Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Using New and Emerging Technologies To Improve Educational Outcomes: An Analysis Through The Lenses of the HPL Framework

My school, like many schools, has recently implemented a BYOD policy which has been shown to increase student access to information and engagement in their learning (Lai, Khaddage, & Knezek, 2013). Consequently, the majority of my students now bring smart devices such as smartphones and laptops to school to support their learning. 

Initially I figured that the BYOD policy would improve educational outcomes for my students with minimal effort from me. I assumed that since new and emerging technologies (NETs) including smart devices and Web 2.0 apps (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) are ubiquitous in students’ daily lives, they would know how to use them to support their learning. 

Unfortunately, just because NETs are present in the classroom does not mean that they will be utilised effectively to improve educational outcomes (Laurillard et al., 2013). My students that use them to support their learning generally do so for simple purposes only, such as a dictionary or research tool. The majority of my students however use their devices only in break times for purposes unrelated to their learning.
After reading Anderson, Brown, and Murray (2008), I asked myself to what extent I “tame or exploit NETs for [my] classroom purposes?” (Anderson et al., 2008, p. 138). I realised that I have not taken full advantage of the affordances that NETs offer. Rather, I use technology in a very low-tech and formulaic way, causing a “digital disconnection” (Anderson et al., 2008, p. 136) between what I see as appropriate and expected use of NETs and what my students perceive that to be. Consequently, I must critically analyse my practices and rethink how I employ NETs to strengthen the relationship between teaching, learning and the curriculum, particularly given the digital age in which we reside (Anderson et al., 2008) and the apparent disillusionment many of my students seem to be experiencing. Therefore, the learning and teaching challenge which I will be analysing and responding to is to better integrate NETs into my teaching practice.

Bransford, Derry, Berliner, Hammerness, and Beckett (2005) argue that we need to challenge our assumptions by making them explicit and thereby thinking more critically about them; otherwise we risk them becoming self-fulfilling and negatively affecting how we interact with our students. They developed the How People Learn (HPL) framework (Bransford et al., 2005) to “provide a way of thinking that can help educators to improve their efforts to teach” (Bransford et al., 2005, p. 41) and challenge their assumptions by analysing learning through four separate yet overlapping components or ‘lenses’. In order to teach effectively and help all students succeed “teachers must learn to balance and integrate all four components of the HPL framework…” (Bransford et al., 2005, p. 41). 

This report will analyse my teaching and learning challenge through each of the four HPL lenses. Each analysis will be followed by a planned response which details how I will change as a result of the analysis. The learner-centred lens will receive particular attention because of its focus on the teaching and learning process and will form the bulk of the response I will detail, underpinning the other three lenses in this case. 

The questions being addressed in this report are:

1. How can I better develop twenty-first century competencies, specifically digital literacy, using NETs? (Knowledge-centred lens)

2. What pedagogies should I employ to ensure that twenty-first century learners are engaged and motivated and able to use NETs in both formal and informal settings to maximise their educational outcomes? (Learner-centred lens)

3. How can I use NETs to increase my students’ engagement with their learning community? (Community-centred lens)

4. How can NETs be used to improve the assessment practices in my classroom? (Assessment-centred lens)

Analysis of the situation

Looking Through the Knowledge-Centred Lens


The knowledge-centred lens focuses on what should be taught and why (Bransford et al., 2005). In my classroom, students often seem disconnected with the knowledge and skills being taught and will often ask “How is this relevant to me?” I assumed that the knowledge and skills I teach them are those necessary for my students to engage in society. However, as Bransford et al. (2005) point out “different skills and knowledge are required for successful and productive lives in the twenty-first century” (p. 42), and people today view the intended purposes and products of education as different to those of the previous century. These twenty-first century competencies are described as collaboration, communication, digital literacy, citizenship, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and productivity (Voogt, Erstad, Dede, & Mishra, 2013). One might assume these competencies would be well embedded in educational practice, yet since this is not the case an overhaul of the curriculum is required to increase their integration in learning and assessment (Voogt, Erstad, et al., 2013). 

