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Published in Professional Learning

Putting the pedagogy back into technology (or why zoom isn’t enough)

Providing learners with the opportunity to learn online was no mean feat. But for learning to be engaging, meaningful and sticky we need to add pedagogy to the mix — and fast.

Transcript taken from Keynote presentation given to Newcastle College Group 21st October 2020

Hello, my name’s Ian Harris. I’m the CEO of HOW2s. A few weeks ago, I was talking to Louisa Owen’s Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Liverpool City College. (LCC) about the plans for myself and some of my colleagues to deliver some live training, albeit online, to the LCC team of teaching and learning coaches.

It struck me as we were talking that there was so much going on with the whole COVID thing that I was, amazed that they were looking to, fit it in. And so I asked Louisa whether she wanted to delay the training? She said something that struck me, and it’s going to form the basis of this talk.

She said no, we now, more than ever, need to start looking at putting the pedagogy back into technology. That last bit put the pedagogy back into technology, hit home with me and as I said it’s going to form the basis of my talk. First a little bit about HOW2s, and then I’m going to go back to 1988. I’m aware that some of the people watching this may not know what HOW2s are. For the rest of this, to make sense, you need to know that HOW2s are visual guides to evidence-informed teaching techniques.

There are around 160 on the app. Each one depicts a specific technique to use when teaching online or when face-to-face in a classroom workshop or work setting. The content is on an app that provides the organisation that subscribes with a social learning environment, where anyone in a teaching role — so that could be a teacher and assessor or lecturer, an endpoint assessor, a trainer, you name it can learn new teaching techniques.

Thumbnail 'cards' of the Online Collection in the App (September 2020)

Everybody’s got a log on; everybody’s got access to this, teaching knowledge, if you like this body of teaching knowledge, these, visual guides to, evidence-informed teaching techniques. An excellent analogy would be to think of an aeroplane safety card and imagine that as a teacher, you have access to a deck of 160 cards, each one depicting a teaching technique.

Log in and the last two of the techniques you are working on are waiting for you on your dashboard

The techniques can be used online or in the classroom. And then in terms of the social learning aspect of the app, teachers can, at the click of a button, tell each other, whether they’re considering, working on, or have already embedded techniques into their practice. We’ve made it easy for them to tell everybody else what they’re doing in their context and teachers can contact each other and share their learning. So that’s what I want to say about that at the moment. We can come back to that a bit later on.

Now I want to go back to 1988 and my initial teacher training. Dr John Fines was my tutor— unfortunately, no longer with us. John took ten of my peers and me into an empty classroom, sat us down, and he said something that has stayed with me.

He said that there are only four things that a fly on a wall will ever see happening in your classrooms, whatever you’re teaching. These aren’t in any particular order. So when I say first, I don’t mean that’s the first thing that will happen. I mean it’s one of four things that will happen at some point in your classroom.

The four teaching dynamics 
1. Talking to students 
2. Talking to/Interacting with students 
3. Students working independently of you (individually, in pairs or groups) — with you on the side
4. Students interacting with a stimulus — with you on the side

The four dynamics as defined by Dr John Fines

So the first thing that a fly on a wall will see happening is you talking to students and sometimes, believe me, he said, there will be times when you need to talk directly to them. You won’t expect or want or need a reply. It’ll just be direct communication to the students. He said the second thing we’ll see is you interacting with students. The third and four things that we’ll see will be students working independent of you, and he stressed that independent didn’t necessarily mean them working on their own. It would mean that they’re independent of me as the teacher. And so they’ll be doing that on their own, or they may be doing it in groups of two, three, four, or whatever group size you decide, but they’re going to be interacting with each other. And as they’re interacting with each other, your job is to determine when to intervene and support them in working effectively. And the fourth dynamic you said is when the students are working directly with the stimulus, is it either a book or in a practical subject they might be working with the materials and the equipment. You said that’s it. Those four dynamics are the only four things that will happen.


Four Learning Dynamics

Underneath all the complexities of classroom activities, there are only four basic dynamics. Adding a visual adds much to the learning in each one.


your job as a teacher is to orchestrate the class and move between those four dynamics and do it in ways and find ways to ensure that the students are engaged, that they’re motivated and that the learning sticks

Dr John Fines 1988 

He said your career as a teacher here on in will be about asking questions, checking yourself as to whether or not they are engaged, whether they are motivated and whether they are learning. And if they aren’t to find ways that you can adapt your teaching by moving between those four dynamics to make sure that they are engaged, motivated, and the learning sticks.

