In this case study we see digital literacies being interpreted as the ability to use digital technologies confidently. Student involvement is invited after teachers have acquired skill and expertise to introduce new resources into the classroom in ways that allow them to keep control over students’ learning.
In this case, the aim was to explore existing practices and to reflect on the professional journeys of teachers using technology in the school’s Languages Department. The main technology was Moodle; usage across the department was variable and teacher attitudes to Moodle were equally varied, with teachers selecting technologies to suit their pedagogical styles and ideologies, as well as the perceived needs of the pupils in their classes.
Christine’s positive attitude to Moodle tended to relate to the efficiencies it lent her as a professional. It allowed her to produce higher quality materials, to easily store and share her materials, and to allow pupils constant and consistent access to the curriculum material, potentially increasing their exposure to language material. In this way, the space of the school could also be shared in the home with the parents. The activities available tended to replicate those that were possible through the use of older technologies, so where teachers expressed a preference for paper and pen, they presented their views in terms of preferred medium and mode, as opposed to the quality of learning allowed. However, one teacher valued older methods because it allowed her to spontaneously react to students’ interests, to be more dynamic and interactive. The criticisms against the VLE approach tended towards the difficulty in quickly adapting it to aspects of dynamic teaching and learning situations; in one instance pupils could simply guess at answers instead of thinking. In this way, many saw technology as sometimes getting in the way of good teaching and learning, while others saw the benefits in terms of the increased engagement of some pupils and making aspects of their professional lives a little easier. At the same time, it was clear that teachers recognised that there was a substantial investment of time required in learning how to use new technologies, and being comfortable with them, before risking their use in school. Even though Christine is a highly enthusiastic user of technology, she found that she could not use it as much as she liked owing to time constraints.
Davies and Merchant (2009) refer to ‘polished performances of old practices’ to describe how teachers often begin by using digital technologies to enhance their teaching performance. They describe how the use of PowerPoint, for example, allows teachers to create professional looking texts and design attractive materials. This can give them confidence: pedagogical relationships tend to be reinforced rather than challenged; teachers remain in control of learning and conduct such lessons in quite traditional ways. Moodle offers benefits such as the ability to closely monitor, to involve parents, to more easily assess and record individual learning. However, it is clear that some teachers in the languages department also see the potential for something more dynamic from technology and they express the desire to move onto blogs – hosted beyond the Moodle – and to use cameras and Facebook. This is likely to give learners more agency in the future, perhaps disrupting some of the more traditional pedagogical relationships. Edwards-Groves (2012a) refers to the way in which practitioners need to make a ‘knight’s move’ towards using technologies in the classroom. She describes how the route may be indirect, skirting towards full use. Her research observed excellent teachers taking steps towards technology which might at first be referred to as ‘digital colouring in’ before allowing students more autonomy. Edwards-Groves (2012b) describes how many teachers introducing something new may be tentative for all kinds of professional reasons before ‘letting go’ and allowing children more agency in their learning – something we have seen in other cases in the DeFT project. Many teachers’ professional journeys may be indirect, carefully adopting digital technologies in a steady way. Some of the teachers at Notre Dame talked about wanting to move on to use other technologies, such as the mobile phone, but may have been deterred because of the all-important consideration of discipline in the classroom. These very important reservations are ones that need to be taken into account in structured step-by-step approaches and Notre Dame has put in place support for staff in taking the next steps.