Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Understanding trends around ICTs

And so it’s onto chapter 2 of the set text for the ICTs and Pedagogy courses I’m going to be teaching.

To be honest, I have some reservations about the text. Not because it is bad, but because it clashes with the approach I would have taken. That may say more about the limitations of trying to write a generic textbook than the limitations of this specific book. For example, it’s the end of chapter 2 of the text and there’s been no move to get students to actively use ICTs or get them to use ICTs for learning and teaching.

Instead the aim has been on somewhat theoretical perspectives on keys questions and themes around ICTs and the current trends and challenges. For example, the second chapter has lots of material about various government policies and frameworks. While this is useful material, it does strike me as likely to prevent students worried about the upcoming prac-teaching from seeing the relevance.

Changing world and fixed curriculum

The chapter starts off with the de rigueur observation that the world is changing and will continue to change. But at the same time there seems, at least in parts, to remain an acceptance of the place of having a fixed curriculum set at the state or national level that drives what is being learned.

Surely a fixed curriculum, especially one set at a national level, is to difficult to modify in response to a dynamically changing world. Especially one where student-centered learning is seen as a key component of good learning.

The need for design theories

My thesis contribution was the formulation of a design theory. A type of theory increasingly accepted within the Information Systems discipline, in no small part due to the work my PhD supervisor on the nature of theory (Gregor, 2006). A design theory is described as giving explicit prescriptions in terms of methods, techniques, principles of form and function. i.e. a design theory says how to do something. This is seen as important in information systems (IS) as IS is largely about building systems. Knowing how to do it is important.

I have some interest in thinking about Shirley’s taxonomy of theory types (Gregor, 2006) and how it applies to education. After all, from one perspective education is about how to build learning environments, experiences etc. With the rise of ICTs and the “new digital world” it seems that “how” questions are becoming increasingly important. The text reinforces that perspective by continually repeating that it’s no longer a question of whether or not ICTs should be used in learning and teaching, but rather how to do it effectively.

Design theories seem to be a useful tool for figuring this out.

Of course, education is a very different discipline.

The focus isn’t technology, except it is

In both chapters the text has repeated the mantra that the incorporation of ICTs in learning and teaching should not be done simply because the technology is there. In a case study in chapter 2 the text examines work on teachers with laptops in New Zealand schools (Cowie, Jones and Harlow, 2005) and suggests that

responses to an innovation are shaped by a system that consists of people, tools and organisational structures operating at the level of the classroom, subject department, school and the policy

I generally agree to some level with these perspectives and remain somewhat confused why most research and implementation projects fail to engage with these suggestions. Instead most of these projects are driven by a particular technology. Whether it be a new LMS, an e-learning tool, a mobile device, or a new literacy program most of these projects are focused on the evaluation or implementation of that new project with only very limited regard for the specific context.

This problem seems to me to be a major contributor to complaint made by the text (p. 45)

This resonates with the life of many ICT initiatives and projects. There is often early excitement, injection of funding, a proposed research or evaluation model (or in some cases no accompanying research), but this is mounted without considerations of developing sustainable, long-term structures. Some anecdotal comments from school leaders refer to this as a ‘scorched earth’ strategy, where people are attracted to a project and obtain their funding for that specific project, ‘scorch that patch of earth’, and then move to the next project or piece of earth. The result is small events occurring in disparate ways and, when the funding or project life is complete, energe moves elsewhere

It seems to me that the very nature of research projects and government interventions in research projects are inherently focused on a particular technology or outcome. I think there is some benefit in breaking this approach, but remain unsure about just how to do this within a system that is so focused on the ‘scorched earth’ approach.

Top-down or bottom-up sharing?

One of the government reports mentioned in the chapter talks about “substantial momentum had built in Australia between 1998 and 2002 in terms of:” various bits and pieces including “development of national collaboration, strategic planning, sharing of information and projects in the use of ICT in education”. I have a rather large suspicion about the long term effectiveness and sustainability of top-down projects aiming to encourage collaboration and sharing. In part because they often take a ‘scorched earth’ approach, but also because of the nature of people. i.e. people like to share with people they know, often in a context of need. Conditions which top-down projects are unlikely to create.

Surely someone in the education field has worked on this. Even done some comparison studies between these top-down approaches and more bottom-up approaches. Especially given recent developments around social-media which lend themselves towards supporting more bottom-up collaboration.

This is getting into my area of interest around the Pre-Service Teacher Network (PSTN) project. Along these lines the book mentions a report
from DEST (2002) titled Making better connections something to follow up in terms of #PSTN.

So what knowledge do student teachers need?

The chapter also quotes a 2005 government report that mentions the need for

ensuring university teacher training courses equip new teachers with required ICT knowledge and skills

The obvious question from this is what are the required ICT knowledge and skills? One simple answer would be the learning outcomes of the ICT and pedagogy course I’ll be teaching, at least if its been designed appropriately. The other obvious solution is the various sets of competencies and standards being proposed and required by various government agencies.

But don’t these suffer the same problem as national curriculum? If ICTs and the new digital world are dynamically changing, aren’t the required ICT knowledge and skills also dynamically changing? Doesn’t this make the act of creating by committee, promulgating, and testing these compentecies a long-winded way of enshrining what was required a couple of years ago? Doesn’t creation by committee tend to ignore the important of respondingn appropriately to the local context?

Questions to ponder.


Cowie, B. Jones, A. Harlow, A. (2005). Teachers with laptops in New Zealand: impacts on teachers and their practice. paper presented at AERA 2005, Montreal, 11-15 April

DEST (2002). Making better connections: models of teacher professional development for the integration of information and communication technology into classroom practice. DEST, Canberra

Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 30(3), 611-642.


Reflections on understanding context


Models of Teacher PD for ICT integration


  1. So with the bottom up sharing society that has established through social media will this effect the teaching pedagogy? Right now Social Media is the “In” thing as email was but by relating pedagogy rather then practical experience will this make a difference on use of ICT in the classroom?

    I personally don’t think it will make them(Teachers) more adept at using technology in the classroom as at the end of the day it comes down to Interest level of the person.

    Just as a side note: in a more southern state the public school system have a firewall like the Great Firewall of China where there is a lot of things blocked (Understandably) how would you get a teacher engaged in using ICT if it’s blocked?

    • I agree with you re: the interest level of the person.

      My interest in PSTN is primarily because I see it as a way to increase the interest level of pre-service teachers in using ICTs in their learning and teaching. The benefits that accrue from having a good network of folk on Twitter (or other social media) is, I hope, something that will raise interest. I’m hoping it might create a few more digital residents amongst teachers.

      I believe/hope that different in the use of ICTs in the classroom will then arise indirectly from the teachers becoming digital residents and their interactions with their Twitter PLNs. Mainly because they will be driven by what is of interest to them, rather than the current flavour of the month that is being filtered down into professional development programs.

      Queensland has the same problem with firewalls. Add to that a whole range of other problems that act as a drag on teachers intentions around using ICTs. Some of these can be battled against, some can’t, you just have to try and ensure that there are positive factors pushing the other way.

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