31 July 2013

It's About Time. 4 Transformational Tech 'Training' Techniques.




I recently completed my Practice Based Enquiry as the final element of a Master's in Teaching (MTeach) for the Institute of Education in London, which culminated in a gargantuan 22,000 word dissertation* (not including appendices!)

This post attempts to 'cut to the chase' 4 years and 200 pages later, what, exactly, did I find was worthwhile? What really seems to work?

This was not 'action research' but 'practitioner research study', something my tutor was careful that  should understand, action research seems to be an 'in' academic sounding term at the moment, but is easily wittered while few understand its iterative and longitudinal nature... The ‘practitioner research’ model was more suitable than an action research model, in that it is expected that practitioners will learn from their research into practice, it also aims at improving rather than proving as an approach to research (Campbell, 2007). 

The focus of the enquiry was to consider:

What are the most effective strategies for overcoming the barriers to the authentic integration of digital technologies in schools?


The enquiry considered barriers to ICT (information communication technology) integration, and possible enabling solutions. Traditionally, the development of ICT expertise is facilitated by the provision of ‘training courses’. However, for the duration of this enquiry this approach was suspended, in order to explore more learner-centred, collaborative approaches for managing teacher development; utilising opportunities for teachers to learn through interactions with their colleagues and with their own students. This practitioner research study explored barriers to the integration of ICTs and the factors that inhibit their use of ICTs for teaching and learning, and the constraints on that use. The data indicated a strong consensus that the barrier of time was the most significant, with the barriers of training and tech support as contributory factors. 

The case study centred on the role of a Digital Literacy Coach (DLC) in the design and exploration of interventions focused on these areas, with three non-technologically proficient, but experienced teachers. The enabling strategies explored, were not focused on a barrier-by-barrier basis, but to overcome a number of barriers simultaneously. Interventions that focused on utilising time in class with students, and ‘non contact’ time during the school day, were found to be particularly effective. Teachers became more confident about drawing on the strengths of their students as a support strategy. A concern that emerged in relation to ICT integration was that the teaching of ICT skills were becoming neglected. Practices to mitigate this were found to be effective but required careful monitoring to ensure that they are pedagogically driven, not skill driven. The data indicated a significant positive change in teacher response to these barriers, indicating that the interventions that were explored were effective in mitigating these barriers, interventions that could be applied in other teaching contexts.

So—What Works?


Emphasise ‘continuing’ in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) over InSET

In short InSET (one off training days) is not effective unless it is a part of CPD, and regarding CPD it was generally felt that relying only on making time after school for CPD is ineffective. InSET (In Service Educational Training) ‘Training’ and ‘Courses’ do not really take account of the actual needs of teachers, “there can be no one size fits all training (Hu and McGrath, 2011, p 50)”. When teachers can see the explicit relevance of the technology to enhancing their practice, their motivation increases, along with willingness to make the effort and to find the time to change (Daly et al, 2009). For some teachers a certain amount of ‘unlearning’ is need, especially in terms of assumptions about what constitutes ‘training’ and when and where this is most effective... PD needs to stop being about certification and focus more on transformation. Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation.


THE major barrier could be summed up in one word. Time.



It's all about time, or more specifically the lack of it. Lack of time to fully prepare and research ICT materials for lessons, and to become better acquainted with hardware and software (Fabry and Higgs, 1997; Manternach-Wigans et al, 1999).

So this approach to CPD was all about being smarter about time, with what could be described as ‘less is more’. Less efficient, but more effective—specifically, often teaching identical, or very similar, skills to several small groups of teachers, at times and places more efficacious to them, rather than once, to all of them, at a time more convenient to the school. 

Essential to the success of this change was the reframing of the dominant school paradigm of ‘training’, from a didactic, ‘instructor as expert’ approach, to that of working with a mentor/mediator; positioning learning around a ‘gradual release of responsibility’ (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), where all ‘instruction’ is scaffolded for learners, learners who become capable of handling tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise, in effect, ‘learning by being’ (Brown & Adler, 2008)—a form of apprenticeship. With this in in mind, traditional ‘en masse’ teacher training was suspended in favour of a core set of ‘little and often’ strategies that were developed with the case study teachers and piloted with their grades; these 4 strategies  (3Ts & a J) are described below: 

'Team Time'

Teachers were asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level. What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’ at the same time.  This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007). These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009). Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, as well as how to use available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). One teacher’s efficacy (often a 'Tech Mentor'—a teacher designated as having a particular role in the development of ICT within the grade level or department—but not always)  with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other. 

Trickle Down Training’ 

Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ on the development their own ICT skills, such as for creating a ‘home movie’, or cropping an image for use with a social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys. 

'Techsperts’ 

Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK. 

Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). In this case the teacher could give the student control of the screen, eg, via a projector, to guide the class (and often the teacher) through the process. The students have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception. 

At present I run 'classes' during a lunch-time each week, with 2 to 3 students per class (In a grade of 9 classes, that means a manageable number of about 20 Techsperts) are invited to attend and pick up skills (from the DLC and from each other) to share with their classes. This started off just being for certain units, but it's popularity with the students and teachers led to be being established as a year long arrangement. 

JITT

JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time”. These are, "spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036)." Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs. This is a form of ‘training’ targeted directly at the point of need—assuming the teacher makes a point of noting how the recovery was improvised—so it can become a learning opportunity in and of itself, and not just reinforcing their dependence on what could easily become just another form of technical support. 


The complete report [pdf] is available herehttp://goo.gl/lM1Tq 

References

Campbell A and Groundwater-Smith S (Eds) (2007). An Ethical Approach to Practitioner Research: Dealing with Issues and Dilemmas in Action Research, London: Routledge

Hu Z and McGrath I (2011). Innovation in higher education in China: are teachers ready to integrate ICT in English language teaching? Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20: 1, 41 – 59. 

Pearson P D and Gallagher M C (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary educational psychology, 8 (3), 317–344.

Brown J and Adler R (2008). Minds on Fire. Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. Educause Review January/February

Hixon E and Buckenmeyer J (2009). Revisiting technology integration in schools: Implications for professional development. Computers in the Schools, 26(2), 130-146.

