Learning and teaching with digital technologies

When integrating ITCs into the classroom it is important to evaluate to what degree it enriches the relationship established between students, tasks and contents, and teacher.

Classe de la Boston Public School durant la visita de l'alcalde Kevin White, 1973 | Boston City Archives

Boston Public School classroom during a visit by Mayor Kevin White, 1973 | Boston City Archives | CC-BY-SA 2.0

The need to promote a qualitative leap in education implies a change from a model of knowledge acquisition to one of in-depth study and creation of knowledge. Within a context of continual change, technologies need to enable us to improve the processes of teaching-learning, assessment and organisation. These transformations in the tasks of teaching staff and students have an impact on learning and teaching activities alike.

These days, do we have the option of deciding whether or not to incorporate ICTs into our everyday life, at school, at work…? At present digital technology is in common use in diverse contexts (educational contexts such as primary and secondary schools, universities, libraries, etc., work and everyday life contexts – at home, on public transport, in restaurants) and for an increasingly broad sector of the population with people starting at an increasingly young age. In addition to the characteristics of contexts and age, it is also important to point out the type of activity where, according to Henry Jenkins, young people are not only users but also participate by creating multimodal contents. We are talking about a participation culture that is clearly visible in the social media networks but also in more creative expressions. However, this participation does not form part of the explicit curriculum but is known as the hidden curriculum. The lack of incorporation of digital activities is not only a question of managing school tasks, but also a waste of learning opportunities for students.

In effect, although information and communication technologies (ICTs) have modified aspects of daily activity, there has also been a change in our interaction with learning and these changes in the processes of teaching and learning have not been equivalent. The importance and ubiquitous nature of ICTs at work, in education and in everyday life is reflected in the consideration of the social interaction scenario of today’s society, defined as the “information and knowledge society” by Manuel Castells. The reference to knowledge is the consequence of the awareness that technologies alone do not have effects if not accompanied by the cognitive abilities and literacy corresponding to the capacities of access as users and to the capacities of integrating, evaluating and generating information and communication. Following this idea, Robert B. Kozma affirms that in the transition of the industrial economy it is important to be aware of the need to promote a qualitative leap in education to make the change from a model of knowledge acquisition to a model of in-depth study and of creation of knowledge. And thus, to develop those capacities that currently represent the new employment scenario and that require technology on a cross-cutting level: the competencies of the 21st century (understood as the capacity for effective communication, for teamwork and collaboration, for flexibility and the resolving of complex problems, and for managing information).

In addition, again in line with Kozma, technology should not be considered an addition but a transformative element in education within the context of the information and knowledge society where students, their characteristics, social forms and paces of learning, etc., are constantly changing and therefore it is becoming necessary to reconsider what, how and when subjects are taught, how they are assessed, how schools are organised and structured and how times and spaces are managed.

Behind the cover: lifelong learning | The Economist
Behind the cover: lifelong learning | The Economist

According to César Coll, it is necessary to redefine the concept of innovative school – which to date was based around promoting the learning of technology (of ICTs) with the aim of training children in the use of tools and strategies for the processing and transmission of information – in such a way that the focus is on the use of technologies for learning with technology Coll. Therefore, it is a case of converting ICTs into Learning and Knowledge Technologies (LKTs), which can be understood as a view of ICTs from the school. In other words, putting technologies at the service of an improvement in teaching-learning processes, of evaluation and organisation as well as of upgrading within a context of constant change.

In consequence, according to Coll, the goal for schools should be to guarantee learning that is more in-depth, more comprehensive and more meaningful and to prepare students to be capable of creating knowledge: educating for what is as yet unknown, preparing students so that they can tackle challenges they do not yet have to face and providing the maximum of resources and tools so that when they encounter them, they can create, invent and redesign strategies and resources to be able to provide solutions. In short, promoting long-life learning in diverse contexts and stages with the aid of ICTs.

Within this context, the figure of teacher becomes a guide or adviser, and is required to develop Digital Teaching Competency (CDD), understood, according to the Catalan Ministry of Education, as “the capacity to apply and transfer all knowledge, strategies, skills and attitudes on LCTs in real and specific situations within their professional practice”. This CDD is formed by two types of knowledge and abilities: firstly, instrumental digital competency or the instrumental use of ICTs that has a reference framework in the accrediting of competencies in information and communication technologies (ACTIC); and secondly, methodological digital competency which, in turn, is divided into five dimensions: (1) Design, planning and educational implementation. (2) Organisation and management of educational spaces and resources. (3) Communication and collaboration. (4) Ethics and digital civility. (5) Professional development.

Digital Competence Framework for Educators

Digital Competence Framework for Educators | (c) European Union, 1995-2018

This duality in the typology of knowledge and skills that make up the CDD, says Manuel Area, highlights the fact that, as educators, it is important to know that pedagogy has to be ahead of technology. It is mistake to suppose that the simple presence of digital technologies within the classroom will produce an automatic improvement of quality in teaching and learning processes; as well as any improvement in the motivation and performance of students creating per se, pedagogic innovation. Using digital technologies in the classroom under a traditional pedagogic model (based on the teacher, one-directional, individualist, etc.) neutralises the innovative power of ICTs. Therefore, the value that ICTs can add to teaching and learning processes depends not only on the characteristics of the technological apparatus or computer software used, but also on the uses of the joint activity developed by teachers and students around the contents and learning tasks. On this last point, Coll  underlines the mediating role that technology takes on and that varies according to the position it assumes within the interactive triangle, formed by relations between students, content-tasks and teacher.

At this point, it is important to introduce the relationship between the concept of “semiotic resource” and the type of use that we give to ICTs in the classroom. In line with Coll, we understand when a semiotic resource is used as an instrument for the regulation of both the activity and individual psychological (intrapsychological) processes of the learner, as well as of communication and social (interpsychological) processes with other people involved in the learning process, it becomes a “psychological tool” (in the Vygotskian sense of the expression). Thus ICTs can be used as technical instruments, that help us to do better, faster, more dynamically and with greater efficiency whatever we were doing (giving little added value to the educational practice) or as psychological instruments that help to plan, guide and regulate individual and third-party activities and psychological processes (giving high added value to the educational practice).

When technologies are implemented taking advantage of and exploring their characteristics as semiotic resources and they transform joint activity between teachers and students around content and tasks, they have an impact on both the process of learning (amplifying the processes of construction of knowledge and of attribution of meaning by students to contents and tasks) and the process of teaching (increasing, diversifying and adjusting systematic and sustained help and support for learning by students on the part of the teacher and of other students).

In conclusion, it can be affirmed that, within the framework that understands education from a socio-constructivist model, the use of ICTs as a psychological tool for connection between the three elements of the interactive triangle provides pedagogical quality in the process of teaching and learning with digital technologies.

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  • Ambrosio Gassol | 24 July 2018

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Learning and teaching with digital technologies