Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Reflections on understanding context

After a couple of weeks off-line, I’m slowly catching up on making public some writing. This post is a follow up to a previous post with some initial thoughts on the ICT and Pedagogy course I’m teaching this term. There were some great comments on that post which I need to think and write about, but later. This post is a collection of some impressions and reactions to the first chapter of the set text for the course.

Knowing where you are going

Page 3 of the text leads off with this quote from Forcier and Descy (2002, pp. 15-16) – I’ve added some emphasis

Any lasting changes and reforms will need to be preceded by a vision of what future learning environments will be like. What expectations will be placed on the learner? What will the role of the teacher be? What will the physical structure of the learning environment be?

The book’s argument is that “the most exciting use of technology by the students of the future will be an enhanced ability to produce authentic, meaningful work”. i.e. what we now know about education (i.e. a constructivist view of learning) provides the vision for lasting changes and reforms.

I have a lot of time for authentic learning, but I am troubled by this idea that we start with a vision of what the future holds. In part it takes me back to the false/pointless argument about whether how technology is used to transform learning and teaching should be driven by the technology or by education. For me this false argument assumes we can know, it assumes that this process of change is knowable. Instead, I prefer Markus and Robey’s (1988) view where technology is just one of a number of components of an emergent process of change where the outcomes are indeterminate because they are situationally and dynamically contingent.

Sure, there is some value in informing applications of ICT in education with knowledge of what works in education. But there is also value in critically exploring new technologies and ways of doing to see what happens. Terms such as emergence, exaptation (Gould, 1991), and bricolage (Ciborra, 1992) spring to mind.

Implication: How could a course in ICT and pedagogy effectively marry both perspectives? Having students show how their knowledge of education informs their use of ICT in pedagogy and get them to engage in emergence/bricolage.

Technochoice and the death spiral of defining definitions

After a few pages the book does mention its adoption of the technochoice approach suggested by Sachs, Russell and Chataway (1990). An approach which

accommodates the process of evolution and continual selection from a spectrum of technological alternatives; the selecting creates tension and leads to opportunities for exploring and experimenting with alternative institutional and organising forms of education

There are good noises about rejecting a linear perspective on process, but in the end the argument is that thinking about ICTs need to be informed by educational rationales. I’m not suggesting that this should be totally removed, but there needs to be some room for uncertainty.

Are our current educational rationales – rationales that evolved in a pre-digital world – the best we can do or will the digital world require the development of new educational rationales/theories? It would appear that the connectivism folk, at least some of them, are arguing this.

Even this early into my career as an University education academic I am finding myself slowly drawn into the “death spiral of defining definitions”. i.e. the situation where each education academic has their very own, very nuanced, definition of common terms. The death spiral where 99% of argument is about those individual definitions.

Linear stage models, incremental and radical innovation, and complexity

Having briefly claimed some problems with “linear”, the book then seems to reference a lot of models that are linear. e.g. Newhouse, Clarkson and Trinidad’s (2005) “Stages of teacher development”, a five stage model

  1. Inaction – no interest in using ICTs in pedagogy.
  2. Investigation – initial actions arising from an interest in using ICTs in pedagogy.
  3. Application – regular, competent, and confident use of ICTs in pedagogy.
  4. Integration – ICT in pedagogy has become critical to learning.
  5. Transformation – teacher takes on leadership roles around ICTs in pedagogy and knowledgeably reflects on its integration.

Using something as simple and linear as this to explain something as complex as figuring out how to use ICTs in your L&T always gives me pause.

Barriers to ICT integration

First, the question of what ICT curriculum integration is presented as problematic. Then a list of barriers is given apparently from Shelly et al

  • Lack of teacher training and professional development.
  • Lack of curriculum, technical and administration support.
  • Limited time for teacher planning.
  • The difficulty of computer access.
  • Budget constraints.
  • Resistance to change by many educators.

The course I’m teaching can really only hope to address two of these, the first and last. With the last being somewhat questionable.

For student teachers – based on my own experience – I would guess that limited planning time would be the major problem. A student teacher is still developing their knowledge of the content and pedagogy they need to use and struggling with time to harness this. Add in technology….

The solution to all this is proposed as strategic planning. I don’t believe that strategic planning within the confines of an existing formal education system is sufficient for the type of transformative change people are talking about. The nature of the people responsible for strategic planning are not likely to have the mindsets ready for such change.

The need for authentic experience

The first chapter closes with an interview with Michelle Williams an experience ICT teacher and teacher education. Michelle also happens to be one of the USQ TTF folk working on this course. The interview closes with an important point that resonated with me.

Teachers who do not have opportunities to use smart and complex digital systems and networks do not see the imperative to duplicate these information and workflow processes in curriculum tasks. They are unlikely to believe such processes are authentic because they are not aware of their existence, let alone have experienced how such processes and thinking change work practices, and community and society culture.

Increasingly I have a desire for this course to provide student teachers with that experience. However, I hestitate somewhat at the thought that the standard University LMS could be claimed as providing experience with using “smart and complex digital systems and networks”.

