It's Not about the Apps

By Cole, John | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, February 2014 | Go to article overview

It's Not about the Apps


Cole, John, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


I engage in a little game each morning. The idea is to find the largest number of apps in the title line of any message in my email inbox or twitter feed. You know the kind: 'Seven apps every teacher needs', '30 top apps for writing', '50 apps for building communication skills'.

Granted, it's not a great game. However, it does provide an insight into the pressure that exists to use classroom technology. But even with this prolonged preparation, I was unprepared to sit in a teacher professional development session and grapple with a six page handout--a printed copy of a website that promised '100 apps for your classroom'. Leaving aside my puzzlement at a printed copy of a website, the thinking behind that handout should change the way teachers use computers in their classes (and not in the way the presenter intended).

I work in a large high school. It's a vibrant place and we have had a 1:1 laptop program for four years. The most common question I get asked by colleagues is 'What can I do on the laptops?' These teachers want to use technology and recognise the potential of computers in the classroom, but they are struggling to know exactly what to use and when to use it. My answer to them is always the same: 'It's not about the apps or the programs. It's about adding value to effective, thoughtful teaching.' My concern is that good teachers, with years of experience and skill in planning lesson sequences, are feeling pressured to use technology--and they are struggling to do so.

Not many teachers would argue that the constant access to technology hasn't changed the game. In my experience, teachers are keenly aware of the evolving learning styles of students who are online for most of the day. This idea of a 21st century learner is presented by Kalantzis and Cope (2012). The new learners--identified as 'generation P' (for participation)--are encouraged by schools that 'encourage learners to be actively and purposefully engaged in their learning by setting real intellectual and practical challenges' (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, p. 10). This echoes the focus of the Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008), which emphasises the value of ICT in developing successful learners with 'essential skills'. The Melbourne Declaration stresses the value of developing students who are 'creative and productive users of technology, especially ICT, as a foundation for success in all learning areas' (p. 8).

For teachers, the use of ICT becomes a constant presence in every classroom. What to use, when to use, to do what? Studies of classroom activities have identified a staged series of factors contributing to, or dragging upon, the use of classroom technology. Teacher factors stand at one end of this chain, with Kitchenham (2009) highlighting the potentially disruptive impact of adopting laptops, as teachers feel pressured to change their meaning schemes and perspectives. Ward and Parr (2010) identify the gatekeeper role of classroom teachers--with a consequent need to increase teacher confidence in their ability to facilitate student learning with laptops.

Taken together, research shows that teacher beliefs become a significant factor in the use of classroom laptops. Ward (2003) identifies the 'limited use' of computers in New Zealand classrooms, identifying a 'need to do more than provide infrastructure and professional development' (p. 1). This study identified a cluster of negative factors centring on teachers' pedagogical approaches. Chen (2008) puts teachers' limited or conflicted understanding and conflicting beliefs on laptop pedagogy as two of three factors negatively affecting laptop use (the third was external factors). Lambert and Gong (2010) point to the 'lack of a paradigmatic shift' (p. 55)--effectively that some teachers have not changed their thinking to adopt technology in their classrooms. …

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