Season 3 Episode 1

Choose Your Adventure

In first episode of Season 3, we discuss innovation. As we begin a new normal, what did we learn? What do we want to keep and what do we want to discard in our teaching practice? What do we mean when we talk about innovation?

Intentional Techno-pedagogy in Response to Rapidly Changing Instructional Environments

Historically, the integration of technology into teaching and learning environments, known as techno-pedagogy, has occurred fitfully, often in unpredictable ways. The chaotic nature of technological adaptation is the result of many barriers. These barriers can be categorized as cultural – the hermetic nature of schools which are often slow to respond to innovation; financial – the cost of technology acquisition and training to both educational institutions and their constituencies; political – the bureaucratic nature of education and the attendant regulatory and policy barriers to innovation and finally, methodological – the time-consuming nature of identifying evidence-based instructional practices and the resistance to the wide adoption of those practices. Despite these obstacles, schools have gradually transformed into technologically integrated environments.

It is important to categorize the methods of technological transformation in education. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, technology integration happened in two ways: intentional and accidental. Technology integration into instructional environments began apace with the dawn of the so-called information age. The gradual ubiquity of personal computing capacity and the development of the Internet resulted in a cultural transformation that inevitably impacted schools. The affordances of these resources (hardware and software, broadly) resulted in the transformation of both schools’ physical plants – computer labs and internet access, as examples – as well as the technology expectations placed upon teachers. The institutions of education (universities, school districts) and the rapidly developing educational technology sector responded to these shifting cultural expectations by developing technological solutions to address instructional needs. These solutions, in the form of both hardware and software, could be classified as intentional. That is, these solutions were intentionally designed for use in instructional environments. Intentionally designed educational technology has a mixed record of success. Success as measured by broad adoption coupled with a positive and measurable impact on student learning outcomes. An example of an intentional integration is interactive whiteboards. At first, hailed as a remarkable innovation that would dramatically change teaching and learning, interactive whiteboards have failed to deliver on that promise. Examples of failed software innovations abound. It can be concluded that intentional integration, techno-pedagogical solutions specifically designed for classroom use, do not guarantee success.

The second type of integration is accidental. Accidental integration fits into a discovery model of techno-pedagogy. In this scenario, technology adaptations infiltrate educational settings in several ways. One way is covertly, students bring technology tools and practices with them to school. Schools often respond by banning these tools. Examples are laptop bans in higher education and smartphone bans in K-12. In some instances, educators have responded to this covert infiltration by adapting their practice to accommodate the technological habits of their students, resulting in accidental integration. In other cases, schools become persuaded by broad societal adoption of technical habits, resulting in technology integration. My students all have smartphones. How can I leverage these devices in my classroom? Using tools not specifically designed for classrooms (podcasting, Twitter, and TikTok for example) – are also examples of accidental integration.

The pandemic resulted in a novel type of technological adoption. This type might be called coercive. In this unique instance, schools had no choice but to leverage technology to continue to provide education to their students. In fact, providing students (and instructors) with technology became an equity issue.  Whether the education provided during the pandemic was effective remains to be seen. Regardless, millions of students and hundreds of thousands of educators now have experiences of learning and teaching online. The resistance to technology has now been rendered almost moot.  In fact, education is faced with a novel problem. If online learning at scale was effective, why go back to face-to-face learning? If online learning was ineffective why were millions of children promoted and graduated? Prior to the pandemic, higher education faculty were resistant to online learning while much higher percentages of students preferred it. Now, post-pandemic, many higher education faculty and instructors would prefer to teach remotely, while large number of students want to return to face-to-face instruction, desiring the community and connection of campus life. Large percentages of both learner and instructor populations, having had experiences of remote learning, have no desire to return to the physical campus.

Colleges and Universities find themselves in the peculiar position of having to justify physical presence requirements. While there are societal imperatives for physical presence requirements at the K-12 level (public safety, childcare, laws), instructional justifications are less clear. A traditional classroom with a teacher-centered approach, by far the most common educational experience, can be easily replicated using web-conferencing solutions. Higher education instructors and learners express valid arguments for remote learning, which include transportation costs, childcare needs and convenience. The arguments are especially valid for adult, non-traditional learners who now make up the majority of university students. In face of these arguments, how can colleges and universities respond? Beyond simply mandating physical presence, what can higher education institutions do to persuade learners that their physical presence has educational benefits?

Innovative teaching and learning spaces present the best argument for returning to face-to-face instruction. Schools have been developing learning commons and maker spaces, providing hardware and software generally unavailable to teachers and learners. These innovative laboratories of learning may present the best rationale for physical presence, providing learners and instructors with tools that would otherwise be unavailable is a powerful argument for coming to campus. Intentional integration, schools accepting their responsibility to be innovators in technological adoption, may offer a way forward.

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