According to Dr Michael Phillips of Monash University, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to technology for the classroom. Instead, he says, it’s important for educators to understand how the technology works and whether or not it’s the right fit for their particular classroom.
As educators, we are often exposed to advertisements promoting the use of digital technologies in our classrooms. Additionally, pressures from state and federal curriculum documents and even from school leaders and parents can make teachers feel as though they have to constantly be using the latest hardware and software.
While there are undoubtedly a range of ‘state-of-the-art’ examples in which teaching and learning are enhanced through the use of educational technologies, the ‘state-of-the-actual’ in many classrooms is quite different. Many educators struggle to keep up with the latest technological developments and to consider the ways these might best work for the students they are teaching.
Teaching is a people business
All of the great teachers I have met share one thing in common. They love working with people. At its core, I believe teaching is a people business. If you cannot relate to the students in front of you, it is going to be very difficult to understand what may or may not resonate with them. Not understanding what motivates, engages and frightens the students in your classroom means that you are likely to miss the mark more often than you hit it. So, trying to work out what technologies might work as part of your teaching practice has to start with the students you are teaching.
With the latest app, there may be great opportunities that others rave about, but if this isn’t going to resonate with your students, then it is unlikely to have similar results for you.
The first thing to consider is your pedagogical knowledge – understanding the relationship between your teaching and your students’ learning. At the heart of this relationship is people and not all technologies are going to work in the same way with different groups of people (or even with the same group of people at different points in time).
Content is a big deal
The particular information that you are presenting to your students makes a really big difference. Unlike secondary school teachers, primary teachers so often need to be familiar with a huge variety of content. The way that content is organised reveals a great deal about the nature of the knowledge being taught. Even if we take what appears to be one subject – like Science – we can find really important differences between Biology and Chemistry, for example.
Biologists like to think in terms of systems and how these interact with one another. Chemists like to break down more complex structures into their constituent parts. This means the way information gets represented looks very different for these topic areas and one thing that digital technologies are able to do really well is represent information in a variety of ways. Thinking deeply about your content knowledge allows you to carefully consider what digital technologies will allow you to best represent different types of information – this is not a one-size-fits-all model.
Getting down to the technological bit
Many teachers I have worked with start with considerations of the technology – “What button do I need to press to make it…?” is the kind of question many teachers ask. While the technical aspects of some technologies can make things challenging, many of the really well designed, newer forms of technology are powerful but also user friendly.
Instead of worrying about which buttons you are going to need to know about, I encourage educators to think about a deeper form of technological knowledge as well. The form of technological knowledge that my research has shown to be really important is understanding the connections between technological opportunities and constraints, and your pedagogical and content knowledge.
Asking: In what ways does this technology allow me to better represent particular content to my particular students at this particular point in time for a very particular purpose lies at the heart of effective technology integration.
An easy way to picture this is in the TPACK framework diagram in which technological, pedagogical and content knowledge are represented as overlapping circles. Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler who developed this model argue that the most effective educational technology integration occurs at the nexus of these three circles – when our Technological, Pedagogical And Content Knowledge (or TPACK for short) all come together in our own particular context.