Which comes first? Pedagogy or technology?

Miranda picks up on a common point around the combination of technology and pedagogy with this post titled Pedagogy First then Technology. I disagree. If you have to think in simple sequential terms, then I think pedagogy should be the last consideration, not the first. The broader problem though is our tendency to want limit ourselves to the sequential

Here’s why.

The world and how we think isn’t sequential

The learning and teaching literature is replete with sequential processes such as ADDIE, Backwards Design, Constructive Alignment etc. It’s replete with such models because that’s what academics and experts tend to do. Develop models. The problem is that all models are wrong, but some of them are useful in certain situations for certain purposes.

Such models attempt to distill what is important from a situation to allow us to focus on that and achieve something useful. The only trouble is that the act of distillation throws something away. It’s an approach that suffers from a problem identified by Sir Samuel Vimes in Feet of Clay by the late Terry Pratchett

What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience.

Very few, if any, human beings engage in anything complex or creative (such as designing learning) by following a sequential process.  We are not machines. In a complex task within a complex environment you learn as much, if not more, by engaging in the process as you do planning what you will do beforehand.

Sure, if the task you are thinking about is quite simple, or if it is quite complicated and you have a lot of experience and expertise around that task, then you can perhaps follow a sequential process. However, if you are a teacher pondering how to transform learning through the use of digital technology (or using something else), then your task is neither simple, nor is it complicated, nor is it something you likely have experience or expertise with.

A sequential process to explain why technology first

Technologies for Children is the title of a book that is designed to help teachers develop the ability to help learners engage with the Australian Curriculum – Technologies learning area. A curriculum that defines two subjects: Design and Technologies, and Digital Technologies. In the second chapter (Fleer, 2016) the author shares details of how one year 4/5 teacher integrates this learning area into her class. It includes examples of “a number of key statements that reflected the technological processes and production skills” (Fleer, 2016, p. 37) that are then turned into learner produced wall charts. The following example wall chart is included in Fleer (2016, p. 37). Take note of the first step.

When we evaluate, investigate, generate designs, generate project plans, and make/produce we:

  1. Collaboratively play (investigate) with the materials.
  2. Evaluate the materials and think about how they could be used.
  3. Generate designs and create a project plan for making the item.
  4. Produce of make the item.
  5. Evaluate the item.
  6. Write about the item and talk with others.
  7. Display the item.

Before you can figure out what you are going to do with a digital technology, you need to be fully aware of how the technology works, what it can do, what are the costs of doing that, what it can’t…etc. Once you’ve got a good handle on what the digital technology can do, then you can figure out interesting and effective ways to transform learning using the technology. i.e. pedagogy is the last consideration.

This is not to suggest that pedagogy is less important because it comes last. Pedagogy is the ultimate goal

But all models are wrong

But of course all models are wrong. This model is (arguably) only appropriate if you are not familiar with digital technology. If you know all about digital technology or the specific digital technology you are considering, then  your need to play with the digital technology first is lessened.  Maybe you can leap straight to pedagogy.

The trouble is that most teachers that I know have fairly limited knowledge of digital technologies. In fact, I think many of the supposed IT experts within our institutions and the broader institution have somewhat limited understandings of the true nature of digital technologies. I’ve argued that this limited understanding is directly impacting the quality of the use of digital technology for learning and teaching.

The broader problem with this “technology first” model – as with the “pedagogy first” model – is the assumption that we engage in any complex task using a simple, sequential process. Even the 7 step sequential process above is unlikely to capture “the rich and chaotic variety” of how we evaluate, investigate and generate designs for using digital technology for learning and teaching. A teacher is just as likely to “play (investigate)” with a new digital technology by trying out in a small safe to fail experiment to see how it plays out. Perhaps this is repeated over a few cycles until the teacher is more comfortable with how the digital technology works in the specific context, with the specific learners.

References

Fleer, M. (2016). Key ideas in the technologies curriculum. In Technologies for Children (pp. 35–70). Cambridge University Press.

3 thoughts on “Which comes first? Pedagogy or technology?

  1. Pingback: Which comes first? Pedagogy or technology? | Russell Pearson's Online Home

  2. If by pedagogy you mean the way things are done, then pedagogy is a technology. It’s an odd separation to make regardless of whether or not you accept the Franklin argument about technology as practice. It may help simplify things by thinking about what work is being delegated to machines. Non trivial question.

    The quote from Franklin:
    As a beginning let’s look at technology as practice. Kenneth Boulding, the author of The Image and many other influential books in the social sciences,4 suggested that one might think of technology as ways of doing something. He pointed out that there is a technology of prayer as well as of ploughing; there are technologies to control fear as well as to control flood.

    Franklin, U. M. (2004). The Real World of Technology (Kindle ed.). Toronto: Anansi.

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