programming or computer skill in the primary grades’ science curricula. There is a learning technology policy framework but it is limited to very general outcomes basically on the level of “students will use technology” and has not yet trickled down into curriculum documents.

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