Here at Smart Sparrow, we think a lot about how we can harness and make available technology that will make the world smarter. There is no tool, method, or technology that can compete with a teacher’s ability to engage students, diagnose misconceptions, and inspire learning.
We know, however, that simply providing teachers with another tool isn’t enough, and our teacher focused approach to technology leads us to believe that teachers should have a personal stake in the content that they teach. We know that the likelihood that a teacher will adopt a new type of courseware increases when they can see themselves exerting pedagogical ownership over it.
What do we mean by Pedagogical Ownership?
Pedagogical ownership over instructional material means that the owner understands the content, the delivery mechanism and the pedagogy underpinning it. The owner is able to develop and deliver the content to learners, to reflect on the effectiveness of that content and therefore adapt it to better suit the learning needs of students.
When it comes to online learning, or eLearning, this ownership is ensured when a teacher is wholly comfortable with the technology – how it works, why it’s different, and how it can be integrated into existing lessons to meet the individual needs of every student. Once this knowledge is in place, the teacher can take full control of the technology as something that supports and enhances their teaching method.
Put simply, when teachers can ‘own’ a piece of technology, they are able to use it in a pedagogically principled way, and are therefore more likely to adopt it.
Part of where eLearning has struggled with this concept in the past is that the best, most sophisticated features are reserved for the few with the technical prowess to wield them. No matter how brilliant and revolutionary a technology promises to be, if it necessitates skills that teachers do not have, it cannot succeed. Somehow the technology needs to be wholly accessible to any teacher, while fulfilling the basic requirements of the traditional learning and teaching method – lessons are designed and adapted by the teacher to suit the changing needs of students based on information gleaned through a continuous cycle of feedback and reflection.
PowerPoint is a perfect example of an educational technology that seems to effortlessly promote pedagogical ownership, in the way teachers use it to create, deliver and publish presentations. Although this software has now become a mainstream, not so long ago PowerPoint slides were considered quite technologically advanced.
Today, most teachers feel comfortable using PowerPoint slides because they ‘own’ the content they create. From a pedagogical point of view, they can assert ‘pedagogical ownership’ over them. The characteristics of PowerPoint that contribute to its wide adoption include:
- Simplicity of use – after three decades and millions of dollars in software development, it appears that a most users can work with PowerPoint with little training.
- The technology is accessible – all you need is a computer with the software installed and a projector.
- Teachers understand the pedagogy underpinning presentations.
- Teachers can simply evaluate a presentation’s effectiveness by gauging the impact of different slides on their audience.
- Teachers can change presentations as they see fit, based on this ongoing evaluation.
- It is simple to share content with colleagues, who, in turn can adapt it to suit their needs.
Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) are one such technology that have the potential to embody the same qualities that have rendered PowerPoint so ubiquitous in the modern classroom, but in a far more sophisticated form. However, the ability for teachers to exert pedagogical ownership over the ITS and related teaching material, is critical to its adoption by teachers and their ability to use it in a pedagogically principled way.
We have developed the Adaptive eLearning Platform, one type of ITS, built from the ground up with teachers at the center of the design and development lifecycle. The research supported theory, coupled with design thinking approach to product development, has resulted in a suite of tools that enables teachers to create Rich, Interactive, and Adaptive (RIA), next-generation courseware that they OWN, pedagogically.
Keeping the experience of instructors at the center of our work has been a guiding principle for Smart Sparrow, and our Adaptive eLearning platform is designed to alleviate the technical barriers associated with creating educational digital content. Our Authoring Tool includes templates, content libraries, online help centres and ‘wizard’ applications to make creating courseware even easier. Our built-in analytics systems monitor user behaviour – in this case the students – to keep the teacher informed of how their content is being received and what are the common misconceptions to be addressed. The pedagogical strategy embodied in adaptive tutorials is in directing the students to actively perform tasks within a simulated or virtual environment, as their learning experience is being shaped by their teacher using personalised feedback messages and unique learning pathways.
Ensuring that the teacher retains full pedagogical ownership over their online courseware is the single most important consideration for Smart Sparrow, and we’re continually focusing on building the tools that teachers and instructional designers need to make the promise of technology-powered learning a reality.
Amanda Newlin, US Director of Instructional Solutions