Lifelong Learners?

I got interested in computers and their potential uses in teaching and learning way back in 1982 when I was at Art School/Teachers’ College. I met a guy named Colin who worked in the media center at the art school who had taught himself how to program in AppleBasic on the original Apple IIe machines. He was doing all sort of really interesting stuff with these machines, writing his own programs for randomised poetry, creating graphics, creating maths problems, etc. Colin and I became good friends and I asked him to teach me how to program too. It was INSTANTLY obvious to me that computers and technology generally could be used to support, assist, extend and just generally make learning a whole lot more interesting, and even as a preservice teacher in the early 80s I was always trying to come up with interesting ways that computers could be used to make school more interesting.

Like most colleges at the time, the college I attended didn’t offer any computer-based courses. I went and had a chat to the Dean and asked why. I still remember the conversation… he didn’t know why, he just assumed that a computer was used for administrative stuff, keeping lists of students and managing who paid fees, etc, but hadn’t really thought about their use in education. After some fast talking, I managed to convince him to let me vary my course units for the next semester to do an off-site computer programming course and have it count towards my regular course credits. And so once a week for the semester I traveled across town to a different college to do a three hour programming course.

The following year, I managed to convince the Dean that such a course should be a standard offering for everyone planning to be a teacher. To cut a long story short, the college did start to offer a course called “The Computer and the Art Educator” held offsite at another nearby university, and counting towards our regular course credits. This course used primitive graphics tablets, graphic software and programming skills to explore how computers could extend themselves into classroom use. It was 1983. I was rather pleased that I was able to play a part in helping other people see what appeared so obvious to me.

Funnily enough, there were many of my college friends who could not see the point of computers at all, and would argue with me that they had nothing to do with what happens in a classroom. They just weren’t interested in learning about something that didn’t interest them.

Since that time, I’ve worked with a lot of teachers to help them see how much better learning can be with the wise use of technology. I’ve tried every approach I can think of, and at the end of the day, I still don’t know why some people just “get it” and some just don’t. To me, it’s so darn obvious! Having taught in a technology rich environment for over 20 years now, I have seen over and over how the use of technology can motivate, engage and inspire students to learn better and to be better. I’ve seen kids just “switch on” when they learn with computers. More than that, I’ve seen how the use of technology for learning can actually change a teacher’s practice and pedagogy for the better. I’ve seen the effects of increased student motivation and engagement, and I’ve experienced the evolution of my own teaching to take a more student focused, more choice-driven, more differentiated approach to my teaching.

Ok, so having said all that, it drives me crazy when I see other teachers who simply don’t “get it”. I’ve experienced the frustration of working with supposedly-intelligent adults who appear to be unable to move beyond the ability to cut-and-paste. I even had one colleague at a previous school admit that she had been avoiding technology for years, and I found out that she did not even know how to use basic mouse functions. How do you even function in a school these days without these skills! The frustrating thing about these situations, for me, is that part of my role in this particular school was doing technology support for the staff and despite every effort to provide support for these sorts of people, they always managed to avoid any help that was offered to them. No matter what model of technology support we tried they managed to avoid taking advantage of it.

They remind me of the people in this video clip… as soon as the external forces stop, they stop too and then seem incapable of moving forward for themselves.

So that’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other is people like you and I who probably just need a bit of guidance to get started and then we assume some responsibility for our own learning. We accept that if we want to learn something new, then taking on the task of learning it is actually up to us, not someone else.  Any assistance we get from others is seen as a bonus, not a requirement.

I will go so far as to say that those teachers who actively avoid learning about (and teaching with) technology are abdicating their basic responsibility as teachers because they are failing to model and live out the basic quality that every teacher should have – curiosity and a sense of lifelong learning.

Every school’s prospectus I’ve ever seen talks about how they aim to produce students who are “independent, lifelong learners”, but so many teachers continue to display an embarrassingly low level of responsibility for their own ongoing learning, and are therefore poor models of what they expect from their students. I find it frustrating that so many teachers willingly accept that there are certain unavoidable parts of their job, and yet they steadfastly resist adopting the use of digital technologies and act as though they are free to pick and choose what parts of their job they are willing to enact. Why is the embracing of technology for learning still seen as so optional by so many?

