Monday, May 12, 2014

A Framework of Enablers for Architects of Learning

Canadian Network for Innovation and Education

A Presentation for CNIE 2014
May 15, 2014
Dr. Nancy Stuewe
University of Calgary
Alberta Canada

Abstract: Concerns about the slow adoption of technology by teachers is not new and rapid technological changes have increased the likelihood that teachers will have to grapple with unfamiliar technology. This paper highlights a framework of enablers for teachers to make sense of their experience with new and emerging technology. It is taken from the study, Unfamiliar Technology and the Architect of Learning: A Case Study. This framework outlines characteristics of internal affordance (teacher capacity), external affordances including dynamic professional development experiences, a collaborative culture of lifelong learning and inevitable constraints with something new. Constraints were not seen as barriers in opposition of the enablers. The study found limitations of time, infrastructure, and opportunities for teacher learning challenged the teachers to engage with unfamiliar technology. The data also revealed a personal capacity to be open to the possibility that a new technology might present and a strong supportive ecosystem had a powerful impact in facilitating the process of sense making. A constructivist teaching and learning environment invited teachers as participants in the process of learning. As participants the teachers had the capacity to act within their environment, thus the weight of the constraints was diminished. The study also concluded, teachers who do not have the opportunity to see themselves, as learners will find it more and more difficult to cope with the endlessly changing landscape influenced by educational technology. Teachers will benefit from participating in building personal pathways for sense making of new and emerging technology.


     It has been suggested that the role of teachers be reworked “from knowledge authority to an architect of learning - one who plans, designs and oversees learning activities” (Government of Alberta, 2010b) while at the same time there has been a call for teachers to use technology differently to support a constructivist approach (Glassett & Schrum, 2009; Howland, Jonassen, & Marra, 2012). Educational technology research has also identified many barriers for teachers to integrate new and emerging technology in their teaching and learning environments (Allen, 2008; Ertmer, 2005; Glassett & Schrum, 2009; Olsen, Recker, Robertshaw, Sellers, & Walker, 2011; Schoepp, 2004). The architect of learning is a metaphor used to describe the role and context of teachers within a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. An architect designs the plans from which others will build (Shepherd, 2011; Stuewe, 2013a). A teacher/architect oversees learning and is mindful of an interior and exterior view. They design and plan activities that maximize internal personalized learning experiences while directing their students outward to scan the horizon for connections with others and prior life experiences.  In this role the teacher uses “new technologies as designers and creators of knowledge” (Government of Alberta, 2010b). A challenge for teachers as UNESCO (2008) has reported is that our relationship with digital technology is dramatically transforming the way we live in the world. The rise of the knowledge economy, as well the rapid technological changes have also increased the likelihood that both new and experienced teachers will regularly come in contact with new and emerging [unfamiliar] technology (Willis, 2001). The architect role also reflects the notion that, “technology makes things possible, people make things happen” (Government of Alberta, 2010a). The task for teachers is to provide enriched learning experiences in a responsive environment where the learning need drives the use and choice of technology. This role also incorporates the idea that if the changing nature of technology is to be beneficial, new and emerging (unfamiliar) technologies will have to be explored by teachers.
     This paper reports on key findings taken from, Unfamiliar Technology and the Architect of Learning: A Case Study. Findings revealed that the role of teachers within a constructivist teaching and learning environment was like an architect of learning. This paper will highlight the attributes of this role and the environment that supported the teacher participants in the descriptive case study. It will also propose an interconnected responsibility to bolster teacher capacity to become architects of learning.

Literature Review

     The study Unfamiliar Technology and the Architect of Learning: A Case Study was situated within a constructivist framework. Constructivism proposes that learning is a complex process that is influenced by the learner’s needs and desires. The role of the teacher is like an architect of learning. Concerns about the slow adoption of technology by teachers are not new and sense making of new technology is an active process for teachers. This process is based on their own knowledge, beliefs, experiences and the social situation in which they find themselves (Stuewe, 2013b).  Given this, I present, based on the review of the literature, a framework of enablers aiming to highlight pathways for teachers to make sense of innovation. This framework outlines characteristics of internal affordance (teacher capacity), external affordances including effective professional development, and potential constraints. 

