Sarah, tutor on a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course, invited her students to reflect on digital-literacy issues within their practice, and engaged them in a discussion on digital literacy and OER issues. Some of the students were involved in focus groups and gave presentations that explored the issues involved in sharing good practice with digital technologies in a supportive environment.
5.2.3 Case Study 11. Student Reflections on Digital Literacies and Openness within Professional Practice
Sheffield Hallam offers initial teacher training courses at primary and secondary level. The Ofsted report (2010) rated the secondary provision as ‘good’ with outstanding features commenting on the students ‘commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching and learning’. This results in a high level of reflection.
The case study was undertaken by Sarah Butler, a secondary English PGCE tutor at Sheffield Hallam University, and involved 20 students from the 2011/2012 cohort. This long-running and well-established course is heavily oversubscribed; typically, students with degrees and experience in a range of English and media disciplines are accepted. There is an explicit emphasis on collaborative work and sharing good practice throughout.
Students on the one-year course spend time engaging with practical aspects of new technologies – Interactive Whiteboard training; generating blogs to support A level English Literature students, and using flip cameras to capture classroom dialogue – as well as reading and responding to relevant academic discourse on the topic. The assignments allow the students to synthesise theory and practice in a meaningful way and to integrate university and school experiences.
In this case study they were invited to reflect on digital literacy issues, including the use of open educational resources (OER) with a view to sharing good practice.
126.96.36.199 Digital Literacy Practice
Initial stagesThe case study was conducted in two stages and comprised a focus group in January 2012 and a set of activities structured around PGCE assessment between May and June 2012. The aims of the case study were to:
- Invite students to reflect on digital literacy issues in their practice
- Engage students in a discussion of digital literacy and open educational resources (OER) issues
- Examine student beliefs and opinions about digital literacy and OER
- Encourage sharing of good practice with digital technologies in a supportive context.
A focus group of eight students led by two project researchers with eight students met to discuss the case study and identified the following themes:
- The difficulties in terms of access to computers and other technical equipment at their placement schools.
- Keeping up with the digital expertise students their pupils possess.
- The view that pupils are ‘digital natives’ for whom technology is part and parcel of their everyday lives and social interactions.
- The need to adopt a creative approach towards embedding digital literacy in teaching practice while at the same coping with the restrictions of ‘teaching for an exam’.
In terms of sharing resources, students brought up the following issues:
- In general, sharing resources should be seen as part of a teacher or trainee teacher’s professional identity; ‘You are sharing with kids all the time anyway’
- Fear of negative feedback: an informal Facebook group had been set up for participants on the course but they were reluctant to share more widely
- The difficulties in finding resources appropriate to their needs online; very often resources would not be described adequately in terms of level/provenance etc.
Exploring digital literacy in professional practice Most of the activities in the case study were tied to PGCE assessment. Following consultation with their tutor, three students focussed on issues related to digital literacy as part of their educational enquiries module, a research project exploring an issue emerging in the context of their school placement. This was developed in negotiation with their host schools. Next they prepared a session for the entire cohort where they shared insights developed from working on the assignments and organised a workshop where all PGCE students had a chance to talk about their understanding of digital literacy. Finally, the students took part in a reflexive activity, where they responded to prompts prepared by the project team and wrote about their approaches towards open sharing of teaching materials. The students organised a workshop session for the entire group to present their findings and to share their experiences with the rest of the group. The student presentations focused on digital literacy issues as they emerged in the context of the placement. Presentation 1: ‘How can digital technologies engage a year 7 class in creative writing?’ This presentation Interactive whiteboards (IWB) and PowerPoint, as well as the less common FlipCams and mobile devices. The student reported that both pupils and staff were quite enthusiastic about mobile devices and Flipcams and argued that they made learning and teaching more engaging by offering instant feedback and the chance to undertake more creative work; as some pupils put it: ‘using these devices in the classroom didn’t remind them of school’. Attitudes towards IWBs and PowerPoint were less positive, perhaps because of the absence of novelty factor.