Pickering J (2007). ‘Teachers’ professional development: not whether or what, but how’, in J Pickering, C Daly and N Pachler (eds), New Designs for Teachers’ Professional Learning. London: Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Ciampa K and Gallagher T L (2013). Professional learning to support elementary teachers’ use of the iPod Touch in the classroom, Professional Development in Education, DOI:10.1080/19415257.2012.749802

Cordingley P, Bell M, Evans D and Firth A (2005). 'The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning?' Research Evidence in Education Library London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Crook C, Harrison C, Farrington-Flint L, Tom├ís C, Underwood J (2010). The Impact of Technology: Value-added classroom practice Final report. Becta. 

Daly C, Pachler N, Pelletier C (2009a). Continuing Professional Development in ICT for Teachers: A literature review. WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London. June 2009. 

Devereux C (2009). Beyond the curriculum: The positive effects of Continual Professional Development for a group of post-16 science teachers. WLE Centre Occasional Papers in Work-Based Learning. London: WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Ertmer P A (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development.

Hustler D, McNamara O, Jarvis J, Londra M and Campbell A. (2003). Teachers’ Perceptions of Continuing Professional Development. London: Department for Education and Skills. 

Mishra P and Koehler M J (2006). ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge’, Teachers College Record 108 (6) pp. 1017– 1054.

Rudduck J and Flutter J (2004). How to improve your school: giving pupils a voice. London: Continuum.

30 July 2013

Trickle Down Training


'Trickle Down Theory' is an economic idea which more or less states that decreasing taxes, can act as a stimulus. It's not popular. According to trickle-down theory proponents, this stimulus leads to growth and wealth creation that benefits everyone, not just those who pay the lower taxes—but what has this got to do with pedagogical technology?

Well it's my belief that a very similar approach is extremely effective (arguably more effective than the economic application) in terms of increasing the 'wealth' of tech expertise in a team of teachers, a wealth that benefits everyone, especially the students they teach.

How do we 'tax' our teachers tech skills? By having overly narrow definitions about what constitutes 'educational' technology. I believe we should encourage any sort of technological practice, yes even the sort that is likely to get you a slap on the wrist, yes Facebook, and online shopping I'm looking at you.

Tech needs to be personal

For teachers to implement changed pedagogies that integrate ICT, they must be at the centre of their own learning (Schibeci et al, 2008). Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ or 'trickle down effect' on the development of their own ICT skills, such as for creating a home movie, or cropping an image to use for their social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys.

Trickle down in effect

This approach has proved to be particularly effective with the teachers I work with. For example one teacher repurposed ‘dabbling in stocks’ at home into a Maths activity where students used a stock App and spreadsheet to track and manage their virtual investments using an artificial currency.

Another teacher learned how to use online web albums (Picasa) for sharing photographs with her extended family—this in turn gave her the confidence and understanding of the technology to repurpose the same tool with her students to create online albums of their respective families in a unit they were doing on migration.

There are many more.

Sometimes the greatest barrier is the operating system itself, and the challenges with navigating and organising this effectively. Once (again purely for 'selfish' reasons) they start to make inroads in this they feel a great deal more confidence in using these tools with their students, in particular the use of email for managing communications with both students and parents, and more effective use of image libraries as teaching resources.

Perhaps the most profound, for many teachers, is the transfer of the video editing skills they acquired in the context of editing home videos, to embracing video editing as a powerful tool to use with their students.

Disempower Techphobia

This strategy has been the most effective with the teachers who are the most resistant. Let's take a teacher (hypothetical of course...) who has no interest whatsoever in using ICTs, never mind to teach with, give him a laptop and it will just languish in a desk drawer. Why? Simple; if he can't see any use for it, how could he see any use for it for his students?  It needs to be at the centre of his own experience. The Goose/Gander factor*, if he has coped all of his life, why can't they? The way in for this teacher was Facebook, he wanted to be able to stay in touch with his family, especially his two daughters—that was the key. Trickle down learning included:

  • Taking a digital photo
  • Cropping the photo
  • Resizing the Photo
  • Uploading the image to his Facebook page
  • Basic Keyboarding and navigation (Status Updates)

That was it, he was hooked. In the weeks that followed he was like a child with a new toy, making excited discoveries on a daily basis, JITT (Just in Time Training) was all he needed to keep him going, just 5 minutes here and there. Within a month he was:

  • Using iPhoto and Picasa to build a library of photographs (to share on Facebook)
  • Adding Captions
  • Organising his images into albums
  • Scanning his favourite images
  • Writing Personal Messages—which inspired him to get and use an email account 


He's already started asking about slideshows ... next step, video?


Instead of discouraging teachers from 'wasting' their time on Facebook—maybe we should be leveraging this as an opportunity for learning? 

It is my belief that these skills and technologies have a habit of 'going viral' technology is contagious, it's about time we harnessed this potential instead of complaining about it.



*What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

29 July 2013

JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training'



JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time” (The role of ICT in the PYP, 2011, p 3) these are,

"... spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements." (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036).

Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs.


Emergency contact?

Simply providing nervous teachers with my ‘emergency’ contact number, is one simple but effective way to manage the technical barriers and the resulting stress that is common when (not if) ICT fails to deliver. Having someone—‘gofer’ is seen by many of our teachers as very effective. Someone who, at short notice, can, literally, ‘pop in’ for a few minutes to provide a brief intervention. This is a form of ‘training’ targeted directly at the point of need—


And it's a big but, this assumes the teacher makes a point of noting how the recovery was improvised—so it is a learning opportunity in and of itself, and not just reinforcing or worse creating a dependence on what could easily become just another form of technical support. Touch timber—our teachers have, by and large, used this strategy responsibly, yes there has been 2 (out of 60) who were becoming a little, shall we say ... reliant on this, but that's what conversation and negotiation is for, right?

ICT free plan C

A tech 'incident' no longer needs to result in the potential abandonment of a lesson, but becomes more about making productive use of the ‘wait time’ for help to arrive by having an ‘ICT free plan C’, because plan B still relies on technology (Crook, et al, 2010); although, reassuringly, it is not uncommon for teachers to resolve the problem themselves by the time help arrives. Somehow, knowing that help is coming alleviates stress; this often seems to free the teacher to resolve, or at least circumnavigate the problem themselves, or (more excitingly) with the help of their students.

