These were just two of the questions that sparked my curiosity in undertaking new research in some Australian classrooms. The research developed a model for technology integration known as "High Possibility Classrooms" or HPC and is being carefully considered by school leaders, teachers and teacher educators in a variety of education settings. Let's find out what it involves.
Research drawn from a group of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration shines a light on what classrooms should look like right now and into the future in primary and secondary schools in Australia (Hunter, 2013). Teachers in the ethnographic study had to satisfy a set of ‘purposive criteria’ to participate and they taught students in Stages 1-5 or 6-16 year olds in NSW public schools.
The data found that four teachers known by the pseudonyms of Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty focused their knowledge of technology integration in five ways: theory, creativity, making their students learning public, life preparation, and accommodating the particular contexts in which they taught. These classrooms were highly engaging learning spaces where students didn’t want to leave when the bell rang. Conducted in four phases over two years, the research involved classroom observations, teacher interviews, document analysis and focus groups with students from the teachers’ classes.
What is the model of High Possibility Classrooms?
HPC is a theoretical model for technology integration in classrooms that details teacher actions when integrating technology in-practice, for-practice and of-practice. Knowledge domains of teachers work are not necessarily new. Indeed, it was Professor Emeritus Lee Shulman, an educational psychologist who first wrote about the core knowledge domains of teachers’ work in the mid-1980s with descriptions of pedagogical content knowledge and subject matter knowledge; a special kind of knowing that effective teachers possess.
It was not until two decades later that another aspect of teacher’s knowledge work was added to when specific technology domains formed what Mishra & Koehler (2006) determined were relationships between content, pedagogy and technology both in isolation and in pairs of knowledge, all three came together to form the TPACK framework, or Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Reproduced by permission of the publisher © 2012 by tpack.org
If superimposed on the TPACK framework, the conceptions and themes in the HPC model determined as Action Knowledge (AK) hover over the seven dimensions of the TPACK framework in the manner featured in Figure 2.
AK is practice that is understood and enacted by exemplary teachers in their knowledge of technology integration; it has five conceptions see Figure 3, underpinning each of the conceptions are specific teaching strategies and students’ learning processes displayed in Figure 4.
What technology did teachers and students use?
Technology used in the HPC in the study was a broad mix of iPads, laptops, interactive whiteboards, desk top computers, digital cameras, microphones, SRNs, scanners and various iPhone apps; the classrooms were open spaces that had long bench seats and table groupings of students. There was no designated teacher space, instead the teachers preferred to move around the classroom and ‘work at the elbow’ of their students.
Looking more closely at the HPC model
Common to all teachers was an understanding of technology integration driven by theory. This first conception meant that teachers used technology to construct the learning environment and were highly conscious of learning theories like those of Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner and Piaget. Integrating technology made their teaching practice more purposeful and it really helped to focus planning. Subject matter in curriculum documents was enriched and enabled students more opportunities to reflect on what they learned. Ideas of meta-cognition were key in theory; placing emphasis on students learning how to learn how to learn. Technology integration shifted conversations and thinking about the concepts students learned and was highly effective in engaging students in authentic learning experiences.
Creativity, the second conception was about providing opportunities for students to produce or make things, and in so doing the potential for ‘play’ occurred. ‘Thick play’ was something the teachers talked about – a bit like Seymour Papert’s ‘hard fun’. Written, audio recorded or filmed narratives produced in the classrooms were rich and imaginative. Such actions allowed specific learning values to come to the fore, in particular joy and fun, along with much easier differentiation or personalisation of the students learning.
The third conception, learning made public through technology integration served to scaffold the complex ways how the students learned. How and what students wrote about, or performed in a task, was often of higher quality than work recorded in a book or on paper. Private work had no audience, or perhaps only the teacher or parents were the audience. Outcomes for students in these classrooms were higher than for other students.
Life preparation, the fourth conception was defined by the way technology integration gave frequent opportunities to make connections to the real world; it gave students a ‘voice’ in their learning and developed a sense of ownership and responsibility. Interaction with technology in learning on a daily was the most effective means to prepare students for their lives beyond school.
The fifth conception, contextual accommodations refers to a series of realities when using technology in classrooms; it was both a professional and personal responsibility for teachers. It meant they could give students longer blocks of learning time, students got into ‘flow’ and it nurtured a sense of community and was central to defining how they wanted their classrooms to function. Technology integration was a fundamental ‘game changer’.
Why is the HPC model significant?
Firstly, because the research is expressed as a collection of case studies of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration, where each serves as a motivational exemplar of what can be achieved using technology in today’s classrooms.
Secondly, the study is a clear response to persistent calls in education literature for more case studies of teachers’ practice in technology integration in both Australian and international contexts. Previous studies of technology integration have, for the main part, revolved around studies of graduate or experienced teachers’ contexts using particular technology devices, like laptops and desk-top computers.
And thirdly, the study fills a noted gap in the research literatures, in what is known about knowledge of technology integration in practice from teachers’ perspectives. Therefore, together this distinctive examination of data from a group of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration in Australian classrooms gives critical, fresh insights to what is now known.
Can all schools create HPC?
In essence schools can create HPC for all students and many of the HPC conceptions are present in teachers’ practices right now. However, teachers’ actions when embedding technology must go further.
In March 2015 Routledge will publish the four case studies in the research in a book titled: Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK. The work of Australian teachers Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty, their students and their schools will feature on the world education stage.
Current work to map HPC to the AITSL standards is being conducted including research with larger groups of mainstream teachers who are using the HPC model.
Hunter, J.L. (2013). Exploring technology integration in teachers' classrooms in NSW public schools. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Western Sydney http://researchdirect.uws.edu.au/islandora/object/uws:18801
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.