Teachers, design and technology

David Jones (@djplaner) posted a piece, Teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning?, earlier today. Although he didn’t identify us, I am one of the colleagues he referred to in his introduction and I was tagged in his tweet about the post. I’ve been doing some reading of my own, intending to write with David and elsewhere, and felt a need to comment as I read his piece. Eventually the somewhat random thoughts I had amounted to more than a simple comment or two so here I am.

David commented on Kirschner’s (2015) observation that Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is not new because teachers have been using technologies since the invention of the printing press. The truth is it started earlier than that and probably before Socrates famously railed against the invention of writing. At least some of the marks made on cave walls probably had an instructional function. As David notes, the question then is whether digital technologies are sufficiently different to break that historical line.

He refers to Kay’s identification of the computer as metamedium and has previously written about the protean nature of digital technologies. The implication is that digital technologies are shape shifters and the ground we are standing on may move beneath our feet.

That resonates with my reading earlier today about the role of new technologies in Australia (Williamson et al., 2015) which argued for the importance of design, creativity and tinkering as essential skills for new technologies and that the skills needed to implement new technologies in a society are very similar to those needed to develop the technologies. They go on to argue that education should be focused on the skills needed for adaptation as technologies inevitably transform society and work. For that to happen teachers will need to adapt their approaches to designing for learning with a changing array of technologies.

In commenting on Kirschner’s argument that teacher education should not treat ICT as an addition to teacher preparation, David cites Kirschner, who in turn was citing something he wrote with Niki Davis:

pre-service teachers don’t take courses in “teacher aided, textbook aided, or whiteboard aided instruction/learning”

In fact, a large part of most pre-service teacher education might be cast as being about ‘teacher aided’ learning. How else should we describe the courses about planning and delivery of lessons and classroom management? Courses in ‘literacy across the curriculum’ or ‘learning to learn through reading’ (LTLTR) have been in vogue and might be described as being about ‘textbook aided’ learning, justifiably so given the challenges that some learners face in extracting meaning from text and dealing with the different writing styles of varying disciplines. It is not so long ago that pre-service teachers were taught the rudiments of preparing material for presentation on blackboards, whiteboards, or other media and, there is still value in learning about effective presentation.

Why should ICT be different? There are skills to be learned at various levels so that there is the fluency needed for confident application and progression to creativity. The analogy of a chef practising basic skills is apt. It is only through practice and familiarity that we can develop the skill needed for a tool to become transparent and allow us to concentrate on the ends (learning and teaching) rather than the means (the mechanics of use).

The 5 high level competencies described by Kirschner seem to me to be very similar to the commonly described engineering design cycle. Children’s Engineering Educators (2000) promoted a 5 step Technology Design Loop with a sequence of steps:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Brainstorm solutions.
  3. Create the solution you think is best.
  4. Test your solution.
  5. Evaluate your solution.

If the competencies of teachers really should be as described by Kirschner then that places them firmly as designers of learning which will be enhanced by a suitable selection and application of available technologies. Teachers are inevitably designers of technology enhanced learning. Should they also be designers of tools?

There are resonances with some work from TWG3 at the recent EDUsummIT in Bangkok. In our summary report when writing about the role of professional development (or teacher education) in empowering pedagogy through ICT we wrote:

Supporting the effective application of ICT to enhance learning and teaching in novel ways may serve as a foundation for successful TPD, and vice versa – utilizing ICT in novel ways within TPD may facilitate innovative pedagogical practices, that will, in turn, send to practice innovative teachers who may affect the education system as a whole

There is, or should be, some reciprocity between being a tool user and a tool maker. New tools probably are developed most often out of a need experienced by somebody working on a task with no tool or one that is less than ideal. Modifying an existing tool to be more suitable or inventing a new one is a logical response. It will work in the other direction too. The availability of a tool may suggest actions that would not be contemplated otherwise. Teachers should be able to exercise creativity with the tools they have available. Not every teacher will necessarily be a tool maker but within the total ecosystem they may contribute by finding new ways to use existing tools and/or engaging in pedagogies that suggest the development of new tools by others.


Williamson, R. C., Raghnaill, M. N., Douglas, K., & Sanchez, D. (2015). Technology and Australia’s Future: New technologies and their role in Australia’s security, cultural, democratic, social and economic systems. Melbourne: Australian Council of Learned Academies.