The Cyclops Effect

IWB = Cyclops Effect
Interestingly, IWBs can often exacerbate tech problems, due to what I call a ‘Cyclops effect’—traditional, didactic teacher centred pedagogy, the kind that many teachers are more confortable with—centred around one screen, but, this dependence on one screen actually exacerbates the impact of technology failure, as if/when that screen fails, it results in a catastrophic impact upon the lesson. Whereas for a teacher who uses a more student centred, constructivist model that effectively utilises multiple screens, the failure of one screen does not present an insurmountable problem.

Nevertheless, clearly equipping teachers and students with a rigorous set of core ICT skills is bound to ameliorate this problem; the question then is, which skills, and when? Good question, hopefully this is a reasonable answer.

Just in time—leverage serendipity.


27 July 2013

Team Time - A Less Efficient—More Effective CPD Strategy

Team Time: Less efficient more effective
Faced with the problem of attempting to to attend to the perennial affliction of teachers, 'finding time' we tried a slightly different approach—make better use of the time we already have.

Timetable Audit

Teachers at each grade level are asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level. What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’.  This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC (Digital Literacy Coach—me) would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007).

Little & Often

These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009). Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, enabling the individual level of support that teachers prefer, the kind that is conspicuous only by its absence in traditional 'training course' models.

"I need to have one to one training if at all possible so that I get new info easily. I need time to have a go and ensure that I have successfully embraced something new or time to write some instructions down so I can practise it later." (Grade 3 Teacher)

The teachers discuss how to use the available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). This is another aspect they value, the opportunity of

“buddying up with those who also feel like this could mean we could encourage each other.” (Grade 4 Teacher)

Team Time Training

Some weeks, based on team request, or DLC prompting, more conventional ‘training’ is offered, when a specific skill, eg how to use functions in a spreadsheet, is required to be grasped by the entire team, as that particular digital tool*  is deemed to be necessary for every student to use in a particular unit—even then, as the training is delivered in a relatively small group—opportunities for individual assistance and differentiation are relatively easily to provide, either from the DLC or by teachers assisting each other, as ‘one beggar tells another beggar where to find bread’.

There's no I in 'TEAM' but there is a ME if you look hard enough.

Teachers describe incidents where ‘just in time training’ (JITT) came from a teacher in an adjacent classroom, or a brief exchange based on shared experience or challenge that led to an effective solution, during a coffee break. One teacher’s efficacy with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other. Teachers are learning that they can imitate the approaches that they witnessed their students using in their own classrooms, in their own CPD.

Me Time vs We Time


"There may be no 'I' in team, but there's a 'ME' if you look hard enough.” David Brent**

Clever isn't it? There's more where this cam from.***
Team work has to be beneficial to each member of the team, not just the team as whole, unless everyone leaves with 'something ventured, something gained', the entire dynamic can become overly parasitic for some rather than symbiotic. Symbiosis and synergy is key, and I'm not afraid to say I'm comfortable with teachers being a little 'selfish' sometimes—but there is a time and a place. So I make sure that at least once a week is a Team Time for 'Me Questions' and in a 'Team Time Training' session I only want to hear 'We Questions'. It's basic but it works, allow me to give you can example:

WE question:
"Can you show us how to use some other functions, like maybe average?"

ME question:
"How do I stop my computer from [insert random but inconsequential behaviour]"


Bottom line, a WE question is possibly of benefit to the entire team, a ME question can only benefit YOU. There's a time for those questions, but not at a time that has been set aside for the team.


* 'Technology' is not a term I like—it's too ... nebulous... :o/

**  AKA Ricky Gervais. For more HILARIOUS quotes like this visit this site.

*** http://www.demilked.com/30-clever-minimalist-print-ads/

26 July 2013

Keeping Pace with Technological Change - Futile, or Fundamental?


For many teachers that I encounter in the day-to-day of teaching digital technology/tool integration, the answer to this question, is something like—

Futility.

Why? Because they hear of, or read things like this:
"Technological Knowledge (TK) Technological knowledge is always in a state of flux—more so than content and pedagogical knowledge. This makes defining and acquiring it notoriously difficult. Keeping up to date with technological developments can easily be-come overwhelming to time-starved teachers. This also means that any definition of technology knowledge is in danger of becoming outdated by the time this text has been published." (p 398)
Judith Harris, Punya Mishra, and Matthew Koehler (2009). Teachers' Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Learning  Activity Types: Curriculum-based Technology  Integration Reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 393 Copyright © 2009, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)

Or...

"...the rapid rate of technological change ensures any knowledge gained about specific technologies or software programs would quite quickly become out of date" (p 151).

Mishra P, Koehler M J and Kereluik K (2009). ‘The song remains the same: looking back to the future of educational technology’, TechTrends, Vol. 53, No. 5, pp.48−53.

These kinds of quotes highlight an issue that has been bugging me for a while, the gist of it goes... "What? Learn ICT skills? What's the point? It all changes so fast, by the time we learn how to use one application it will be obsolete. So, why bother? which usually translates as ... "Let the kids do it, but ME? Me, I'm sticking with tools that I know from the 19th Century."

If theres's one thing I've learned about digital tools/technologies since I first started using them in earnest in the late 1980s, it's this:


... in truth, it's the beginning of nothing. 
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed.
David Bowie - Sunday

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

So digital technologies develop at a pace of change that is impossible to manage/keep up with?

Really? How?

How much has the way we USE digital technology really changed though? Speed, capacity, availability, yes, but use, not so much... Anyway, the same could be said of planes, trains, automobiles - more capacity, greater speed, more availability than ever. Changing capacity is not the same as changing capability.

If we reflect back to the ‘dawn’ of TEL in school in the 1990s, there were five overarching domains of computer use:

Text | Image | Audio | Video | Data

Text, image, audio, video, data. A sixth, ‘control’ was a core element of the ‘IT curriculum’ back then, but proved more difficult to integrate successfully. Ironically, two decades later, based on the recent alarmist rhetoric around a dearth of ‘coding skills’ it would seem control is back, albeit with a slight name change.

