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Technology in Use – Some Lessons About Change in Schools and Teacher Professional Development

Since the 1990s, three large national reforms of digital technologies have swept through the Norwegian education system. The PILOT project (Innovasjon i Læring, Organisasjon og Teknologi) involved 120 primary and secondary schools from 1999–2003. Six universities and university colleges conducted follow-up research. The PLUTO program (Program for LærerUtdanning Teknologi og Omstilling) comprised ten large development projects in eight teacher education institutions (universities and colleges) in the years 1999–2004. In the LN program (Lærende Nettverk), 2004–2009, about 600 primary and secondary schools and 19 universities and university colleges were involved in a large number of networks all over the country (Erstad & Hauge 2011). At the same time, many of the local education authorities in large cities and counties have run technology implementation projects on their own or in conjunction with the national reforms. Taken together, these initiatives represent huge investments for future technology driven practices at many educational levels. The national technology reform initiatives culminated in 2006 marked by the Knowledge Promotion reform stating that digital literacy is one of the five key competencies to be taught and learned for all pupils in school.

A unique reform period is now history and questions arise as teachers, school leaders and local educational authorities are left to work continuously on the task of fostering digital literacy for all. Thus, in order to understand the potential for further investment and development in the field, there is a need to sort out some of the challenges and lessons learned from the reforms. We have accumulated quite a number of classroom studies – how technologies are introduced and put to more or less productive use by learners, and sometimes teachers. However, we believe it is also necessary to move beyond microlevel analyses and try to identify some of the more overarching perspectives that emerge. In this special issue, we look at experiences from four perspectives, which are based on international reviews of research with regard to uptake and use of technology in schools and by teachers, analyses of the prevailing political rhetoric of educational technology reforms in Norway, and a critical examination of didactical conceptions of teaching and learning in technology-rich environments.

The question of uptake and use of digital technologies in schools is first addressed by Anders D. Olofsson, J. Ola Lindberg, Göran Fransson and Trond Eiliv Hauge by reviewing a large number of international studies. They examine how digital technologies are conceptualized and integrated into practices in relation to policy, school organization and school leadership, teachers and their professional development, and pupils. This multilevel analysis reveals a picture of fragmentation regarding the uptake and use of technologies in schools and how institutional structures and cultures may resist, transform or adopt practices with new technologies. The study underlines the complexity of uptake and use of digital technologies, and the difficulties in transfer of knowledge across levels, and points to knowledge gaps to be further researched in order to fully understand the situation.

In his review article “Student teachers learning to teach: The mastery and appropriation of digital technology”, Trond Haugerud addresses the basic challenges in teacher education of learning to teach, by focusing on the uptake and use of new technologies by student teachers. This article sheds light on the processes by which student teachers change and shape their understanding of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) as a tool for learning. It reveals the complexity in learning to teach, the tensions between different institutional practices and how student teachers have to subordinate to dominating practices in schools. Thus, and following the argumentation by Olofsson et al., a lack of consistency in uptake and use of digital technologies between different institutional levels strongly influences student teachers’ development as competent users of ICT in teaching and learning in school. Haugerud draws on the Bakhtinian (Bakhtin 1979/2000) concept of appropriation and James Wertch’s (Wertsch 1998) more recent distinction between mastery and appropriation in order to demonstrate how student teachers struggle to develop proficiency when integrating ICT in their educational practices.

The third perspective that informs our understanding of ICT reforms in schools, is brought forward by Geir Haugsbakk in the article “How political ambitions replace teacher involvement – some critical perspectives on the introduction of ICT in Norwegian schools”. This study is original as it focuses on the political discourse that has enveloped the introduction and integration of ICT in the Norwegian educational system. Haugsbakk clearly demonstrates how the rhetoric of implementation influences learners’ and teachers’ uptake of digital technologies, and how a prevailing, industrial view of technology results in concealing the pedagogical complexity of ICT-infused practices. Consequently, a potential for innovation and pedagogical development remains obscure.

In the last perspective, Lund and Hauge seek to bring such potential to the fore by linking the concept of design to learning and teaching in technology-rich environments. The main argument is that the complexity of digital and networked environments requires that we need to develop our notion of didactics. By drawing on the Vygotskyan concept of obuchenie – an activity that involves learning as well as teaching – Lund and Hauge analyze two empirical cases and show how sociocultural theory cannot only help us analyze complex educational trajectories but also inform a development of didactics.

Taken together, the contributions in this issue of NJDL seek to bridge the distance between detailed micro studies of educational practice with institutional and cultural historical development, between policies and practice, between teacher education and enacted designs. In doing so, we see how we have come to lack a discourse that embraces complexity, pedagogical and didactic development, and the role played by digital and networked technologies. The field of ICT in education has for too long been constrained by the tool metaphor. Despite the many studies using the extended notion of cultural tool or the concept of artefacts, the more trivial and instrumentalist perception of tools has perpetuated in policy documents as well as in educational practices. Thus, the practice of ICT in education has not been able sufficiently to recognize and take advantage of the cultural expansion afforded by the technologies.

In her concluding commentary, Sally Barnes draws attention to the concepts we use in order to forge the relationship between learning, teaching and technologies. She also demonstrates how such concepts have a direct bearing on the way technologies are picked up – appropriated – and put to use by different agents, not least the teacher, who emerges as a key actor in the field. She places the Nordic contributions in an international perspective and finds that the challenges are very much the same.

As editors of and contributors to this volume of NJDL, we argue for a more profound view of digital technologies in order to leave the instrumental view behind. We are also concerned about how research to a greater extent can take a multilevel perspective on technology reforms and bridge the gaps between levels of educational practices. We believe a more profound view of ICT needs convincing concepts with explanatory power. Some of the key concepts – uptake, appropriation, design, obuchenie – have been put to work in the following pages.

References

Bakhtin, M. M. (1979/2000). The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Austin, TX.: University of Texas Press.

Erstad, O., Hauge, T. E. (Eds.) (2011). Skoleutvikling og digitale medier. Kompleksitet, mangfold og ekspansiv læring. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind As Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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