The answer is probably that they don’t yet see the benefits. They haven’t seen the kids’ eyes light up when they do something truly interesting with computers or technology. They still see it as another optional add-on to their already busy day. They see technology as something that has to be “bolted on” to what they are already doing, instead of something that can help them do what they already do even better. They might have experienced failure in the past because of something that went wrong, something that didn’t work, and they don’t want to look foolish again. Perhaps they just think that if they can hold out for a few more years, this will all go away, or they might make it to retirement. (although I think age has very little to do with it)

Of course, this is not true of all teachers, and there are many, many excellent educators that embody and model all of the traits of lifelong learning that they expect from their students. A lot of teachers are very good at this, but there are still far too many that don’t.  And frankly, I think that’s unacceptable.

Image: ‘I am still learning
http://www.flickr.com/photos/47244805@N00/303567279

CC BY-SA 4.0 Lifelong Learners? by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

11 Replies to “Lifelong Learners?”

  1. My biggest frustrations when facilitating workshops/PL for teachers and tech:

    – Refusing to use an online registration form to sign up for the workshop in the first place. I hate it when they print out the form and post it in! Or saying “the website wouldn’t work” but can’t tell me what error message/why.
    – Not remembering their email passwords and yet refusing to set up a new account (e.g. gmail). When signing up for so-called web2 stuff this is a nightmare!
    – Not knowing how to right click
    – Not knowing how to operate multiple windows
    – Typing web addresses into the Google search bar instead of the address bar. Worse, Googling for URLs they already know (e.g. their school’s website, youtube, etc.). To me that’s like using the white pages to look up a phone number you have already memorised.
    – Not taking ownership over ICT tasks as they would in their “normal” practice, e.g. using a learning object, because “it’s fun” or because “we need to use ICT this term” rather than really looking at the design and how it works with their learning programme. I’ve seen toooo many surface-level ICT tasks and project work!

    My biggest joys when facilitating workshops/PL for teachers and tech:
    – Getting a flurry of emails with peoples’ new web addresses
    – The first time they successfully embed something (e.g. a video) in their blog and it “just works” and their brains start ticking over with ideas on how this could be used…
    – Someone on Twitter recommending a teacher for me to follow, and it was me who introduced that teacher to Twitter in the first place. I didn’t even know “Someone” and “Teacher” knew each other.
    – When they come back to the next workshop with anecdotes and samples of student work that they’ve had a go at since the last one
    – When a memo comes across my desk (sigh, we’re not at the email stage yet) advertising a PD/PL workshop about something I showed the facilitator how to do and they’ve since taken it much, much further

    and so on and so on.

    🙂

    But I’m with you – it’s the absolute -resistance- that I find difficult to comprehend. And it happens all the time. It stuns me even more with pre-service teachers. Siiiiigh. But then again, that shouldn’t surprise me: How many teacher-trainers do you see actively and regularly using ICTs in their teaching practice, and expecting the same of their students? Siiiiiiiigh.

  2. I think it is important to make finer distinctions than “get it” or “don’t get it”. In between those two poles I might add “get it but don’t know how” and “don’t really get it but want it”.

    What is so difficult for teachers and for me – whose job is to help those teachers – is that it requires a leap of faith. There is no surefire approach to successful implementation. There is no definitive research (that I know of) that shows that a technology rich environment has positive effects on learning or — maybe, more importantly for the naysayers — on test results. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that points to a positive correlation, and I would think that common sense points to a positive relationship as well, but that is not going to be enough to convince “traditional” teachers to change.