So, back in the 1990s when I first started teaching with computers there were 5 domains* of computer use, and here we are 2 decades later, and what do we find? The domains remain the same, the skills have evolved, but not much, and the conventions and tools? Identical, to the point of being nonsensical to this generation... A floppy disc icon to save? Really? An hour glass for wait time in Windows?

The truth is change in Tech happens more slowly than you might think, sure there are people out there attempting to, for example, rethink the design of the ubiquitous save icon, but these conventions have over two decades of embedded use, people like you, people like me, and even the generations who never used floppy disks know what the save icon means, despite its incongruity—so to say change is relentless, in this context, is nothing but  misleading.

http://dribbble.com/shots/506722-the-save-icon-redesign


CDs and DVDs are now almost obsolete, arguably with the recent advances in voice recognition, keyboarding could be next, but they're not dead yet, they are still hanging on... When digital tools change, they change gradually, incrementally, and obsolescence, while inevitable, happens sloooowwwllly.

Even 'professional' applications like PhotoShop evolve very gradually, with key conventions remaining virtually identical:

Nevermind the day to day icons we use for navigation...



Granted, computers are getting smaller, while their capacities grow larger, along with their processor speeds, drives are smaller [physical size], yet bigger [capacity] and faster than they've ever been, but all these changes do is make what we've always done EASIER, not OBSOLETE.

Big. Difference.

Change in terms of ICT skills are far from relentless, in fact, if anything, they are relentlessly, frustratingly, languorous... The domains are the same, and the core skills are virtually unchanged after 2 decades of relentless computer use, design and development.  Think about it for a minute—mouse skills? Keyboarding? Even overarching conventions like drag and drop, desktops, drop down menus, clicking on icons to give commands... Here's some skills from a document that was used by a school I worked at in the year 2000, see anything that is obsolete? Not much.

'IT Works' (Folens, 2000)


And that's about the only out dated reference I found in the entire scope and sequence, other than a reference to CDs and Laserdiscs, that was about it...  So are the core ICT skills that are a prerequisite for success in the 21st Century changing too quickly to bother to learn, or teach? No. But there HAS been change, oh yes,  I'd argue the biggest change is:

Ease. Of. Use.

It's never been easier to use ICTs, or to learn them. Time was, to edit video, you'd need a specialised machine, dedicated hardware and software, designed for professionals, with a learner curve steeper than Mount Everest. With advances in internet speed and connectivity from dial up to BroadBand,  a lot more can be done online than before. But they are the same things! Thumb sticks have replaced floppy discs, but they are still 'drives' that are inserted, read and written, and ejected, and ... lost.

Not. Any. More.

With the advent of 'Web 2.0' all four of the five domains can now be practised right in a web browser, no software installation needed, and they are (by and large) free. Video is a little tougher to edit 'in the cloud' but it's coming, YouTube already provide basic editing tools, and services like WeVideo.com are pushing back the boundaries of web based idea editing every day.

Instructions vs Conventions

The problem here is is not with the tools, it is with the teaching—teachers who focus more on instructions, or specific software, than overarching conventions and procedures. Don't teach kids how to use 'Word' teach them how to word process. Don't teach them how to use 'Safari' teach them how to browse. Again this is nothing new, we wouldn't think of teaching 'Harry Potter' as teaching 'reading' we might use a text like Harry Potter to observe overarching conventions and concepts—it's the same for ICTs.

Classic icon conventions—any change here is purely aesthetic.

Focus on conventions not instructions

Catch up vs change

The fact is that many, maybe even most teachers pretty much ignored the tech revolution that gradually unfolded since the 90's, it hasn't actually changed much in those intervening couple of decades, but the fact remains that 20 years of cumulated skill is a lot of catching up to do. THAT is the problem, not the rate of change, the considerable amount of catch up required. Catch up and change are not the same thing.

So let's stop whining about the futility of learning ICT skills and get on with it, they've stuck around since their inception, I dare say they'll be around for a little longer. The question is not WHY learn ICT skills but HOW? A subject I have written about here.


Mode vs Medium

I am not saying that digital tools do not present a unique challenge, when compared to their traditional counterparts, say... a pencil or pen and paper etc. Regardless of change, the sheer AMOUNT of digital tools are overwhelming, and increasing at exponential rates every day, to an extent that completely and utterly dwarfs the range of options and tools that would have been available to a teacher even 10 years ago. But, and this is worth repeating, I would still contend that regardless of their proliferation, the vast majority of the 'revolutionary' tools on offer stay well within the comfort zone of the 5 domains I have outlined above (6 if you include control/coding). Sure they might dress the context up a little more effectively, or introduce a clever mechanic, say ... touching instead of clicking, but the fact remains that while the mode may have changed, the medium has not. The same transferable conventions, the same iconography, the same procedures remain, regardless of the form factor of the device, the speed of the processor, the storage capacity, or indeed the sheer availability of these machines in recent years.

Dealing with the Deluge

So, the time invested in mastering or at least embracing core ICT skills and conventions are as relevant as ever in the face of this onslaught of pixelated promises. What is also important is to have an effective filter to manage the phenomenal proliferation of digital tools—on, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.

And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with some effective filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to root out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.




* If anything at least one domain that has been and gone is back and currently experiencing a renaissance - computer coding, anyone?

25 July 2013

Five Filters of Failure & a Scale of Scepticism



It's not the unrelenting torrent of information that I find troubling, after all, how many books are out there, never mind films and TV shows? How many articles, journals, newspapers, magazines? How many hard copies are holed up in folders, files, cabinets, archives and dusty basements all over the planet? Many I am sure, and yet no one ever complains about this sheer weight of data, I've never heard anyone complain,

"Dude, I just don't want read another book, there are just way too many out there, like, y'know? Like, if I read one a week for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't come even close, y'know?"

And yet, so often I hear this pointless observation made about the web, so yeah there's a lot of data, that's nothing new, the 'information revolution' proceeded the 'digital revolution' by at least a half a century—World Wide Web 1989, Libraries have been around for a lot longer... But even in 1945 library expansion was calculated to double in capacity every 16 years*, if sufficient space were made available... so there's been a lot of data for a long time; all we need to do is learn to deal with it. Literally.

