Teachers as designers of technology enhance learning?

Some colleagues and I are starting to wonder about what type of “digital knowledge” teachers might need. This is occurring in the context of a re-design of a Bachelor of Education. This particular post is a summary of reading and thinking about ideas outlined in Kirschner (2015) and related writings. Apparently Instructional Science 43(2) feature contributions discussing “teacher as a design professional”.

In particular, the idea of

if and how teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning might (not) be feasible or even desirable (p. 309)

Some of the major points Kirschner (2015) makes include

  1. Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is not new. Teachers have been using technologies to enhance learning since movable type and the blackboard (and perhaps earlier).

    But the question here is whether or not digital technologies represent a different type of technology. e.g. Kay’s (1984) identification of the computer as the first metamedium and also “the important original idea of opening tool creation to every user – even children” (Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort, 2003, p. 391) suggest that digital technologies can/should be very different from the historical technologies that Kirschner relies upon.

    Be this as it may, the five contributions have not convinced me that TEL is different from all other innovations and/or why it should be treated as such. (p. 318)

    I’m wondering if this perceived lack of distinction between digital technologies and other technologies is the important question here. If digital technologies are just like other technologies, then learning how to use them is sufficient. But if digital technologies are different, then perhaps just learning how to use them is not sufficient.

  2. Higher level competencies are more important/fundamental than knowledge of tools, techniques, and technologies.
    I’m not convinced you can develop these higher level competencies without having knowledge and experience using the tools, techniques, and technologies that are contemporary to your initial entry into the profession (whatever profession).

There’s more in this special issue that might be of interest.

Role of design

Kirschner (2015) continues

Both practicing professionals and institutions for teacher education must understand and embrace the role of design in professional com- petencies if technology enhanced learning is ever to be fully integrated into teaching and learning processes (p. 309)

Begging the question, What is meant by design?

Teacher competencies

Kirschner & Davis (2003) apparently identify “pedagogical benchmarks for ICT in teacher education” and argued that

as long as institutions for teacher education see the computer or ICT as an addition to teacher training and not as something fundamental to it, the computer would never become an integral well-used part of the teaching/learning process. (Kirschner, 2015, p. 310)

Suggesting that for this to happen, the teacher educators who design and teach into teacher education programs need to see ICT as integral to the teaching/learning process. i.e. at the very least they should seem themselves as digital residents.

i.e. pre-service teachers don’t take courses in “teacher aided, textbook aided, or whiteboard aided instruction/learning”. There is a need to learn about the different ways these tools can be integrated into learning, but the point is not as a separate course.

Should ICT be special and be taught in special courses? In a perfect world, perhaps not. As all of the teacher educators would be digital residents and easily demonstrating how ICT is integral to learning and teaching. But is this happening?

Kirschner uses “teacher competencies” to answer. Teacher competencies are defined as

combination of complex cognitive and higher- order skills, highly integrated knowledge structures, interpersonal and social skills, and attitudes and values (Van Merrienboer & Kirschner, 2012, p.2)

The suggestion is that “Many professionals, be they academic or vocational, have five basic competencies” (Kirschner, 2015, p. 310)

  1. Gathering necessary background/situational information;
  2. Analysing that information and arriving at a diagnoses for/decision as to a course of action;
  3. Determining exactly what needs to be done/what steps need to be taken;
  4. Carrying out the chosen actions; and,
  5. Evaluating whether the result of the actions was what was hoped for or expected, and if not, returning to #1.

I do wonder what the argument is for establishing this as the 5 basic competencies? Not that I necessarily disagree, but why these 5?

A connection is made to medical doctors and the point is made that

the basic competences do not really change, but rather the enabling/underlying knowledge, skills, and attitudes do. (p. 311).

For a teacher these changes include

a wealth of new and/or different domain specific knowledge, pedagogic knowledge and pedagogic content knowledge that is increasingly evidence informed….now includes new pedagogical techniques and mastery of newly available technologies. And attitudes of society, learners, parents/guardians are changing, even concerning the role and function of knowledge, learning and even formal education (p. 311)

Kirschner (2015) suggests that “the design of TEL is not a new competence that needs to be acquired, but is rather the twenty first century equivalent of twentieth century phenomena” (p. 311). The connection is made with the AECT and its origins in the use of audio-visual technologies. The faddish nature of technology is illustrated and the suggestion is that teacher training needs to focus on training that can be applied/transferred across a variety of contexts over an unlimited time span.


  1. There’s an assumption here that such knowledge/training is or can be currently known, can be meaningfully taught to students, and will maintain it’s currency into the future and into different contexts. Is there such knowledge?
  2. Or do the five competencies above represent the ability to learn and adapt and thus form that only knowledge that can be applied/transferred?
  3. How does this perspective go when faced with the reality of politics etc, especially those participants who believe that there is the “one true” method for learning and the “one true” set of knowledge to be imparted on learners?

Relationship between competencies and tools, techniques and ingredients

Can this higher level and transferable set of competencies be successfully imparted to novices, people who have yet to experience a range of contexts?

Kirschner (2015) argues

from the viewpoint of teacher competences, there is really no need for specific attention to TEL. TEL is an artefact of the times, and is essentially the educational equivalent of part of the expert chef’s arsenal of tools, techniques and ingredients.

