The place of digital learning
Guest Blogger, Dr Deborah Netolicky, Dean of Research and Pedagogy
The three main building blocks of learning and teaching in schools are curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy. Curriculum is the what of teaching. In Western Australia, the School Curriculum and Standards Authority provides the subject content we are required to teach. At Wesley College, we marry this content with our Strategic Impacts and Learning Habits, which provide our definitions of the 21st century skills we value and that we endeavour to develop in our students. Our new communication and learning management system, Schoolbox, will make our curriculum planning visible in the Schoolbox unit and class pages.
Pedagogy refers to the how of teaching. That is, the design and methods teachers use to help their learners to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Often pedagogy is referred to as the ‘art and science of teaching and learning’, reflecting that teaching is a profession based in knowledge, evidence and best practice, while also being deeply social, emotional, and human. Good pedagogical design ensures alignment between curriculum, pedagogy, learning environment, and assessment. At Wesley, we start with what we want students to know and be able to do, and then backwards design assessment and learning programs to give learners the best chance of success.
Traditional pedagogies include those that are teacher-centred, such as explicit instruction and questioning to promote higher order thinking. It also comprises those that are learner-centred such as inquiry learning, project-based learning, metacognition and self-reflection. There are collaborative pedagogies such as group work, peer tutoring, and small group discussions. Some pedagogies focus on feedback and the important dialogue between learner and teacher.
In the 21st century, digital and online technologies have added to teachers’ pedagogical toolbox. The list of current educational technologies and approaches is staggering. It includes: learning management systems (like Schoolbox); makerspaces; robotics; digital portfolios; online discussion forums; blogging platforms; wikis; backchannels; audio recording and music making; image and video editing; creation of infographics, slideshows and presentations; digital storytelling; social media; online collaboration tools; video conferencing; cloud computing; mobile apps; game-based learning; coding and computer programming; augmented and virtual realities; technologies for creating physical or virtual 3D models; learning analytics; wearable technology; and online response systems such as polls and surveys. These technologies can help to make learning accessible, interactive and flexible.
However, technology is not without its pitfalls in education. As more schools, teachers, and students use a variety of technologies, concerns are being raised about the ways in which companies are gathering data from schools and students. See, for instance, these recent articles on how teachers and students are being tracked in Edmodo and how Google is dominating classrooms worldwide. Then there are issues of privacy, safety, and surveillance, such as this recent example of an Australian school tracking its students via their mobile phones. As students, teachers and schools use mobile and digital technologies to engage with learning beyond classroom walls and school hours, issues of cyber safety, time, workload, addiction, wellbeing and the quality of relationships, need to be considered. Students should be taught the safe, ethical use of technology as well as digital skills such as online collaboration and evaluation of the quality of available information.
Australia’s increasing focus on educational technologies reflects a global emphasis. The Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians states that students need to be confident, creative and productive users of technologies when they leave school. Australia has a Technologies curriculum, and one of the seven General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum is the ICT Capability. The Australian Government has also announced STEM and coding as national priorities, that are important for education and for the economy.
A look at Wesley’s after-school clubs and competitions reflects this focus. We have Code Club and MakerSpace, and College teams for the Electric Vehicle Challenge, the Pedal Prix, and the F1 Challenge. The da Vinci Decathlon and World Scholars Cup are both academic competitions that require the kind of interdisciplinary critical thinking needed in today’s physical and online worlds. Our Design and Technology workshops and our Science Centre are examples of learning spaces that embrace and embed current technologies such as 3D printing, sensors, and data probes.
As Wesley gets ready to launch our new Learning Management System, Schoolbox, we have been reconsidering how online and digital technologies might form part of our pedagogical approach. On Schoolbox each class will have a class page that can be populated with a range of online tools for information, communication, collaboration, and assessment. Schoolbox class pages allow teachers to add online components; for example, online chats, collaborative documents, discussion forums, polls, social media streams, surveys, blogs, wikis, quizzes, audio, Clickview, images, video, RSS Feeds, Twitter and podcasts. These tools complement other technologies being used across the College; such as mobile devices, OneNote, coding, makerspace technologies and e-texts.
Technologies have the potential to enhance learning and empower students, but most scholars agree that it is pedagogy and a deep understanding of how students learn that should drive the use of technologies, rather than technologies driving the way teaching and learning happens, or as an end in themselves. Even in self-directed, inquiry, or project-based learning, there are deliberate decisions made by the teacher as to how the learning is structured and undertaken in order to reach the desired learning outcomes. Teachers, as designers of learning experiences for students, are able to utilise an arsenal of tools and practices that are both traditional and emerging.