Utilising ICTs to Enhance Inquiry

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I’ve recently read an article by Elizabeth Buckner and Paul Kim documenting their research on the implications of Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning using the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE).  While this particular study examined the influence of SMILE on inquiry-based learning in developing countries, it raised several factors for consideration by any school wanting to integrate ICTs in an inquiry-based learning environment.  

The Integration of ICTs and Pedagogy

Schools around the world are increasingly adopting technology into their classroom environments and boasting one-to-one or mobile device programs.  While these initiatives are essential in twenty-first century learning environments, what we are yet to hear about is exactly how effective ICTs are in enhancing the learning in a classroom.   Learning using ICTs incorporates more than putting these devices in a classroom or the hands of our students, it must involve an integration between pedagogy and technology by supporting the incorporation of meaningful educational content and contextualized pedagogy (Buckner & Kim, 2014, p.100).  This may include for example, considering what effect placing a mobile device in the hands of every student in a classroom will have on their ability to collaborate and problem-solve.  There is argument here that, without appropriate pedagogy, this would actually decrease the way dimensions mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities, particularly the ICT Capability, are met by students in their learning.  

While effectively, mobile devices broaden the learning environments and opportunities students are exposed to, as educators, we are focusing too much on the type of technology we provide, instead of the pedagogical techniques designed to utilise this technology appropriately.  

Student and Teacher Training in ICTs

It may seem obvious that educators must have a strong knowledge of the technology and devices they are using with their students. However, Buckner & Kim suggest that often, this is the biggest factor in decreasing the ability of students to learn using ICTs. Educators who feel uncomfortable with the use of ICTs or are scared of losing authority and control when students use ICTs in the classroom, greatly decrease the opportunities of students to question, problem-solve and learn (2014, p.102). This factors supports the notion that schools must begin to provide greater support for staff in their use of ICTs and place greater focus on the skills they need to use their in their teaching and learning – not the programs.  

ICTs and Mobile Devices role in enhancing Inquiry Learning

As educators, we are well aware of the potential of ICTs and mobile devices to increase engagement in the learning of our students, however, we must pay attention to the effect our pedagogical practices has on this.  Simply providing a student with a Mobile Device to type their work instead of write does not automatically increase engagement in learning.  Instead, we must consider how we can change our teaching and learning in relation to ICTs and Mobile Devices to promote, “a pedagogical shift from didactic teacher-centred to participatory student-centred learning” (Looi, Seow, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong, 2010, p. 156). In their article, Buckner and Kim examine the use of the SMILE model to promote the questioning involved in an inquiry-based learning environment through several different case studies across many countries.  The video below provides an accompanying overview of the SMILE method used in the research of Buckner & Kim.  

Whether or not the SMILE method is adopted in your school, Buckner & Kim lead us to acknowledge the importance as educators, particularly those who adopt inquiry-based learning practices, to consider exactly how we are using and integrating pedagogy AND ICTs to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms.  

Reference List

Buckner, E., & Kim, P. (2014). Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning: The stanford mobile inquiry-based learning environment (SMILE). PROSPECTS, 44(1), 99-118. doi:10.1007/s11125-013-9269-7

Looi, C. K., Seow, P., Zhang, B. H., So, H. J., Chen, W., & Wong, L. H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154–169.

Observing the Transition of Year 7 into Secondary in Queensland schools

Geography class. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.  http://quest.eb.com/#/search/139_1931997/1/139_1931997/cite

Geography class. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/#/search/139_1931997/1/139_1931997/cite

Over the last few months I have been fortunate enough to make two visits to a primary school as part of program to  shadow and observe a year 7 teacher and their class in preparation for the transition of year seven into secondary at my current school. This program has been an invaluable experience as it has allowed me to consider how I would alter my practice to cater for the entrance of younger students into the secondary environment.  Even though, I only visited one particular school, I thought I would share my three biggest observations from this experience to assist those educators who are also preparing for the addition of Year 7 into their secondary school.

Integration of Learning Opportunities

Firstly, in a secondary environment, we are used to dividing learning into subjects with few connections or interactions between the teaching of these.  What was refreshing about the Year 7 classroom I visited, was that learning reflected the real world- it was integrated across all disciplines and teachers demonstrated to the students the importance of these connections through their ability to cater for teaching and learning beyond their own specialist areas.  Interestingly, this is quite a daunting concept for many secondary teachers who are uncomfortable when forced to consider subjects beyond their realm of study.  What we must be aware of in catering for the addition of Year 7, is that we can’t automatically expect students to change from such integrated, realistic learning into separate, distinct subjects overnight.  We first must assist them in developing the skills that will prepare them for learning – no matter the topic or area being studied. This will produce learners who are prepared  for life-long learning and specialisation in areas of their interest as they move towards their senior years of schooling and university entrance.

Flexibility in Teaching and Learning Spaces and Physical Environment

Students in the Year 7 class that I visited were prepared for learning to be flexible and could easily to change their focus from teacher-guided work to student-driven work, depending on the context and task at hand.  Similarly, the physical spaces in the room changed constantly to reflect the learning that was taking place.  Students moved their desks into groups when collaboration was needed, rows around the teacher when listening to instructions and moved to sit on their own if the wanted to work independently.  This flexibility in teaching and learning styles and classroom spaces allowed students to feel comfortable and accepted in their environment. They  were able to easily identify how learning would happen best and change their environment to cater for this. Providing for flexibility in our teaching and learning spaces is something we often claim not to have time for in the secondary environment, however, is something that could easily be considered through the furniture and environments we supply for our students (of course, allowing for this often needs to come from the school administration in their purchasing of resources).

Personal Organisation and Management

One major factor we must consider in assisting the transition of Year 7 into secondary, is the level of organisation and personal management that students will need to build to be successful in secondary school.  Much attention will need to be paid to how we can best assist students in moving from a very structured and organised primary environment to a fast-paced, self-managed secondary environment.  Factors such as recording homework and assessment dates are monitored closely in primary school and often, each class has a clear role and part to play in the running of the school.  The class that I observed, were constantly prompted by their teacher to record homework, work on specific parts of their assessment to ensure they meet deadline, ask parents for money for lunch and prepare for extra-curricular or whole-school activities.  This is something to be mindful of as we welcome Year 7 into the secondary environment, as they will need to develop management skills that assist them in being successful learners and members of the community.  While we like to insist that secondary students should be able to manage their own personal commitments, this is a practice that needs careful modelling and monitoring in the transition to a more independent environment.

Using Technology and Digital Citizenship

While  the use of technology students have been exposed to is reliant upon the primary school they come from, as a whole, they are not used to using technology at the level of secondary students.  Year 7 students at my school will be coming in to a ‘Bring Your Own Multiple Device’ environment in which, a primary device of a particular standard is mandatory, and students are able to use any other device (such as a tablet or mobile phone) if they wish.  The Year 7 class that I observed share a school laptop trolley between the rest of their Year 7 cohort and manage the files they use via their USB.  They were mostly reliant on their notebooks and physical resources provided for their general school work, using the laptops only for word processing.  Obviously, this will provide a big gap in their knowledge of technology use, management and digital citizenship when they enter secondary school where students are able to use their personal devices for internet, software and application access and management of notes and resources. While students in primary school are made aware of digital citizenship, they often aren’t provided with environments in which they can put their knowledge to practice.  This emphasises the need for secondary schools who do provide a wide range of access to technology, to put programs and opportunities in place for students to develop the skills needed to operate with technology and in online environments effectively.

While there are many other factors for us to consider in transitioning Year 7 from a primary school environment to a secondary environment, these are the biggest differences I noticed during my primary school shadowing experience.