Can technology change the educational paradigm and bring about positive transformation? As educators, we seem to have a common goal, and that is to make the learning process transformational. By that, I mean transformational in praxis (Freire, 1985). That requires a dedication to the art of iteration and reflection, but not any old reflection.
One of the seminal figures of transformative education is Jack Mezirow. He posited that learning brings about change, but that change may not be transformative. The degree of transformation is dependent on critical reflection regarding previously held personal assumptions.
Mezirow came to this conclusion after studying how adults confront new situations in learning. He found that previously held assumptions in adults actually inhibit the internalisation of new knowledge. New learning opportunities could only be actuated when the learners’ past experiences had been opened to critical review. Only then was the learning process transformative.
Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning is as relevant to technology transformation as it is to learning in general. This should be our frame of reference when analysing Blundell, Lee and Nykvist’s paper on moving beyond enhancing pedagogies as, from personal experience, digital technology has not had the expected transformative effect educators imagined it would 10 years ago (Zheng, Warschauer, Lin, & Chang, 2016). Part of the issue here is teachers previously held assumptions on the usefulness of technology from their past experiences. This is not a great foundation upon which to build a transformative approach, as teachers’ EdTech backgrounds vary. If we take into consideration a lack of time for planning and CPD, the results can be seen as not so much one of stagnation but rather an overreliance on past procedures. Education has been dominated by a ‘tell and practise’ approach to teaching and learning. Educators tell students what is worth knowing and students investigate, using critical thinking, collaborating and such like methods before committing to memory what they have found. The issue with this process is it does not encourage transformative personal learning.
The qualitative paper by Blundell, Lee and Nykvist is an explanatory case study of six teachers who are trying to transform their practice using digital tools. The teachers designed their lessons to incorporate innovative pedagogies (Fullan, 2013) that facilitated a constructivist, student centred approach. Although Fullan claims digital technologies afford the possibility of transforming outdated learning approaches, this claim has been widely challenged. In 2017, John Hattie conducted a meta-analyses from over 10,000 studies on the impact of computers in education (Hattie, 2012). Hattie’s results showed the average effect of digital tools to be well below the zone of desirable effects – 0.4 and above. In turn, this study has also been criticised for Hattie’s approach and unfortunate conclusions (Bergeron, Lysanne, 2017).
In her paper, ‘The beliefs behind the teacher that influence their ICT practices’, Sarah Prestridge presents evidence that supports the adage that those that want, achieve; far more than those that can. The motivations behind teachers’ actions that have been built up over time seem to be a powerful indicator of future behaviour. As an educator of fifteen years, this is no surprise, as traditional pedagogies tend to sit awkwardly with digital technologies. Even when progressive pedagogical structures have been designed and digital technology incorporated to assist the learning objectives, the success of such projects almost always depends on the teachers’ openness to be challenged. It is to these frames of reference, these attitudes of mind, that Mezirow refers when looking to bring about real transformative change by proactively engaging disorienting dilemmas and using this disruption to alter mindsets.
The research report presented by Blundell, Lee and Nykvist reinforces the perception that teachers’ attitudes to technology and experience of it, directly influences the degree of transformation achieved. The teachers in this research project were subject to disorienting dilemmas, but only the teachers who had the least reservations and valued the novel approaches experienced transformative personal learning and hence, changed their frames of reference.
There are other actors that influence this outcome, such as CPD, IT support (Ertmer et al., 2012) and social/historical contexts (Yin, 2009). However, this study is useful in highlighting Mezirow’s theory of perspective transformation. By that, he means how contextual influences act as catalysts for transformation (Mezirow, 2012). In changing the normative process, learners can access student-centric high performance learning. However, it is not just down to the teachers, school leaders need to support this drive by changing routines along with allocating the appropriate resources so that teachers have the opportunities to dialogically engage with challenging outdated frames of reference and habits of mind (Blundell, C, Lee K, Nykvist S, 2020). Then real transformative learning can happen, as much for the teachers as for the learner.
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- Blundell, C, Lee K, Nykvist S (2020), Moving beyond enhancing pedagogies with digital technologies: Frames of reference, habits of mind and transformative learning
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