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When I first started teaching I was a computer-phobe: The journey to an e-learning philosophy

An e-learning philosophy.


ICT in the classroom, for me, is now an integral part of what I do; teaching with it, learning with it and also using it for administrative purposes. But it was not always this way. In fact when I first started teaching I was a computer-phobe.

About 4 years ago I was invited to partake in training to deliver a Video Conference (VC) class to students across NZ. This venture is what really got me to thinking about how to use ICT to best effect in the education of students. The basic set up for our VC teaching is a once per week ‘face to face’ lesson on the VC and the rest of the learning is done via work on the WeLCom website. Online teaching and learning had been introduced to my life and I wanted to know more.

computers in classroom

The more I read, and the more technological opportunities I was made aware of,the more I wanted to start experimenting with what was available. One of the first really interesting articles I read was that by Prensky (2004). I really liked the concepts of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’; He stated that “there is a new, emerging, different form of life out there, that the Digital Natives are creating for themselves. If you are a parent or an educator, the one thing you can be sure of is that you ignore it at your peril” (Prensky 2004). As both parent and educator (if they are indeed different species) I suddenly became aware that my own kids (and by proxy) the kids I teach in the classroom are learning in a very different way to the way I was taught and learnt at school.


I first began by looking at what we as a school were doing and in many cases we were following the ideas of Gilbert (2007) when she stated that ”ICT use in schools is often little more than ‘digital busywork’, preparing students for the world of the past, not the world of the future”. ICT has been strapped on to the old way of teaching and we are really just using word processing instead of writing as opposed to really using the resources available to prepare students for the world after school where information is found ‘just in time’ by Googling  it or using another search engine. Research skills are more important in many cases than the actual knowledge base kids are forced to try and retain. Gilbert (2007) goes on to say that ”minds are not containers, filing cabinets or databases – places to store knowledge ‘just in case’, but rather are resources that can be connected  to other resources for the purpose of generating new knowledge”. If this is truly the case then as educators (and I consider myself to be one not only as a teacher but also as a parent) we must re-assess the way we teach/educate.


Prensky (2009) stated that “digital technology can be used to make us not just smarter but truly wiser. Digital wisdom is a twofold concept, referring to both wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities”. If I can incorporate this ideology into my teaching I think I will be better serving my students. There is still a place for learning certain material, but do we still need to insist that students learn all the material we used to before the advent of high speed computer access and internet connections? In the past when information was stored in books in libraries and access was limited there certainly was a place for learning huge amounts of information but those days are gone. The only element of this that concerns me is the way we assess our students in the current education system. We still have tests and examinations to assess what kids have learnt, schools are still measured on the test results as are teachers. Until this situation is rectified then the new digital age of teaching is going to be hamstrung. This situation could be summarized by the comments of Pedretti et al (1998) “as with any new educational innovation, the impact of the changes that accompany the introduction of technology on all the stakeholders needs to be considered ... the voice of those affected most must be heard”. This is further reinforced by Rheingold (2004) when he stated that “people, especially young people, continue to learn – and to adopt new media – but institutions, and those who run them, are much slower to change their ways. All of this paints the picture of an educational system that is out of touch with the way its students learn”. Teachers and students are those affected and politicians should listen if we are to prepare students for their futures.

As a teacher I had previously been forced to use textbooks as the main means of providing information for students to learn from. This was all very well at the time but as we have progressed I now find that I am using more and more resources from the internet, as are the students. Until I started this course I was simply saving good sites to my ‘favourites’ with a very rudimentary filing system. The introduction to Delicious certainly made me think much harder about effective filing of resources. Wikis are also things that I have yet to really get to grips with, however I have tried to use forums in my teaching to elicit discussions on my VC course.

I think I have come a long way in two years of really working with the technologies now available and am seen as one of the leaders in the field of online learning at our school. I still have a huge way to go and as technologies change at an ever increasing pace I need to continue working hard to remain a digital citizen and not become simply an illiterate immigrant. I now believe that the use of technology in teaching is essential to educate the students in the ways of information gathering and presenting and also for me as a teacher to enable me to be better equipped to deliver the curriculum. Today's students like to be entertained and stimulated by instant gratification. Technology allows this in the classroom. I have, more recently, been involved with work with the MoE regarding e-learning, and the enthusiasm among the other members of the group is incredible – we just need to spread the word and get everyone on board. I have also started seriously teaching using a blended approach and this is having a great reception with the students.

