My Design Based Research Proposal
My role is to train and support teachers in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector around the educational technology they need to use, and teaching practices around blended learning and inclusivity. In the course of my work I have identified that there is a lack of digital literacy among some teachers which is causing problems in the support that they can provide to students in a blended learning environment to learn these skills. These are a broad range of skills as shown in diagram below from The Design Studio at Jisc.
Figure 1. The seven elements of digital literacy (Jisc, 2014)
Most teachers are not teaching courses about digital literacy, hence it is important that they can demonstrate and encourage these skills in other ways for the students’ benefit during and at the completion of their studies. Knowles (2013) posits that digital literacy (DL) underpins our capacity to provide social opportunity and participate in the digital economy. Knowles also points out that the groups of people most likely to be lacking in DL skills include those on low incomes, without tertiary qualifications, and from diverse areas of disadvantage or marginalisation such as being in older age groups or having a disability. Many students in these circumstances are studying in VET with NCVER (2015) stating that 5% identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, 18% are over 45 years of age, 8% have disclosed a disability and 18% speak a language other than English at home.
My overall question for this designed based research (DBR) proposal is:
How can Networked and Global Learning (NGL) be used to support an increase of digital literacy in teachers as individuals?
The aspect of the teacher as an individual means taking into consideration their personal circumstances, needs and abilities. It is illogical to demand that a team of teachers attend the same professional development (PD) activity on DL because there will be differing levels of confidence, ability, availability, needs and interest. Standardised PD for teachers often doesn’t work for these reasons (Green & Ruutz, 2008; Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015) and providing individual training to each teacher is impractical as the resources are not available for such an endeavour.
To support teachers to consciously build the use of networks and understanding of technology brings up various questions such as:
- Which elements of networked learning can support development of DL?
- Which aspects of NGL are best used to support VET teachers?
- What responsibility does the institution have to support teachers in developing DL?
The Australasian council on open, distance and e-learning (Acode, 2104) state that DL is absolutely necessary in education to be able to function effectively. Acode points out many of the different areas of DL, similarly to the Jisc diagram above, such as understanding which tools, sites and information is credible and useful, creating a digital identity and enhancing cognitive and collaborative outcomes, comes about by teachers understanding and using the technology. Kivunja (2015) also states that it is imperative to be teaching students how to use digital technology to discern which tools and information can be used for particular situations as many are “intricately tethered to the Internet” (p.166).
The problem is that not all teachers have levels of DL that are supportive of developing these skills in students (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015). Hicks and Turner (2013) discuss ways that teachers can improve digital literacy for students through advocating for DL to be used, trying out new things, interacting in networks, creating your own content, and inviting students to do the same. Green & Ruutz (2008) point out how teachers are being expected to remain experts in their field whilst also increasing their educative abilities in things such as inclusive teaching, and online and blended learning. Many educational institutions recognise the need for better use of DL and are beginning develop and utilise professional development programs for teaching staff to address the issue, yet for teachers to really improve, they need ongoing connections, training and substantial leadership (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015). Deakin University (2013) have incorporated the development of DL into the course curricula and assessments, and have teaching staff modelling the use of DL in their teaching and research practice. It has taken considerable work by Deakin University to ensure that DL is built into teaching and the criteria of assessments measure elements such as the appropriate, efficient and effective use of technology, effectively accessing quality, credible and relevant resources, online collaboration, developing a digital identity, and discriminating between opinion and information.
Although it is important for teachers to have effective DL skills to benefit themselves and students, it isn’t necessary they be experts. Recognising teachers as professionals, with different types of industry and responsibilities towards students, can help institutions to equitably divide the responsibility of learning DL between the teachers and the institution, and there are many ways to do this.
NGL is a useful method of learning when DL is a key objective. Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson and McConnell (2004, as cited in Goodyear 2005) define NGL as:
“Learning in which ICT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources .”
To support teachers through networked learning would mean that teachers need to be able to connect with each other, the teacher trainers, administrative staff, teachers, trainers and experts across the world, and to various resources that support them and their teaching. They can access and utilise the information that comes through those connections to copy, modify or transform what they have learned. These days the discussions about NGL generally include ICT, but they do not have to. Goodyear (in Goodyear and Carvarlo, 2014) demonstrated that networks have historically had a significant effect on people regarding learning, trading and development of ideas and technology. In this research proposal, the utilisation of NGL will be approached in the broad sense (not limiting it to the use of ICT).
Inclusivity is an important aspect of teaching in VET. Teachers need to ensure they are using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of multiple means of representation, engagement, action and expression to provide the best chance for students to be able to learn (CAST, 2014). The guidelines are embedded in the booklet “Inclusive Learning – A Way Forward” (Queensland VET Development Centre, 2012), which is the basis for training teachers how to ensure that all learners are provided the means to reach their potential. Brown and Reushle (2010) state that it is critical to ensure that learners feel supported and valued, that everyone is clear about roles and responsibilities, and that learning should be contextualised with multiple means of engagement and representation. It serves to reason that teachers should be provided the same opportunities to engage and learn in the PD that is provided by the institution. This would mean that teacher’s current knowledge is taken into account, they have multiple ways to engage with the information and resources available, there are multiple ways in which to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, the knowledge and skills they need are made explicit, as are timelines, and they are aware of the people and networks available to support them to meet goals.
A personal learning network (PLN) that is supported by the institution is a logical way to ensure that teachers have these opportunities to engage and learn the DL they need. Teachers will already have some sort of PLN in place, but they may not be aware of it or using it to its full potential. Couros (2010) defines a PLN as the connections, value and benefits from facilitating and developing a personal learning environment that allows people to manage their own learning. Marc-Andre Lalande (2012) provides a succinct explanation of the PLN in the following clip.
