4 November 2012

How learning and teaching needs to change

My research this week has led me to thinking about the impact of 21st century technologies on learning with particular reference to language and cultural awareness and the pedagogical approach of teachers who become stuck in outdated thinking.

Arising from a need to address language acquisition and multicultural awareness in the IB Diploma course through an online platform, I started thinking about the problems faced by learners today and the priorities we have as teachers in addressing these issues. From my work in a variety of schools in four countries, one of the major problems faced by language learners - all learners - today, is the influence of digital technologies and the exposure to the language of social media and the inability of education systems to address or deal with these emerging technologies. I started by thinking about the influence of social media: where the lines between what is and isn't acceptable as written English is becoming blurred. I am struggling to get learners to comprehend the difference between formal and informal spellings of words and what is acceptable in a more formal and academic situation, e.g. 'i' and 'wanna' etc. But my thinking went beyond this to my work on digital citizenship and my online learning units that allow 24 hour access to learners for continued review and reflection and how this is being implemented in my current school.

Teachers' pedagogical ideals are buried in somewhat outdated notions of what learning is. Even if we trained in the last five to ten years, we are out of date. The world is moving so quickly that pedagogical changes with ICT can only succeed if those concerned are willing and able to actively reflect on their understanding, actions, goals and processes (Belisle, 2008). If we think we are able to teach because we are trained and we know what we are doing without reflecting on how or why our decisions are made or our course designed, we fail to progress by failing to acknowledge that "any purposeful action is governed by theory. Everyone who teaches or professes to teach has a theory of learning" (Bigge, 1976). It is this theory of learning, of what it means to learn, of what needs to be learned and how it needs to be learned, that needs to be at the forefront of our thinking if we are to address the needs of the 21st century learner.

Belisle states that:

"Teachers develop their own education culture, usually shared amongst colleagues within
institutions and rarely questioned as such. Different values and underlying choices organise
their pedagogical practices. In clarifying different choices of curriculum, learning outcomes,
teaching methods, assessment procedures, and bringing them in alignment with the
technological choices, educational actors find that they are bringing to light implicit cultural
attitudes, beliefs and values." (Belisle, 2008)

If we are aiming to build intercultural awareness as part of our curriculum, as teachers, we need to acknowledge that we have these implicit attitudes and need to work to think more carefully about them. We may have been trained, one way, we have taught one way - albeit successfully for many years - but we need to acknowledge that this does not necessarily make it right NOW. The Internet is not going to go away; education is changing and to embrace ICT and use it in the classroom as a legitimate way of learning means we allow learners the chance "to make relevant inferences, to cross visual and auditory information, and to construct meaningful interpretations of cultural phenomena" (Belisle, 2008).

Schools have developed in a society where knowledge was scarce and available to chosen elites. Digital technology is rapidly transforming not only the access conditions but the very nature of knowledge (Belisle). I would like to redefine my role to that of a teacher of 21st century skills. What is important to me is not the content I teach but the skills my learners leave with - the ability to deal with more learning. I want them to be able to cope with all the new ways of communicating and with living in a world we can't even comprehend yet; I want them to be equipped for jobs I am not even able to conceive of. The one type of learning that schools need to excel in is “learning how to think” (Belisle, 2008) though this ideal faces opposition not only from teachers who are unfamiliar with technology. Learners bring to the classroom a set of notions regarding other cultural beliefs and systems - ways of learning that are culturally ingrained.

I am still fighting against their desire for the grade over everything else; many learners care only for the grade or qualification and will not fully participate in everything I do unless it is part of a formal assessment. A lot of this comes from different ways of teaching and learning and I am battling against traditonal ingrained notions that school is a place where teachers 'give' you what you need and you learn it off by heart. Rote learning, list learning, memorising without understanding - many learners I have still seem to think this is what teaching and learning are about. I should stand at the front and give them the content they need. They learn it. What I am trying to get them to see is that this is not really learning; there is no real understanding going on. They are constrained by the limitations that this sort of learning lends - the amount of words say, that can be learned in a two-year course. I am trying to get them to see that equipping them with the skills to be able to learn for themselves means there are no limitations to what they can do. The use of IT for translation and a source of information and the skills to use it effectively is based on a learning concept where the learner is active, learning being interpreted as understanding, and understanding as doing and solving problems: learning is primarily a transformation process rather than a memory process (Belisle, 2008). I am trying to instill the notion that language learning is life-long and needs to be about skills rather than 'words'. What we need to be most aware of as teachers and develop an understanding of in learners, is that teaching them "how to develop themselves and how to interact intelligently in a multicultural and multimedia world does not require the same preparation and competence as teaching students in ways to acquire existing knowledge." (Belisle, 2008)

I think that the gap between what learners need and what teachers believe they should deliver will remain, until teachers embrace where our world is going. It is only when teachers have understood the importance of lifelong empowering learning strategies that they will engage students in self directed and lifelong e-learning, and in self appraisal and self management (Belisle, 2008). As stated in a previous post, we need to be 21st century teachers. We need to acknowledge that the world is changing. We may have sat with pen and paper and used a library to research and yes, no doubt, we did OK. That is not in question. The question is, how is that relevant today? Writing and reading are important but the way we teach learners to do this are different; they HAVE to be different because the way we write and read is different - certainly the way learners write and read is different. We don't use quills any more because the world moved on; we don't use slate any more because the world moved on. We need to move on. We need to keep up.

Belisle, Claire. "ELearning and Intercultural Dimensions of Learning Theories and Teaching Models." Onlinepd.ibo.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <https://onlinepd.ibo.org/pluginfile.php/25641/mod_resource/content/2/docs/Intercultural_cb.pdf>.