Lenovo sponsored two panel discussions at this year's EduTECH conference to reflect on the direction of education technology in Australia.
We were delighted that four of Australia's best qualified and most experienced educational technologists agreed to join our panel. They were:
Travis Smith, national education specialist at Microsoft. As a former teacher, assistant principal and university lecturer in education, Travis has plenty of 'on the ground' experience of how technology is working (or not!) in all kinds of schools.
Mike Reading, Australia's first Google certified teacher and Google Apps for Education certified trainer. As a working teacher who's presented professional development training for thousands of teachers, Mike also has a wealth of current real-world experience.
Jim Cook, innovation lead at the University of Sydney, overseeing their design lab.
Jason Jacobs, education specialist at Intel.
The panel agreed that "BYOD" (bring your own device) had a range of meanings that needed to be clarified. At one extreme it can mean "bring any device that's connected and has a screen". At the other, it can mean mandating a particular device, but getting parents to pay for it.
As Travis noted, the latter approach can give parents a misleading impression: "I've forked over $800-900 for a device, so my kid had better be computer-literate at the end of the term."
"Many think the type of device doesn't matter. The cognitive science says you think differently when you work on a screen from how you work with pen and paper. We should have the science in mind when we choose the devices."
"One of the reasons I'm not a fan of BYOD free-for-all is that 12 year olds end up making the choice of device, with no knowledge of what's valuable for them."
Students already get technology. Or do they?
One widely-held assumption is that students, as 'digital natives', understand technology. But as technology has become ubiquitous, it's no more 'understood' by most people (young or old) than our power or sewer systems. It's just 'there'.
Making the most effective use of that technology requires conscious teaching and practice, no less than any other tool. And, unfortunately, as many teachers felt less comfortable with technology than their students do, they often aren't able to realise the benefits of technology.
The panel agreed that much more professional development time and commitment was needed to help ensure teachers had all the skills they needed.
Are we teaching the 21st century skills employers are looking for?
First of all, what are these "21st century skills"?
Jim: "People are coming through university training for jobs that don't yet exist. To us in the university it's around understanding how to manipulate resources and research things to reach outcomes that aren't immediately obvious."
Travis: "Understanding the difference between intelligence and "extelligence" – the ability to use resources and synthesise them effectively."
"Assessment is definitely changing. PISA are going to be assessing collaboration skills.
"Knowledge building – the bit that comes after research – is the vital thing to me.
21st century learning design
Jim: "Our design lab researches pedagogies. We own a lot of IP about what's effective, but there's a current disconnect between the 'want' and the 'will'. People would like to use these pedagogies to deliver better learning outcomes, but it seems like a lot of work.
Mike: "We focus on pedagogy. You need to give teachers time to relate technology to the national curriculum and their particular class and situation."
Where can teachers go for help?
Jason pointed out Intel's main education page: intel.com/teach, a free online resource to enable teachers to create digital content that's mapped to curriculum standards. It's a very practical, vendor agnostic tool.
Travis: The research shows that one-off professional development sessions aren't effective. We need to do more: we need to show how it's relevant to them and use our own knowledge of pedagogy. Properly coordinated coaching is very effective. Above all, technology understanding and development needs to be integrated into performance plans and appraisal processes
We have to change the paradigm of PD rather than continue to lay knowledge onto a basis that doesn't work.
How do we stack up globally?
Travis: Partners in Learning ran a worldwide forum of educators. Australia, New Zealand and the UK are among the leaders. Some people are too humble to share. While some overshare.
Want to know more?
You can watch the full panel sessions to get the full conversation. The other suggestions were to visit other schools, find someone innovative in your own city and have coffee, take advantage of university online resources ("as good as PD courses"!) and join groups like Partners in Learning to really connect to people who are facing the same problems
The panel members gave us a string of links to great resources:
Partners in Learning – 50,000 educators from around the world. A great place to start connections with other schools.
Google Educator programme. Online courses. Google + communities.
Innovative Teaching and Learning: provides checklists to help educators develop specific skills in students.
University of Sydney's Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition.
Australian Learning & Teaching Council's good practice report on technology-enhanced learning and teaching. http://www.olt.gov.au/system/files/resources/GPR_Technology_Enhanced_Keppel.pdf
"Educating the Net Generation" at the University of Melbourne.
Sharon Oviatt's book The Design of Future Educational Interfaces, which provides the cognitive science research behind what computers should look like.
Microsoft's education resources.
Windows 8 Apps for learning.
Microsoft Teachers Blog - includes lots of ways to use Windows 8 in the classroom
Intel's education resources.
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