We talk a lot on this site about educational technology and the tools that we can use in the classroom to help pupils learn, and I often mention how our pedagogy needs to be developed to ensure we are not simply adding technology for technology’s sake. So I thought it was high time this was rectified and got to discussing what digital pedagogy really is and how our understanding of it will help us in the classroom to teach better.
What is Digital Pedagogy?
Howell (2010) defines it as: “the study of how to teach using digital technologies.”
Hybrid Pedagogy offers the following definition: “Digital Pedagogy is precisely not about using digital technologies for teaching and, rather, about approaching those tools from a critical pedagogical perspective. So, it is as much about using digital tools thoughtfully as it is about deciding when not to use digital tools, and about paying attention to the impact of digital tools on learning.”
So What is Digital Pedagogy?
Digital pedagogy then, is how we can make the best use of digital technologies to teach in our classes. It is through the considered use of digital technologies to enhance our learning aims/goals, not just to add technology for the sake of it. The issue of intentionality is very important as we are being critical in our decision-making and selection of the available technologies to aid student learning. Educators must offer students learning experiences that feature several different types of engagement, representation, action, and expression, whether or not these means employ digital tools or materials.
Digital pedagogy also provides an opportunity for educators to (re)consider how we manage and organise our instruction, including how and when students connect with their learning processes, build on prior understanding, and apply or share what’s going on in the classroom with others in their community.
Why Do We Need a Digital Pedagogy?
Research on the use of technology in the classroom has contributed to development in theories of learning such as constructionism, distributed constructionism and connectivism. Technology has also changed the way in which we view teachers. We do not view teachers as the fountain of knowledge at the front of the classroom as with the Victorian model of teaching anymore. The role of teacher has changed and incorporated the use use of technology in the classroom.
We need a coherent model to explain how we can chart the evolution of the role of teacher, but also incorporate the role of technology.
Adding a computer to the lesson does not make for a good pedagogy – especially if the task is to answer a task using Word Processing instead of writing it on paper – digitising the activity is not enough. The use of technology in the classroom needs to expand to include concepts of independent, student-led inquiry modes of learning. Teachers need to understand how to use technology effectively, to have the learning theories behind the practice embedded in their practice and to know how to select the right technology for the relevant learning outcomes they are using. Teachers need a digital pedagogy.
Reason #1: We are situated in a global information society
While national borders will still exist, there has still equally never been a time when borders matter less to companies operating, or to employees having the ability to work across the world. The number of IT companies in Belfast (particularly cyber security companies) shows how important the role Northern Ireland plays on a global scale and the skillset that our workforce possesses. We therefore, need students to enter the workplace who are ready to be of economic value – to do that, they need to posess the proper skillset. We need curricula that teaches these skills, and a teaching body that is equipped to deliver these skills in the classroom.
Reason #2: Our workforce needs to be digitally prepared
Regardless of the career our students choose to enter – they will need to have a level of understanding to be able to work and complete professional tasks digitally. This can range from communicating with customers via email, discussion board or social media to creating design work (as an architect or a graphic designer) and working collaboratively, to completing patient records in a hospital. There are very few areas of employment that do not now contain some level of digital work and so our pupils need to be prepared
Reason #3: Not everyone is a digital native
Children born after 1990 are considered to be digitally native, or also referred to as the ‘Net Generation.’ Whichever term you use, it referes to children who have grown up in a technology-rich world. We need to develop a curriculum that reflects this society and create the environment in which skills can be developed that allow students to take advantage of this technology-rich world. Assuming ‘digital natives’ have greater skills would be a mistake – as they may have greater knowledge in accessing information, but not in creating it, evaluating it or contributing to it. This is what our curriculums need (in part) to help students to do.
Reason #4: Using digital technologies in the classroom is engaging and motivating
I’m certainly not going to advocate that your lessons should be on TikTok – unless you and your students would be genuinely helpful! But using digital technologies can help to make your lessons more engaging – video content, interactive quizes, polls or interactive presentations (lets you work with live data & thoughts of pupils in real time) can help to engage pupils with the learning content, particularly if the topic is one that captures their attention. Seeing their thoughts up on the screen can be invigorating and intimidating for students, depending on their personality but even for the quieter student, this is a way that they can participate and not feel totally out of their comfort zone.
Reason #5: Life-long learning
This is a new aspect of society which I have found professionally advantageous. There is a clear link between a professionally-trained, and continually improving teacher to greater classroom achievement among pupils. The better and higher I educate myself, be it through CPD or formal qualifications, the more able I will be to teach my classes to a higher standard. The logic is quite simple and straightforward, but not the sole path to higher achievement – particularly as there is more than one way to understand how we educate ourselves – an online course with no end certification could be just as helpful to improving classroom practice as a Masters Degree (as one example).
Are We Teaching With a Digital Pedagogy?
Before getting lost in the discussion of what tools to teach, or whether to teach tools in place of (or next to) teaching content, it’s important to ask the question: are we teaching digitally? And if we are, there are a number of consequences.
- Our digital pedagogy must inevitably acknowledge the ability of students to control and choose containers for their own learning.
- We cannot compensate for all the ways that students will choose to process and curate their learning in digital spaces, and so it becomes vital to teach students not about particular tools, but about how to choose tools for their use.
- In order for students to choose tools for their own use, they must have a sense of themselves as learners much more than a sense of us as teachers. Digital pedagogy is necessarily learner-centric, then.
- We must empower students to use the web (because they will anyway) in ways that support their learning. This means integrating the use of smart phones, tablets, and laptops in on-ground classrooms. It also means inviting students to connect with each other outside of the ways we intend them to connect. Let learning go where they go.
Digital pedagogy is different from teaching online because it allows us to open up learning and teaching in ways that gravity-bound education doesn’t permit. When we bring the Internet into our teaching, and truly embrace all that the digital engenders, we open our students (and ourselves) to a whole new world of networked, connected learning.