Teacher capacity

     Studies have also shown that teachers who experienced agency within their work can become active performers. According to Ketelaar, Beijaard, Boshuizen, and Den Brok (2012) teachers can feel in control of the choices they make based upon personal goals, interests, and motivations. In their multiple method study of sense making and agency, teachers as individuals “need to experience a certain amount of autonomy and room for negotiation within their school” (p. 275). In addition, Duffy and Cunningham (1996) stated that the constructivist environment affords students and teachers opportunities to participate in purposeful choices within their community of learning. Intrinsic motivation to attempt the unfamiliar is bolstered as a result of providing a certain amount of personal agency. Zhao, Frank, and Ellefson (2006) added that capacity is a collection of knowledge, belief, and skills. For a teacher using unfamiliar technology this includes knowledge of: technology as a solution to problems, including beliefs, skills, and attitude toward technology; enabling conditions of technology use; and convenient access to support.
In addition, Schrum, Shelly, and Miller (2008) with a mixed method approach sought to examine how teachers who are already tech-savvy acquired the knowledge and skill they have to use the technology that was available to them. Teachers overcame challenges, and recognized the unique attributes of their personal or professional practice. The tech-savvy teachers’ willingness to utilize technology was demonstrated through a sacrifice of personal resources. They made considerable effort to learn about, acquire, and use technology with no support. They were confident enough to overcome a fear of failure in using technology in front of increasingly tech-savvy students. The teachers also valued learning ahead of their personal pride or egos. Schrum et al. found that tech-savvy teachers had a strong desire for continued or life-long learning. These teachers felt that using technology had risks that would cost some class time but that the rewards outweighed the risks.
Schrum et al. (2008) concluded from the study that time and funding were a significant personal and professional constraint to the goal of implementing technology in the classroom. Yet even when time and funding were not provided, many of these tech-savvy teachers sacrificed their own resources so they could continue to teach with technology. They reported that it was clear to them that teachers who are not “tech-savvy” have a need for assistance when dealing with unfamiliar technology. What emerged from the review of this study is an understanding of a need for teachers to develop a capacity to entertain unfamiliar technology. It is important to note, with a new understanding of knowledge, that no technology by itself will promote significant pedagogical change without a willingness to embrace this change. Are we asking all teachers to become tech-savvy in order to adopt innovation? This highlights a need to support teachers to develop willingness to try and envision change.
     Denning and Dunham (2010) have stated, “anything we do in the world is enabled by our embodied capacity for action” (p. 80). A powerful learning cycle they believe is a continuing cycle of practice and reflection. Simply put during practice we engage in action with others. Then during reflection we step back and in a sense become observers of our actions. To complete the cycle of learning we then plan for the next round of action. To entertain an unfamiliar technology is to keep an open mind about its potential, examine it use, question its value, and consider its place in the classroom. This process suggests a complex quality or capability connected to the individual teacher. As Schrum et al. (2008) suggested teacher capacity is more than just skill. It is an intrinsic, internal capability. It is being open to possibilities; and a commitment to life-long learning. It is a willingness that pulls these attributes together with agency that reported as a playful nature. It is an attitude of continual learning and risk-taking and a curiosity to build, explore, and learn with their students. Included is judgment— “the capacity not merely to respond passively to events but to make decisions actively in different contexts” (Derry, 2008, p.508).
Levin and Wadmany (2008) have suggested that one size will not fit all when looking to develop teacher capacity to work in technology-based environments. Levin and Wadmany highlight teachers’ learning of technology should be conceived as part of a culture of life-long learning, knowledge sharing, and peer interaction. “Asking teachers to share their stories and reflect on their ICT integration experiences is another potential method for highlighting, understanding, and appropriately shaping personal beliefs regarding desired ICT practices” (p. 257). 