Burt (2014) takes people through the steps of how to build their own PLN pointing out that the key aspect is that it is individually decided how, who by, what and when learning occurs. He discusses the point that the online network is what can really enhance the PLN and provides ideas similar to Couros (2010) such as reading and creating blogs, attending webinars, using collaborative and bookmarking tools and joining online networks or communities. When teachers are aware of their PLN they may be more likely to be able to draw on people and information in their network and collaborate with people who can support them at the appropriate times. A PLN for VET teachers could include other teachers and staff of the organisation, a Teaching Community of Practice, professionals from their area of expertise, video sites like Youtube or Vimeo, bookmarking sites like Diigo, professional networking sites like LinkedIn and various blogs such as Edublogs, The Innovative Educator, or Free Technology for Teachers.
Communities of Practice (CoPs) can form an integral part of a PLN because they are formed by people who are interested in the same types of things and want to learn from each other. Wenger (1998) defines CoPs simply:
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
He explains the CoP well in the following clip, especially learning partnerships and community of practice (1:12 to 2:00).
CoPs can be difficult to maintain in educational institutions for reasons such as the need for administrative and technical support, the time required for leading or participating, differing values and practices, and employment conditions (Green & Ruutz, 2008). McDonald (2014) found that if these issues are addressed with the CoP adequately resourced and facilitated using the CoP elements of community, sharing practice and growing knowledge (a social artist, Wenger called it in his talk above); CoPs are able to provide an alternative to specialised professional development programs.
Another way to improve teachers’ PLN, and address the issue of specialised PD programs, is through the use of ‘champions’. Given the amount of staff in the institution, it would be reasonable to assume that there could be a DL champion in each teaching team. A champion is a trusted colleague who provides positive leadership, effectively communicates with everyone, recognises efforts made, supports and encourages others, and promotes engagement (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2013; Murphy, 2013). Considering that a champion will spend considerable time to do this, the teaching staff member who is chosen would not be able to sustain a full-time teaching load and this would need to be negotiated with management.
Another useful part of a PLN for teachers that differs from a specialised PD program, is the use of continual open sessions for staff to attend to address any DL question or need that they have. This would mean having teacher trainers, technical support staff and/or champions available in a suitable space at different but consistent times across campuses. For example, Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon at campus A, Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons at campus B, and Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings at campus C. This could be “advertised” in the email newsletters, on notice boards, in lifts, on the Intranet, the LMS, in meetings and in the CoP.
All of these methods of working with teaching staff to increase DL involve networking, both online and in person; they also need investment from the institution in order to be effective. To help teachers develop their PLN to incorporate their DL responsibilities, the institution could create a checklist and/or guide for teaching staff to understand what sorts of digital literacy skills are crucial, or helpful to have and to teach. This would also include the available methods and programs on how to develop those skills, people to contact for each skill and/or resource, networks and communities to interact and learn with.
The following is a basic example of a checklist and guide for teachers to enhance their PLN and develop their digital literacy skills in ways that are suitable for their style and circumstance. They can rate each of their DL skills from 1 to 3 for reflective purposes and for the biannual professional development planning meeting with their manager. 1 is being able to use the LMS and at least one other platform for teaching and learning activities for self and students; 2 (includes 1) is being able to use multiple technologies for teaching and learning activities that provide opportunities for collaboration, and 3 (includes 1 and 2) is being adept at multiple ways to collaborate, learn and teach that provide new opportunities of learning (Hughes, Thomas & Scharber, 2010; Mirriahi, Alonzo & Fox, 2015). The checklist should include names and contact details where possible.
|DL skill from Jisc diagram in order of importance
||Examples of technology available
||People to contact
||PD sessions available for all types of DL
||Online networks and CoPs for all types of DL
|Communication and collaboration
|Teacher Training team
4/year PD week formal training – on Intranet
Weekly open door sessions – On Intranet
Team training online or F2F by request to teacher training team
Teaching and industry specific CoPs – local, statewide and international.
Search engines like Google scholar or citeulike
||Computers, laptops and iPads
Multi-access classroom technology
Web conferencing tools
Internet, Intranet, apps & LMS
Teacher Training team
Teacher training team
|Teacher training team
|Career and identity management
Teacher training team
For DL to be fully incorporated into an institution, multiple strategies are necessary and all staff need to take responsibility. To implement these forms of professional development would mean that all teams and faculties are involved. The teacher training team can work with managers for creating a timetable to implement the formal professional developments sessions every term as well as the weekly open sessions. Management in each faculty will need to decide who the team champions could be and allocate mentors to all new staff or staff requesting a mentor. They will ensure that every teacher and tutor is emailed information about a PLN with a checklist and guide and an explanation of the expectation of its use for the bi-annual professional development planning meetings. Information will also need to be placed on the Intranet and in weekly newsletters (something different each week) for staff about Communities of Practice, the role of team champions and mentors, locations and times of open sessions, times for formal PD sessions, inclusive learning and teaching, and Personal Learning Networks.
Providing multiple avenues to learn and practice DL, with ownership accepted by both the institution and the teaching staff, is imperative for all teaching staff. The skills and knowledge necessary to engage students and afford them with an integrated model of digital literacy, ensures students will have the skills needed to function effectively in the digital world. It will also provide teaching staff with new strategies to transform learning, and comfort in knowing that students finish courses having had every opportunity to develop skills and knowledge suitable for their careers in the 21st century.
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