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If I’m being honest, I would consider digital pedagogy to not so much be an optional extra to teaching, but quickly becoming a foundational element that we cannot now do without in education. But what it looks like is not always clear. Even within my own professional practice, I am working out what it looks like, how it works, what is best practice and then, how to advise my friends, colleagues and my online readers how to develop their own digital pedagogy. It evolves as technology evolves – new decisions are needed, a vision of how digital pedagogy looks in the classroom is always renewing and evolving. I’ve talked about digital pedagogy before here. But it’s an important topic that we need to get right, so I think revisiting it (plus afew more times in the future) might be of benefit for many.

What is and What isn't Digital Pedagogy?

In this section, we’re going to set out what is and what isn’t included when we talk about Digital Pedagogy. A lot of what we know (or think we know) is connected to digital pedagogy, but it isn’t actually what it is.

Think about a house- it will have doors, windows, pipes, electricity, a roof amongst lots of other things. But at no point do we consider one of those things on their own to be the house. It’s the same with digital pedagogy. We may talk about synchronous/asynchronous learning; online teaching; flipped teaching; audio or visual software; virtual classrooms or mobile devices, but none of those things on their own can be called digital pedagogy. But they are connected, so it’s important to see how the parts link together to create the whole.

An effective use of educational technology should be seen as being part of the overall equation to what makes a great teacher. The eLearning Industry website explains it this way:

Great teacher + Great technology + Great pedagogy = Great teaching

Digital pedagogy can be identified as being two parts of that equation: technology and pedagogy. Combining the two is what makes digital pedagogy, but still leaves us with our question unanswered: what is, and what isn’t digital pedagogy?

Sometimes, it’s easier to define ourselves by what we are not, so let’s start there.

Digital pedagogy is not:

  • simply using technological components in the classroom
  • about fetishising digital tools

So what is digital pedagogy about?

Jose Bowen, Dean of Southern Methodist University (SMU) proposed that we “teach naked” (but happily, not a literal proposal!). Bowen was suggesting that we remove all of the computers and projectors from his classrooms. Bowen proposed this in reaction to the “ineffectiveness of pedagogy when it gets governed by the tools it uses.” Bowen agrees in providing learners with access to podcasts, online discussion groups, and PowerPoint presentations, but not within the context of the classroom. He would advocate that during class time, students should be have access to question and answer sessions, in person discussions.

Through this example, I am putting forward the idea that your classroom practice does not necessarily have to change. It could be that our digital pedagogy best serves the needs of our learners by how we support our learners outside of the classroom-when they are not with us in class.

How Does Digital Pedagogy Differ from Online Teaching?

The first thing is to recognise that the two are not the same. Online teaching is exactly that: teaching that uses an online platform to deliver a curriculum that would mostly look the same as it did if it was delivered in a classroom. Presentation and accessing the learning content may differ slightly, but will by and large resemble what would be experienced in a physical classroom.

Digital Pedagogy is different.

The line between simply using a digital tool and understanding its part of our digital pedagogy can be a thin or blurred one. As in many cases, it’s most helpful to consider the theory in practice: think about the app/desktop software OneNote from Microsoft. This envelopes which tools we use to enhance learning, but also understanding our reasons for using them in how they enhance our teaching. It can be something that impacts our own organisation (for example, using OneNote as a one-stop-shop to be a diary; departmental/key stage organisation digital notebook; sharing learning content with classes; recording progress for students; to-do lists; to name but a few!).

We could list the features of OneNote:

  • Content in one place
  • Accessible across devices and operating systems
  • Present content
  • Share content

Or discuss the benefits of using OneNote with our pupils:

  • Accessible any time, any place.
  • Pupils can review learning material in OneNote where you can explain learning content using audio, text, images, digital ink content or video content.
  • OneNote allows for easy review of older material and provides multiple methods for formative feedback in the moment that it is most effective.
  • Working just like a physical notebook, notes can be tagged, highlighted, annotated. It can also be searched for specific terms (unlike a physical notebook) which helps the learner find what they are looking for quickly.
  • We can move further towards paper-free, having digital access to student work, without having to work through physical ring-binders.

