Home' Teacher : November 2009 Contents 34 TEACHER NOVEMBER 2009
With all this happening, the role of
teacher is inevitably changing. Where a
teacher once controlled the flow of infor-
mation to students, able to hold back some
information while channelling other infor-
mation to students, that is no longer the
case. Now teachers are standing with their
students in a river of information. They
no longer have control of what informa-
tion their students have access to. Teachers
who still see their own value as providers of
information, are rapidly becoming, if they
have not already become, redundant.
The role of teacher in the 21st Century
is shifting toward influencing the learn-
ing behaviour of students, not controlling
the flow of information. We educators in
schools don't really have a choice about
whether or not our students use such web
2.0 services as MySpace, Facebook, MSN
or YouTube. Our students are using these
things. The only choice we have is whether
to turn a blind eye to what they are doing
and leave them to their own devices or,
worse, ban their use in schools, or assume
the charge that our vocation gives us and
participate with our students, influencing
their use of these facilities so that they are
guided in the safe and beneficial use of tech-
nologies that are, after all, morally neutral.
Student engagement: paving desire
Some educators see emerging technolo-
gies as a problem: the 'problem of emerg-
ing technologies' being that it's so hard to
stop students from using them. They smug-
gle phones into school and text each other
when the teacher's not looking; they spend
enormous amounts oftime chatting on MSN
and networking on Facebook; and they walk
around with iPod earbuds in their ears.
The question, if we turn this 'problem'
around, is this: if these technologies are so
attractive to students, shouldn't we be look-
ing at ways to harness that fascination for
some educational benefit for our students?
After all, our profession is based on the
effective sharing of information and ideas,
and it would be ironic, surely, if schools
were to ban technologies that have become
phenomenally popular among young people,
precisely because they are effective conduits
for the sharing of information and ideas.
There's a principle in landscape design
known as 'paving desire paths.' Ever noticed
how tracks are worn across a lawn, by
human traffic taking short cuts to their
desired destination, rather than following
the paths of the landscape designer?
The reasoning behind paving desire paths
is that it's more efficient to let people walk
across the lawn first, see where they walk
and pave those paths. The paths that are so
paved will be more successful because they
lead to the desired destinations of the people
who use them.
If we were to take the same approach to
teaching and learning, we'd watch to see
how students like to communicate, and then
pave those desire paths -- making them the
official conduits for the com munication of
knowledge and concepts. Do this, and we'd
find students who are more engaged with
learning, and who perform better.
At this point in most articles on emerg-
ing technologies in education, you start to
get a bit irked, thinking this is all well and
good, but show me what the effective use of
emerging technologies in education actu-
ally looks like.
Between 2004 and 2005 I worked on
a website for my Year 12 biology class.
In the last quarter of 2005 I introduced a
podcast. In 2006 I emphasised to my class
that the website and podcast were no longer
'optional extra resou rces' but were funda-
mental parts of the course delivery, and that
actual class time was now to be a tutorial.
This was emphasised even more strongly in
2007, and I also introduced the use of MSN
messenger as a communication tool for class
members outside of class time.
A podcast is an audio recording of a lesson,
so it can easily replace lecture-style expla-
nations of concepts in class time. While it's
still essentially a lecture, it has numerous
advantages. Students can choose when and
for how long they listen. They are able to
stop and start the lesson if they find 50 min-
utes too long to listen in one sitting. They
can listen to the podcast when they're walk-
ing to school, say, or washing the dishes.
They're able to listen as many times as
they want to understand the concepts being
explained, and listen later in the course for
revision. If they're listening and their mind
wanders, they can rewind just that part and
listen to it again. Students who are absent
from school don't have to miss the teacher's
explanation of essential concepts. None of
these options are available to students if the
information is presented in a traditional
class, during class time.
Most importantly, teaching via a podcast
saves actual class time for activities that are
more engaging or interpersonal and truly
require face-to-face interaction. Moreover
they allow the flexibility to focus in class
on only the most important or difficult-to-
understand aspects of a topic, rather than
having to cover the whole topic in class time.
A podcast actually makes students take
responsibility, since they're loathe to turn
up to class without being prepared.
Another significant advantage of teaching
via a podcast is that it saves teacher time.
Year 12 teachers spend a lot of out-of-class
time re-explaining concepts that were taught
in class -- often to one student at a time. In
contrast, my students go back and listen
to the podcast again when they need to be
refreshed. This frees up teacher time, and
thereby allows me more preparation time.
The podcast is also accessible to students
in other schools, because it's published via
an RSS feed over the internet. My own pod-
cast has a listening audience of more than
3,000 students. Many of these students from
other schools interact with my students and
me by sending email, or using their mobile
phone to send voicemail which is played on
the podcast for the benefit of everyone.
On the discussion board, conversation about
biology continues asynchronously arou nd
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