Granted my knowledge of chef training is limited to the media, but the abiding image I have of the film Julie and Julia is of lots of practice chopping onions.

This image – reinforced by just about every other popular representation of chefs – is that a first step in becoming a chef is developing the immediate capabilities required to operate within a professional kitchen. The first step in learning to be a chef is not learning generic high level competencies. You first have to become expert in the “aresenal of tools, techniques and ingredients” so you can start to develop and apply the high level competencies to become a truly creative chef.

This echoes my observations of the difficulties faced in first year programming courses. Courses where problems arose when the expert programmer/academic assumed novice programmers should start by learning the fundamentals of program design (very similar to Kirschner’s 5 competencies) without having to worry about the low level of skills of basic programming language syntax.

Kirschner (2015) positions the “modern day expert teacher” as a “top-chef who integrates different educational ingredients according to effective, efficient and enjoyable pedagogic/educational techniques making use of different tools and technologies afforded at this moment” (pp 312-313).

The problem is that you can’t be a top chef unless you are intimately familiar with the ingredients, tools and techniques.

Which is perhaps capture by this quote from Van den Dool and Kirschner (2003, p. 176)Teachers need to integrate ICT competence into their core teaching competences and the educational system must integrate it into the heart of learning and teaching. What really counts at the end of the day is if teachers and learners feel that ICT tools are a ‘normal’ part of their competences and not an add-on, either in a positive or negative sense.

What is this digital competence?

My original annotation on this quote from February this year was

Yes, but given we don’t yet have a good handle on how to effectively do this an dmost teachers aren’t, isn’t it necessary that they learn how .

What is this “ICT competence” that he talks of? What is it’s nature? Is it just being a tool user? Is it being a digital renovator? How can teacher educators – many of whom haven’t “integrated ICT competence into the core teaching competences” make judgements about what is ICT competence?

How can educational systems that have failed to integrate ICT “into the heart of learning and teaching” make judgements about what is/isn’t required?

Ecology of Education

Uses CSCL and “New learning” as examples of approaches that lost their way.

e.g. CSCL focused too much on the technology, then the nature of collaboration, without paying enough attention to the type of learning. Not sure that any form of separation – computer vs collaboration vs learning – is an appropriate way. It’s about a mixture of all three to create something new.

New learning posed new approaches and was intended to complement, rather than replace, older approaches. But the bandwagon took over. That happens.

The “ecology of education” is defined as the exchanges and affordances between learners, teachers, and the digital tools, virtual environments, and physical spaces. As an ecosystem it is both

  1. a system; and,

    i.e. “a complex whole made up of elements that work together as parts of an interconnecting network” (p. 314)

  2. systemic.

    Change any part and the change will ripple through the entire system.

And this ecosystem extends out more broadly into its surrounding educational system – government policy, political parties, commercial companies etc…

The proposal is that

if research into teachers as designers of TEL is to have eco- logical validity, it must be undertaken in ways that accommodate the ecology of education, attending to its systems and systemic nature

It’s this systems and systemic nature that causes challenges such as

Teachers typically have little time, limited expertise and rarely any formal endorsement for their design efforts

They don’t readily have access to “their own work space or ‘down time’ during the day to maintain and increase the profesionalism”.


developments towards decentralized structures require teachers to be more involved in curriculum design (e.g. Dinham 2005); research, which shows that teacher customization of materials can enhance student learning (Gerard et al. 2010); and practice, where the mismatch between existing resources and needs of specific learners/settings requires that teachers design to improve alignment (McLoughlin 2001). (p. 314)

Comments on special issue contributions

Kirschner (2015) now goes onto look at the other contributions.

McKenny et al (2015) critique includes

  • Can current teachers really develop the identified knowledge?
  • Are teachers actually reflective practitioners?

Cover et al (2015) – importance of teacher participation in design

  • Doubts about generalisability from two case studies.
  • Is participation a worthwhile goal in itself?
  • What about the student?

Matuk et al (2015) – “added value of teachers’ re-design of curriculum materials via small, systematic adjustments” – identifying 4 types of customisations and three technology features that support customisation

  • Limited use of student voice.
  • Subjective nature of the data, analysis etc.

Voogt et al (2015) – teacher participation in design teams provide professional development.

  • focus on teacher design at the lesson/course level, rather than curriculum level
  • move beyond adaptation and look at shared design and construction

Svihla et al (2015) identify patterns of support for teacher designing

  • limitations of research design make findings a less than surprising.

Overall, results are “soft” due to reliance on small-scale case studies with varied methods and tools.

Discussions and conclusions

In commenting on the research framework proposed by McKenney et al (2015) it’s seen as potentially limited because it is based on “existing literature” and thus may not be comprehensive.

And this

Teachers are designers— of all learning, including TEL. Research in this area is important, but the TaD (of TEL) field is still young and needs to be more clearly placed in the broader ecology of education; that is, should not be compartmentalized as something different and fragmented in the field’s approach to it. (p. 320)


Kirschner, P. a. (2015). Do we need teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning? Instructional Science, 43(2), 309–322. doi:10.1007/s11251-015-9346-9

Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Montfort, N. (Eds.). (2003). The New Media Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

5 thoughts on “Teachers as designers of technology enhance learning?

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