Ngā Rongo Hou | News

This year, years 1-10 teachers and kaiako are expected to integrate digital technologies and hangarau matihiko into their classrooms. If you're a Senior Secondary teacher, perhaps you're wondering what you can do in this area. Josh Hough explores this below.

In this article we explore 3 keys for integrating digital technologies in senior secondary school (Years 11-13), including:

1. Hold your plans loosely 
2. Enable learner agency
3. Use project provocations

There’s plenty of other things that you may consider important for integrating digital technologies in senior secondary school, such as addressing silo mentality, being aware of systemic bias and how it affects learning outcomes, incorporating inter-departmental design thinking into course planning, and more. Digital technologies is a topic full of nuances and exciting challenges and these keys are intended only as a beginning to help spark useful ideas.

Let’s dive into it!

Key #1: Hold your plans loosely

Plans are a useful tool in the world of being a teacher. They help us to know where we’re going, why, and how we’ll get our students there with as few mishaps and predicaments as possible along the way.

The problem with plans is that we can sometimes get very attached to them, so much so that we find ourselves unwilling to deviate from them no matter what occurs. This is an easy trap to fall into, and to get past it, we have to remind ourselves why we plan in the first place - to provide an excellent experience for our students and ākonga.

If a valuable learning opportunity comes up that doesn’t align with what we think the day’s lesson will be about, it’s time to take a deep breath, put the lesson plan to one side, and let the learning happen.

I’d like to illustrate this point with a story.

Two years back, near the midpoint of Term 1, a Year 12 digital technologies student of mine asked me for advice. He wanted to know how he could make a website to promote and handle registrations for his business studies project which was to organise and run a car show here in Christchurch. The problem as he saw it was that our class wasn’t scheduled to learn website development until Term 3, by which time his business studies project deadline would have been and gone.

This left me with two options:

1) Tell the young man “Sorry, you’ll have to wait until Term 3 as that’s when we’re learning website development”.

2) Ask the young man if he would like to bring website development forward in the year and combine his business studies project with his digital technologies learning.

Would it have been easier for me to choose option 1, stick with my plan, and teach the class about websites in Term 3? Probably. Would this have meant the student missed out on an authentic cross-curricular learning opportunity? Definitely.

Of course, we went with option 2 and the student produced a locally contextualised project that connected with their interests and their community. Consequently, he went on to become incredibly proficient at creating websites as he cared deeply about the learning, which meant his motivation and retention were high throughout the lifetime of the project.

The reason I mention this story is that this is what integration of digital technologies at senior secondary school can often look like. A bit messy. As long as you have an overall direction and the students are getting valuable learning along the way, a bit of mess is no bad thing.

Key #2: Enable learner agency

As stated by Derek Wenmoth in CORE Education’s Ten Trends, “One way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have the ‘power to act’. When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, and actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.”

In a senior secondary digital technologies context, this means giving some of the power back to the learner by allowing them to contribute to or have control over decisions such as:

  • The context and content of learning projects
  • The technologies used to develop a solution
  • Their preferred method of and platform for learning
  • Who they’ll collaborate with
  • When learning takes place
  • Where learning takes place
  • How they’ll be assessed
  • How they’ll exhibit their work
  • Which Achievement Standards to complete over the year

Giving learners agency over decisions such as these has many benefits. Students and ākonga learn how to self-manage and self-direct (essential skills for the modern and developing workforce); they are more likely to be engaged in the learning because they feel a sense of ownership over it, will be able to make connections between areas of knowledge they already possess, and are less likely to rely on the teacher as the only source of knowledge.

Becoming less reliant on a one-size-fits-all teacher up the front of the class and instead becoming more capable of finding information for themselves is an essential skill in digital technologies. By imbuing our students with the ability to direct themselves and take responsibility for their own learning, we remove the impossible expectation from ourselves to keep up with every new technological advancement, and instead allow ourselves to work alongside our students; guiding, challenging, supporting them on a more individualised basis.

While discussing strategies such as these, it would be irresponsible not to mention that a move towards increased learner agency does not happen overnight. This article is not advocating for simply throwing learners in the deep end and hoping they can figure out how to swim.

Practices that build learner agency require intentional design, so if you’re just starting out on this journey of giving your students or ākonga more control over their learning, I encourage you to start small. For example, next time you’re planning a module, have the students put together an ideas board on what they’d like to learn about (which itself is an agentic learning exercise) then design your module around what they share with you.

Key #3: Use project provocations

Digital technologies is a topic that lends itself well to project-based learning. Students and ākonga can put their digital skills, along with knowledge from other disciplines, into use by creating actual working solutions for real life situations. Approaching the topic this way means the work learners produce will have tangible impact, making the knowledge much more likely to stick as the value becomes apparent.

Tying into key #2, learners are much more likely to engage in a project if they have a sense of ownership over it. One helpful way to achieve this is to set the scene with a design thinking question from which the learners can draw their own unique project context. For example, you might set a provocation of “How might we redesign our digital technology learning space?”, and a student could draw from this all sorts of different projects that connect with who they are and/or what they’re seeing around them.

This post on Atomic Object gives some useful pointers for developing “How Might We” questions, and here are a few digital technologies and multi-disciplinary friendly ones to get you started:

  • How might we improve the visitor experience to our school?
  • How might we improve accessibility in our local facilities?
  • How might we make our school more environmentally friendly?
  • How might we foster closer relationships between seniors and juniors in our school?
  • How might we redesign a local visitor attraction so that more young people go?

When coming up with your own “How Might We” questions, think about what’s going on in your local area or natural environment. Connecting learners with their local places and spaces is valuable in forming an appreciation of the land in which they live and learn.

For more on integrating digital technologies and other topics relevant to igniting possibilities for your students and ākonga, check out Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko, the National Digital Readiness Programme.

Josh Hough is an experienced educator with a background in digital technologies, design thinking, curriculum integration and design, and project-based learning. He is part of the Facilitation team at CORE Education and has a particular focus on working alongside teachers and leaders in the secondary sector.


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