Enhancing your digital attitude

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13 September 2018

Teachers’ effective use of tech tools is all about designing their own learning environments – which is where the High Possibility Classrooms framework comes in.

Last year schools started implementing the Australian curriculum’s digital technologies requirements for Foundation to Year 10, and, from next year, the teaching of coding is a must.

As a result, if you’re like most teachers, you’ll be keen to know more about integrating digital technology into your teaching.

Enter the High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) framework. It enables teachers to check their understanding of and attitudes towards digital technologies. By focusing on the methods and practice of teaching, and not the tools, it helps build teaching capacity and confidence in digital literacy.

The HPC framework has been developed from research in Australian classrooms conducted by University of Technology Sydney education academic Dr Jane Hunter. She describes it as a pedagogical structure that supports teachers in designing learning environments.

HPC builds on the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework that teacher education scholars developed in the United States some years ago.

“I’m very interested in how tech can enhance teaching and learning, as opposed to it being just the shiny new tool in a school,” says Hunter.

“Before I started my doctoral work, I was involved in some large technology innovations in school education. I was fascinated by teachers who wanted to know more about tech and could see what it might mean for student learning. At the same time, there were teachers I saw who ran equally fast away from any such ideas.

“I thought that if we could start to understand how very keen teachers use tech, then surely there would be something all teachers could learn from early-adopter practices.”

Exemplary teachers in the doctoral study were savvy users of a range of tech. They didn’t use it for every lesson, but they used it daily, in sometimes innovative ways, and it was very much part of their professional and personal lives.

Drivers and themes

The HPC framework has five conceptual drivers for teacher knowledge of tech integration: theory, creativity, public learning, life preparation and contextual accommodations. They are underpinned by 22 themes of
teaching strategies and student learning processes.

Hunter’s case studies show what well-integrated digital technologies look like in the classroom: technology in action.

“HPC is focused on those five areas,” she says. “They’re not necessarily present every lesson, but would be across a school day, the term and a whole year. Technology is preferably used to construct the learning, [but] often it can be low-tech, or no-tech.”

Tech is used in a more purposeful way to place the focus on a teacher’s planning, she says.

The approach is to understand how innovative pedagogies can improve education settings, which is exactly what a 2018 OECD report, Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments, argues is the way forward for schools.

In one recent study using HPC in the STEM space, a teacher feared letting go of her control of the classroom. But over time, she found it was essential to give students opportunities to take more responsibility for their own learning, and HPC supported ideas of “student agency and co-learning”.

Accredited workshops

Since Hunter’s initial 2013 study of exemplary teachers, more than 40 schools in NSW, the ACT and Victoria have used the model. Preservice teachers in universities are learning about HPC in Sydney, Singapore, the US, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

Hunter conducts five different kinds of face-to-face workshops for teachers, accredited by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). They include a new program for building teams of HPC coaches.

From next year, she’ll offer an accredited online professional development course that will start
to examine propositions in innovative futures.

“My intention was never to tout this as a framework of perfection for tech that every teacher should be doing,” she says. “It has been successful because it sparks imagination and gives all teachers something to aim for.”

Planting seeds

Before starting an HPC workshop, Esra Smerdon knew her digital literacy was “a bit above par” compared to most teachers she knew. She was a media manager/strategist at advertising agencies for 15 years before switching to teaching five years ago.

“With HPC you can’t just look at the model and say, ‘Yes, I know exactly what that means.’ There’s a lot to unpack,” says Smerdon, a Year 6 teacher at Parramatta Public School in Sydney.

“We found it became our anchor, making us focus on the purpose of meaningfully integrating digital technology in learning when designing our units of work. We were more reflective and critical because we wanted authentic student engagement with their learning.”

In one example of using the model, she developed a STEM unit where students vlogged their process of engineering a non-mechanical farm bot prototype that plants seeds with great accuracy.

Creators, not consumers

Bianca Hewes was already tech savvy when she connected with Dr Jane Hunter on Twitter, which led to HPC research being conducted at her school.

“The model got me to look more deeply into the theory of using tech in the classroom – the ‘why’ of it,” says Hewes, head teacher, teaching and learning, at the 800-student Manly Campus of Northern Beaches Secondary College in Sydney.

“It makes tech more purposeful, embedded and intuitive so it becomes normal to use it as a tool for a purpose.”

She says three of the five HPC conceptions highlight engagement, including creativity and public learning, where students demonstrate to peers and others what they have made or done.

“We want our learners to be creators, not consumers. And that’s what HPC is about."

Margaret Paton


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This article originally appeared in the Australian Educator, Spring 2018.