    I, too, believe that it is unacceptable for teachers to be demonstrably resistant to technology adoption and thereby merely paying lip-service to the ubiquitous “independent, lifelong learners” statement (it’s part of our mission statement too, by the way). So what do we do about it? Do we force them to change? Do we ask them to leave? Do we ignore them and hope they go away or retire? I don’t know…

  3. I began teaching in 2003 and was terrified of teaching computer lessons for 2 reasons. Firstly, I didn’t know what I was supposed to teach and I was so worried about maintaining the behaviour of my students in a different environment to the classroom. I def wasn’t one of the people who didn’t get technology and was lucky enough to get support from our then computer coordinator. I was and still am passionate about technology and since 2005 have been in and out of the role of computer coordinator inbetween maternity leaves. I have found myself face this resistance to technology from staff I work with at varying levels and am at a loss to know how to turn it around. I am team teaching technology again this year and I find the same people putting their hand up for support saying that they don’t know what to do that told me the same thing 5yrs ago. I get frustrated when the class teacher sees the enjoyment, the engagement and the willingness to learn of their students in tech lessons who then refuse to have a go if I am away even though they detailed copies of my programs to show them how and what I want to achieve.
    I also find it funny that these are usually the same people who believe me to be an expert (even though I assure them I am most definitely not!!) and use that as an excuse for why I can teach technology and they can’t. How do we instill a sense of enthusiasm and interest in these teachers for technology? How do I get them to see that I am still learning and what I don’t know about teaching technology far outweighs what I do, but that I am willing to have a go? I think more than being lifelong learners, how do we remind teachers to take risks, take a chance and just try? And finally, how do we get them to break past their resistance and actually enjoy working with technology?

  4. And from my own class yesterday- Thursday morning first slot spent in Discovery Time- self paced and self chosen learning in a variety of disciplines focussing on managing self and collaboration. Morning second slot sports coaching from a local sports leader, then discussing and sharing homework from our homework grid, celebrating success. Afternoon slot- topic study sharing and contributing to a shared collaborative space with classes from Auckland and Dunedin.

    Comment from Year Four child on Friday- we didn’t do any school work (learning) yesterday. Makes me feel like I should spend more of my day preparing to pass standardised tests in reading, writing and mathematics.

    Siiigh.

  5. would someone please help/research/discover why this is so. As a teacher trying to self-teach myself everything I need to move forward with technology, while simultaneously trying to drag my reluctant co-workers with me. I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the well educated, well paid ‘expert’ teachers who seemingly cannot or will not make the leap forward our students deserve. I offer techie breakies which are well liked and well attended but I know that not one jot of my expertise or ideas is making it past some teacher’s classroom doors. On the other hand my students have NAPLAN next week so maybe I should just give them another practice test!

  6. My experience of the ones that complain when the email in their staffroom doesn’t work (vitally important) yet don’t use technology in their classroom teaching is that in the classroom with technology they are no longer the expert bearer of all knowledge, the kids know more about technology and about how to get the best / most out of it.

    This to me is the main reluctance.

    While not seeing the benefits (as Chris mentions) is also a factor I think the none committal stance of school leaders is also a factor. Teachers are instructed that the use of technology is required in their lessons but the followup and checking is not there.

    Of course there are some great teachers that are using technology within their teaching and do actively share their work / planning with fellow teachers are staff meetings etc.

    I wish I knew the answer to the problems but I am not a teacher. This makes it difficult for me to sell ideas to the people that fall into my first paragraph.

    ‘I am the teacher and I will teach the students.’
    ‘I’m correct because it’s the textbook we are using’ (written 2-3 years before going to print).

    One frustrated school ICT Manager

  7. Thanks for the comments guys…

    @Penny I hear you. I try to be really patient with people (and although you might not imagine it to be so, generally speaking I think I succeed at that) but it astounds me when I see some of the basic, basic stuff that people get stuck on. One of the things I find it hard to understand is how companies that build operating systems and application software, companies like Microsoft and Apple for example, can spend millions of dollars each year in R&D and user testing trying to make their products easier and more intuitive to use, and yet supposedly intelligent adults still struggle with the basics of using those products. I mean, these companies don’t TRY to make their products difficult to use, in fact they try to do the opposite… they try very hard to make them as EASY to use as possible. Anyone who can eat with a knife and fork has the basic dexterity required to operate a mouse, including the rightclick function, so how the hell do some people manage to not be able to do that? It astounds me.

    I think it comes down to an unwillingness to even try, a sort of learned helplessness that implies “if I appear to not be able to do this, maybe they’ll just leave me alone and stop bugging me.” Unfortunately it often comes across as “I appear to be an imbecile incapable of learning simple tasks”.