So, the fire hydrant image below, while clever, I relate to more on the level of tech tool overload. Seriously, every gathering of tech types I ever attend is dominated by tech tool talk, new Web 2.0 tools, new gadgets, widgets, scripts, plugins, apps, features, software suite, usually accompanied by a lot of references to them being AWESOME.





So imagine my delight when I stumbled up on the most magnificent (nearly said AWESOME there) scepticism dial, or what I prefer to call... the Scale of Scepticism.




In order for me to assimilate a new digital tool to the point of actually recommending it to teachers to use with students, it has to have passed through a series of stages, along the lines of:

Stage 1 – utter scepticism (yeah, whatever)
Stage 2 – cool reticence (arms folded)
Stage 3 – emerging realisation that, actually, this might be worth a closer look (sitting up)
Stage 4 – mild interest, even emerging (muted) enthusiasm (leaning forward)
Stage 5 – semi-excitement (standing up)
Stage 6 – fervoured, obsessive exploration (squeezing through to the front)
Stage 7 – passionate commitment and desire to talk to everyone about it, to the marked irritation of, well, everyone (evangelistic zeal)

The only problem is I needed something more succinct, more ... manageable, I could feel the threads of my sanity slipping, and I needed something simpler to accompany my next foray into techdom.


Larry Cuban has a useful list in his seminal book 'Oversold and Underused' (2001) which reads as follows:
  • Is the machine or software program simple enough for me to learn quickly?
  • Is it versatile, that is, can it be used in more than one situation?
  • Will the program motivate my students?
  • Does the program contain skills that are connected to what I am expected to teach?
  • Are the machine and software reliable?
  • If the system breaks down, is there someone else who will fix it?
  • Will the amount of time I have to invest in learning to use the system yield a comparable return in student learning? (p170)



Cuban L (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

And I have my own, a list I call ... the 5 Filters of Failure, now these were mainly conceived in the context of iOS devices, due to their increasing presence in my school, these have somewhat preoccupied my mind of late, but I do believe these 5 filters can be applied more generally:
  1. Do this require me to do the same thing more than 5 times? Like tedious account creation for each student?
  2. Is it transformational? Yeah, it's cool, but does it radically change what I can do? Is it too similar to something I already use?
  3. Does it have pedigree? Reputation. How long has it been around? Is it tried and tested? Is it likely to be here in 4 weeks? 4 months? 4 years?
  4. Is it well designed, simple to use? Can kids use this independently? Can Teachers work it out on their own? Is it intuitive?
  5. Can the content be exported/shared easily? Can the App save to camera roll? Export to a universal format?


Dealing with the Deluge

This set of filters is essential in the management a phenomenal proliferation of digital tools. On, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.

And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with these filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.




Now it doesn't have to fail all 5 filters to fail, but the more filters it fails, the less interest I have in taking it seriously, I can honestly say that all of the tools I rely on currently all pass at least 4 of the 5 filters. Will these filters change? Absolutely, I'm constantly reconsidering/tweaking/adjusting them—like the cornucopia of competing tools they are designed to filter they need to be flexible; after there were four filters of failure only a year ago.

  1. Tedium
  2. Similarity
  3. Reputation
  4. Simplicity
  5. Ease of Export 



These are my filters
There may be many like them, but these are mine.
The question is... What are yours?


 *Rider (1944). The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library. New York City: Hadham Press.

      Team Teaching—With Your Own Students [Techsperts]


      Yeah, I'm not crazy about the name either, but that's what was in place when I got here, known as Techexperts at our sister campus (What? Isn't that 'tech-experts'?) So I've stuck with it, albeit with a slight adjustment.

      Regardless of the name, it's an attempt to define a role in the process of teaching tech skills that includes students, and it's better than some others I've heard.

      Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK. However, this approach requires the teachers to allow the students’ a certain degree of autonomy, for example, Jill struggled to establish this model with her students, complaining that her students,

      … get themselves stuck because they haven't followed the instructions. Re-tracing their steps to sort out where they went wrong is what I find quite challenging at times - but this depends on how 'new' what I have taught/explained to them is also 'new' to me.

      Students as collaborators

      The students were struggling because they were not being given autonomy to learn independently, through enquiry, because their teacher was more comfortable ‘teaching’ them how to use the technology didactically, step by step, or more accurately, literally, click by click.  By shifting her approach from that of ‘instructor’, towards that of ‘mediator’ she was better able to bring together facilitative strategies, modelling a collaborative ethos—her organising influence as the teacher was still highly salient, albeit a form of leadership that was more ‘fluid’ (Peachey et al, 2008). The teachers found different ways to incorporate this model into their teaching.

      Another teacher used a strategy I call “I teach you - you teach two”—each student teaches two others, and so on until the whole class has been covered. Knowledge and understanding are gained through combinations of the students’ and teacher’s co-constructing, acting together through ‘distributed cognition’. This creation of a supportive, problem-solving classroom community is essential to the development of these digital literacies (Beetham et al, 2009; Twining 2009).

      Let kids lead [when they can]

      The third of the teachers in my case study was eager to embrace this approach. During one of our interviews we set up a class website for him to use for class organisation and collaboration, he then designated one particularly keen student in his class to take on the day-to-day management of the site. As teachers became more comfortable with the awareness that students are going to be able to teach them, their contributions could be smoothly integrated into the fabric of a lesson. The previous teacher described how she felt this had ‘flipped’ her perspective on technology; she now feels comfortable “not knowing everything” and “letting them work it out”, which makes the prospect of using ICT much less daunting.


      'Teachable Moments'

      Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). In this case the teacher could give the student control of the screen, via an IWB, to guide the class (and often the teacher) through the process. The student focus group interview highlighted their approach to technical problems, an approach with a notably positive bias,

      "I don't really need to have technical support and when I have trouble with the computer, I don't avoid [it] that much. I just keep going on."

      That, or they just don’t see technical issues as a problem at all,

      "Computers have never failed [me] in my work."

      The students appear to have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception,

      "Even if they [computers] go wrong, I still use them. […] In many cases it’s probably something I did wrong—not the computer."