External affordance

     According to Ackermann (2004) if we believe, as constructivists do, that we learn by relating to others and acting in the world, then our capacity for action is not reliant solely on an internal capability. With this approach to learning, external affordances can be thought of as qualities in the teaching and learning environment, not what the environment controls, but what the environment might invite an individual’s capacity to act. These affordances are not seen as intrinsic, but rather as intentional affordances in the environment. According to (Zhang & Patel, 2006) the environment is not limited to the terrain, but also includes objects and structures within it. Affordances in the environment are what it offers, what it provides, what it furnishes, and what it invites. We must not only examine the individual teacher but also the interactions with the whole teaching and learning environment.  
     In addition Zhao, Frank, and Ellefson (2006) in a study of meaningful teaching and learning with technology found that affordances within the school environment could enable teacher capacity for experimentation with technology. Zhao et al. highlighted a need to provide teachers not only with access to technology, but also with time to play while developing a culture of collaborative learning communities and ensuring on-site mentors. Further, professional development opportunities they believed should be conducted in settings that are similar to the classroom context of teachers.  
     The age-old strategy for helping teachers to adjust to new priorities has been teacher professional development (PD) (Cunningham & Allen, 2010). Yet given new findings from the learning sciences about the nature of knowledge, teacher learning should be based on transformation of the individual rather than transmission of knowledge (Edwards, 2012). “The teacher who steadily learns from and about the work becomes, in time, a learned being” (Hansen & Laverty, 2010). This notion of teachers as participants in learning rather than as passive receivers of knowledge rests in a constructivist framework (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). How we invite teachers to participate in change and professional learning could enable them to be more prepared to entertain unfamiliar technology.
     Borko (2004) has found that professional development can help teachers construct understanding of content knowledge and change their instructional practice (p. 5). Contemporary reform according to Wood (2007), expands professional development and calls for teacher professional learning communities to build on the idea of “knowledge-of-practice” (p. 284). Teacher learning communities then take on more constructivist principles that encompass the perspective of the learner in the form of professional networks, critical friends, study groups, and teacher-researcher collaborations. Teachers need these opportunities to collaborate in order to build on what they perceive to be their own needs. Wood notes that professional learning communities may promote deep and sustained thinking and analysis about education and offer opportunities to tap into tacit knowledge. Hargreaves (2003) also noted that professional learning communities seem to work best with high-capacity teachers in high-capacity systems.
     The implication of this section of the literature review is that helpful elements of teacher professional development with unfamiliar technology are similar to meaningful learning with technology rooted in the constructivist tradition of education. This suggests that the constructivist approach to learning is not only applicable to students but to teachers as well. Both learning events work best when situated in relevant context with a focus on subject matter and involve hands-on experiences that engage, such as solving real problems. Both involve reflection, support, and strong collaborative learning communities.

Exploring constraints

     Any discussion of technology adoption must also consider constraints (Johnson, Adams, & Cummins, 2012). Educational technology research has identified potential barriers to the successful integration of technology (Allen, 2008; Ertmer, 2005; Glassett & Schrum, 2009; Olsen et al., 2011; Schoepp, 2004). Some research has focused on internal individual characteristics of teachers, other research on external environmental barriers. As has been widely documented, teachers often lack the time and technology skills for effective technology integration. Ertmer (2005) suggested that teachers’ pedagogical beliefs may be at work. However according to Allen (2008) research that focused on barriers has failed “to offer insight into the learning experience that invites practicing teachers, situated within their classrooms, to transform their frames of reference on practice” (p. 23).
     In their conceptual exploration of distributed cognition, representation, and affordances Zhang and Patel (2006) described attributes of the environment as being coupled with the capacity of an individual that provides them with facility to act. Constraints are just part of the teaching and learning environment; they are the conditions and relationships amongst the attributes that make up the choices to act. Kennewell (2001) also pointed out that constraints are not the opposite of affordance. They are just painted lines on the road that both restrict and guide us. Kennewell described the relationship between affordances and constraints as didactical, “goal-directed actions in relation to tasks which have been designed to bring about learning” (p. 105). In this framework, learning is an active process that involves a change in abilities. A classroom teacher may design learning tasks with both affordances and constraints. To achieve learning, effort is required. If the task is too easy or too hard, little learning will occur and affordances-constraints then need to be adjusted. The teacher’s role is to adjust constraints and provide support in making learning possible, but not to trivialize the experience.
     Zhang and Patel (2006) have suggested that constraints can be a natural part of a distributed framework of affordances between: a) external structures--information in the environment; b) internal perception of the situation--the decision-making abilities of the individual and ability (capacity) to act; and c) constraints. It is a relationship that generates action as it extends across the external environment (school) and the internal organism (teacher). Affordances and constraints should be considered in relation to the abilities of teachers and their ease or freedom in using technology in their classrooms. If there are simple constraints such as a program or application crashing and the teacher feels confident to trouble shoot, use a different program, or do an unplanned activity, then the teacher has what Zhang and Patel have called allowable action. If however there are the constraints in the environment that are outside the teacher’s control, skill, or understanding, then allowable action is diminished. Perhaps the teacher has planned to show a video but cannot without upgrading to a newer version of the software to play it. The teacher with no administrator privileges to upgrade the software has no facility to overcome the constraint. In this case the teacher is likely frustrated while waiting for outside help to control the constraint. Zhang and Patel explained that affordances can be seen as distributed, guided, and constrained by the physical, cultural, and social contexts in which they are situated. Allowable actions can be negotiated if a teacher has facility, power, or understanding to address the constraints. The implication is to find ways of minimizing constraints in the environment and to increase the teacher’s capacity for action.

