Room for improvement

Room for improvement

I had the amazing privilege of attending the Apple Distinguised Programme and Schools Leadership Summit of Australia and New Zealand with Shaun Brooker in Adelaide at the end of last term. I have been fortunate to attend a number of Apple Education events in my teaching career. I always walked away feeling enriched and challenged to be a more innovative teacher. Here are the two main takeaways from this learning experience.


In a post-dinner discussion, a few of us bounced some ideas around. One of the ideas was around SAMR and the existence of ‘research’ to back the model up: is it possible that we (me?) misunderstand its function and purpose? Some thoughts, each roughly contained in a paragraph and some spilling over into the next paragraph …

The SAMR model is an instrument that can to be used to reflect on the use of technology at a school. As such, I believe it is unhelpful to get bogged down in arguments around whether research ‘validates’ the model or not. Perhaps it is more helpful to consider whether Dr. Puentedera’s idea indeed can assist us with thinking more deeply about how we are integrating technology.

The ‘danger’ of the SAMR model is that it can be misused as a ‘learning theory’ of sorts to aspire to. In other words, when it is used as a rating scale to judge whether a teacher or school knows how to integrate technology effectively and ‘substitution’ is judged as a ‘fail’ and ‘redefinition’ is judged as a ‘pass’, the model is used incorrectly. It merely provides the teacher or school with an instrument to evaluate whether educational technology has transformed a learning experience or not.

Not all learning activities have to transform learning but if all teaching activities that involve educational technology only enhance learning, it is possible that not all of the learning potential offered by educational technology has been tapped into.

A question that I think often sits in the back of teachers’ minds when ‘transformation’ of education is mentioned, is why we want educational technology to transform learning because it seems to imply that there is something ‘wrong’ with the present state of teaching and learning. A question that naturally flows from the previous question is how ‘wrong’ is defined and then we also have to ask what is the ‘correct’ definition for teaching and learning and who has decided what that definition is.

Call me an uninformed optimist if you want, but I don’t think there is something inherently ‘wrong’ with teaching and learning but I do think we are doing our students a great disservice if we are not constantly thinking about how we can use technology to enhance and transform learning. This leads me to ask yet another question: what is the purpose of education? Your response to this question will of course influence your reaction to my comments.

In my opinion, the purpose of education is to equip my students with robust critical thinking skills that will enable them to come up with creative, collaborative solutions to the challenges they will face in life. This also implies teaching them the communication skills they will need both to collaborate and to explain their creative solutions to others.

So why use the technology at our disposal in the classroom? When we look at the world our students are entering, it is increasingly making use of technology in the areas of critical thinking, creative pursuits, collaboration and communication. We therefore have to equip them with the knowledge they need to use society’s ubiquitous technology competently.

I also believe that this competence goes beyond skills and it has to include an ethical understanding of the impact of technology on society. As a Christian I believe the Bible provides the moral framework needed to use technology to the glory of God and the spiritual and physical benefit of others.

Telling great data stories

Before I attended the Apple Distinguished Programme and Schools Leadership Summit for Australia and New Zealand, I have had some doubts around the purpose of teachers collecting data to show to others what their students are doing in their classes.

Don’t understand me wrong: I have no problem with assessment as a construct, I hold to the importance of running a transparent learning plan and I believe in the importance of students having the freedom to show their learning in ways that recognise the uniqueness of each individual. I also believe it is important that students have a record of their learning to show how they mature and develop.

My issue has been with what I perceive as a modern tendency of people in different industries to ‘show off’ how good their work is. I have a firm belief that the education of my students is not about me getting recognition for what they are doing. It is about my students being encouraged and equipped to make a meaningful contribution to society. I have therefore done very little over the years to tell my story of my students’ learning. My students have told their own learning stories – I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but perhaps there is a place for me to tell my side of the learning story as well … ?

One of the workshops I attended at the summit has encouraged me to revisit my reluctance to tell my version of my students and I’s learning story. It can be argued that telling this story is important. “But why” you may ask?

Telling stories is intricately part of who we have been created to be. In Genesis 1 we read that God has created us in His likeness. God reveals Himself in His story (History) that He has given us through the Scriptures. It follows, therefore, that if God communicates with us by telling stories and we have been created in His likeness, then telling stories is the best way for us to communicate with God and others. He has made us that way! Arguably Jesus’s most effective teaching strategy was using stories to communicate what He wanted His followers to learn.

We know from experience that there is nothing as engaging as a great story. We can learn from each other stories. I have come to realise that telling the story of our students’ learning is a great (the best?) way to communicate the process and results of learning with our students, their families and communities, and our colleagues.

Now the challenge ahead of me is to learn how to tell a great story with my teaching and learning data so that it

  • has a positive message
  • enables my listeners to do meaningful reflection and
  • respects the role players’ privacy (where the role players might be students, colleagues or anyone else who has contributed to the storyline)

To using technology to tell great stories!


Room for improvement — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Walking the talk | a mouse in the fortress of education

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