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One of the unintended consequences of remote schooling during the coronavirus pandemic has been the leaps made with technology.
As a teacher you’ll have seen a range of different approaches within your own school. One of the opportunities ahead now is to unpick the variance across your own team – to understand why different teachers do different things with the same technology.
Importantly, you can then use this understanding to bring greater alignment between your school vision for technology and the realities of practice. This might be about increasing consistency across your school or identifying and building on the different strengths across your team.
I recently published a doctoral thesis which unpacks the relationship between teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and uses of technology.
Here are some of the headline findings and what they might mean in your school.
But this difference is not about their relationship with the technology itself. It’s about what they believe teaching and learning should look like and what they perceive technology offers or threatens in relation to that.
For example, I worked with a group of teachers who all recorded their teaching inputs in order for children to access them independently. Some teachers used these within lessons to differentiate inputs for groups, encourage capable children to self-pace and enable children who were struggling to rewatch.
Those teachers then forensically targeted their time on specific children and misconceptions or stretch. Other teachers replaced their live input with children individually or collectively watching the same recorded input – arguably negating the use of the technology.
In other words, while our practices may change when we use technology, our pedagogical beliefs don’t. This is important because language and behaviours adopted by a teacher and their learners may not change even when technology is used – which sometimes conflicts with the intentions of adopting the technology in the first place.
For example, many teachers’ language throughout an online activity revolves around instruction (‘First do this, then click that, then insert that…’). Even if you think you’re encouraging independent learning, your language still tells children that you are the owner of the process.
However, other teachers use more facilitative language (‘What happens if you click that? How could we work out how to…?’). For technology to encourage children’s independence, our language must do so too.
For example, a simple wireless keyboard and mouse enables a teacher to sit wherever they wish and still use the interactive whiteboard during an input. Some teachers choose to sit among the children – inferring and often enacting mutuality within the learning.
Other teachers choose to maintain the ‘front of class’ position, conveying a more authoritative stance. These are significant and revealing choices which infer underlying pedagogical messages being conveyed to the children.
This means that technology can’t be thought of as transferable across classes. Its use is socially constructed (dependent on the class, lesson or teacher). This is an important point to bear in mind when thinking about rolling out projects or sharing best practice.
Therefore, your learners may not be experiencing in practice what your school vision intends them to. This is really important to consider when cascading practice across a school or trust. As we all know, it’s not what we intend to do that makes a difference to children’s learning, but what pupils actually experience.
In conclusion, if we want to understand how technology use is experienced by teachers and learners (and what difference it is making) we need to look at their behaviours, language and relationships, not the technology. The impact will be seen in how those involved conceive the idea of what it means to be a teacher or learner.
Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning and specialises in strategic education research and consultancy. If your school would like to be involved in further research exploring and unpacking how and why different teachers use the same technologies in different ways, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Fiona on Twitter at @fionaas and visit her website at onelifelearning.co.uk.
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