I’m currently wondering about this sort of structure for the course

  1. Spend the first week or two or three running the course fairly traditionally with a focus on students thinking about whether their experience with ICTs
    in their Unviersity study and their own prac teaching is transformative or not.
  2. Use increasingly different approaches as the term progresses to illustrate what might be considered transformative. Initially have some of this connected with “lessons plans”. i.e. change the course via mechanisms they are expected to use in teaching.
  3. By the end the students have been led to use of a variety of technologies
    targetted at producing something different. i.e. it’s the students job to use ICTs to design something transformative around ICTs and pedagogy. Probably aim to keep this fairly broad and open, but require demonstration of significant use of
    “smart and complex digital systems and networks” and the production of
    some public output/contribution.

In essence, the underlying aim is to provide an environment in which student teachers can become, or at least make progress toward becoming, digital residents through applying the theories and technologies to their own experience studying this course and teaching in schools.

This by Cathy Davidson and her work better captures what I’m learning toward.


Ciborra, C. (1992). From thinking to tinkering: The grassroots of strategic information systems. The Information Society, 8(4), 297-309.

Gould, S.J. (1991). Exaptation: a crucial tool for evolutionary psychology.
Journal of Social Issues 47, 43–65.

Markus, M. L., & Robey, D. (1988). Information technology and organizational change: causal structure in theory and research. Management Science, 34(5), 583-598.

To get

Forcier, R.C. & Descy, D.E. (2002). The computer as an educational tool: productivity and problem solving. 3rd edn, Merrirll Prentice Hall, Columbus, OH.

Newhouse, P., Clarkson, B. & Trinidad, S. (2005). A framework for leading school change in using ICT, in Using ICT in education: leadership, change and models of best practice, S. Trinidad and J. Pearson (eds), Pearson Education Asia, Singapore, pp. 148-64

Sachs, J., Russell, N. & Chataway, G. (1990). Technology and education: forging links with business and industry, Dupe M (ed), Making the links: technology and science, industry and education, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, pp. 49-60.

Shelly, G.B., Cashman, T.J., Gunter, R.E., & Gunter, G.A. (2004). Integrating technology in the classroom, 3rd edition, Thomson, Boston.


Initial thoughts on an ICT and Pedagogy course


Understanding trends around ICTs

1 Comment

  1. You know my views on much of this but for what it is worth… v little ☺

    The real problem is how to prepare teachers for a system that has been able to make the Internet look and sound like the tar baby? School systems have never “got it”. Many teachers do understand that this “beast” defies the kind of silly “we know what’s best logic” that has characterised schooling for hundreds of years but, despite their best efforts, they have always been done over by system-based net nazis. This is not to say that good stuff is not possible at the edges but they have to learn who the enemy is otherwise it will end in tears!

    Most of the stuff written about this that you cite is BEB (bovine excretory byproduct), i.e. from the camp that says we know all this; we know what is going on and why and we know what to do next!! Pass a good dose of your favourite mind altering substance if you believe that. The Ed tech mob have been a key reason schools have been spinning wheels for thirty years. They need to be innoculated so they can counter the dumb stuff these folk preach. There are one or two smart ed tech folk but they are the exception.

    OK. What would I do? Begin with where they are. They will come with an interesting patchwork of skills, knowledges, half knowledges and silly ideas about all of this. So yes it is about skilling them up but not in a one size fits all model. Importantly they need to understand that no one understands it all but people get by by knowing other folk who do and helping one another.

    I’d be tempted to get them to do some mapping of the Internet early on but, as they go, to keep notes on how they tackled the task. Get them to divide up the task so that the skills already in the group are able to be deployed. (Maybe a warm up exercise to get them used to this very different way of working)

    Part of this has to be some sense of the trends, i.e. what Moores law actually translates to in terms of computer oomph and how this will continue to disrupt jobs and ways of doing knowledge work, i.e. what they are doing in your course. There is plenty of stuff available but some sense of things like “big data”, the 2nd economy, “smart” devices/bodies etc. An interesting read might be: Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know : rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

    A good guy here is Mike Wesch (From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments). He has done some neat stuff with his students. Lots of his stuff online.

    And maybe once they get into the swing of things they might debate/decide what would be the most useful thing they could do given the dumb, over-hyped environment in which they will soon work. You might want to scaffold how to get to that point, maybe have a couple of suggestions but it would be excellent to come from them, i.e. they are the poor folk who will have to deal with this weird space called computers in schools.

    I’m doing an abs for a possible book chapt – here is an early draft of the begin bit:

    When I grow up I want to be a cephalopod or the unbearable sameness of instrumentum docere

    Unlike humans, cephalopods don’t have blind spots, that is they don’t have an absence of photoreceptor cells in the retina. Humans usually don’t notice their blind spot because the other eye helps the brain fill in the missing information. In this chapter, I develop the notion of a blind spot to consider the remarkable consistency of approach taken by those interested in the use of computing and related technologies to support teaching and learning {Selwyn, 2010 #7223}. I examine the ‘blindness’ of educational technologists in terms of the social/technical binary, the persistence of computing and related technologies as an educational good, and the delegation of work to machines. In short, dimensions and aspects of using machines in educational practices that go beyond the agenda that has been dominant for thirty or more years.

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