Presentation 2: ‘What limitations are involved when using digital technology within the English classroom? The perspective of pupil and teacher’. This presentation looks at the key barriers and enablers with regards to engagement with digital technologies by staff in an English department. Members of staff commented on lack of time to keep up with the latest developments. They also felt quite anxious about the fact that their pupils seemed more savvy and comfortable with technology than them overall. Furthermore, teachers were dissatisfied with the professional development opportunities offered; instead of organised training, they preferred to be able to ‘have a go’ and ‘play’ with technology as and when the need arose. Presentation 3: ‘Exploring the role that technology would play in engaging students and enhancing learning in the English classroom’ This presentation focussed mostly on obstacles to successful engagement with digital technology. The student shared her experiences from placement, such as malfunctioning equipment, lack of access to equipment, unpredictable changes to classroom bookings, and the time needed to set up technology in the new classroom. Ironically, the conclusion was that, for the purposes of enhancing learning, ‘it was often better to plan a lesson without any technology, as these went smoother and allowed for an efficient start to the lesson’. Digital ‘agony aunt’ A key workshop activity was ‘Digital agony aunt’, which was a question and answer session. During three students invited questions from the group and asked them to share their ‘worst nightmare’ scenarios. Some of these included problems with equipment, such as basing a lesson on a DVD or PowerPoint presentation only to discover that the soundtrack on the DVD wouldn’t play or there was no computer in the classroom. Other questions touched on engaging pupils with additional learning difficulties with technology. The ‘agony aunts’ attempted to offer solutions to these problems by stressing preparation and always having a ‘plan B’. They also emphasised the importance of reaching out to support personnel within the school. Most important, they recommended turning technical glitches into a learning opportunity, for instance by pretending that the sound track on the film had been deliberately deleted so that pupils could invent their own. Overall, the main benefit of the activity was that it encouraged sharing of real-life dilemmas experienced by students on placement and allowed for sharing of practice in a supportive environment. It was suggested that this activity could be adapted to an online format, where the question and answer session could take place on a wiki or via Twitter chat. Other possibilities could include peer collaboration on projects for the academic assignments or with practising teachers in the classroom that would enable everyone involved to explore issues from different perspectives in school contexts, a more formal structure for sharing work such in the same way that experienced teachers and new entrants to the profession work together during an NQT year. Overall the case study benefitted the whole group by generating:
- A better understanding of the issues involved in OER uptake
- A willingness to share resources more openly
- A useful discussion focussing on the meanings made by students with regard to digital literacy
- An increased awareness of the challenges the students might face in the realm of digital literacy on their placements and during their career
- Reflexive and transferable methodology for engaging students in a discussion on digital literacy and OER issues.
188.8.131.52 Reflections on Teaching
Sarah felt that by integrating this activity into the course, it provided the students with a valuable opportunity to share their experiences and reflect on their use of digital technologies in a collaborative environment. It helped to shifting the focus away from the simple acquisition of the necessary skills for employing technology; many PGCE students have this skill base prior to entering the course but not the pedagogical knowledge and understanding that underpins teaching with and through technology.
The workshop very was very positive and Sarah observed how this helped all the student to take the first steps towards having a deeper understanding of how digital practices are contextualised and how they evolve as an integral part of pedagogy. The workshop and the presentations of the small-scale research projects served as a valuable model for collaborative work and for sharing resources and practices, something that Sarah built into the course.
184.108.40.206 Reflections on Learning
The reflections of the students have been collated in the context of the workshop session; this included a reflexive exercise where all students responded in writing to three prompts provided by the project team. The aim of these questions was to elicit students’ perceptions of digital literacy and OER.
The first question focused on understandings of digital literacy in a professional context. For the most part, the students subscribed to a definition of literacy that focused on skills, for example being able to use a variety of technologies in a competent manner. They also commented on the ways in which the PGCE course gave them a better understanding of how they might embed digital practices in their teaching to make the classroom environment more engaging and inclusive. While they reported mainly positive experiences from placements, they also mentioned frustrations related to inconsistent access to software and hardware.
The second question addressed student attitudes to sharing resources online and with their peers and/or pupils. Most students indicated that they were indeed sharing their teaching materials:
I have shared my resources with my course mates in a Facebook group. I have also shared them with the department at my placement school (on the MLE). I did this because I use others’ resources so I think it is fair to share myself.
Others elaborated on the benefits of sharing for professional practice, arguing that it stimulated good teaching:
A teacher who shares is an efficient and reflective teacher – by sharing you are not reinventing the wheel but constantly improving it.
I think sharing good practice is a good part of developing professionally and using tried and tested resources – adapting them, differentiating them, reinventing them – saves time and often improves the quality of learning for students when I have run out of creative ideas!