I like the comments from Kadjer (2007) and probably should have them printed in my classroom/Office to remind me (and others) where we are at. “School is about fitting things into tight little boxes that you measure with a test. We need to think about what happens when we really invent – and offer students and ourselves, opportunities to do new things in new ways, taking advantage of the unique capacities of the multimodal tools now at our fingertips”. If I think along these lines then I am sure that I will continue to develop along with the students – they will be teaching me as I teach them; they may teach me technologies and I will teach them concepts and techniques.

Generation Y



Prensky M (2004)    The emerging Online Life of the Digital Native: What they do differently because of technology, and how they do it. The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native

Kadjer S (2007)      Unleashing Potential with emerging technologies. In K Beers et al (Eds) Adolescent Literacy:Turning Promise into Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Rheingold (Smart Mobs. 2004) in Richardson W (?) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms.  Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, California


Gilbert J (2007)      Knowledge, the disciplines, and Learning in the Digital Age. Educational Research Policy Practice 6 115-122

Prensky M (2009)    H. Sapiens Digital; From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. Innovate 5(3)

Pedretti E, Mayer-Smith J, Woodrow J (1998) Technology, Text and Talk: Students perspectives on Teaching and Learning in a Technology-enhanced Secondary School Classroom. Science Education, 82(5) 569-589



Nigel Bailey

Nigel Bailey is a teacher of Geography at Chanel College in the Wairarapa. He has been delivering face to face classes for many years and over the last 4 years has also been delivering a video conference class to students throughout NZ. More recently he has ‘seen the light’ and has begun delivering a blended course to his students.

Nigel has been involved with the MoE VPLD programme and has been described as ‘innovative’ by Canadian Educational researcher Michael Barbour.

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Comment by Nigel Bailey on July 12, 2011 at 9:39
Thanks for that Diana, the new skills are certainly intersting and certainly the one about publishing our ideas is one that I have fought with for some time, as Hazel will attest, but once done it is great to see that there are like minded people out there and we can share ideas etc.
Comment by Diana Ayling on July 12, 2011 at 9:29

Thank you for this thoughtful and honest post. I too, have been on this amazing, thrilling journey of ICT.  It has now become second nature to me, and I love it. However, I  do appreciate that not every teacher or student feels the same way. I have had to moderate my enthusiasm and find a place where I can comfortably operate without intimidating others. I found this post to be a real help. It provides a cornerstone, that I can come back to with staff and students over and over again.


Who would have thought that information and communication technology would change our world so quickly and fundamentally. You will be interested to know that three new skills have been identified for both students and teachers in the new media of social network services.

These skills are:
To be confident in publicly publishing our ideas (Represent ourselves on line, Create and develop an online presence, Post blogs, Comment on uploaded content)
To be an autonomous (independent) learner (View and evaluate content, Create and customise personal and professsional profiles, Maintain a public workspace, Write reflectively in a public space)
To be able to work collaboratively with others (Share content, join existing networks, make and develop contacts, post messages (public and private), use collaborative tools effectively, use calendars, emails, and scheduling of meetings and tasks)

Once I had my head around these skills working with staff and students became do much easier.


Comment by Nigel Bailey on July 7, 2011 at 12:42
I am a nutter but I also have a fellow nut who is joining me on the journey. Some staff are slowly getting their feet wet in the waters of e-learning but are not sure if they are ready to swim just yet. Slow but steady is going to be the route here I think. If we can get more equipment available to students (either theirs or ours) then I think there will be a more rapid uptake. Students are some of my best advocates so far, but after parent teacher evening last night I think I have a number of converts among the parents as well which should also be a driving force I hope.
Comment by Hazel Owen on July 7, 2011 at 11:42
Thanks for such an open, honest, engaging discussion around your philosophy of eLearning. Looking at that final quotation by Kadjer, you are well on your way to unpacking those boxes...well, crushing them actually ;-) It can be a lonely process though, and support is required if you do not end up feeling like the "lone nutter". Are you experiencing support within your own school community? Have you got your "first followers"? Sounds as though your students are on board - is that impacting how other teachers are teaching?

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