The Pandemic as a catalyst for transformation
2020 was a strange year for all of us, and an interesting one for educational technologists. Some of us went from lone preachers in the desert to superstars in a matter of hours. Suddenly, a lot of technology-focused decisions had to be made, and quickly. The expertise we had accumulated over years of tinkering, experimentation, and working with a small group of enthusiastic faculty supporters became at once needed by the entire community.
Once the dust of the transition settled and we went back to a resemblance of routine (albeit a very different one), some of us went back to looking to the future. We are all hoping to return to our classrooms at some point, but what will that look like? Will we return to our old practices wholesale, or is this a good time to hit the reset button? What lessons or new opportunities should we be capitalizing on?
While extremely challenging for a large number of reasons, the pandemic has definitely been a unique opportunity to gather novel insights on the dynamic of technology integration. Remote teaching and learning during COVID has forced many faculty members to experience firsthand a number of technology-supported teaching and learning strategies. What is more, this happened at the same time as one of the most focused and intensive educational technology support efforts we’ve ever seen. To top all of that, this experiment is lasting a really long time, allowing faculty to trial out different tools and approaches.
What will happen next?
So again, what will happen when we go back to “normal”? I argue that, at least for a subset of language faculty, the pandemic has brought to the surface the potential of certain technology-enabled pedagogies to transform our classroom practices in a positive way. For sure, this can and will look different for each individual instructor, as there are various ways in which technology can provide value to an educator, and depending on the student populations that they work with.
Technology can, when implemented well, promote better teaching and learning practices by bringing into focus pedagogical practices that are more student-centered, effective, and/or equitable (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013). Technological transformation happens in an educator’s practice when a new technology opens the possibility for the adoption of a different pedagogical approach. One of the models that has been helpful for me to understand this shift is the PIC-RAT model (Kimmons, Graham, and West, 2020).
Originally intended for K-12 settings, and building on previous approaches to technology integration research, PIC-RAT attempts to bring together students’ and instructors’ use of technology in the same model. It asks two questions:
- How are students using a certain technology? (PIC: Passive, Interactive, Creative)
- How does the instructor use the technology in relation to traditional practice? (RAT: Replace, Amplify, Transform)
The value of this model lies in the fact that it provides educators with a series of questions to evaluate a technology integration and shows a path towards more student-centered, creative uses of technology.
An example of transformative use of technology that comes to mind is the proliferation of collaborative tools such as Google Docs, and the subsequent growth in popularity of collaborative approaches and pedagogies. The ubiquity of these tools has caused an evolution in many educators’ practices, helping them see the value of collaborative learning. To be sure, Google Docs did not bring about a pedagogy that didn’t exist before, but it certainly enabled many educators to finally take the plunge. And yes, another caveat: just using Google Docs in your course does not automatically imply that you’ve adopted a collaborative approach.
In addition to pedagogical change, technology can bring about other types of transformation that can have a significant impact on an educator’s practices. Technology can make things easier, faster, and more convenient; it can automate and simplify processes; it can create a more equitable learning environment; and it can free a lot of time. For example, once I figured out I could move student presentations to Flipgrid, I realized I could gain several extra hours of class time I could use to engage students in more interpersonal communication tasks. The pedagogy is the same, but the gains are still significant.
What contextual and internal factors make transformation more likely to happen? Can transformation be prompted? What have you seen work best in your experience?
To explore these questions, we are lauching a new course called Post-Pandemic Language Teaching. We want to create a space for language instructors to process their remote teaching experiences during the pandemic, identify those technology-enabled practices having the most transformative potential, and design an intentional “new normal” for what language instruction might look like in the near future. We don’t have all the answers yet, which is why we want to put course participants in control of their own learning and transformation as much as possible. Regardless of whether you are an online teaching veteran or whether pandemic remote teaching was your first experience with technology-infused pedagogies, we hope this can be a transformative experience for you. If you decide to join us, you’ll also be joining a cohort of like-minded individuals who believe in the transformative potential of technology and who will help you craft a plan forward. Let’s not waste the lessons learned in the last year!
Author: Luca Giupponi, Educational Technology Specialist, Center for Language Teaching Advancement (CeLTA), Michigan State University
Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2013). Removing obstacles to the pedagogical changes required by Jonassen’s vision of authentic technology-enabled learning. Computers & Education, 64, 175-182.
Kimmons, R., Graham, C.R. & West, R.E. (2020). The PICRAT Model for Technology Integration in Teacher Preparation. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 20(1), 176-198. Waynesville, NC USA: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education.