By Marco Ceccarelli
It is difficult today to find a school in Western Australia that does not integrate digital learning into its curriculum.
Most schools have, in one way or another, adapted to technological advancements and have at least attempted to plan, evaluate and integrate Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into the learning experience of its students.
Particularly within Perth, there is much talk at present about schools practising 21st-century learning methods – but what does this mean and how is it implemented?
The Record Magazine journalist, Marco Ceccarelli, recently spoke to Digital Learning Coordinator at the Catholic Education Office of WA, Daniel Groenewald, and Digital Learning Consultant within the same organisation, Gabrielle Trinca, about the interconnectedness between teaching, learning and technology in 2016.
“There has been recognition within the school curriculum for students to be provided with new skills that will allow them to thrive in the 21st century,” Mr Groenewald said, reflecting on how he and Ms Trinca support WA Catholic schools in integrating and innovating with digital curricula.
“Our aim as digital learning experts is to help teachers create a flourishing child. We do that by helping them incorporate digital technology into their teaching methods.
“We provide cutting-edge professional development in all areas. From digital tools, which make learning more interesting and alive, to product knowledge on things like Office 365, Google apps for education, and information on how to use Apple Ecosystems,” he added.
Mr Groenewald and Ms Trinca regularly visit schools in order to observe current teaching methods and suggest ways of embedding digital tools within these. The aim of their visits, Ms Trinca explained, is not to impose new learning methods onto teachers, but to gradually infuse technology into teaching and learning according to what she described as “the SAMR model”.
Developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura, the SAMR model stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition and is designed to help teachers use technology in ways that transform the learning experience of students.
“Our aim is to start at the bottom levels of Substitution and Augmentation, so introducing typing instead of writing, using an eBook rather than a paper book, and working towards the higher levels of Modification and Redefinition where the students use the technology in an innovative way,” Ms Trinca said.
“In this way, you’re transforming the knowledge and giving students new opportunities to express what they know. Our aim is to go beyond Substitution. We’re hoping to be transformative. That SAMR model captures this,” Mr Groenewald said.
Both Mr Groenewald and Ms Trinca acknowledged that much has changed over the past 25 years in terms of what the digital world can offer. Unlike before, information today is everywhere, meaning schools are no longer places where students go to access information they would not have at home.
This has seen teachers adapt their teaching methods in order to keep up with this change in information distribution. Combined with technological tools available at home and in the classroom, a more “inquiry-based learning” approach has been introduced.
“Since teachers recognise that they cannot solely focus on distributing information and explaining concepts, they have gravitated towards creating inquiry projects and rich research-style questions.
“Teachers are now using what is called Flipped Learning – a model that sees the class and homework elements of a course reversed. Short videos are viewed by students at home, while, in class, they engage in exercises, projects, or discussion,” Ms Trinca said.
“Students may then go online in open or closed online environments to get feedback from their teachers or peers,” Mr Groenewald said.
The changes in teaching methodology have also had an impact in the way 21st-century learning environments are designed and constructed. To complement the introduction of new digital tools, flexible learning spaces have appeared that allow students to move around.
Ms Trinca explained that any contemporary school should have at least these three key learning spaces:
The Cave: where students work independently on their work.
The Watering Hole: students and teachers informally gather around a table to share knowledge and ideas and give feedback before moving back into their cave spaces.
The Campfire: a group of students comes together to learn from an expert.
Finally, Mr Groenewald addressed a new innovative and cutting-edge learning tool which, although still a work-in-progress within education, will have a significant impact on the way students receive information – Virtual Reality.
“With Virtual Reality, we can give students a set of goggles and, for instance, take them back into a historical environment if they’re studying history, or a marine environment if they’re studying marine science. It is a way of making the abstract concrete.”
All these advancements in digital learning are not without their dangers and challenges. From the reliability of information, to the accessibility that young people have to inappropriate online material, to the dangers of ill-intentioned individuals online, Mr Groenewald and Ms Trinca stated that cyber safety is something they take very seriously.
“The double edge sword of technology is that, before, everything was curated, whereas today this is not the case. There is no longer a specific hierarchy of educators and there are problems of reliability, digital literacy plagiarism and misinformation.
“Teachers have to work in this world and they need to know whether they’re being manipulated or not. They need to be able to distinguish between invalid and valid forms of knowledge, they need to learn the online literacy skills to see how texts are constructed – that’s the role of the new teacher.” Mr Groenewald said.
“We’re working very hard with teachers on this,” Ms Trinca added. “We also work on getting the parents on board as they are often the child’s number one model. Particularly with blogging and social media, it is important for parents to set the right example and have consequences in place for when their children misuse the technology. It’s about creating a safe environment.”
From page 7 to 9 from Issue 3: ‘Education: Teaching, Learning and Technology in 2016’ of The Record Magazine