In early March, I carried out a mini survey to gather data on educators using ICT tools in their daily practices. Having very busy days myself, I did consider asking my immediate circle of colleagues for their contributions but then decided to go further away from my physical environment. I turned to my PLN, asking them for help and participation.
My PLN is made up of 3 main networks:Twitter, FaceBook and Google+. Although I belong to other online communities as well, I chose these three and had the survey open online for roughly three days. Overall I received many responses, and am thankful to all who participated.
As one can see from from these initial questions, participants are, overall, comfortable with the use of digital tools and platforms in their classrooms. On the one hand, this does not come as an unexpected surprise, for participants on Twitter, FaceBook and especially Google + , are keen users of digital technologies and digitally connected. They are enthusiastic practioners and learners, always willing to share and learn with others.
The next questions change their focus to social networks and whether participants ever use them for learning and teaching purposes. As one can see by the results, it is more common to turn to social networks for personal professional development than for using them as a possible teaching tool. As someone who uses digital tools in my regular teaching, I need to point out that the use of social networks for classroom teaching will depend heavily on my teaching context and level. For instance, currently I work with female students in the Middle East and it would be highly inappropriate to have them use a tool or platform which would enable them to be in contact with males in the classroom. Whether these students are or not in contact with males on social networks, is another matter but is certainly not to be encouraged in the classroom in my teaching context.
To overcome this obstacle, I have been using Edmodo – a LMS which guarantees a closed, safe environment where I am the administrator of the classes that I teach. Additionally, as a foreigner working abroad, one of my main concerns is always to respect the local culture I am living/working in. Hence my decision not to use social networks in my daily teaching with female students.
I would like to add one more comment to Question 3 in particular. Although I do have a blog, (CristinaSkyBox) which is geared towards ICT, teaching and learning today, it is mostly through networks such as Twitter, FaceBook and Google+ (and other online communities that I participate in) that I find myself learning and developing my professional expertise. This is a result of two features: firstly, blog readers rarely take time to add comments or raise issues. This is a shame but a reality that all bloggers experience. Gordon Lockhart raises this issue as well in his excellent post on Commenting on MOOCs, where he becomes more aware of the rich contribution that comments in a blog posting can add to the writer’s and reader’s experience. Nevertheless, feedback, comments, further discussion in blogs are not always that common.
On the other hand, being an active participant on social networks as the ones mentioned above, has widened my views, has cut down my personal time of searching for specific information which I can today more readily access because of my PLN’s generous sharing. Whether they share articles, issues related to education or social affairs, online conferences, all these become more immediately known and accessible to me. I am not longer constrained to a quiet desert corner but am able to be up-to-date and be an active participant myself. My windows to knowledge, to learning, are wide open. So, once again, to all those in my PLN’s, a big thank you for your time and generousity.
Responses for Question 5 and 6 are, to me, the most problematic. Increasingly, educators are being made aware of the urgent need to update educational approaches in the classroom. There is a need to engage learners today that is indeed different to the past. For instance, how to encourage learners to use their mobile phones/devices for learning rather than just messaging under the classroom desk? Increasingly, educators are carrying out professional development to deal with the above issue and so many more related to today’s learners and digital education. For example, Nik Peachey refers to this interest in a recent article What’s on your online training wishlist?
Nevertheless, the main obstacles of integrating ICT into daily practices still remain being:
* not aware of which tools to use,
* not having time in the curriculum and
* not having classroom equipment.
Despite the widespread pledge to update education, all those involved in the field of education, know well how slow changes can be. Training is costly, though again, for those with personal will, is more accessible today than ever before. Often a curriculum will have more testing than teaching – which does not make it simple to integrate ICT tools. However, if there is indeed to be a change in education, the curriculum needs to adjust to today’s world as well. We are no longer living in an industrial age nor are our students disconnected in the outside world of the classroom. It is only natural that they expect to be connected in the classroom as well.
A crucial aspect of updating educational approaches relates to what devices exist in the classroom. In some places of the world there is a growing trend to BYOD (bring your own device) which helps both learners and teachers overcome the barren digital support they may have in classrooms. This may be one solution, however, I do think that if there is to be a real investment in education, then providing learners and teachers with appropriately equipped classrooms is necessary. Of course, easier to say than do for it takes time, financial resources and above all, political will. For many educators, integrating ICT into their daily practices is not always possible, yet they do not give up and keep tuned in to current developments around the world.
Political will reflects political landscapes. Having turned to my PLN to gather responses for my survey, I was well aware that I was also stepping into challenges. Questions 5 and 6 clearly reflect and indicate these challenges – or in other words, different teaching contexts and cultural attitudes from around the world. In relation to Question 6, it is interesting to note that there is almost an equal balance between whose responsibility it is to undertake professional training. Because this survey was short, I think that in the future one issue I would like to question further is how cultural settings effect expectations, particularly in regard to problem-solution and personal initiatives.
My last question in the survey was on the participant’s teaching setting:
The majority of respondents teach either in secondary education or at higher education; again, in the future I would be interested in knowing in more detail how the level of educational institutions may or not effect the wider use of digital technology in classrooms – both in terms of classrooms being technology equipped and teachers being given appropriate professional training.
So what have I learnt?
Other than the interesting responses given, there are a couple of considerations to bear in mind when doing an online survey:
1 – Online networks are human. Humans may travel these electronic networks at ease, but there is still the need to contact individuals personally to ask for their participation. Just like in a F-2-F situation, individuals need to feel valued, and when navigating digital networks, one should always bear that in mind. Additionally, an online survey should remain open for at least a week so that one may obtain a fair degree of responses.
2 – The purpose of this mini survey was to gather data; it reflects certain trends and realities on the integration of ICT and social networks in educational practices as well as participants expectations regarding professional training. As I have already mentioned, these participants are active on digital networks and nourish an interest in education for the 21st century. They are tech-savy and enthusiastic. My questions now remain for those who may not be so tech-savy, for those who even though they may have an interest in ICT, haven’t had the opportunity for training and for those around the world who work in conditions where digital technology is not present. For those are still the majority of educators around the world.
3 – My questions were purposefully broad and respondents were from different parts of the world. In the future, I would be interested in carrying out a more localized inquiry which could zoom in deeper into the varied cultural levels of participants by including a closer focus on age groups and local beliefs of education, for example. . This would be richer in ethnological terms and perhaps could provide a framework of action for others (e.g. in developing countries where resources may be scarcer and educational approaches are in more need of being updated).
Lastly, because I turned to my PLN, I’d like to leave you with a short video clip with Clark Quinn on social learning.
Commenting on MOOCs - Gordon Lockhart
The Myth of The Online Community – Mark William Johnson
What’s on your training wishlist? - Nik Peachey