Monday 11 August 2014

Edupunk and student centred learning through technology

I’ve often wondered why it is that the internet is such an amazing, creative and inspiring place full of so many fantastically interesting things, and yet so many educational software, applications and e-learning products turn out to be so dull.

In many ways this doesn’t make sense because many of the teachers that I meet, especially in the field of ELT, are really remarkably creative people.

Personally, I believe the problem lies in the institutions in which they work, in fact I’m pretty sure of this. Institutions are all about order, stability, control and accountability and to be fair I can understand why that is, but these are hard qualities to enforce on the rapidly changing face of technology.

Educational technology providers are bound by the needs of their customers, who are the institutions, not the teachers or the students, and so the products they produce are limited by those same criteria.

The result is a collection of learning management systems (LMS), interactive whiteboards and digital materials that mimic the traditional processes of institutionalised learning whilst doing little to develop the ‘real life’ skills that students need to negotiate the 21st century world of technological learning and communication and become the autonomous life long learners they will need to be.

So, if the institutions in which we work aren’t providing the tools that we need to deliver the learning our students deserve, what do we as teachers do?

For me, the answer to this is ‘Edupunk.’  Edupunk is a term that was first coined by Jim Groom, an instructional technologist working at the University of Mary Washington and it is a reaction against the attempts of corporate interests and commercialism to reframe learning into commercially defined products and applications.

Edupunk encourages more of a student centred and ‘do it yourself’ approach to the use of technology in education - student centred because it focuses on using the tools and applications students will need and use in their everyday lives, and these are very unlikely to be interactive whiteboards and learning management systems,  and ‘do it yourself’ because it relies on the teacher to assess the needs of the students and work with them to develop materials and activities that will broaden their understanding and use of these tools and help them to apply them to learning.

Of course this puts a considerable burden onto teachers and demands that they broaden their knowledge of technology and develop the ability to utilise an ever widening range of tools to help students achieve their learning goals.

In the training work that I do with teachers around the world I try to focus on a very broad range of tools and web based applications, so much so that I’m often asked, ‘Well isn’t there one tool or one place we can go that can do all this?’ but I’m sad to say that I don’t think there is a ‘one tool’ solution and I’m not really sure that there should be.

A one stop solution moves us back to the LMS and  being prescriptive about tools for containing learning, when learning should be about removing the boundaries on curiosity and discovery and learning how to cope with constant change.

The good news is that in the post ‘Web 2.0’ age of mobile and web-based applications, apps has enabled us more than ever before to access a world of ‘real life’ tools and applications that we can adapt to the educational needs of our students and in many cases these don’t cost us a cent.

I curate and regularly update a collection of these apps on one of my sites: Tools for Teachers and Learners

At present the site has in excess of 400 different web-based and mobile tools.

All of these tools come with their unique problems and challenges, especially if you want to use them within an institution that has a tightly controlled IT infrastructure, where social networking functionality, installing browser plug ins and many interactive scripts are blocked. This doesn’t however stop you creating materials and activities that students can access from outside the institution. In fact getting students working with web based tools at home can have a far greater impact on their learning than using them in the controlled classroom environment.

So, what’s stopping you? If you want to create student-centred learning that develops students’ language and digital literacies while also tapping into their creativity, everything you need is out there. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Related links:

Nik Peachey