I came across a blog post the other day that suggested 51 technologies that we could use to flip our classes. This surprised me on several levels, but mainly because I once did a very large flipped classroom project which lasted for 5 years and only really used 2 technologies. It made me reflect upon whether these sorts of blog posts and lists are really helping anyone. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the use of technology in teaching and I wonder if articles like that are sometimes part of the problem.
Choice and Time
If I went into a shop to buy a new phone and the shop assistant offered me a choice of 51 possible phones to buy, I would really question whether he is doing his/her job. What I would expect is that the shop assistant would help me to narrow down my choices by perhaps pointing out 3 or 4 possible options. I feel that people writing about technology should be doing the same thing. They should be narrowing down the choices and helping those who want to make better use of technology in their teaching and learning to make informed choices. Throwing out a list of 51 technologies might end up being pretty counter-productive.
If I read that post, I would be wondering where I would find the time to learn all those technologies ( or even some of them). There has been a whole collection of studies that suggest that one of the biggest barriers to the use of technology is time. Sicilia (2005- found in Bingimlas 2009) cited how teachers felt that technology needed time. They felt that integrating technology involves working out what technologies are useful, learning to actually use them, planning them into the lessons and dealing with technical issues. ChanLin et al (2006) made a similar point; finding that lesson plans including technology, generally take longer to plan.
Some of us might slightly disagree with this point. I think technology often requires an initial investment in time but can become time saving as we learn to use it more effectively. However, that initial investment can often be quite substantial, so if we can point teachers in the right direction and provide at least some guidance on making good choices, then we might be doing them a big favour.
Suggesting 51 possible technologies for working with the flipped classroom might also be sending out a message that the flipped classroom is complicated and that we need to learn lots of technologies to accomplish it. I realise of course that was not the intention of the blog but I do worry that it is the result of it. I know the purpose of the post is to offer teachers choice but I still think the overall impression is that any teachers wanting to flip their classes are going to need to wade through a number of technologies.
I also think blog posts like this may also put far too much focus on the technology and not enough on the pedagogy that underpins its use. The key to the flipping your classes is delivering the low level thinking skills through learning content and activities at home and then setting up interesting pair work, group work activities in the class that process and use the new knowledge. For me the Flipped Classroom is as much about the pedagogy and the effective use of teacher time as it is about the technologies you need to be able to flip your classes.
I often feel the same when I listen to talks or read articles on ‘app smashing.’ Very little focus seems to be placed on the pedagogy and organisation. I would much rather see a presentation around just one app, but with a detailed consideration of the many factors that surround the use of technology like access to the app, how it is introduced into the learning, what activities can it be used for, how feedback is going to be provided, what hardware is required etc.
Drawing on the research
My experience of working in teacher training in ICT and what I have taken from the large body of research around the barriers to the use of technology in teaching ( Fang & Warchauer 2004, Ismail & Almekhlfi 2010), has led me to focus much less of my time on the technologies and much more of my time on how they can be used and what barriers need to be overcome for them to be implemented successfully. I realise now that when it comes to training, I need to take a much broader view of the use of ICT and not only consider the technology but also think about barriers to implementing that technology, how to sell it to management, how to get other teachers engaged with it, how feedback is going to be provided , how to convince students of its value etc. Those of us working in technology, get quite excited about what a technology can offer but the truth is, introducing technology into many teaching and learning contexts can be much harder than we would like to think.
Technology is also very much driven by innovation. A lot of focus tends to be around the possibilities to do new things with technology. So much that is written and presented about technology is suggesting new things you can do, that you couldn’t do previously; think of examples in Second Life, blogging, augmented reality etc. What we tend to spend much less time doing, is looking at challenges that teachers currently face and finding suggesting technologies that might solve their problems. As one teacher recently wrote in a questionnaire I set up ‘What I don’t like about doing technology courses is that I end up having more challenges to deal with after, not fewer’. That really struck a cord with me. Teachers might have issues around their teaching and learning, that are not necessarily technology related but can be solved through technology.
I have trained teachers or given talks on technology in 31 countries to date. I see pockets of real innovation that is clearly having an impact on learning. However, my general feeling is that there is still a ‘very large minority’ of teachers that are still struggling to really harness the affordances of technology and maybe those of us involved in technology ( and I definitely put myself in this list) are partly to blame. Thinking more carefully about the context our teachers work in and taking a broader view of what the introduction of technology really means for a teacher in practical terms, could go a long way to helping the teachers to successfully introduce technology into their teaching and learning.
Bingimlas, K. A (2009) Barriers to the successful integration of ICT in Teaching and Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature. Euroasia Journal of Mathmatics, Science and Technology Education 5 (3).
Available at http://www.ejmste.com/v5n3/eurasia_v5n3_bingimlas.pdf
ChanLin, L., Hong, J., Horng, J., Chang, S., & Chu, C (2006). Factors influencing technology integration in teaching: A Taiwanese perspective’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 43, no.1.
Fang, X., & Warschauer, M (2004). ‘Technology and curricular reform in China: A case study’, TESOL Quarterly, vol.38, no.2.
Ismail, A., & Almekhlafi, A. G (2010). ‘Teachers’ perceptions of the use of technology in teaching languages in United Arab Emirates’ schools’, International Journal for Research in Education, vol. 27,
Available at http://www.cedu.uaeu.ac.ae/journal/issue27/ch7_27en.pdf