Hardware in my teaching environment and perceptions of efficacy

My teaching environment is a classroom of between 6 and 18 adults (18-30 yrs) from various overseas countries studying to improve their English language skills (usually in preparation for other tertiary studies).

About 10 years ago, laptop computers and projectors (portable rather than fixed) were introduced, mainly being used to facilitate teacher instruction (through PowerPoint, video or internet resources). This was done in response to the perception that this kind of instruction was becoming standard, and therefore management moved to ‘conform’. The benefits or potential uses for the hardware were not discussed with teachers, and, since then professional development has remained in-house and infrequent. I think it’s fair to say that this is now widely accepted and that most teachers use the laptops for PowerPoint on a weekly, if not daily basis. In my experience, most teachers, although not all by any means, view PowerPoint to have the advantage of standardising and making instruction more effective and easy to deliver, and students also seem to trust PowerPoint to make learning easier (See, for example Hill, Arford, Lubitow & Smollin, 2012). However, as this article points out, PowerPoint, and many other laptop/projector-based interactions remain very teacher-centred, with students usually remaining largely passive, so it hardly conforms to good pedagogical theory.

5 years ago, in an attempt to bring more interactivity to the centre, I managed to persuade management to purchase a touch-screen monitor which was installed on one of the classroom walls. My hope was to get passive students up and interacting with presentations, and allow for a less teacher-centred approach. Sadly, this was not very successful, since the single touch screen device only allows for an individual or pair to interact. Now that the touch screen has stopped functioning, it is essentially used as another projection device.

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Most recently, 2 years ago, the centre management once again bowed to prevailing educational tides, and purchased a single tablet computer for each classroom. This was provided with a cable to connect to projectors. To this day, I am not quite certain what management hoped to achieve with this. The initial effect was that teachers struggled, with no professional development or support, to master the use of the new device, while, in fact, using it for precisely the same purpose as before, i.e. for projection of presentations and internet artifacts. As with the introduction of any new technology there were innumerable minor technical issues and frustrations, for which no support was forthcoming – the end result being that I am the only teacher currently still making use of the tablets, while all the other teachers have returned to the more reliable laptops.

Since I have been able to get my hands on 4 or 5 tablets for use in my own classroom, as a result of their lack of appeal to other teachers, I have been able to have some success in creating some interactive applications for the devices that I think have worked reasonably well to enhance student learning and motivation. However, now that the majority of students are coming to class with personal devices that far outperform these already outdated tablets, I am turning more and more to the BYOD (bring your own device) classroom possibilities.

The above summary of my own technology resources and experiences seems to tie in with observatiosn such as those by Cox (2012) and Voogt, Knezek, Cox, Knezek & Brummelhuis (2011):

In Cox, for example, she suggests that the uncertainty caused by innovative practices, and the perceived lessening of ‘control’ that many teachers feel occurs as a result of more student-centred e-learning, is a significant barrier to technology uptake. She also mentions time factors, with teachers put off by the effort and time required to learn these new skills, and to investigate research into its efficacy and effective implementation (Cox, 2012). Also reminiscent of my own experiences, is the mention Cox makes of the Preston, Cox & Cox research (2000), which seemed to show that even IT teachers were only using technology in their classrooms in very limited ways, such as word-processing.

As Cox (2012) notes, the main solution to the above problems, which are also so prevalent in my own situation, is appropriate and well-implemented professional development. In essence, before teachers can be expected to put innovative practices into action, they need to be shown both why these methods are effective (supported by valid research), and also how and when this can and should be done. There also needs to be ongoing support, especially in the early stages, so that inevitable frustrations can be ironed out.

I’m not sure I completely agree with where Cox (2012) seems to go with this however; when she refers to the need to move from a ‘present stage’ to a ‘future stage’, as suggested by Sakamoto (2002). A paradigm shift is coming, and is needed, in which e-learning (as Cox terms it) will become a central and important aspect of teaching, rather than a supplementary, minor or even optional concept. However, I disagree that ‘face-to-face’ teaching will necessarily be relegated to a similarly minor role. I think that it will simply have to adapt, with the ‘face’ (i.e. the teacher) becoming more facilitator and guide, as it should be anyway, but not absent entirely.

Voogt, Knezek , Cox, Knezek & ten Brummelhuis (2011) reviewed the findings of the international EDUsummIT held in 2009. Many of these findings (which remain central to the 2011 and 2015 EDUsummITs) are in line with the issues raised by Cox (2012). For example, the fact that:

“teachers not only need to have basic ICT literacy skills; they also need to learn how to use ICT in pedagogical settings and how to integrate ICT in the curriculum” and that therefore there is a need  “to provide for ongoing technical, human, and organizational support … Teachers need support in keeping up to date with the potential of hardware and software for teaching and learning (Voogt, Knezek , Cox, Knezek & ten Brummelhuis, 2011).

Both articles also identify the increasingly blurred lines between classroom and home, between formal and informal learning as being extremely significant for future educators. They call for a greater focus on this aspect of learning, both in future research and also in our teaching. With flipped classrooms, and blended and mobile learning becoming more and more the focus of research and proposed best practices, these aspects are also listed as ‘significant future challenges’ in reports such as the NMC higher education report of this year (Johnson et al., 2016).

References

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., & Hall, C. (2016). NMC horizon report: 2016 Higher education edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2016-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN.pdf 

Cox, M.J. (2012), Formal to informal learning with IT: research challenges and issues for e-learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2012.00483.x. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2012.00483.x

Hill, A., Arford, T., Lubitow, A., & Smollin, L. M. (2012). “I’m ambivalent about it” The dilemmas of PowerPoint. Teaching Sociology40(3), 242-256. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/Im_Ambivalent_about_It_The_Dilemmas_of_Powerpoint.pdf

Preston C., Cox M.J. & Cox K.M.J. (2000) Teachers as Innovators: An Evaluation of the Motivation of Teachers to Use Information and Communications Technologies. King’s College London and Mirandanet, Croydon.

Sakamoto, T. (2002). Educational reform based on e-learning of an international web-based learning community. Journal of Studies in International Education16(2), 15-17.

Voogt J., Knezek G., Cox M.J., Knezek D.&ten Brummelhuis A. (2011) Under which conditions does ICT have a positive effect on teaching and learning? Acall to action. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 15 November 2011, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00453.x. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00453.x

 

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