      The less you know, the more you can learn

      This perspective contrasts considerably with that of many of their teachers, who, when faced with technical problems, tend to blame the machine, whereas the students are more inclined to assume the fault lies with themselves, in the way they are using it.

      This way when a problem arises, rather than being a potential threat, it becomes a learning opportunity; if anything, an issue to be wary of is with teachers who are highly skilled with ICTs being too quick to offer solutions, instead of encouraging the students to find someone else in the room who has worked through that problem, so they can tutor one another. Seen this way, lacking technological expertise can be seen as a kind of enabler.

      However, this can also lead to teachers who effectively ‘opt out’ of technology altogether, preferring to abdicate the responsibility for the use of ICTs entirely to their students—this raises the question of how effectively any teacher can effectively ‘mentor’ or guide their students if they have absolutely no idea what the available technology can do—teachers should at least familiarise themselves with the basic capabilities of the tools their student’s use, even if they are unable to use these themselves.

      24 July 2013

      Stress Free Slideshows in Minutes on a Mac

      Sure you can spend hours constructing a visual masterpiece in Keynote, Prezi, SlideRocket, or even, if you insist, PowerPoint...


      If you do want a slide show with images and video, import it all into iPhoto and run the slideshow from there.

      But what if you just want to create a slide show in a few minutes, no transitions, no titles, no fuss, no faff?

      What if this slideshow can contain all sorts of visual media, images of course, but also PDFs, text documents but ... not video. Well not yet.


      So, you have a folder stuffed full of the slide show content, (including content in sub folders) how does this magic work?

      Easy, open Preview if it isn't open already - Grab the folder and drop it on the Preview icon in the dock.


      Or, if you're drag and drop dysfunctional, go to Open, and browse to the folder you want to use, just click on the folder (not its contents) and click open.


      Now all you do is choose View > Slide Show from the main menu.



      If you have got something you want to include in the slideshow that Preview does not like, eg an Excel spreadsheet - just 'print' it and save it as a PDF. Sorted.

      To loop a slideshow, and include video.

      Dump all the media (video/image/pdf) in one folder (no sub folders)

      Select it all, and press the spacebar to launch Quickview

      Then go to full screen and press play.

      Finally, make sure any media you want to use for a presentation is on your local hard drive (on your computer), not on a shared drive/Internet, unless you like the spinning beach ball of death to become the main feature of your presentation.

      Keynote simplicity

      If you really want to use Keynote, this can be quite painless as well—not as quick as the methods outlined above, but maybe only few minutes longer... 

      Just select all the media (including PDFs, but it will only display the first page) and drag and drop it into the navigation panel on the site. Keynote will place each separate item on it's own slide, it will resize large images to fit, but smaller images will be left at original size.

      22 July 2013

      To Skill or not to Skill?



      Teaching ICT skills ...


      Pickering (2007), found that a focus on skills and fixed knowledge to be acquired was criticised by the teachers in his study, although Daly et al (2009), citing his findings, conceded that:

      “Clearly, ICT use demands that teachers acquire certain generic skills (p 27).” 

      Understandably, there is a general hesitancy by tech integrators to embrace ICT skills teaching, as it tends towards,

      superficial, one-off and ‘box-ticking’ approaches which emphasise the development of functional skills and relegate pedagogical development to teachers’ ‘spare’ time (Daly et al, 2009, p 41).” 

      Now, somewhat ironically, the situation seems to be becoming reversed – with the emphasis very much upon the development of pedagogical skills and the relegation of ‘functional development’ (skills) to teachers’ ‘spare’ time.

      So teachers are now effectively expected to acquire skills,

      by studying manuals, talking to each other, talking to the instructor, and seeking out other locally available experts” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1038). 


      The problem is this ‘grappling experience’ (ibid) or ‘productive failure’ (Kapur & Bielaczyc, 2012), while a powerful way to learn, if not managed carefully, can become a tedious, frustrating process. "Good pedagogy should challenge not frustrate" (ibid) but it is difficult to judge when it is better to let people ‘wrestle’ or to mitigate the potential tediousness of a long process of discovery, by providing a ‘short cut’. The challenge of managing this ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1987) is significant, the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by their need to engage in independent problem solving (trouble shooting) and the point at which they know they cannot proceed any further without ‘expert’ guidance, or collaboration with more capable peers, a 'knowledgeable other' (ibid) – or even, or perhaps more likely, students.

      Frustration is common with digital technologies,

      any given technology [tool] is not necessarily appropriate” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1040). 

      The plethora of software available to do even the most basic of tasks, means that even choosing an inappropriate tool can turn a task from a challenge to a crisis, like attempting to using Photoshop for image cropping, which is tantamount to using a Ferrari to deliver milk. What is likely to occur, is a situation where,

      teachers were so caught up in learning how to use the tools that they lost sight of the design tasks.” (Angeli and Valanides 2008, p 10). 

      The “cognitive load” (ibid, p 9) imposed by learning how to use the tools was so high, that teachers were left without enough “cognitive resources” to attend to the actual exercise.

      Although skills training is clearly vital to being able to integrate technology into teachers’ practice, more often than not teachers are plagued by an unconscious incompetence - they ‘do not know, what they do not know’.  Despite the proliferation of literature expounding the virtues of an integrated model, mention is rarely made of any consideration of a prerequisite skill set, one of these rare examples follows:

      “The model assumes the existence of ICT standards [...] At a basic level these would include: basic ICT literacy, such as familiarity with and confidence in using the Windows operating system, basic word processing, PowerPoint and data software such as Excel and SPSS, software installation, and knowledge of the Internet such as how to use the Internet for resource searching, downloading and uploading files, communication via emails, video calls or web cameras.” (Hu & McGrath, 2011, p 54)

      Balance is clearly critical here – one where an articulated skill set is defined that can be acquired within an authentic, integrated context. How much teachers know about technology makes a big difference in their uses of technology. Once technology is truly integrated, teachers and beliefs and knowledge are changed as well (Fisher et al, 1996). New pedagogical knowledge and practices emerge from the integration of technology, but only when teachers reach a certain level of technological understanding.

