I attended a conference at Cambridge University themed 'Research Into Teaching with Whole class Interactive Technologies' -
RITWIT for short.
The conference organisers are keen to share the views and findings arising from the two day conference. Professor Karen Littleton synthesised the conference into a summary that I have reproduced below. This is done with the necessary permissions!
"This reflection can of course only be partial, but my hope is that it will serve as one point of reference or departure for our onward discussions…..
In the opening session yesterday Mal Lee highlighted both the nature and rapidity of technological developments in respect of the instructional technologies being introduced into the world’s classrooms.
Through his consideration of IWB developments in their holistic context, he highlighted the business and political imperatives that are implicated in this process and pointed to the potentially deleterious effect of discrete ‘initiatives’ focused on technologies and technological capability rather than pedagogy.
His characterisation of the ‘disenfranchised classroom teacher’, blamed for the failure to use revolutionary instructional technologies and his associated plea to consider teachers’ and learners’ needs prefigured a central conference theme concerning the ‘meeting of needs’. Sheyne Lucock and Guy Underwood, for example, suggest that many teachers’ reluctance to fully embrace technology in the classroom is due to the lack of a considered analysis of teachers’ and pupils’ needs and the barriers to effective teaching and learning.
A key concern is with pedagogy and the processes of learning and teaching, rather than with technology per se….and this is vital not least because as Carey Jewitt and Gemma Moss remind us:
‘the value and impact of particular attributes of the technology depends on how they fit with existing pedagogic purposes, approaches and priorities..’
And to this one might add pedagogic challenges too…….
Many of the contributors to this conference are interested in understanding the processes of learning and teaching mediated by technologies, for example, considering the ways in which Interactive Whiteboards are entering into and resourcing classroom practices and, as Carey and Gemma’s paper makes clear, three key themes dominate current thinking about the role of Interactive Whiteboards in changing or transforming pedagogy.
Their introduction is expected to contribute to:
INCREASED PACE OF DELIVERY
INCREASED USE OF MULTIMODAL RESOURCES – incorporating image, sound and movement in new ways
A MORE INTERACTIVE STYLE OF WHOLE CLASS TEACHING
Perhaps not surprisingly then, the consideration of these themes is much in evidence in the presentations being made here. And what is interesting is how much of the work presented over the last two days is subjecting these expectations to considered, often critical, scrutiny.
In respect of PACE of delivery, for example, the notion of increased pace as being unequivocally efficacious is challenged, with important consideration being given to the changing, shifting patterning or rhythm of instructional practices - - and how digital technologies might resource such shifts.
In relation to increased use of MULTI MODAL RESOURCES, numerous contributors recognise that as a multi-modal digital hub, providing a portal to the Internet, the IWB has the potential to broaden the kind of texts that enter the classroom, to change the practices and experiences of the teachers and the students and therefore the possibilities for learning.
Carey Jewitt and Gunther Kress’ work in respect of English, for example, suggests that the interplay between social and technological conditions re-organise time and space in the contemporary English Classroom, reshaping the place of writing and image in the pedagogic and communicative practices that teachers are engaged in.
This in turn raises important issues in respect of what counts as English!
A concern with INTERACTIVITY features in many papers, with the associated recognition that technical and pedagogic interactivity are not one and the same thing.
Anthony Jones, for example, is concerned to unpack the level and nature of interactivity in a learning environment that uses some level of ICT whilst Julie Cogill asks: what affordances does the IWB offer to help facilitate an ‘interactive classroom’? This interest in such affordances of the technology also features in Juan Manuel Fernandez Cardenas’ work.
Some contributors have drawn specifically on the notion of a dialogic pedagogy - where teachers can break out of the limitations of the so called ‘recitation script’ of closed patterns of Initiation-Response-Feedback forms of interaction through higher order questioning and feedback strategies which promote a range of alternative discourse strategies (see Hardman, 2008).
Robin Alexander (2004) has described the essential features of 'dialogic talk' as being collective (teachers and students address the learning task together), reciprocal (teachers and students listen to each other to share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints), supportive (students articulate their ideas freely without fear of embarrassment over 'wrong' answers and support each other to reach common understandings), cumulative (teachers and students build on their own and each other's ideas to chain them into coherent lines of thinking and enquiry), and purposeful (teachers plan and facilitate dialogic teaching with educational
goals in mind). Most importantly, it can take place in whole class, group-based and individual interactions between teachers and students.
Neil Mercer, Sarah Hennessey and Paul Warwick’s work is specifically concerned with the promotion of ‘dialogic’ communication in which a teacher and students explore and generate ideas and questions together.
Their interest is in how teachers can exploit the technical interactivity of IWB to support dialogic interactivity – where the teacher recognises and clarifies students’ existing understandings and draws upon these to formulate joint understanding; this may involve open-ended higher order questioning, feeding in ideas, reflecting, interpreting and evaluating.
So the focus here is on the ways in which use of the board can resource progressive educational dialogues. And this may involve resourcing and enabling collaborative discussions between peers – not just teacher-student dialogue.
