Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Integrating Technology: an Art for Teachers!

Technologies touch our lives in many areas: in the educational institution, workplaces, transportation, communication, industry, and even at home. They are changing rapidly and inevitably. Apparently, they are supporting one to another; an innovation in one area inspires other areas to make a new revolution. This is a kind of continuous cycle of innovation. I would say that a new beginning of technology is always up-to-the-minute!

Unconscious Approach

Some innovations in technology are produced based on the needs of people or companies. Meanwhile, other technologies simply come as the new things that are potentially beneficial for particular clients. No matter what kind of technologies they are, most of technologies normally ‘come’ first to us and later we do something about it.

What we do are adoption and adaptation. In adaption we learn about how to use them and later get benefit from them. So far, this is a common approach used concerning to the new technologies. In the schools, as one of the educational institutions, this phenomenon is also happening. I named this approach as the unconscious approach.

I would like to repeat what I wrote in my previous post. Technology failed to reform education because of the inappropriate approach. Instead of adapting technology to fit the needs of the learners, learners or teachers were forced to adapt to the demands of the innovative technology. In my opinion, technology-driven approach is an inappropriate approach for TPACK. It should be a learner-centered approach by focusing on what the needs of the learners.

A couple of weeks ago, my classmates and I had a visit to one of schools nearby. Though we did this observation due to other assignments, I would like to combine my findings there with my TPACK knowledge regarding to the issue of technology integration.  I found that the first phase that matters a lot to teacher concerning technologies is about how to use technologies. Besides of their willingness of integrating technologies, the skills, or at least the knowledge, are very important for teachers. This is the starting point: the teachers should be willing and knowledgeable in integrating the technology.

The next step is the integration in which teachers integrate technologies in their teaching activities based on what the needs of the learners. Unfortunately, the first step is not moving forward. The teachers do use the technologies but they do not integrate technologies in the lesson. For some, it is because they admitted that they lack of knowledge of how to integrate it. For others, they were simply not willing to integrate the technologies due to the workload and technical problems they faced. In my opinion, these teachers that are not willing to do technology integration probably have the same problem with the other teachers. They are lacking of TPACK knowledge; they just do not want to admit it, I guess. :)

An Art, not A Formula

It is always not easy to start a new thing. It also happens for the novice teachers who try to integrate the technologies in their lesson. They have to know first what the need of the learners is, then find the appropriate TPACK strategy to be implemented. Based on my previous background as a teacher, let me introduce four phases of strategies that can be helpful regarding to this ‘problem’: asking, reading, trying out, and finding.

Asking. The very simple way to do is asking other teachers about their experiences in integrating technologies. Please do more than asking, do analysis of the learners' need and find out what the advantages and disadvantages of those technologies mentioned regarding particular content and (or) pedagogy used. Get as much as possible information from the experienced teachers to build a better TPACK knowledge.
Reading. The literatures are reliable resources to find out what is the learners' need and the possible integration activities can be adopted. For instance, the list from Harris, Mishra and Koehler (the article can be found below) can be very helpful as a starting point and give a new insight of possible activities inn integrating technologies.
Trying out. With a thoughtful plan and many considerations, the knowledge of how to integrate technologies should be implemented. Unless it is executed, a teacher would never know whether the plan is working or not in a real environment.
Finding. By doing many try-outs and analysis, the teachers will get many findings. These findings can be used as references of how to do integration next time.

For experienced teachers, those phases are also applicable. To some extent, they may do the same like what the novice teachers do. Or, they may not spend so much time in first phase, but may do other phases more. It depends on how much they think each phase necessary to their needs.

Integration of technologies in education cannot happen instantly. It needs time; it is a process. Also, we can conclude that there is no fixed formula of TPACK approach or the strategy of technologies integration. I would say that the integration is not simply about a particular knowledge; it is also a skill. This skill can be sharpened through experience by experience of the teachers. Later, it would be revealed as a beautiful work. Apocalypto! Finally, it will turn to be an art for teachers.

Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers' technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393-416.

Monday, November 28, 2011

VOILA! We made it! (a reflection)

What an experience! Taking the course of  "Pedagogies for Flexible Learning Supporting by Technology" as one of my elective courses is such a blessing for me. New insights and perspectives have been revealed to me. The topics have been arranged in sequences leading to the final assignment. Flexible learning, Pedagogies, Technologies, and Implementation are some topics that can be found in this course. I experienced that all topics provided were very useful in doing our final assignment. Well, actually it is a kind of project if I would say.

Some interesting moments…

I remembered when the lecturer, Dr.Petra Fisser, came with a game in her introduction session. It was very simple game, yet an interesting one. The game was very inspiring; it makes me understand that teaching as a package of technology, pedagogy, and content is not easy. I think, sufficient knowledge with many considerations on these three areas (technology, pedagogy, and content) should be gained by the teachers. This will surely give an impact on the students’ learning outcome.

Another thing I found interesting is when two of my classmates and I were asked to play “Seek ‘n Spell” outside during the class session of playing with several cool tools for education. It was my first time playing with that application. I would say, “IT WAS COOL!!!” As an adult, I can imagine how exciting the students would be if they play and learn with that application.

Some personal opinions…

My group and I chose to design a TPACK-based Science lesson for elementary students. The TPACK model presented on my previous post as a common model discussed during the course is also used during the process of our final project. It is a model about combining three important aspects of teaching with technology: Technology, Pedagogy, and Content.  Indeed, it seems very simple, but in my opinion it is not.

The use of particular technology or pedagogy for particular content is started with a choosing activity. The teacher has to make a choice and even can also combine two choices to design TPACK-based lesson plan. This choosing activity involved many considerations since each choice has their own impact to the designed lesson. Inappropriate choice will lead to ineffective lesson and put the teacher or the students into trouble.

I felt that group discussion is the determined key of our work in designing. We discussed about what topic should be chosen for the project; it was about the content aspect. We discussed about how the information of the chosen topic should be delivered appropriately to the elementary students; it was pedagogy aspect. And for the technology aspect, we discussed about what technology can be used during the lesson or by the students. These discussions led us to some choices and narrowed us to a framework of our design. I found that those right choices really help us through the rest of our works. I can say that the right choices would end in the right design.

From some literatures I read for this course and other courses, I found that technology is not a new issue for educational field. When radio or television was invented, many promising prediction about the ability of technology to replace the conventional tools failed to materialize. It also happened when computer came up. Technology failed to revolutionize education because of the inappropriate approach. Instead of adapting technology to fit the needs of the learners, learners or teachers were forced to adapt to the demands of the innovative technology. In my opinion, technology-driven approach is an inappropriate approach for TPACK. It should be a learner-centered approach by focusing on what learners need.

My group has some experiences on this technology issue during the process of the final project. We really adopted some kind of technologies and adapted it to our needs. We used dropbox to accommodate the need of a place to put our work together. Also, we used a free online generator to generate the QR codes needed for the lesson and a smartphone to check them whether they are working or not. It is technology which served us!

Some words to spell out…

Voila…my group and I made it! We designed a lesson for fifth graders of elementary school. The topic chosen is about “Parts of Plant”, with Collaborative Inquiry Learning as the pedagogy chosen, and the smartphones as the technologies used for the lesson. I consider this design as one of my achievements that fits my previous background as a science teacher in an elementary school in my home country. Let me say something about this course: this course is kind of additional professional development of my ‘hidden’ profession. Though I am not an official teacher now, but my prior knowledge as a teacher gets an added value of TPACK during this course.

So far, in my master programme I experienced working with several groups with different people. Different people always come with different ideas and different ways to communicate their ideas. Eventually, these differences form such a different group. Therefore, I always adjust myself to work in such way that will benefit the group and myself. It is not easy, but I would say that working in group always be an interesting experience for me.

TPACK-based lesson…yes, we made it!