      Unfortunately with the pendulum swinging well and truly away from a skills focus, we are in danger of throwing out the proverbial baby with bathwater, an issue alluded to in the recent Nesta report,

      the lack of emphasis upon [ICT] skills, is a concern (2012, p 55).” 

      Change? What change?

      A common objection here is that digital technologies develop at a pace of change that is impossible to manage/keep up with, and so any focus on skills is futile. However,  if you consider this carefully you have to ask yourself how much has the way we USE digital technology really changed though? I have written about this dubious assumption here, but the truth is that yes, of course aspects of ICTs like processor speed and storage capacity have/are changing relentlessly yes, but use?

      Not so much.

      The same could be said of planes, trains, automobiles - more capacity, greater speed. Changing capacity is not the same as changing capability.

      So, having decided that we do need to consider what teachers should know about technology, we must consider how much they need to know to even be able to begin.

      Skills mapping and audits

      "A potential barrier to ICT CPD is staff not knowing what the gaps are in their own ICT knowledge. Many schools have found an ICT audit mapped to the curriculum a valuable tool in helping staff to gain a clear indication of the ICT skills, competencies and pedagogies they need to have." (Becta, 2009, Point 81)

      In order to avoid the skills element having a negative impact on learning, at the end of a unit of study, or even the end of the academic year, the teachers ‘traffic light’ the ICT core skills matrix to identify which skills have, or have not, been acquired, in order to determine which skills may have need to be focused on explicitly in other authentic contexts in the future.

      Example of a skills audit - post reflection

      This is not a question of skills vs pedagogic integration. Teachers and students need to acquire ICT skills before they can start to harness technological expertise for the purposes of student learning. This re-purposing of the TPACK  (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) framework, ensures that the focus remains pedagogically centred, but balanced and facilitated by clearly articulated ICT core skills.

      In most organisations, what gets monitored gets done. When a school devotes considerable time and effort to the continual assessment of a particular condition or outcome, it notifies all members that the condition or outcome is considered important. Conversely, inattention to monitoring a particular factor in a school indicates that it is less than essential, regardless of how often its importance is verbalised.

      The continued reluctance to engage with this issue should be resisted, as Becta's contribution to the Rose Review (2009) emphasised,"[ICT skills] should be regarded as an essential skills for learning and life, alongside literacy and numeracy." (Point 91) With warnings regarding the possibilities of neglecting this vital area:

      “… there are two significant dangers: the first is that young people will develop an incomplete and unreflective capability, unsupported by adult guidance, with risks both to their learning progress and their safety. The second is that a digital underclass, lacking opportunities for wide-ranging use of technology, will be permanently excluded from a world mediated by ICT." (Point 94)

      An impoverished generation?

      Unfortunately I often, in fact usually, see students, teenagers, the so-called ''digital natives' using their state of the art machines in ways that are, quiet frankly surprisingly rudimentary. Attempting to construct a table of content manually, using a calculator instead of a spreadsheet for managing multiple interrelated calculations, relying on MS Word for, well nearly everything, except for when they are using Keynote—poorly. Why? Because no one has taught them the fundamental skills they need to use these beautify shiny machines they've been given.

      A broad and balanced range of ICT competencies that span the domains of text, audio, image, video, data (and possibly control/coding) are in danger of becoming the proverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater. Practices to mitigate this must be carefully managed so that authentic opportunities for the acquisition of core ICT skills are planned for that are pedagogically centred, and concept driven not skills driven, but that do not neglect these skills.

      "In Sweden, young adults ages 16–24 topped the charts in an assessment of technology skills that was administered in 19 countries. Participants were asked to perform tasks at three levels of difficulty: to sort e-mails into folders, organize data into a spreadsheet, and manage reservations for a virtual meeting room. Fewer than one-third of U.S. young adults could complete tasks more complicated than sorting e-mails, a performance that put them at the bottom of the list of performers from the 19 countries."
      (Educational Leadership, 2014)

      In the 'bad old days'  classes of students were taught a broad and balanced set of ICT skills, within the confines of a lab, in entirely contrived contexts, that were inauthentic, but were successful in at least teaching the students the basics. Now, with the understandable shift away from skills based lab teaching, to the far more appropriate integrated model, there is a very real danger that in so doing we will accidentally impoverish an entire generation of students, by expecting them to acquire foundational ICT skills through a process of little more than exploration and serendipity. Sure, we have an authentic context, but no understanding of the competencies or types tools that are necessary to function within them. To further compound the problem, this process is managed by teachers who are often less competent with ICTs than their students, in contexts where the main stakeholders are unaware of the key ICT skills they need to work effectively, and where there is no one who has the expertise to bridge the gap between ignorance and expertise.

      This is not an approach to skills development we would countenance in any other area of the curriculum, and yet, in what is widely regarded as the most essential form of literacy, digital literacy, (alongside language and numeracy) it is. Yet another barrier to authentic integration looms, the barrier of a generation of students with an under developed ICT skill-set, ironically, despite the proliferation and availability of screens. Surprisingly, even those who should be the most likely providers of ICT skills teaching, tech integrators like me,  are often the most reluctant, due to their paralysing fear of a return to the ‘bad old days’ of skills teaching in isolation, they opt instead to restrict the skills sets of their students, to those learnt through a process of exploration and discovery, oriented around word processing, social media, and web browsing.

      ICT skills do not have to be an either/or choice, using reflective practices, and building awareness of the prerequisite tech skills that are foundational for all learners in the 21st century, we can avert an impending crisis, by providing our students and teachers with screens and a broad, balanced range of skills to use them effectively.

      The NETS are not enough

      While useful as overarching standards,  I do not believe NET Standards are enough on their own - they are too generic to be of practical use in ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum; they are descriptions of (any) curriculum, not applications of digital technologies. Remove the token references to ‘digital’ and ‘technology’ and you're left with a description of curriculum, but nothing which in and of itself actually requires the use of ICTs, or more importantly, that could not be achieved without the use of digital technologies at all. For example,

      “Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology” (NETS(S) 2007, strikethrough mine).  

      To use the analogy of literary genres/strands (which I find helpful, but you could use science and mathematics strands just as easily) they need to be specific to the nature of the sphere of experience. Literacy genres are, NETS are not.