Consequently, I have realised that my assumption that I was teaching necessary skills and knowledge is wrong and that instead I should be focusing on teaching twenty-first century competencies. The New Zealand government wants young people equipped with the skills to be successful in the twenty-first century and stresses that exploring the possibilities of online learning must be a process undertaken across the education sector, by joining with eager students who are already driving the change through their use of technology and their eagerness to “learn online through new applications, tools and content” (Kaye, 2013).
When teaching the key competencies, Voogt, Erstad, et al. (2013) stress that “digital literacy should… be… embedded within and across the other twenty-first century competencies and core subjects” (p. 410). Hague and Payton (2010) define digital literacy as “the skills, knowledge and understanding that enables critical, creative, discerning and safe practices when engaging with digital technologies in all areas of life” (p. 19). It makes subject learning relevant in a world which is rapidly becoming more digital and where the way people make and communicate meaning is radically changing. Digital literacy is considered an “essential life skill” which people need “to take part in the full life of the community” (The digital strategy, 2005, p. 18). The New Zealand curriculum recognises this need for a focus on digital literacy by aiming to create learners that “will seize opportunities offered by new … technologies … and be … connected … learners … [who are] effective users of communication tools” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 8).

How can I better develop twenty-first century competencies, specifically digital literacy, using NETs?

I propose that by considering digital literacy as the key twenty-first century competency, I will facilitate the development of the other associated competencies. Therefore, I will focus my efforts on developing digital literacy as an embedded competency. To foster digital literacy in my classroom, I need to give students the opportunity to use a wide range of NETs to be critical, creative and collaborative consumers and producers of digital media (Hague & Payton, 2010). By doing this, they will “recontextualise knowledge, repurpose it and make it their own” (Hague & Payton, 2010, p. 25), developing a broad set of critical digital literacies through thinking carefully about how to portray ideas and meaning in digital artefacts (Hague & Payton, 2010). To assist teachers in this process, Hague and Payton (2010) provide strategies for developing digital literacy in the classroom, as well as a flexible and adaptable digital literacy planning tool which can be used as a framework to support planning for digital literacy development. I will use this planning tool when integrating digital literacy into my unit plans, along with their associated pedagogical strategies (discussed in the next section of the report).

Looking Through the Learner-Centred Lens


The learner-centred lens focuses attention on the individual student and their special strengths, interests, and needs (Bransford et al., 2005).

Although technology is ubiquitous in students’ daily lives, I must not assume that their knowledge of technology and the extent to which they use it to learn are closely aligned. In fact often they are poles apart (Anderson et al., 2008). Hague and Payton (2010) point to numerous observations by teachers of students demonstrating very poor information selection and retrieval skills and suggest that young people’s confidence about their use of technology can be misleading. I have observed many students failing to use NETs to support their learning in situations where other students have used them without prompting. At other times, I have observed NETs being used in a way that has led to blatant plagiarism of other people’s work, yet students seem unable to observe this for themselves. 

Therefore, rather than assume that my students know how to use NETs, I need to teach them how to use them. Voogt, Knezek, Cox, Knezek, and ten Brummelhuis (2013) suggest that the need for twenty-first century skills requires learner-centred approaches, which they call twenty-first century learning, and involves a shift towards integrating twenty-first century competencies into teaching programmes which harness the potential of these devices. To do this, I need to confront my own assumptions about the extent to which I know how to use NETs and twenty-first century competencies myself if I am to support twenty-first century learning in my classroom (Voogt, Erstad, et al., 2013). Consequently, I will change from a mere transmitter of information to a facilitator that helps learners become active constructors of subject knowledge (Hague & Payton, 2010).

Another assumption that I have made is that the majority of a student’s meaningful learning takes place in school lessons. However, learning can be viewed on a continuum of formality, ranging from formal, school-based learning at one end to informal, non-school-based learning at the other, and what is learnt informally can influence what is learnt formally, especially regarding twenty-first century competencies (Lai et al., 2013; Voogt, Erstad, et al., 2013). Twenty-first century learners actively and frequently create and share their own meaning of the world through NETs in a variety of social and cultural settings, both formal and informal, and experience a disconnect between how they use it in informal versus formal settings (Lai et al., 2013). Technology is used in markedly different ways by students in a variety of different learning spaces including unstructured and unsupervised environments, often merely for personal interest (Lai et al., 2013). In this way, they can be thought of as engaged learners who define their own curriculum, as and when they see fit and in a way that has relevance to them (Laurillard et al., 2013). In challenging the assumption that most meaningful learning takes place in the classroom, I have realised that I need to seek ways of incorporating informal learning into the formal learning process.