    @Clint Thank you for pointing out that there are other shades of the “get it/don’t get it” line of thinking, and that it really isn’t as black and white as I maybe make it out to be. You’re right of course, there are going to lots of variations of the way people perceive their ability to learn and to explain why they can or can’t do it like we’d expect.

    It’s interesting what you say about there being no proof that technology makes a difference. I think you could also argue that there isn’t a lot of conclusive proof that ANYTHING actually makes a difference, with the possible exception of the quality of the teaching. Hattie’s work pretty clearly shows that the quality of teaching is the key factor, and I guess that’s what I’m getting at in this post… it’s NOT about the technology, it’s about the quality of teaching… but part of what makes a great teacher great is their passion for what they teach, their ability to create connections and relationships with their students (ie, identify and recognise and allow for their individual differences, something that technology supports really well), and their ability create a working environment for their students that is one which celebrates the joy of learning, the excitement of wanting to know more. It’s not about putting computers into the equation and expecting that anything will be different… it’s about putting computers into the equation and then staying curious and interested and engaged with the process of learning so that the process of learning more when it’s needed is seen as exciting and exhilarating, not simply something that can be avoided as long as possible.

    Learning is knowledge work, and the computer is the tool of the knowledge worker. There is a close relationship between the two I think.

    As for what we do about it, you say “do we ask them to leave?” Possibly. I can’t, because I’m not the boss of the world… But if I was, there’d be a lot of teachers looking through the jobs section in next Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald. Would you want a teacher who was not a lifelong learner teaching YOUR kid?

    @Lisa Thanks for sharing that. I’m guessing you can really relate to the Stuck on an Escalator video then? 🙂 It’s very frustrating when you stop pushing so they stop moving!

    @Allanah Great story, thanks! Now get back to NOT teaching your kids. It’s helping them a lot. I read that commen t to Linda and my 17 year old son (doing the HSC this year) overheard it and said “Well, they WEREN’T learning! How can talking to other people in Auckland be learning?”

    This is why I’m on a mission to change how school works. It’s already ruined my own kids.

    @Henrietta I read the post you put on your own blog. Frustrating! Keep at it though, you’re doing great stuff.

    @Darren I agree with most of what you say, but I think you have it wrong when you say “the kids know more about technology and about how to get the best / most out of it.” I think that’s incorrect. I really do believe that unless these kids can have the guidance of a wise adult who has a reasonable level of digital fluency themselves, the kids will not learn many of the skills they really need. Yeah, they’re quick on MSN and they spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I think if you looked at the true digital literacy and the ability to operate with true fluency and understanding of technology across the board, you’d be shocked at how poor it really is.

    I don’t think teachers need to feel fear about the kids knowing more than them because a) so what? Who cares if the kids know more than the teachers about technology. It’s not a competition. And b) the kids generally DON’T know more about technology, at least not nearly as much as we usually give them credit for. I think teachers need to lift their game in developing their own digital fluency because the kids they teach need a good role model…

    And again, it’s not about the technology anyway, it’s about kids seeing adults show that they aren’t afraid of the process of learning.

    1. I hope I didn’t misrepresent where I stand in the debate: I believe whole-heartedly, from personal experience, anecdotal evidence and good ol’ common sense, that the appropriate use of technology has a positive effect on both student learning and engagement. I was just reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein via my Twitter stream: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” At this point, the effects of technology may well be on of those things that cannot be counted, but I am certain that it counts.

      Because the focus in so many schools around the world is on test results and because the most important aspects of learning enhanced by technology (inquiry, reflection, metacognition to name a few) can never be measured by a standardized test, I believe that many teachers cannot see the instantaneous value of trying something different, especially if it takes more time! I firmly believe that if you teach a student how to think, that student will do well on any assessment that requires him/her to think (this may not include tests that require nothing more than the regurgitation of a list of ‘facts’.)

      1. Yes I suspect that we tend to want to measure every educational innovation in a QUANTITATIVE way, but perhaps the best innovations in education should be measured in a QUALITATIVE way instead? Sometimes you can make things much better without necessarily making the results all that different.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?