But how does any of this help our understanding of digital pedagogy? We know what we want to do: make it easier for pupils to learn, collaborate and achieve their goals. We know how we are going to achieve it: in this example, setup OneNote for pupil work, homework, project work etc.

But still, how does this help our development in digital pedagogy?

Consider these questions in the example of using OneNote:

  • How do different digital spaces shape your teaching and students’ learning?
  • What does “the digital” give to teaching and learning and what does it take away?
  • How do we create learning communities in online spaces?

Your answer to these questions will help shape your digital pedagogy. I know this might seem a bit of a copout, but I’m not going to tell you what your digital pedagogy should look like. To quote Morpheus, speaking to Neo in the Matrix (the original, 1999 version of course): “I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.”

I will always show you the signposts, point the general direction, answer questions and give examples from my own practice, but I cannot speak for your educational context (remember that mine is 11-18, grammar school, ICT). For anyone not teaching in a computer lab, computer access is usually a bit more sporadic (I appreciate that can depend on the school) and so may need a bit more consideration – as there may be a few more steps in production and dissemination.

Critical Digital Pedagogy

Digital pedagogy—specifically critical digital pedagogy-resides more in the relationships between teachers and students than it does the delivery of instruction. We simply cannot (and should not) rely on digital tools as a way of being ‘current’ in education. We need to be developing our understanding of critical digital pedagogy and what it means for our learners.

Sean Michael Morris has commented: “We have not coded for the human in education, and so, unless we know how to seek it out past digital platforms, algorithms, and surveillance tools, the human is largely left out of online learning.” This puts it succinctly; we should not be focusing on the tools but the person.

According to Sean Michael Morris, “No educational technology has answered or can answer that question.” So how do we fix this? If our efforts so far have forgotten the learner, how do we resolve this issue? What happens when learning goes online?

The online terrain can change and transform and evolve. It is the human experience that will outlast this and persist in our memories.

We can plug our students into the VLE, we can mandate that they turn their cameras on in Zoom, we can use remote proctoring services to ensure they’re not cheating on their exams… But does that constitute teaching? Does this help us develop our digital pedagogy?

What happens when learning goes online? This is a question that technology cannot answer. It’s one we need to answer. Teachers, librarians, learning designers, students. Everyone that is involved in education. Good online education does not come from the purchase and implementation of another platform, but from dialogue, from the desire to empower everyone involved in teaching and learning to create together a digital learning that isn’t just instrumental, that isn’t just performative, but that’s authentic, meaningful, and just. But most of all has the needs of the student at the very heart of it all: we are to do our best for them. To help them reach their goals through becoming a great teacher, using great technology with a great pedagogy, resulting in great teaching.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope it comes as good news to you that digital pedagogy is not about the tools you use, or that you have them in lessons. Or that you have them in any lesson. Much of my use of technology comes in two forms:

  1. How can I use technology to help my students learn more effectively?
  2. What does “the digital” give to teaching and what does it take way?

When you get into this way of thinking, you quickly realise how it can become an infinitely repeating loop, but it pushes you to resolve the question in the purest, best form.

Digital pedagogy is about how we combining great teaching, with great technology and great pedagogy to create great teaching.

When you look at that equation, technology is one part of it. So in many ways, I have to emphasise to you that your learners need you to be a great teacher much more than they need to see great technology! The truth is that this is not so much an equation, but a set of dominoes. When you become a great teacher (which let’s face it, you never really reach that mountain top, but you keep striving!), then you will incorporate great technology (because you’ll realise you want to help your learners outside of the classroom to keep learning), which will lead to an evolution and development in your pedagogy, which will ultimately result in great teaching.

So let’s take the first step and move to become great teachers.

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