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August 14, 2015

Technology enhanced student centred learning: devaluing the role of teachers?

Student centred learning has long been an interest of mine ever since I started exploring Educational theories less than a decade ago. It is a perspective of learning that puts the learner at the centre of the learning process; that the learner becomes the seeker of knowledge or truth rather than being the passive recipient of knowledge handed to him / her from a perceived authority figure. Without a doubt, student centred learning is a vast research area that spans both children and adult learners within any discipline and within any learning context. A sub area of this is Technology Enhanced Student Centred Learning, which places technology at the core of the aims and objectives of such learning; that technology is designed and utalised within such learning contexts to support the aims and objectives, and to support the needs and requirements of the learners. During the past decade much has been written about the subject including Personalised Learning Environments, much of which has been written extensively by Graham Atwell, along with theoretical perspectives such as Paragogy, Heutagogy, and Rhizome learning, which can also apply to other areas of learning.

An article written by Ross Brenneman highlights some references that express fears about Technology Enhanced Student Centred Learning contexts that revolve around teachers being replaced with technologies and that the general teaching profession is being devalued as technology becomes more sophisticated at assisting learners with their learning and knowledge management.

Personally, I don’t agree with the notion that technologies shall eventually replace all teachers and other educators in a classroom due to the emotional needs of the learners: you cannot expect, for example, young learners with particular learning difficulties to learn only through technology as they need to be appropriately and suitably guided. There could be a hypothesis developed that suggests that Artificial Intelligence could gain such a technological status that they can begin to “know” learners in a sense that they “know” the best way to support particular learners and be able to differentiate between their needs and requirements. However this brings about certain Philosophical problems: how can a machine “know” a learner, and how can a machine “know” the way to differentiate between the needs of different learners? You could say through the use of logical programming, or some advanced form of logical programming, but can this really occur? Can machines also really develop that emotional bond with a learner that can exist between a young learner and their teacher?

I also do not agree with the assertion that teaching through student centred learning is being or will be devalued, because what might happen is not a deconstruction of the teaching profession, but of a reformulation. This is not the times of the industrial revolution anymore, and because of this formal school Education needs to be reformulated and reinvented using different Philosophical principles and a reformulation of roles. This is an era that involves a vast amount of information readily available by a vast quantity of technologies from anywhere across the world, not to mention the opportunities that are in place for learners to create their own representations of existing information or work together on these representations or to construct knowledge. Learners need to be taught to navigate this vast array of new opportunities and support networks and be supported in their personal learning journeys, and to be able to evaluate the sheer amount of information and its sources in order to determine its validity, authenticity, reliability and relevance.

Student centred learning empowers the learner to become effective producers of knowledge representations and of knowledge management; technology enhanced student centred learning simply offers the opportunities for learners to use a vast array of technologies that are deemed appropriate for their needs and requirements so that they can meet their personal learning goals and be productive along their learning journey. New educational theories and methods make it possible for this to happen and it’s nothing to do with devaluing the role of a teacher but empowering the learner with the abilities, skills, attitudes, and characteristics needed to become that effective learner and the mindset to continuously improve and develop, which can really only come about fully through guidance from the teacher, and this will then lead to meeting the needs of modern learners in this new era.

As the author of the article said, it isn’t easy to predict the future of Education. There are many many strands of research and debates across all aspects of Education, and new areas of discussions and research are continuously being identified. It is most certainly an exciting field of research and practice, and the role of the teacher in the future will be something worth watching and exploring further.

Refernce to the article:

June 18, 2015

Thoughts on the assumptions of learners and teachers automatically knowing about technology

Whenever I come across an article that explores the apparent inability of teachers to use technology effectively for teaching and learning purposes, you cannot help but wonder what is going on out there given that there is such a huge potential for technology to transform Education and to contribute towards the aims and objectives of meaningful learning experiences. As an Educational researcher (in the making) I think about the role of technology in Education constantly, both in individual self-directed and social learning contexts.

Reading through an article titled "Why Ed Tech is not Transforming How Teachers Teach" simply adds to the fact that technological investments are meaningless if there is a lack of investment in the training of teachers to use technology adequately and in learner understanding of the role and purpose of technology towards their learning, suitable for the teaching and learning contexts they are within at a particular time.

It is fairly pointless, in my opinion, to suggest that technology does nothing to improve learning after making huge investments when there is no clue in the classroom as to their appropriateness. There appears to be this long running, and still persisting, assumption that learners have an automatic, innate understanding of the appropriateness, purpose and use of technology for their learning simply because they use technology in their leisure time. I find that teachers, particularly newer teachers, are expected to know and understand uses of technology appropriate for their teaching. It is not expected that being able to drive a car on the road automatically means that the driver is able to control and drive an F1 vehicle around a race track, so why is there an expectation that teachers and learners automatically have an understanding of technology for teaching and learning simply because they use technology for leisure?

There must be a change in the assumptions that people have regarding an innate ability to immediately be able to comprehend technologies for learning just because technology is extremely common. General use of technology does not equate to being able to understand their uses in specific educational contexts.

In explaining the barriers to adopting technologies fully, the article makes some very excellent points about teachers feeling that they are bound to school politics and established classroom normalities and traditions, which is a very interesting and important point to pick up because this is a much wider problem than technological learning contexts. I have spoken to teachers in the past who have attempted to bring in advanced teaching methods such as problem solving methods, and these were scorned at by those higher up the school’s hierarchy. This then becomes a problem of teaching methods in general, and what is deemed as acceptable in the classroom and what is accepted is ever changing: just take a look at the methods now used to teach mathematics in schools. But is what becomes acceptable driven by Governments? School politics? Are children really being considered in the decision making as to what should be acceptable?

The article suggests and references other reasons for the lack of technological uptake, and all these reasons have very little to do with the effectiveness of the technology itself. Essentially, you cannot expect teachers and learners to improve their teaching and learning through technology if neither of them have had the training and experience that allows them to immediately evaluate and select the most appropriate technology for a particular teaching and learning context. All the investment in technology within Education shall not amount to anything unless there is a change of attitude and a more substantial investment in teacher and learner training and experience of technology within educational environments.

Check out the article:

Why Ed Tech is not Transforming How Teachers Teach

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