While students were happy to share resources within their immediate network – peers on the course, teachers on placements – they had a number of reservations when it came to releasing their resources openly online and sharing them with a potentially unknown audience:
I am always willing to share my resources with other members of staff in school and have done this on a regular basis at my current placement. I have shied away from sharing materials online contexts, however, as I always feel a little protective of the things I produce because I invest a lot of time in making resources, and don’t feel entirely comfortable at present to make it freely available for anyone to download. (I like knowing who is using it!)
Others mentioned concerns about receiving negative feedback and the time investment needed to upload resources online. A small minority were also concerned about pedagogical issues and the potential risk of stifling creativity through excessive reliance on resources ‘off the shelf’:
While I think this is a good idea in some respects, such as sharing outstanding practice, taking the pressure off teachers’ time (planning and so forth), it may have the less positive effects of stifling creativity and causing teachers to put less effort into preparing lessons for the specific classes they teach, instead just teaching another person’s lesson wholesale.
Interestingly, despite offering numerous examples of open sharing of practice with colleagues, the majority of students had never heard of open educational resources/OER and only two indicated some familiarity with the concept.
The students involved in the case study felt the course helped them become more confident and aware of digital literacy issues they might encounter in their teaching.
220.127.116.11 Reflections on Digital Literacy
The case study revealed issues relevant to the embedding of OER in the context of teacher education. Within the group there is little awareness of the term itself, despite ample evidence of a well-developed culture of sharing. At the same time, while trainee teachers are keen to share their resources online with their immediate network, they are much more reluctant to share beyond the circle of people they know and, for instance, release the materials openly to educational repositories. For the most part, they cited fear of negative feedback to explain their reluctance; some also commented on perceived lack of control once resources were shared more widely. It is therefore crucial to raise awareness among trainee teachers and their educators about OERs, to dispel misconceptions and also to demonstrate how resources could be shared to maximise benefit to creators. By releasing teaching resources into a well-respected educational repository, teachers could receive professional recognition from a wider community of practice and useful feedback, which could in turn, help to improve their practice. By licensing the materials through an appropriate creative commons licence, they would remain in control of how the resources were (re)used and repurposed, and they could also collect information from the repository about numbers of views and downloads.
There is a pressing need for teachers to engage with digital literacy throughout education, and increasingly the skills and experience that learners (and their teachers) have or need is changing (Davies and Merchant 2009). At the same time, new teachers to the profession, in all subject areas, are increasingly expected to have access to and become adept users of digital technology. Observation of trainees’ classroom practice demonstrates a growing confidence in using new technologies in the taught sessions (Szpytma and Bone 2011). This was confirmed by the case study; overall, students demonstrated a proactive approach towards embedding digital practices in the context of their placements, even if some experiences left them wary of unreliable access to equipment and resources. Furthermore, research shows that a crucial factor influencing new teachers’ adoption of technology is the quantity and quality of pre-service technology experiences included in their teacher education programmes (Tondeur et al 2011).
The case study indicated the value of reflection on the role of digital literacy in professional practice, with ample opportunities for reflection embedded in the case study design. Barton and Haydn (2006) note that it is very important for teacher training programmes to facilitate discussion and sharing of concerns between peers about the role of technology in education. To prepare pre-service teachers for effective technology integration, teacher education programmes need to help them build knowledge of good pedagogical practice, technical skills and content knowledge, as well as an awareness of how these concepts relate to one another (Koehler and Mishra 2009).
18.104.22.168 References/Links to Further Information
Barton, R., and Haydn, T. (2006). ‘Trainee teachers’ views on what helps them to use information and communication technology effectively in their subject teaching’. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22: 257–272.
Davies, J., and Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for Schools: Social Participation and Learning. New York: Peter Lang.
Koehler, M., and Mishra, P. (2009). ‘What is technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK)?’ Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1): 60–70.
Szpytma, E., and Bone, C. (2011). ‘Embedding eskills in initial teacher training’. Teaching in Lifelong Learning: A Journal to Inform and Improve Practice, 3(2): 3–15. Available at: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/12027/
Tondeur, J., Van Braak. J., Sang. G., Voogt, J., Fisser, P., and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2012). ‚Preparing pre-service teachers to integrate technology in education: a synthesis of qualitative evidence’. Computers & Education, 59(1): 134–144.
Flip: Flip support technology, accessed 2/11/12 at http://support.theflip.com/en-uk/home
Slide share: SlideShare is a Web 2.0 based slide hosting service. Users can upload files privately or publicly in the following file formats: PowerPoint, PDF, Keynote or OpenOffice presentations, accessed 2/11/12 at www.slideshare.net