Going SOLO with ICT

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The technology used by students is not important, as long as it is the right tool for the job. Teacher Samantha Broom reports on her on-going research into technology and teaching.

The technology that is available to educators and students these days is astonishing. When I think back to when I first started my career, all I had to do was use Word adequately enough to be able to print the “OHTs” that I was going to use in lessons.

However, this soon progressed onto using PowerPoint to deliver a lesson and, shortly after that, interactive whiteboards (I quickly realised the enjoyment and passion I had for thinking up innovative ways to make use of the whiteboard, rather than just writing on it).

More recently, it has all changed again. Tablets, SmartPhones, e-readers, laptops and netbooks are all available for students and teachers to use to enhance the learning experience, and a technology-savvy teacher will make the most of all of these tools. 

However, there are many teachers who are not yet comfortable with the idea of exploiting them to the fullest and this is where my recent enquiry has taken me.

I began to develop a research idea for my school, St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool, as part of a research and design community supported by the headteacher. This project’s initial aim was to consider various elements of technology in teaching and map them onto the “SOLO taxonomy”.

SOLO stands for Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes, and the taxonomy was developed by Biggs and Collis (1982). It describes five levels of understanding of a subject with increasing complexity and provides an excellent basis on which to consider lesson planning: Pre-structural, Unistructural, Multistructural, Relational and Extended Abstract.

Initially this projected aimed to map different tools such as websites and apps onto a SOLO taxonomy grid, much like the ones that have begun to appear with Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

However, at the beginning stages of the research it soon became evident that almost any tool could help a learner to reach the Extended Abstract level, they just had to be guided there by the nature of the task that they were completing. 

For example, a student could watch a video on YouTube and reach any level up to Multistructural, depending on their level of understanding. However, if you asked the student to create their own video to explain what they are learning, then they are reaching the upper echelons of Relational or Extended Abstract.

Using SOLO to define the outcomes of a technology-orientated task has been the first breakthrough in our research – however, we came across a stumbling block: not all teachers are comfortable when getting their students to use technology adequately.

My school enables students to buy a laptop through a special scheme, and we are also beginning to harness the power of the technology that they often already own by allowing them to bring their own technology into school (BYOD). 

A lot of people assume that as these young people have been born into a world where technology is everywhere, that they are very comfortable using it: the concept of the digital native has been touted for quite a few years. However, I would argue that most young people are adept at using different devices because they have become so intuitive and user-friendly.

Our role as educators is to support the use of technology in schools safely, and to encourage them to try out different tools that they are comfortable using, and, if possible, teach them how to use a new tool. It is also down to us to ensure that technology is being used to modify and redesign the learning of the students, not just substituting or augmenting what they are doing. This is the SAMR model, developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura.

When considering this research project, we soon realised that we had to rely on the knowledge of the students and show staff that pupils are able to produce work of a variety of technological levels – and most importantly, that the teacher does not need to know how to use the tool themselves. 

Of course, it can be useful for the teacher to have a deeper understanding, and there will be some teachers who will have the ability to support and develop this area of pupils’ knowledge. However, if the aim is for pupils to show their Extended Abstract knowledge of a particular subject area, surely it doesn’t matter how they do this? 

With this in mind, I have taken to suggesting to students a variety of tools that could be used to enable them to complete a task, rather that enforcing a “one-tool fits all” mentality, and often the pupils suggest a tool that they wish to use as well.

If the purpose of technology is to enable excellent learning, then surely it doesn’t matter which tools they use to get there?

Further information
The 21st Century Learning Alliance is a forum with representation from practitioners and industry that debates difficult issues to help stimulate improvement and change. For more information on the Fellowships, visit www.21stcenturylearningalliance.org/fellowship. You can also follow the Alliance on Twitter @Learning_21C


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