When using NETs to increase student achievement, one must consider the extent to which the NETs motivate the students and increase their engagement. Increased motivation can lead to increased educational achievement and vice-versa, and intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic motivation in attaining positive educational outcomes (St. George & Riley, 2008). As St. George and Riley (2008) point out “an intrinsically motivated person enjoys doing the work or engaging in an activity for its challenge, interest and fun, not because of any external rewards or pressures” (St. George & Riley, 2008, p. 147) and tackle their learning in a more positive way, showing higher levels of engagement and enjoyment, developing a greater understanding and increased creativity. I have previously assumed that providing students with the opportunity to use their own digital devices would increase their intrinsic levels of motivation without much input from me as a teacher; however I have not observed this to be the case in many situations. I need to utilise NETs in such a way so as to increase student motivation and engagement.

What pedagogies should I employ to ensure that twenty-first century learners are engaged and motivated and able to use NETs in both formal and informal settings to maximise their educational outcomes? 

Teachers who want to integrate technology into their teaching practice need to be competent in content, pedagogy and the potential of technology (Voogt, Fisser, Pareja Roblin, Tondeur, & van Braak, 2013). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a conceptual framework for improving teaching with NETs, with the underpinning principle that effective teaching practice combines content, pedagogy and technology in a creative and integrated manner (Voogt, Erstad, et al., 2013). In order to improve TPACK teachers must engage in collaborative redesign and enactment of technology-enhanced curriculum materials (Voogt, Erstad, et al., 2013). I can achieve this by collaboratively redesigning the dated units that my school employs and trialling the changes in my classroom to improve achievement.
Besides making changes to the units, I can make more informal changes in my classroom practice. To do this, I will use an activity theory framework, involving individual consideration of the learners themselves, the learning spaces and the learning tools employed (in this case, NETs) (Anderson et al., 2008).

Technology can play a key role in improving a learner’s motivation (Bransford et al., 2005) by increasing their responsibility for their own learning (Webb, 2013) and allowing them to develop autonomy and personal control by promoting a sense of relatedness and feelings of competence (St. George & Riley, 2008). This means employing pedagogies that view the learning from the learner’s perspective (Bourke, 2008) and differentiate and individualise the learning for each student by aligning the learning to the identities of individual students (St. George & Riley, 2008), allowing students to contribute to their own learning agenda (Bourke, 2008) and see themselves as the key player in the learning process.

Webb (2013) developed a framework for understanding how pedagogy can be applied to individualised online learning, relying on sharing pedagogical reasoning with the learner so that the learning process is as transparent as possible. The approach is dependent on sharing considerable amounts of fully accessible outputs from formative e-assessments, and involves not only participation by the learner and teacher, but also family and community. This overlap with assessment and community is indicative of the overlap that exists between the lenses of the HPL framework (Bransford et al., 2005). By utilising the framework developed by Webb (2013), I hope to increase student motivation and engagement for my twenty-first century learners.

Looking at NETs from the perspective of the learning space reveals exciting possibilities. A motivating, authentic space will lead to higher levels of engagement with the content and subsequently higher achievement (Bourke, 2008). Anderson et al. (2008) suggests that NETs expand the range and utility of learning spaces because they have few physical or temporal limitations. They point out that “the internet affords learning anytime, anywhere … [and] amplify the affordances of the physical environment” (Anderson et al., 2008, p. 138) and that handheld wireless devices can “reconfigure the physical spaces in which people learn” (p. 139). Therefore, I must imagine my classroom as a limitless learning space surrounded by cyberspace, with learners existing in a “media-saturated world” (Anderson et al., 2008, p. 137) where they can engage in a variety of learning activities with others who may be widely spaced geographically (Hague & Payton, 2010). Expanding the learning space opens up more informal learning environments, where the ‘teacher’ may be a peer, and ‘assessment’ can happen in a variety of ways (if students see fit to ‘submit’ their work for assessment at all) (Lai et al., 2013).

