This quarter in my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring Digital Learning Environments by focusing on the exploration of ISTE Coaching Standard 3, which charges technology coaches to create and support an effective digital age learning environment to maximize the learning of all students. In an effort to explore this standard, I read a number of initial pieces on in the intersection of content, pedagogy and technology in educational practice. I then used these as a jumping off point to explore and investigation my initial thoughts on my own ideal digital learning environment.
Shulman (1986) presented an understanding of both the history and intersection of content and pedagogy in the preparation of teachers. He established that intellectual biographies are the background a teacher brings with him or her in the approach to teaching, and shared that teachers are dynamic and improvisational because the practice requires it (Shulman, 1986). He continued that neither content knowledge, nor pedagogical knowledge can reign supreme in one’s approach to teaching, but they must interact as specific learning needs require it (Shulman, 1986). Shulman’s piece led directly into the work of Mishra and Koehler, who added technology to the working relationship between content and pedagogy. Mishra and Koehler (2003) articulated the shift from previous models of preparing teachers with specific technology skills to the promotion of educators in their exploration and evaluation of possible technologies, as they align with teaching and learning needs. Mishra and Koehler proclaimed that educators should “go beyond thinking of themselves as being passive users of technological tools and begin thinking of themselves as being active designers of technology” (2003, p. 5). This sentiment embodied their focus on the “how” to teach over the previous notions of “what” to teach in the facilitation of student-centered learning environments. The takeaways are that educational technologies have challenges, are messy, and need to be designed for both the content and pedagogy in play.
Finally, Polin and Moe’s “Situating TPACK in Mediated Practice” presented an understanding of how both Shulman’s perspective and Mishra and Koehler’s come together via a focus on the word mediated to describe the relationship between technology, content and pedagogy. Polin and Moe distanced themselves from the idea that technology is, in itself, important, but rather that it must be uniquely integrated as a means to both content and pedagogy. As such, they state that there should be an emphasis on “self-efficacy with regard to learning new technologies” (Polin & Moe, 2015, p. 5). It seems that this is the heart of an ideal learning environment, one in which educators belief in their own ability to select and implement the use of various technologies that contribute to specific teaching and learning needs effectively. And, to further this point, it is my perspective that this same self-efficacy is what students should also possess in an ideal learning environment. The ownership should be on students to utilize technologies in their learning to best suit their needs. Finally, Polin and Moe (2015) iterated that the means to this technology utilization isn’t dependent on device type.
I was struck by the statement made by Polin and Moe that up until 1998, US public school “classrooms had computers, but typically these were in clusters of three of four in the classroom, or by access to a separate classroom referred to as the computer lab” (2015, p.11). Unfortunately this pre-1998 reflection is exactly the access to technology that I have currently have in my 2015 classroom. I have four computers in the back of my classroom (reduced from seven last year), and access to three school computer labs via sign-up. My concerns with access paired the acknowledgement that the “how” students create, communicate and collaborate and not the “what” device is used to do it, leads me to my exploration of my ideal learning environment that follows.
Exploration of My Ideal Learning Environment
My ideal student learning environment begins with the acknowledgement that learning is not a segmented reality, but a practice that should and does happen at all moments of the day. Unfortunately, our classrooms are not always structured to support and foster this acknowledgment. In “Blending Student Technology Experiences in Formal and Informal Learning,” Lai (2013) discussed the power of informal learning in education. Lai shared the prevalence of online technologies used by youth, establishing a baseline of learning practice that already occurs daily outside of the formal school setting. To be clear, informal learning encompasses the activities students engage in at their own direction and born of interest, rather than via the imposition of curriculum or assessment needs (Lai, 2013). This type of learning reiterates the self-efficacy in students highlighted above. Lai (2013) suggested that not only can teachers use the informal collaboration and communication students are already doing, chiefly on their mobile devices, to facilitate learning in the classroom, but that the classroom can conversely establish methods of encouraging continued learning away from school. Learning can rest on a continuum of formality. Lai stated that “To blend formal and informal learning effectively, it is essential that students have ubiquitous access to mobile technologies both at home and in school, and they are encouraged to use their personal devices to undertake informal learning in the school settings” (2011, p.421). One method of achieving this is the implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the classroom.
“Learning and Schooling in the Age of Mobilism” by Norris and Soloway outlined the shift from “I teach” to “we learn” mentalities around education with an initial discussion of the power of the handheld devices in the what they call “the age of mobilism.” According to Norris and Soloway (2011) not only have smartphones surpassed laptop sales, but internet access on smartphones has surpassed internet access on laptops. Norris and Soloway (2011) also shared that the adoption of smartphones equates numerically with those who have access to clean water worldwide, an undeniably remarkable statistic. The authors twice made a prediction that by 2015 most students would have smartphones and that the use of these smartphones would no longer be banned in schools. While the first may be a not too distant reality, the later is yet to be seen. The use of mobile devices supports the idea that intellectual ownership is the impetus behind learning in the age of mobilism, as students are no longer reliant on the teacher for access to information. Rather, students have the means to seek knowledge, create, manipulate, share and connect at their fingertips. As such, classrooms can and need to foster this practice. Additionally, cost and scalability are undeniable factors of using mobile devices in the classroom, as 1:1 rollouts of laptops or ipads are cost prohibitive, daunting endeavors that are incapable of maintaining pace with advancing technologies.
As I think about the action plan I am beginning to formulate in response to my ideal learning environment, I need to first address the current lack of access to technology in my classroom. A TPACK model cannot be established without this access. I began to resolve this issue during the last year by piloting my own evolving BYOD policy. This was often met with challenges and pushback from colleagues. As outlined above, the power of mobile devices to give students ownership over their informal and formal learning as they connect, communicate, collaborate and create is paramount. My goal is to continue to explore and address the needs and methods of BYOD implementation in the classroom in support of this. Of course, there are plenty of challenges and criticisms in implementing the use of student devices in a school. Last year, I experienced concerns regarding student behavior, school bandwidth infrastructure, tech support, device inequity, and collegial pushback. However, I believe my experiences of the past year will only serve to better inform my discussion and reflection on these concerns as I develop a more robust action plan.
Lai, K. G. (2013). Blending student technology experiences in formal and informal learning. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(5), 414-425.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2003). Not “what” but “how”: Becoming design-wise about educational technology. What teachers should know about technology: Perspectives and practices, 122.
Norris, C. A., & Soloway, E. (2011). Learning and Schooling in the Age of Mobilism. Educational Technology, 51(6),3.
Polin, L., & Moe, R. (2015, in publication) Situating TPACK in mediated practice. In K. Graziano & S. Bryners-Bogey’s Handbook for Educational Technology Teaching.
Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational researcher, 4-14.