So what’s my point? When Louisa said that we need to start looking at adding pedagogy back into the technology, my mind went to where we’re at now as a profession. Somebody could compare my peers sitting in that classroom in 1988 and me about to embark on teaching our first lessons to where we’re at now, where we’ve got ourselves tooled up with Teams or a Google meet or with zoom or on canvas or Blackboard, whatever it is. We’ve got this online learning platform. And when we’re online with those students, all a fly on a wall will see happening will be us talking to students, us, interacting with students, setting up opportunities for them to interact with each other and, them interacting with the stimulus. So in that sense, there’s a comparison to be made. Also, the same question comes up. How do we do that? How do we do that in ways that make learning engaging, motivating and makes the learning stick?

HOW2 Professional learning model and professional learning conversations aka theory of action

Now I want to and look at the question of why we do professional learning? What is the point? Today is a professional learning day. So I want to try and, pull together some key ideas around the theme of professional learning. And then put those themes from professional learning to the four dynamics. Then bring us back to the notion of supporting educators to ensure that students are engaged, motivated, and can learn effectively.

I don’t know what professional learning activities you will be engaging in today. Maybe there are workshops? Perhaps you’ll be doing some independent study. I’ve got question marks in the box to the right about, what types of professional learning could we add? Supported Experiments where educators learn in pairs; some of our colleges and training providers have educators working in what they call learning triads or learning squares, even. It doesn’t matter what the professional learning activity is, but it’ll be useful for you to have one in mind as we go through this. So I’m going to bring one to mind as we explore the purpose of all professional learning.

The purpose of professional learning activity is to help us as educators to meet the learning needs of the students. So another way of talking about learning need would be to describe a learning need as a barrier to progress. So let’s assume we agree that our job as educators is to ensure that students are engaged, motivated, and can remember their learning in the long term so that they have access to the curriculum and thereby access to future life learning and employment opportunities. And sometimes as we’re delivering or teaching the curriculum, barriers come up that prevent them from getting this access. Another word for that barrier is a learning need. A learning need or barrier will emerge either with an individual student or within the dynamic of the class. And when this happens our job as educators, as teachers, is to adapt our teaching. Go back to what Dr.John Fines said — we’re saying it’s inevitable that we will adjust our teaching within those four dynamics. How can we adapt what we’re doing in those four dynamics to make sure that the learners can get over whatever barriers show up and can access the content taught?

The best vocational teaching and learning is a sophisticated process; it demands dual professionals’ – teachers and trainers with occupational expertise and experience, who can combine this with excellent teaching and learning practice.

Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) report (2013).

So let’s just quickly link the above into the (UK’s) Education and Training Foundation’s work on the Dual professional. All of the training providers, colleges, universities, we work with employ educators who are experts in what they’re teaching. What HOW2s provide are step-by-step visual guides into how to teach what is taught (the curriculum content). And this is the essence of the Dual Professional — educators who are expert not only in what they’re teaching but how they deliver it. And that takes time.

Now in the context of COVID, we’ve got a situation where educators that were expert in teaching face to face now find themselves having to teach using zoom or teams or whatever. I know this is a generalisation, but it’s reasonable to say that live face-to-face teaching expertise isn’t transferring. So there’s a degree of newness and nervousness about this. That’s why I wanted to refer to my experience of going into that classroom with John Fines in 1988. In 1988 I quickly got the idea that I had to talk to, talk with students, of them interacting with each other. But I didn’t know how I was going to do that? Let’s go back to the professional learning summary. We do all of our activities so that we can support our teachers, our educators in, in developing their practice so that they can ensure students can access the curriculum. Now another thing that’s interesting in terms of professional learning activities is the need for them to include a professional learning conversation aka a theory of action. Put simply what that means is that what I’m doing at the moment isn’t working, I’m getting some results or some situations and behaviours that I don’t want. I’m saying that if I change this and try this, I’m going to get a better result. And that, in essence, is what a theory of action is, and that is at least implicit, and we can make it explicit within all professional learning activities.