Encouraging learners to participate in classroom discussion can be a tricky issue and many authors reflect on this problem - Mark Hellen, for example, has explored the use of synchronous online forums in the classroom to engage learners in discussions they might otherwise get little out of or participate in only peripherally.
So issues concerning participation and inclusion are of paramount concern…. especially if students are going to be enabled to take the intellectual risks implicated in opening up their thinking to others. In respect of risk taking, it is not just the learners taking the risks….Ann Harlow and colleagues’ paper makes it clear that in many instances teachers need to take risks learning about things too!
Across the papers another recurrent interest concerns how a teacher chooses to combine and sequence different features of the classroom setting and student or teacher voices – and, as Alison Twiner makes clear, the metaphor commonly being used to capture this process is the musical metaphor of ‘orchestration’.
In a fascinating exploration of teacher orchestration and ICT use, Steve Kennewell and colleagues raise some compelling issues in respect of the opportunities made available for pupil ‘improvisation’.
In the lessons they observed, some teachers encouraged pupils to improvise, to find their own way of seeing things, to share their methods and ways of thinking and ask their own questions. Others felt the need to stay with what was planned – avoiding the unpredictable world of pupil’s improvisations.
Keith Sawyer has often suggested that teaching is an art involving disciplined improvisation – where there is space for the improvisational exploration of students’ ideas within a supportive structure or frame….and a fascinating question to ask is how do digital technologies enter into and resource, or indeed constrain, teaching as a process of disciplined improvisation?
Perhaps here the use of peripherals have an interesting role to play in respect of pupil improvisation and participation.
Sawyer has suggested that to feel comfortable with the improvisational elements of teaching, teachers have to have secure disciplinary knowledge – and that here the training and ongoing professional development needs of teachers cannot be ignored.
It is also clear that as technologies change and develop teachers also need support and space to think through the associated implications for their pedagogy and practice.
It is evident that many of the contributions presented over the last two days are concerned with understanding and meeting the training and on-going professional development needs of teachers.
Michele Conway, for example, makes a plea for the delivery of training that is relevant, that takes as its point of departure teachers’ existing knowledge and skills, combined with software that is user friendly and accessible.
Euline Cutrim Schmid suggests that investment in good quality training is imperative and David Miller and colleagues are concerned with the development of a framework for professional development to enhance secondary mathematics teaching.
What is also evident is that the significance of opportunities for mentoring and participation in professional learning communities should not be under-estimated - see for example James de Winter and Cathy Lewin’s work. In Niels’ keynote the significance of the modelling of practice was also explored.
What is clear too is that whilst the provision of excellent user guides and multi-media case studies can be valuable, of and in themselves they are not sufficient.
In contrast to Niel’s warnings yesterday concerning the dead hand of government agencies in facilitating networking for the development of professional practice, there is something very powerful about the collectivity afforded through distributed networks of committed professionals.
Moreover, the development of partnerships between researchers and teachers engaged in a process of transforming professional knowledge together has been the focus of some of the conference contributions.
The paper by Lloyd Brown and colleagues represents a compelling instantiation of a model of professional development through collaboration and partnership in a project where researchers undertook work with other education professionals, rather than conducting research on them, thereby recognizing them as professionals with concerns rather than treating them as objects of concern.
So it is here that we touch on debates about the role of educational research.
Some have argued that researchers need to stand apart from practical concerns, maintaining a detached, critical stance as they strive to achieve a theoretically robust account of the processes and practices of education.
In that case, the questions to be addressed would be those set by the researchers.
Others have argued that the main aim and function of educational research should be to provide a strong evidence base to inform and guide educational practice.
In this case, the research questions would need to be defined in collaboration with teachers, policy makers and others directly concerned with the quality of education.
Many of the contributions to this conference demonstrate that applied, practical educational research defined through such collaboration can be simultaneously theoretical and practical.
Indeed, one could argue that it is necessary to weave these two strands together.
Theoretically informed ideas about teaching and learning with digital technologies, can be transformed into empirical investigations; investigations which can then provide new insights into ‘what works’ and thus provide an evidential base for practice of the most robust kind.
Applied studies can of course also result in the refinement, re-working and development of theory: by which I mean an explanatory account that helps us understand the generalities of a phenomenon across specific situations and which can be tested against the evidence provided by careful research.
In many respects this conference itself is an impressive instantiation of mutual professional development through collective commitment to the joint goal of understanding, resourcing and enabling school teaching and learning with whole class interactive technologies.
And it is imperative that we continue to strive to develop our understandings in this respect.
As Niel suggested in his keynote yesterday sociocultural processes such as those of continual technological change and the changing nature of childhood intersect, and force us to consider whether we look to technologies to enable learners and teachers to do things better or do things differently.
And it was Niel’s contention that the most empowering changes may necessitate systemic and organisational changes that require strong leadership and an associated willingness to take risks.
Children are growing up in rich digital landscapes, where they are the creators and producers of rich digital resources. Increasingly there is a disjunction between the digital worlds of home and school.
If as educators we are to respond to these, and the other challenges the discussion groups raised yesterday, the kinds of discussions and debates we are engaged in throughout the conference sessions are most sorely needed. "