      They need to be specific not generic. Yes you can argue that English literature is a 'subject' and ICT no longer is; this is just semantics. Who cares what we are defining them as now, we all know that just a few years ago 'IT' was a discrete subject, and it still is based on the definition of 'subject' it's just not 'discrete' anymore…

      subject: a branch of (technological) knowledge studied or taught in a school, college, or university.
      discrete: individually separate and distinct.

      ICT is a 'subject' that is now integrated - and should be subject (see what I did there?) to the same rigorous checks and balances of any other 'subject'. The same argument can easily be made for English language, or Science, or Mathematics - these are core competencies that are applicable and a prerequisite for success in any domain in the 21st century. So call them what you like and distribute them how you will - but a broad and balanced education requires that the essential elements of these subjects are not neglected.

      We should not neglect opportunities to read and write, for example, realistic fiction, or physics or shape and space in Mathematics, I believe the same applies to what could be called the 'digital domains' or literacies of ICTs, such as, text, image, video, audio and data (with coding/control waiting in the wings) - none of which the NETS explicitly describe or mandate, thereby rendering them useless as a means to articulate the effective use of digital technologies.



      To put it another way - we're talking about students becoming holistically literate, that literacy has to incorporate 'multiliteracies' including language, scientific/methodological ways of thinking, mathematical literacy and of course digital literacy. ALL of these can be defined as 'subjects', all of these could also be (and arguably should/could be) taught in an integrated way. Just because we've chosen to integrate a subject, does not mean it should be treated less rigorously - integration should not mean invisibility - at least not for teachers. (I'd argue invisibility would be great from a student's perspective, but so would it be for maths and science et al - they don't see it as a 'subject' it's just another natural (for them) way of thinking and working)

      So we have mandatory strands in each of these literacies that we expect all students to have multiple experiences with during their time in school, ideally in each grade, scoped and sequenced properly - I can't see how a student could be considered to be mathematically literate if, say, they had never been taught how to multiply, or in science, never experimented with forces, or in English, never read or written poetry, or in terms of digital literacy, never learned how to edit or use video. None of the strands in these subjects are left to chance, or to ad hoc integration. We carefully design authentic ways to ensure they are all experienced, all I'm arguing for is that we do not allow exceptions, especially not for one of the core competencies of the 21st century.

      Put simply, if we believe that articulating a coherent scope and sequence of essential skills in the domains of language and mathematics are necessary, then how much more so in what is arguably THE prerequisite skill set of the 21st Century? 

      For a PDF version of our ICT skills scope and sequence matrix, click here.

      An example of a section of our ICT skills matrix

      Vitamin D (VITAD)

      Five Essential Domains: VITAD: video, image, text, audio, data - 'Vitamin D' 

      Just like all subject domains, tech has its own overarching domains or strands that are an efficient way to organise the essential skill sets needed for true digital literacy.  We should not neglect opportunities to read and write, for example, realistic fiction, or physics or shape and space in Mathematics, I believe the same applies to what could be called the 'digital domains' or literacies of ICTs, such as, text, image, video, audio and data (with coding/control waiting in the wings) - none of which the NETS explicitly describe or mandate, thereby rendering them useless as a means to articulate the effective use of digital technologies.

      Digital Illiteracy... 

      An easy easy way to recall these essential areas is with the acronym 'VITAD', 'vitamin digital', now when you're considering whether not you can consider yourself, your students or any 21st century citizen to be truly digitally literate, how do they measure up to VITAD?
      1. Can they view, edit, create, compose with video?
      2. Can they organise, edit, resize, manipulate, incorporate image?
      3. Can they browse/read/search text? Are they proficient at word processing, commenting, curating  texts?
      4. Can the manage audio files, organise,  edit, create, compose audio using multiple audio tracks/sound effects?
      5. Do they know their way around a spreadsheet, Can they organise data efficiently, perform basic calculations using functions and formulae, analyse, synthesise, and model data?
      When, and only when you can confidently answer yes to all the above, then, and only then can you call yourself digitally literate!

      Digital literacy and digital competency 

      Essentially what I am advocating for, is an expansion of what we mean when we describe someone as 'digitally literate' in much the same way as we would when we describe someone as 'literate' or 'numerate'—we don't mean that we expect them to write like Shakespeare, or calculate like Einstein, in the same way digital literacy doesn't impose a skill set like that of Bill Gates, all it should mean is that, they are competent. For example, by the time our students complete their primary school education they should be 'literate' in language, number, and with digital technologies. That is why the skills matrix stops at Grade 5, by that point, if they have mastered all of the skills articulated within the matrix, they are digitally competent, competency meaning they have acquired knowledge of the key tools available in each domain, from word processors to spreadsheets, and the skills to use them effectively:

      "In contrast to a view of 21st century skills as general skills that can be applied to a range of different tasks in various academic, civic, workplace, or family contexts, the committee views 21st century skills as dimensions of expertise that are specific to—and intertwined with—knowledge within a particular domain of content and performance. To reflect our view that skills and knowledge are intertwined, we use the term “competencies” rather than “skills.” (Pellegrino et al, 2013, p3)

      Having established that foundational set of competencies, they are now well equipped to develop them further, with guidance or independently, but most importantly they are equipped, they know what they know, and they know what they don't know, and they have the capacity to extend their competency further in any of the domains should they need to or wish to.

      When & How do we teach/learn these skills?

      Any attempts to make time after school for any form of CPD are likely to be ineffective. ‘Training’ and ‘Courses’ do not really take account of the actual needs of teachers,

      “there can be no one size fits all training (Hu and McGrath, 2011, p 50)”. 

      When teachers can see the explicit relevance of the technology to enhancing their practice, their motivation increases, along with willingness to make the effort and to find the time to change (Daly et al, 2009). A core set of ‘little and often’ strategies are all you need; 4 strategies that are described here.

      ICT skills have never been more essential, and learning these are far from futile, they are fundamental—but the mode and medium you use to facilitate the acquisition of these skills by teachers is critical*. 

      *Whatever you do, don't try and teach these skills in didactic after school 'courses'. 

      Pellegrino J W, & Hilton M L (Eds) (2013). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. National Academies Press.