Lai et al. (2013) discuss the benefits of mobile technology as examples of specific NETs that are particularly effective at combining formal and informal learning spaces. They point to their mobility and portability in transforming how and where learning can take place and see them as an “integrated and ubiquitous solution” (Lai et al., 2013, p. 416) which distinguishes them from other NETs. They stress that educators need to better understand how to integrate mobile technologies and propose using the Mobile-Blended Collaborative Learning (MBCL) model (Lai et al., 2013) as a mechanism to allow learning across boundaries and promote intentional informal learning in blended and collaborative learning environments. The model relies on mobile technologies being readily accessible in both formal and informal settings, and students need to be encouraged to use them more frequently for informal learning while in the formal, school setting (Lai et al., 2013). To be successful employing the model, three types of mobile applications need to be combined: tools for collaboration, tools for coordination and tools for communication (Lai et al., 2013). To achieve this, I will largely use the Google Apps suite of applications (to which all my students have access) along with a variety of other web-based applications.

Looking Through the Community-Centred Lens

The community-centred lens focuses on the social nature of learning and the importance of community in the learning process (Bransford et al., 2005).

The unfortunate reality for many students is that they feel alienated from important communities that exist within schools because the communities are often very impersonal places (Bransford et al., 2005). In other words, they feel alienated from their teachers and peers. Learning is a highly social process (Vygotsky, 1978) and peer interactions form an important part of the learning context and can greatly influence a learner’s success as a result of the atmosphere they create for the student (Bourke, 2008). Fear, intimidation and mistrust can all create an unproductive learning atmosphere, whereas in a learning community that maximises collaboration, ideas are shared, creating one of confidence, trust and increased productivity (Bransford et al., 2005).

I have assumed that my students will use NETs without explicit direction from me to interact with their peers in the learning community. However, I have observed that although the students use their NETs for social purposes in informal settings, they do not use them to engage in formal, collaborative, community focused activities without prompting. Digital literacies play an important role in people being active citizens within a community (Anderson et al., 2008) and therefore I need to develop in my students the knowledge and skills necessary to use their NETs to engage with their peers in the wider learning community.

As well as increasing student engagement with their peers, I need to address the continuing problem of the lack of visibility of the learners’ family and wider community (Davis, Eickelmann, & Zaka, 2013). Bransford et al. (2005) points out the importance of how students spend their time outside of school, given that they spend so little of their time actually in it. They state that “the more teachers can work with others to build upon the goodwill and intellectual resources of the community, the more successful they can be [in increasing achievement]” (Bransford et al., 2005, p. 75). Creating connections with the wider learning community through the use of NETs is therefore a crucial part of tackling my challenge from the community-centred perspective.

How can I use NETs to increase my students’ engagement with their learning community?

Some students have multiple identities across a variety of contexts (Bourke, 2008), especially online, which provides an opportunity to increase their engagement with their wider learning community. Lai et al. (2013) point out that when students use mobile devices in their learning; they can communicate and collaborate with other students in virtual communities through blogging, twittering etc. In other words, students can engage with their wider learning community through online social networking tools where they might otherwise lack the inhibitions that prevent them from interacting in face-to-face contexts. Therefore, I must maximise the amount of interactions between students in the digital world to allow all students to actively engage in learning twenty-first century competencies in twenty-first century contexts.

Hague and Payton (2010) stress the need to engage with students’ lives and cultures outside of school through locating and utilising community-based resources. To facilitate this, I can get students to use their NETs to search for what Bransford et al. (2005) refers to as “funds of knowledge” (p. 55) in homes and other online communities to increase the authenticity of activities we undertake and bring outside expertise into the classroom. Twining, Raffaghelli, Albion, and Knezek (2013) point out that it is critically important to engage all stakeholders in developing a shared vision for education and the role of NETs within it to ensure that parents and policymakers do not hold different views of what constitutes good performance. Therefore, engaging with whanau to increase their awareness of their children’s learning is crucial. The Ministry of Education and New Zealand Teachers Council provides numerous resources which discuss how to better engage with the wider learning community through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter (Ministry of Education, 2010a, 2010b; New Zealand Teachers Council, 2013). I will endeavour to use these tools to increase whanaus’ awareness of their children’s learning.

Looking through the Assessment-Centred Lens

The assessment-centred lens focuses on ways that different teaching and learning goals impact how teachers assess progress (Bransford et al., 2005).

