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Decisions: Hard or Soft?

March 6, 2012

When it comes to pedagogy, I am definitely soft on the second ‘g’. I find a hard sound obstructive and uncomfortable, and it doesn’t sit naturally when I speak it or hear it. Of course, smarter brains than mine might see this as a metaphor for whether pedagogy is easy or difficult, but I have a much more practical interest.

I have been invited to participate in Dundee University’s ongoing seminars on the pedagogy of elearning and that means having to say the word many times! Actually, I am taking what will probably be my last ever “McCrone” time to participate, McCormac wants us in the schools rather than developing elsewhere! (I promise, no more political point-scoring!)

In this, the first of three posts I’m using to kick some ideas around, I’m thinking about levels of teacher knowledge with regards ICT.

As someone who first started using a class-blog using .Mac (now known as and Blogwave studio almost 10 years ago(1), I feel I have sufficient knowledge to contribute some meaningful thoughts on the topic. Since then, I have used more and more blogs, wikis, VLEs and other tools to support my teaching and learning (even Glow), and I have been immeasurably enriched as a learner and teacher as a result. I have seen some of my students go on to do great things themselves as a result of being exposed to the panoply of tools available, and I have seen quite a few who just don’t get it at all. They can negotiate Facebook, and are happy with that.

In short, I have been fortunate enough to see every possible level of learner engagement in a Scottish Secondary, and have realised that there are a few fundamental questions we need to address if we are to participate in a meaningful discussion of the pedagogy of elearning. However, I’m going to start with, what strikes me as the most obvious question of all: why is elearning seen as being any different from any other form of learning?

It’s new so it must be good/unproven/the Emperor’s new clothes/evil/the best thing since sliced bread(1928)

Now, the means of delivery is ‘new’, and what we can do with the variety of tools is ‘new’, but I would maintain that the process of learning is the same. In extremely simplistic terms: trial and error and repetition. The notion that there should be a separate pedagogy for elearning is, I believe, counterintuitive, and ultimately damaging because it allows teachers to declare – almost as a badge of honour – that they don’t ‘do’ technology.

The paradox is that, as a profession, teachers are expected to use technology every day. They deal with emails, electronic Management Information Systems(MIS), PowerPoint lessons, Interactive White Boards, spreadsheets, and a few braver souls can be found on Twitter. In short, it is expected that every teacher should be comfortable using ICT as part of their professional practice. Indeed, it is an expected aspect of the Standard For Full Registration in Scotland.

So, despite this apparently already ICT capable teaching force, the majority will shy away from embracing the concept and practice of elearning… often on the grounds that they do not have enough ’time’ to develop the expertise they believe is required to embrace new tools. However, I do not think this is a tenable position.

There is considerable evidence being gathered that suggests that blended learning – a mix of class and online activities – can have the greatest impact on learners. Add to this, the recent update to Professor John Hattie’s seminal work, Visible Learning, which has added ‘credibility‘ as one of the four most influential factors to improve learner attainment, and it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to realise that educators need to be modelling the necessary skills if learners are to adopt them as well.

So, if there is good reason to use elearning, and the teachers do have the skills, why are we not seeing wholesale adoption of any pedagogy that will help learners? I believe there are a number of factors that are as frustrating as they are apparently simple to address. Do not underestimate the power of ‘not enough time’ in the life of a classroom teacher. If one has made the decision to build and maintain an online presence – and in doing so, realised the professional development and satisfaction if brings in return – then you know that you will find the time… And your non-online colleagues will not. It is, as I see it, a vicious circle. Online networks are addictive. You find a ‘tribe’ of like minded individuals, you share resources and links, you kick around ideas, and in return you get positive feedback — and at the end of the day, this is the model we want to see in our classrooms, isn’t it?

The greatest challenge we face is making all teachers aware that they could be helping their learners in so many other ways that they are unwilling to engage in because of fear or time or ignorance. Of course, the technology adopted by schools, and the controls put in place on its use, is another reason why schools are failing to serve their learners.

In my next post, I’m going to look at little more closely at the role of schools in the delivery of ICT and some of the changes I’ve seen since first encountering a BBC Micro B in 19oatcake!

As ever, I’d appreciate any comments or thoughts you may have! And especially any memories of the first education ICT you had access to! 😉


(1) It was an exercise doomed to failure as none of the pupils had Internet access at home at the time. For me, that’s as clear an indication of how far and how fast we’ve come since then as anything…



2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2012 8:18 pm

    Neil, you have targeted the problem precisely in identifying the separation of learning from e-learning. This ‘othering’ of pedagogic practice makes it too easy for a certain type of teacher to declare they “don’t do computers”.

    My biggest frustration when I started out teaching post-compulsory 16 year olds was battling with their beliefs that they had nothing to learn about ICT as they had grown up with technology…and finding creative ways to balance meeting the curriculum with setting tasks that made the most of their digital prowess.

    These days, I see this denial at its worst in my children’s primary school. It is like getting blood out of a stone seeking digital communications – how is this setting the learners up to operate in the society they will inhabit as adults? Only a smudge of Hattie’s credibility in evidence. I remember being awed by the 4 channels of sound the new BBC machines had in my primary school and it setting me on a path of a career in IT!

    And yes, soft ‘g’, definitely 🙂

    • March 6, 2012 9:03 pm

      Hi Sarah,
      I really do not think it is acceptable nowadays for a teacher to actively ignore the potential represented by ICT. That said, I also accept that it may not be for everyone… And it is not — absolutely not — the answer to all education’s ills… but I think we owe it to our learners to investigate the tools and possibilities before deciding what does and does not work for us as educators.

      And I get the Primary school point all too well. My son Paul (aged 6, and in Primary 2) has been able to spot network problems at home for about 2 years (“Daddy, the internet’s dead again. can you reboot the router please”)… At school, they expect him to get excited because he can use a mouse to draw a square. No chance! He is also somewhat dismissive of mice anyway as he is used to an iPad. What will his future hold?

      Finally, if you can remember 4 channel sound, you are going to really enjoy the 2nd post in this series… 😉

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