Clash of Cultures: anywhere-anytime learning in the secondary school classroom
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24 March 2017
In this scenario I was responsible for leading digital learning and teaching in the school.
The learning experience described here focused on two Design Technology teachers in a secondary school. They were using the forum feature within their school virtual learning environment, to support a collaborative design activity with pupils.
The teachers had both qualified within the previous four years. They would have assessed their ICT skills as good and had experience of using a VLE at university to obtain course resources and post assignments. They both had Facebook accounts and would have described themselves as heavy users of the internet out of school hours, mainly for communication and entertainment purposes. They were led by a Head of Department who had identified VLE development as one of the targets in her departmental development plan. Up to this point the department had used the VLE as a file sharing platform.
The class involved in the activity was a Key Stage 3 class, of 16 pupils, jointly taught by the two teachers. The class was equally balanced in terms of gender and the average GCSE predicted grade for the group was B. They had two lessons of Design Technology each week, each lesson being one and half hours long. They were taught in a new purpose built Design Technology suite, that had its own computer suite. All the learners had access to a PC and the internet at home.
Each member of the class was tasked with producing a design proposal for a sign that contained one letter from the subject area (i.e. design technology). The assessment criteria for the course included (1) the production of a draft design, (2) obtaining feedback from at least four other sources, including one that had to be external to the school and (3) adapting a final proposal based on this feedback.
The final designs would be incorporated into a sign that would be made by pupils for the entrance to the Design Technology department area.
The project took place over a period of six weeks.
The task focused on supporting teacher understanding of how to enable, facilitate, structure and assess learning conversations that were taking place within the forum on the school VLE.
An initial conversation took place with the teachers to plan a workshop and explore the existing skills of the staff; their personal and professional experience of online conversations; the assumptions they made about online learning conversations and the skills of pupils.
In an after-school workshop sessions teachers the technical features of the VLE forum were demonstrated to the teachers. They were introduced to the Salmon 5 Stage Model of E-learning and shown exemplars of forum use in different contexts (almost exclusively further and higher education).
In the week after the face to face workshop, the teachers were asked to engage in an online conversation, on the school forum, with other teachers, around the use of social media. The aim was to use the experience of this to identify where conversations could be located on the Salmon model.
Overall the project was deemed to be successful by the teachers and pupils involved in it. All the pupils met the assessment criteria. All the pupils had used the forum to share their initial and completed designs. A small number of pupils engaged in a conversation that could be used as evidence for assessment purposes. Most pupils used feedback from other sources, including Facebook. Many of the online conversations remained superficially social. Most pupil and teacher input into the forum occurred during after school support sessions that were taking place in school, where teachers and pupils were working together in the computer suite.
I reviewed pupil and teacher input in the forum mid-way through the project and provided feedback to the teachers. This appeared to have little impact, beyond increasing the forum input that occurred in those after school support session, where teachers directed pupils to contribute to the forum.
In reviewing the project there were several key learning points for me. I had assumed that:
- Prior experience of using a VLE in higher education on the part of the teachers would lead to an understanding of the wider uses of VLE tools and applications to support learning, when in fact that prior use had focused exclusively on file sharing.
- Experience of participation in social networks by the teachers would support some understanding of the ways in which a learning conversation occurred in an online environment.
- Teachers would access the forum on an anytime-anywhere basis, given the flexible nature of the technology, when in fact they made use of tool mainly from a school location.
- There would be an acceptance of the social nature of forum discussions and the importance of socialisation in online learning, when in fact there was little tolerance on the part of the teachers for conversations that did not focus directly on assessed learning.
- There would be an understanding of copyright issues and that web material should not simply be copied into a forum; there was some acceptance on the part of the teachers that such material could be copied into the forum because it was a private space.
The project also revealed to what extent a culture of formal classroom based learning, a rigid curriculum and formal assessment procedures are mirrored online, even when the intention is to create a learning opportunity that is informal, flexible and collaborative.