Bransford et al. (2005) discuss the role that assessment plays in education, suggesting that it has a greater role than merely making up tests and giving grades. They question whether or not the assessments we use actually assess the twenty-first century competencies and students’ preparation for future learning. They also highlight the importance of authenticity in assessments, arguing that a lack will negatively affect a student’s ability to perform to the full extent of their understanding. Voogt, Knezek, et al. (2013) point out that twenty-first century learning requires alternative assessment frameworks which better account for the role of NETs in education. This has made me ponder how NETs can improve the process and purpose of assessment in my classroom.

How can NETs be used to improve the assessment practices in my classroom?

Webb, Gibson, and Forkosh-Baruch (2013) identified ways of moving assessment design towards a more user-centred approach focused on meeting individual needs and found that NETs have the potential to transform assessment practices in the twenty-first century, pointing to their ability to support both assessment of learning and assessment for learning. They stress the need for improved formative assessment techniques in order for students to successfully implement twenty-first century skills, including digital literacy skills. Formative assessment will allow teachers and students to identify individual learning needs and plan appropriate next steps for individual students (Webb et al., 2013).

If a teacher is to be effective at formatively assessing a student, they need to be constantly making moment-by-moment decisions based on their on-going assessment of the learner’s current levels of understanding and their zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978), because each student is on their own learning trajectory and therefore may require different assessment considerations from others (Bransford et al., 2005). One must also consider that because a student’s ZPD is dependent on their interactions with their peers (Vygotsky, 1978), using NETs will enhance their zones of proximal development because they facilitate high degrees of communication and collaboration. Therefore, using NETs will not only improve assessment for the student, but will also enlarge the student’s ZPD, thereby improving their potential achievement levels.

Webb et al. (2013) discuss the use of NETs for embedded, continuous and unobtrusive (or “quiet”) assessment processes which can have the “volume turned up” (p. 451) at any time to discuss evidence of learning and achievement. They point to the potential of learning portfolios in this process and suggest that these learning portfolios do not need to be limited to evidence of a student’s formal learning, but might also include evidence from informal learning as well, which supports the concept of twenty-first century learning involving a wide range of contexts contributing to judgements of a student’s achievements (Webb et al., 2013). This allows students to remain engaged in interesting learning tasks while being able to access evidence-based arguments of their achievement. Webb et al. (2013) stress that this should not be a secret process, but rather should involve both the teacher and learner in the use of the assessment data, thereby encouraging student voice and their capacity for self- and peer-assessment, leading to increased self-direction and self-determination (Bourke, 2008).

Reflection

Writing this report using the HPL framework has taught me how to balance all four aspects of the learning process: knowledge, learning, community and assessment, and allowed me to identify how NETs can be used to teach content and skills important and relevant to twenty-first century learners in a way that connects with their current skills and preconceptions about the world. I can now employ techniques which will empower students to take responsibility for their learning through meaningful assessment processes and feel a valued part of a motivating, engaging learning community. By emphasising all four components of the HPL framework, I have made it easier for all my students to succeed.

When I first read about the HPL framework, what resonated most with me was the section on assessment (Hagler, 2013), where Bransford et al. (2005) point out that all four lenses must be carefully aligned when planning for it. I realised that NETs could form an integral part of effective and efficient assessment processes in my classroom, but only if I critically analysed what I was teaching in the classroom and how I was teaching it. By critically analysing my teaching through the four lenses, I have developed a better understanding of what learning in the twenty-first century really means and how NETs can support that. It has provided me with insight into how my students think about and use technology and given me a methodology which I can use to better integrate it to improve teaching and learning in my classroom.

I envisage that the changes I make to my practice as a result of this analysis will likely cause tension in the activity system in which I operate as a teacher. Teachers who increase the role of NETs in their practice challenge their community’s regular modus operandi, creating both opportunities and conflict (Laferrière, Hamel, & Searson, 2013). Undoubtedly there will be opportunities to exploit and conflict to confront as I move towards greater integration of NETs in my teaching.

Twining et al. (2013) stress the importance of teachers continually developing themselves professionally over their entire career. They point to the need for teachers to be more than just mere technicians of the trade, but rather “solidly grounded in relevant educational theory… so that they… [can]… apply theory to evolve their practice in response to changing conditions” (p. 433). After completing this critical analysis of an area of my practice, I realise that the written analysis and response is merely the beginning – now comes the real challenge of actually applying the theory.

References




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