Now, for those of you not using HOW2s at the moment, you’ll notice that there’s no mention of HOW2s at the bottom of the professional learning cycle. But the suggestion here is that, when it comes to finding a solution at step two, if you have access to the HOW2s, then many solutions are available to you on the app. But the first step is to say, well, what’s your target? What should, what’s the situation that you need to address? Now, if we go back to the COVID thing, we have this massive situation where students are no longer able to attend the classroom. So the solution was teams, zoom, you know, canvas, whatever. And we’ve had to learn to use these technologies and how to use the features on these online teaching platforms. What I’m suggesting is that knowing how to use that technology does not mean that we’re going to succeed in engaging and motivating learners and ensure that the learning sticks. The technology has set up the opportunity for students to access the curriculum, but it in and of itself doesn’t guarantee access. There’s another layer.

Through the use of zoom or teams or whatever platform you’re using, we’ve created the opportunity to learn. But for students to access the curriculum we’ve still to tick the pedagogy box. We know this for different reasons. One, we know that the dropout rate from online learning far exceeds the dropout rates from classroom teaching or face-to-face teaching. The data varies, but the message is the same. Rates are far worse, online than they are offline, and this is pre-COVID data.

So unless we do develop our pedagogical practice — in terms of how to engage, motivate, and to go back to Louisa’s phrase, add pedagogy to the technology then, I think we are going to struggle. That’s why I wanted to share the model with you.

So the idea of, HOW2s is to support educators in meeting the learning needs of students. And if we go back into the app, we can take a look at how the app helps you do that. So. In the model, we talked about, the need for educators to identify what are the barriers that are preventing curriculum access. One of the things we’ve done on the app is to organise the how-to’s by the everyday Barriers to progress that educators come across. Initially, when we put the app together, we organised them by teaching strategies. When I talk to teacher training universities, they all look at these strategies but what they may not do is drill down to a level of precision, a concrete example, if you like, of what the strategy looks like depicted step-by-step as specific techniques?

Typically educators find solutions in less than a minute

So as I scroll through, see if you can connect to a barrier. The idea is that once you connect to a barrier that’s familiar to you, you can start thinking about, well, how can I start meeting those needs? You can, as we look through the techniques, also see that we’ve begun to integrate, online versions of techniques into the primary collection. And the idea is that educators can learn new techniques at their own pace whenever they want to.

Organisations also use the content of the app to run workshops and add detail and precision to a host of other professional learning activities.

But the main aim of the app is to support educators as individuals and to support them in supporting each other. Every education system in the world asks teachers to demonstrate how they are reflecting on and evidence their learning and show how they are helping their colleagues in developing their learning and how they are supporting learning across the organisation? I remember when I was teaching, I had to fill in forms, and I had an appraisal meeting every year. I just thought, Oh, why am I doing this? The app makes it a cinch for you to use what we’ve called the skills exchange to demonstrate your learning and how you are supporting the learning of colleagues across the organisation. Organisations accessing HOW2s have their own private digital space for them to set up and, and share learning across the organisation.

The development of the online HOW2s started pre-COVID, and it points to something else I want to stay about putting pedagogy back into the technology.

In October 2019, an e‑textbook provider contacted us. The training they were providing the universities was showing lecturers how to use the highlighting tool, how to use the note-making tool, how to use the bookmark and so on, but that wasn’t helping the lecturers to see how to to integrate the use of the textbook technology into an effective teaching sequence. So we put together a range of HOW2s, depicting how to do that. If you’re not a subscriber, use the contact button at www​.teach​ing​how2s​.com to get in touch with me. And I’ll arrange for you to have a preview. So you can have a look at some of these.

eTextbook HOW2s collection (September 2020)

So a lot of what we’ve tried to do with the HOW2s in terms of the online collection and the textbook collection is focused on techniques that show educators how they can quickly move to independent learning activities where the students have to work in pairs and groups. We figure that if the teachers are setting up independent learning activities, maybe by flipping the learning, the students are more likely to complete the work and participate in them if the activities away from the educator require them to work together. We also focussed on reducing the number of requests from students to teachers for support. So we’ve looked at entry routines and ways of integrating peer-peer student support into activities. We’ve focussed on ways of minimising the unnecessary requests from students to teachers, by getting students supporting and working with each other.

So that’s what, what else to say? Well, if you go to the frequently asked questions section of the website and you go into the professional learning section, there are nine ways to use the HOW2s as part of online learning with your teachers.

Hope you found that useful. Thank you for, for listening and, have, have a great day.

Ian Harris


The full 23 minute Keynote

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