Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Today I had a bit of an a-ha! moment. I realised that if we see the introduction of VLEs (and right now of WebLearn), as not only a change in systems but also as part of a greater change in education as a whole then a large part of my role as a learning technology trainer is not about helping staff develop the skills to use online tools, it's about driving educational change (hopefully for the better), and for that change to take real effect involves changes in staff behaviour and beliefs.

This realisation has led me to: The New Meaning of Educational Change by Michael Fullen which is full of valuable insights into what is meant by educational change, the causes and processes, how to plan, do and cope. Assuming the introduction of learning technologies is indeed part of a larger educational change, I think this book will help me understand some of the challenges to their successful introduction and get a better insight into the lecturers perspective.

The first chapter presents the educational barriers to effective, valuable, real change looking at it from a subjective and objective perspective

  • Staff are always running on the spot. They don't have the time or energy to explore, reflect or discuss what they are doing and why
  • Teachers can easily misinterpret reform. They may try to change elements of their teaching but fail to alter their basic approach
  • Essentially there is "lack of opportunity for teachers to engage in deeper questioning and sustained learning"
  • Innovation that there is tends to be twisted in order to fit into familiar coneptual frames or established patterns, in other words reform is confusing, half-baked, frustratin
  • All people need to attach personal meaning to the change experience regardless of how meaningful it is to others. We need to support teachers properly in order to facilitate change: "change will always fail until we find some way of developing infrastructures and processes that engage teachers in developing new understandings and seeing "deep meaning about new approaches to teaching and learning".

Objective reality

In a school environment change has to occur in three dimensions in order for it to have a chance of affecting an outcome. It should involve:
  • use of new or revised materials
  • use of new teaching approaches
  • alteration of beliefs (e.g. pedagogical assumptions and theories underlying particular new policies or programs
There are many implications including the need to address beliefs and behaviour on a "continuous basis through communities of practice and the possibility that beliefs can be most effectively discussed after people have had at least some behavioural experience in attempting new practices"

Change is not always immediate, it involves evolution. "change often is (and should be) a result of adaptations and decisions made by users as they work with particular new policies or programs, with the policy or program and the user's situation mutually determining the outcome.

In summary, real change involves changes in materials, teaching approaches [behaviour] and beliefs, which is why it is so difficult to achieve. It requires the involvement of staff throughout and is unlikely to be instant.

This still begs the question: are Learning Technologies part of a larger educational change in universities? And if they are, should we see them as driving or facilitating this change? At the moment I feel most comfortable with the idea that "the relationship between educational progress and technological innovation is one of mutual influence and implication" (Norm Friesen) although there are convincing arguments in other directions (see Stephen Downes).

What does this mean in terms of my training?

What is the change that is taking place and what role do learning technologies play?
What core staff values are challenged?
What changes in materials, beliefs and behaviour need to take place?
What personal meaning can be attached to this change experience?
How can I support staff through this change?
How can support continue to grow even after direct contact is lost? How can communities of practice be encouraged.

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