Supporting the Development of Digital Pedagogies


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

This year I have taken on the role of co-ordinating eSmart within my school. Although I had always been a part of the process, it was never my explicit responsibility. It needs to be recognised that much of the hard work was already done by Catherine Gatt, who had managed it from the beginning and got the school to the point of accreditation. This meant that it was more about maintenance.

Even though we are an eSmart school, during the handover, we went through some of the challenges that still had to be faced, such as:

  • Rectifying how the data is collected and where it is held
  • Reviewing and refining the Acceptable User Policy
  • Further incorporating the appropriate use of digital technologies within curriculum planning

However, the biggest challenge that is still faced was developing teacher practise around digital pedagogies. None of the rest really matters if teachers do not know what they are doing and why it is important.

Some of the strategies that have been used in the past to develop teacher capacity include: the provision of whole-staff professional development, modelling of best practise in an explicit coaching sessions and supporting staff with questions as they might arise.

In regards to whole-staff professional development, it has been been a case of hit and miss. Often associated with outside products or programs, sessions seem to lack a sense of agency and purpose. For example, a lot of time was spent introducing staff to the Ultranet or how to use some of the more intricate features of the interactive whiteboard. It was just expected that staff would get on this bandwagon without a clear pedagogical reason as to why. Sadly, when you stand back and look at both of these, the Ultranet has been shutdown, in part due to lack of take-up, while the interactive whiteboards seem to be slowly being replaced by television screens.

Something that worked in regards to whole-staff sessions was the introduction of professional learning communities. This allowed staff to collaborate in the development of shared capacity. A particular highlight was the opportunity to share different practises and ideas in an unconference style session where people could choose which session they wanted to attend. This not only allowed staff more choice, but provided staff with an opportunity to build their instructional capacity. However, the PLC’s as they were lacked clear vision, with much confusion as to what constituted success. They were therefore replaced with a more rigid instructional program with little focus on technology and digital pedagogies.

Another strategy that was trialled to help develop teachers was an explicit coaching program that revolved around modelling. This involved staff in Primary attending fortnightly ICT sessions with their classes and then completing a follow up lesson to help solidify what had been learnt. The problem that occurred was that although these sessions may have helped build capacity, there was still a heavy reliance on the coach to guide the learning. Teachers were not necessarily forced to find their own solutions. Therefore, although significant resources were allocated, just as with PLCs, little thought was given to why the program was actually running and what the explicit end product may be, other than improved capacity.

The last strategy used to develop digital pedagogies has been to provide help at the point of need. Whether it be setting up Google Apps to aid collaboration in class or using Adobe Voice to communicate ideas and information. To support this, the eBox blog was developed as a place to go for answers and ideas when face-to-face guidance is not possible. The hope was (and still is) that this would become a celebration of what is happening, similar to what Steve Brophy has implemented at Ivanhoe Grammar. However, not every teacher is as willing to openly share. Like the coaching hour, this feels like it has created a culture of dependence, rather than a collaborative culture of shared development. It was pointed out by a critical friends that a more structured coaching program was probably needed.

In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:

  1. Participants’ Reaction
  2. Participants’ Learning
  3. Organisation Support and Change
  4. Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
  5. Student Learning Outcomes

Too often we start at the top and work our way down the list. The result being that many experiences, for whatever reason, do not really go beyond personal learning. Guskey argues that if ‘student learning outcomes’ is to be our goal then we need to plan backwards. So moving on with technology, the next stage is to move technology from a timetabled event or some sort of novelty to something that aids and develops all pedagogical practice.

The school has recently started implementing disciplined collaboration, with a focus on a cycle of inquiry to improve student learning. The purpose behind the model is to adjust the learning and teaching to the needs of the students, rather than being dictated by the perceived needs of the curriculum standards. This freedom within form is designed to allow for a more nuanced approach, that is continually referenced by data and evidence. This provides both purpose and direction, it is this that sometimes feels missing when implementing technology and eLearning.

Some of the things that I have been considering in regards to coaching that have been missing in the past:

  • Setting Goals: More than just SMART, Viviane Robinson suggests that the purpose of goals are to provide focus. A useful guide is the How Might We question, as it incorporate the what, the when and who in a succulent manner. In addition to this, I have found the Modern Learning Canvas useful in regards identifying particular points of innovation.
  • Outcomes: Too often the introduction of technology can lend itself to novelty and lack a clear purpose. Whether it be the visible or invisible, social or academic, it is important that there is some point of reference to guide development. For some this maybe a number, some a recording, while others a case study, what matters is that teachers tell their story of development.
  • Follow-Up. There is tendency with technology, whether intended or not, to provide isolated support. Maybe it is answering a question or giving suggestions. Although demonstration and observation is not always possible based on timetable constraints, providing some sort of ongoing conversation is essential to continue the conversation and ingraining practice.
  • Feedback. One of the biggest challenges is not simply giving support to others, but also providing a means to measure the success of the support given. Whether it be short answer questions or checklist, Google Forms offers a quick and efficient method to do this.

