About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teaching Teachers iPad EdTech - Weaving a multi-stranded base of support.

For the past eight months I have been teaching both young students in a Literature course for International students, and conducting regular Professional Development training sessions on new educational technology for teachers. If had I imagined I would be able to easily transfer my teaching skills across the divide between teaching young people and teaching teachers, I would have been seriously mistaken. Fortunately, as I began my second training role I was completing a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching, the focus of which is teaching adult learners in tertiary settings. I had already come to the realization that some of the philosophy underlying adult education theories, such as the belief that adult learners are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to learn for 'higher reasons,' concerned with their professional identities and personal development, could not necessarily be taken for granted. Teaching already established teachers new things is a deeply challenging task; one which needs careful and nuanced planning and delivery.

Even with the awareness of the challenge looming large in my planning, I am finding it difficult to meet the needs of all the different teachers attending my PD sessions (25 so far) on learning to teach with iPads. From 2012, all new students to the college will be learning in a 1:1 iPad classroom. I was (and am) prepared to learn on the job and build my knowledge of what I should cover, and how, as I go along. I have been particularly careful never to assume I understand the content areas of the different disciplines, but went to the trouble to try and find out what the priorities of the different disciplines were. The consequence of this decision is that I aim to keep my focus general, looking at generalist applications for presentations, student support and feedback which are applicable across disciplines.

But this approach hasn't yet worked for many people, for whom the whole notion of using an iPad in their teaching is an enormous change filled with anxiety. These teachers find it harder to navigate their way around the device in the PD sessions, and need much more hands-on guidance than those who have already become familiar with the practicalities. This need has tended to slow down the sessions considerably, and / or put undue demand on other attendees to assist their colleagues instead of engaging with the ideas and information being presented. ** Most of the practical sessions I have run have a hands-on, let's do it all together as we go along aim. Some parts have needed more information and explanation than others, as setting the background context is crucial if people are to find ways to engage. I have had mixed feedback about my approaches - some teachers feeling not enough hands-on work is offered, and others that there isn't sufficient context, direction, or guidance about practical applications. I am working with this feedback to alter my approaches in the upcoming term.

So, while I have a broad approach of presenting ideas for applying the iPad as a learning tool which are interdisciplinary, and an underlying aim to stimulate thought, experimentation and idea sharing among members of discrete disciplines, many teachers are still limited in developing their practical expertise by time constraints imposed by their everyday work demands, part-time working patterns, out of work responsibilities and myriad reasons from studying part-time to being fundamentally opposed to the use of this, and other technology, in the classroom.

Thus I became acutely conscious that the reasons why people were attending the sessions varied greatly - some eager and some under duress - and this variation had a significant impact on the dynamics of both the teaching and learning. As a classroom teacher in the same institution, I believe it is important that I acknowledge and show that I understand the varied demands, and appreciate the challenges. I think this has helped me to lower my expectations, but perhaps it has also distracted me from providing a stronger vision for progress and change. The difficulty is that I don't see myself as solely responsible for creating and maintaining the vision. It must be collaborative, supported from above, and broadly engaged with.

There are multiple ways teachers can engage. We also have a Wiki space for teachers to share ideas, post app reviews, share practical suggestions, fixes to problems, links to resources, websites, info-graphics, videos, and discipline specific considerations. Very early on in my position, I posted and advertised to all the college academics the following entry on the 'philosophical underpinnings' of the process.

Philosophical Underpinnings of the iPad Project.

It is important to have a robust philosophical basis upon which to build such a large training program, especially as teaching with iPads has the potential to significantly change the way we deliver content in our discipline areas. However, the iPad should not be the focus of our teaching - the outcomes we want students to achieve is the priority, and the iPad is a new tool we have at our disposal to enable these outcomes.

For the iPad project to be fully teacher-driven, and for disciplinary interests and priorities to be maintained (and correspondingly opened up to possibilities), it is essential that everyone participates and helps shape the direction of the project. Such an emphasis on participation ensures that particular interests are not excluded, and that the practicalities of changing practices for the different disciplines are considered in decision-making processes.

Some particularly inspiring teachers who have embraced this change, and quietly run with it to develop and evolve new and exciting learning experiences for their students, are setting the standards for others to aim for. As I enter the next phase of the process - mostly engaging with small groups in disciplinary areas to focus practical attention on developing learning activities - I aim to give the star performers credit where credit is due, and showcase their efforts to others. If I can involve them in working with teachers in their own disciplines, or enable them to share their approaches and ideas more broadly, then it will feel much more like the collaborative effort it needs to be.

**(In addition to the group sessions, I also offer one-to-one support and am available for drop-in advice and assistance at two campuses several times every week. Uptake of these more personalized opportunities has been slow, whereas attendance at the general (45 minute lunchtime) PD sessions has been high.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any handouts that you prepared that you would like to share? We have 30 ipads on a cart available to use in the classroom. I am responsible for giving a 1 hour "Introduction to the ipad" presentation to my colleagues next week. So your comments were very interesting to me. My email is snyder87@comast.net if you don't mind sharing.