Sunday, March 23, 2014

Meaningful learning with technology


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Making technology meaningful in the geography classroom

Over the years I have often mentioned in geography workshops that if we use technology it needs to be meaningful for learning - not just for technology sake. In our workshop today we explored the area of ICT in the classroom in terms of enhancing learning. Considerable research has been conducted in recent years about the value of GIS in the classroom in terms of improving learning. All of us who use GIS with our students are convinced that it does, but it seems that the research jury is still deliberating. The naysayers in terms of the mandatory use of GIS in the classroom jump on this lack of research validation\verification of the value of GIS for learning. I think it is really more a reflection of the stage we are at in the acquisition of quantative data on the matter and those willing and able to research the impact of GIS on learning.

What did attract my attention when preparing the workshops with the students, was the TPACK model.

The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) conceptual framework espoused by Mishra and Koehler (2006), underpins much of the national directions for describing use of ICT in learning.

The TPACK framework “attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of teacher knowledge required for technology integration in teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted, and situated nature of this knowledge”. Specifically it highlights the complex relationships between three forms of knowledge: Pedagogical knowledge (PK), content knowledge (TK); and technological knowledge (TK).

When TPACK is applied to the use of spatial technologies in the classroom such as GIS it all makes sense. The TPACK model highlights that an idea for using ICT in classrooms must have a sound curriculum fit and meet the pedagogical needs for implementing the idea. Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)is about the special pedagogical considerations for using technology within your teaching strategies or perhaps for considering new pedagogical approaches afforded by the qualities of the software – what new things can you do, pedagogically?
TPACK is a way of describing how technology pedagogy and content fit together to enable powerful learning. Maybe our “gut feeling” about how good and meaningful for learning GIS is in the classroom can be seen a little clearer though the TPACK framework.

Whilst not wanting to get bogged down in models and theory, maybe the TPACK offers a structure for those wishing to use GIS to develop a learning model to provide the much needed curriculum and pedagogical validation for the use of GIS in the classroom. In fact, way back in 2002 I developed a Spatial Learning Model for the use of GIS in the classroom (see above and attached Powerpoint) which, whilst not using the TPACK terms, was trying to develop a framework to describe the use of GIS in the classroom. Here is a brief summary of the model.

GIS Skill Development
Objective: Students learn the manipulation and potential of the GIS software.
Activity: Demonstration of GIS skills and student self-progression through GIS Skill Development activities. Development of hypothesis methodology introduced.
Outcomes: Students engage with the processes of GIS and develop skills that can be used for a wide variety of applications.

Spatial context
Objective: Students introduced to Geographical concepts such as global referencing, scale, projections, symbols, directions and GIS application concepts such as, geo-referencing, proximity, adjacency, buffering, over-layering etc.
Activity: Experiences and learning involving written material, Internet, workplace visits, videos, quest speakers/demonstrators, examples of GIS work
Outcomes: Students have a spatial context and concepts within which to use GIS skills.

Objective: To provide the opportunity for students to apply their GIS skills in a meaningful way via project development and application.
Activity: Student generated applications of skills and concepts. Students to develop a spatial enquiry in response to a problem or issue and to apply GIS skills to explore and develop possible ways forward.
Outcomes: Students have an understanding of the “real-life” application of GIS to solve/explore spatial questions.

Spatial Understanding
Objective: To reflect on process for the purpose of developing an understanding of spatial trends/processes that enhanced or constrained the spatial decision making of the completed project.
Activity: Students to undertake a report on the developed GIS application that involved analysis of spatial patterns and processes. Report to involve a degree of future projection involving recommendations/social action as outcomes. This stage could include elements of testing to ascertain the levels of understanding of spatial concepts.
Outcomes: Students to have an awareness of spatial concepts such as distribution, patterning, trending, agglomeration, proximity and interdependency as a result of their project analysis.

Combining the TPACK and GIS learning model could provide the much needed framework when we get to the implementation of spatial technology in the Australian Curriculum.

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