Although technology may be seen by some as something that just has to work, I feel that we need to move from discussions of the what, to that of how and why. Incorporating goals in Performance and Development Plans maybe seen as one step in the right direction, what we really need to do is move from push professional development to pull. That is, where instead of teachers being served with endless sets of predefined answers and solutions, they instead act as problem finders where they work collaboratively to identify a problem of practice in order to build and develop more innovative practices. I feel that it is only then that technology can make any sort of difference.

So what about you? Is there anything that you have done? Any thoughts and suggestions you could provide? Whether it be integrating technology or the use of coaching to develop staff capacity and competency. As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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19 thoughts on “Supporting the Development of Digital Pedagogies

  1. Yes we have gone through those diff forms of PD also. I think we need to focus on tech being used to connect to students parents and community. This is where digital leverage can be used and seen the most. How do students use it to connect with experts? How do teachers use it to connect with others and find connections for students in the younger classes. Being connected is where technology adds big benefits.
    Also I can see where students are now creating for eSmart and other students guides how to use social media safely etc. So students can become the teachers.
    Our PD for staff has to become self driven at some point or it will only be a hit and miss scenario.

    1. Thanks so much Jenny for the reply.
      I agree about the connected nature of technology, I think that this is the vision and purpose needed. However, once we have this, once people agree, is it enough to just ‘self-drive’ professional learning? I think so, but I wonder if everyone is the same. My biggest concern is the inconsistent nature of self-driven learning. We are then back at the discretion of teacher. Therefore, if they do not see it as important (is technology important?) then it goes to the bottom of the list of their ‘To Do’ list. Fine, it may not be as important for everyone. However, we then hit the ‘resource’ snag. “But we paid XYZ and what do you have to show.”
      Not sure if this makes sense. Have been really dwelling on it for a while :/

  2. It’s frustrating that education gets caught in cycles of doing to both teachers and students instead of thinking about improving learning outcomes. As I reach the later stages of the profession, I learn more if I have a degree of choice as to what I learn during PL sessions. Passionate educators and students with interests teach me the most. So does Twitter. Thanks Aaron for your contribution to my learning.

  3. Great post Aaron. Sadly, the slow progression through different forms of PD and resulting PL (or not) is all to familiar. As I was reading I felt frustrated at the waste of time and effort spent on activities designed to enlighten the unknowing (at best) or force change in practice by telling (at worst). I also let out a small sigh at the outright replacement of PLCs in favour of what sounds like a much more directive approach. It’s clear that you could see how to make the PLCs work smarter so why scrap them? In any case, I think you’ve arrived at some powerful conclusions about what makes collaboration – in PLCs or coaching – disciplined. All of your dot-points lead to more managed and rigorous conversations about practice. I like the way you’ve made connections to a particular framework as s point of reference for staff and that the activity is seen as part of your P&D process.
    All the best, Chris

  4. On goal setting – I’ve found ISMART helpful. Just putting the word INSPIRING at the front leads the conversation away from mundane easily achieved, tick-box goals.
    The stems: By…… I (or the students) have……. so that…….. (Ref. GCI)
    are really powerful when setting goals too. The “so that” is where all of the learning, thinking, justification, and ownership happens. This is often where teachers start – or where you want to take them in the coaching conversation if they don’t.
    Hope this helps.

    1. I have been pondering on your words all week, especially after reading your piece. I fear that the structure of the school and focus on accountability above all else may sound the warning bells to coaching as being a solution? I was also left questioning the place of my eBox blog, let alone this blog. What does it achieve? How does it support coaching?
      Thank you so much for supporting me along the journey. Although it may feel like ‘wasted time’, sadly some things simply take time.

      1. Hi Aaron, I hope that my words haven’t deflated you! We’re all playing the long-game at this. You may be right -that if the over-riding message from school leadership is one of accountability and directive – then those in leadership might not be the most effective coaches. That doesn’t mean it can’t change though. Your blogs are a fantastic resource to support and challenge the thinking of your PLN and your colleagues. Of course, they also allow you to think aloud and generate dialogue like this!
        I really do think that you are at a point where you can take a coaching approach (on your own if necessary) to support the development of digital pedagogies. Your blogs, and your expertise in terms of having the “know-how”, are resources that will support this. The first step is raising teachers’ awareness of their current reality in relation to this aspect of their practice (your goal setting/action planning process helps focus attention here) and then them defining pedagogical goals that you can coach them towards.
        Hope this helps.
        All the best, Chris

        1. From your latest post and your comment I feel that maybe it means being clear about which hat you are wearing. Feeling a bit clearer. Thanks for staying with me with this slight divergence off the path.

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