In order to effectively promote 21st century learning and technology integratration in our schools today, the culture within our schools needs to become an open culture of sharing best practice and collaboration.
It became clear in a recent “high level” high school meeting at my school (about the role of technology in learning) that one of the biggest barriers to effective and compelling technology integration seems to be the culture of isolation in which many colleagues work. Even though colleagues are talking to each other about various issues throughout the day, they aren’t often explicitly sharing best practices. This especially includes best practice with technology and creating 21st century learning environments. At the same time, colleagues don’t often seem to seek out this information either. For example, a few colleagues and I often offer various tech oriented workshops, but the attendance at these is often low and often have the same people in attendance. This problem of isolation isn’t only happening in my school. It’s been a problem in most schools for most of the history of education, I would say.
“The failure is harder to put into words. It could be described as our lack of progress on sharing “pedagogical know-how” among educators. We have systems to run e-learning courses and content to view, but we have not captured the teaching processes that expert educators use to bring learning alive in their e-learning courses. If an educator creates a great sequence of learning activities that leads to a rich learning experience for students in an e-learning class, how does this educator share the activity sequence with colleagues so that they can automatically run the same activities or adapt them to suit local conditions? How does the educator share the thought processes that led to the design of the activity sequence?”. . . Put simply, what we lack is an agreed way to describe and share the teaching process, regardless of whether the activities are conducted online or face-to-face. As a result, individual educators spend heroic amounts of time on planning and preparation, but with enormous duplication of effort and no economies of scale. Apart from the lack of efficiency in preparation, educational quality also suffers: While some educators regularly create outstanding learning experiences for their students, some do not. How could the best teaching processes be shared among the widest number of educators?”
This culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can happen in many different ways. Professional development conferences, both regional and local, have always been a great place to learn what other educators are doing. For educational technology and 21st century learning, a couple of great regional examples here in east Asia are the Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong which occured this last weekend and the Learning 2.008 conference that happened in September 2008. An upcoming conference in September 2009, the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong, will surely be a great one, as well. These regional conferences only happen a couple of times a year, though, and not all faculty attend these. Furthermore, those conferences that have a educational technology focus (like the examples above) tend to be attended by ed tech leaders and teachers who have already shifted toward 21st century models of education. We obviously need to be sharing with more educators than those that have already shifted and are doing the sharing. “Regular” teachers need to be encouraged and given incentive to attend these conferences.
When time and money constrain people from attending distant regional conferences, local weekend workshops can provide wonderful opportunities for sharing best practice and building collaborative relationships. Of course, these types of workshops aren’t uncommon. They just need to be promoted more explicitly at times, I think. One that I know will be great for those in the Bangkok, Thailand area will be TechTrain 2010: Beginners Learning Technology Tools Together which will occur in January 2010. Events like this will surely achieve great in-roads to helping educate the faculty that need the most assistance. Presenters at these local workshops will be local themselves and possibly from the same school, so getting further face-to-face assistance beyond the workshops will be much easier.
The last way this culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can be promoted is by creating a viable and explicit intra-school model. For those teachers that don’t have the time or motivation to attend external workshops, having situations for learning how to effectively integrate technology and create relevant 21st century learning environments is essential to move the whole school forward. Examples can be collated and presented through online showcases; there could be face-to-face show-and-tell sessions, and there could be the usual in-house workshops that promote these instances. An example of the latter is the 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education that two colleagues and I created. Trying to make time for workshops like these during the school day is critical, however. Some people can’t stay after school or come to school early due to family or other commitments. So, it’s often these people that miss out and are getting left behind. At my school, we will tackle this time problem by having early release Wednesday’s starting next school year where we will have two hours every Wednesday afternoon for professional development.
Even if you can’t physically attend a face-to-face session in any of the contexts above, social media technologies make it easy to follow what’s happening. Most conferences and/or presenters will have a wiki or a Ning site that will delineate most of the information shared in person. At the same time, many attendees at a workshop will Twitter the backchannel. By following the hash-tag #hksummit, this is how I kept up with the recent Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong. Though not as much as those physically in attendance, I still learned a lot from the backchannel of this conference. Following the backchannel is so easy to do and doesn’t require much time and/or effort. We just need to teach people how to do it.
All of these are important ways to build understanding of best practice in technology integration and relevant learning in today’s ever changing world. All of these situations need to be promoted and encouraged in a school. Moreover, administrators need to be attending these situations along with strongly encouraging common faculty members to attend, not just the ed tech leaders in the school. When this happens, and everyone has opportunities to learn that fit their schedule and style of learning, I think isolation will lessen and a sharing and collaborative culture will be achieved.