Research Design

     Given the complexity of human behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs, the study was designed to utilize a descriptive case study methodology. This approach was an effective strategy to capture the openness of experience in its natural setting. What came from getting to know the case was, an enhanced understanding of the capacity of teachers to be like architects of learning. The case provided a rich description of the three teachers’ capacity to use unfamiliar technology within a framework of enablers.
     The descriptive case study, Unfamiliar Technology and the Architect of Learning (Stuewe, 2013b) was designed to explore two main questions: 1) How do teachers make sense of new and emerging technology to enhance teaching and learning? 2) How might these teachers’ insights inform strategies to support the implementation of a new technology in teaching and learning? The methods of data collection used to address these questions were interview, observation, and informal dialogue. The study was concerned with teacher experience with unfamiliar technology as a process. Underpinning this approach was a constructivist theoretical framework: that knowledge is a social and interpretive process. From this perspective the study was “without expectation of causal explanation” (Stake, 1995).
     As the researcher, I focused on the interactions between the other available technology, the teaching and learning process and the process of sense making not just for the individual but also in the social context. I designed the study to capture happenings, expand knowledge, and inform broader understanding beyond the case It had several synergetic goals: a) to describe teacher experience with unfamiliar technology and the context of their experience; b) to explore possible motivations, tensions, and affordances to entertain unfamiliar technology; and c) to interpret these events as lessons learned in order to develop ideas for support and further study. Evidence was collected from a range of sources: face-to-face interviews; participant-observation; documents; and artifacts of both digital and hardcopy classroom documents.
     The data were collected from three different teachers in two different schools in a Western Canadian city over a four-month period. In School One two teachers taught in grade 3-4 classrooms and in School Two the teacher taught grade 7. At the time of the study, iPads were completely new to the teaching and learning environment as they were first available in Canada only in the Spring of 2010.


     Through analysis of the interview and observation data, three factors emerged. First, the teachers’ capacity as architects was seen as a key enabler. The attributes of this capacity that emerged were seen as an internal quality that enabled the teachers to entertain unfamiliar technology. Each of the three teachers had an individual capacity to be open to the possibilities the iPad might present. They chose to learn about the iPad in their own time as well as with and in front of their students. They reported believing that technology could support their students in becoming life-long learners. All three teachers expressed that learning came first and that they valued technology as a tool for learning. They believed that providing their students with choice of technology would lead to a deeper understanding of its power. The three teachers had a collaborative spirit not just with their colleagues but also with their students. They also demonstrated flexibility and judgement. The architect of learning role opens teachers to be participants in the teaching and learning environment. As learners the three teachers took time to play with the iPad as a personal device in an informal learning environment prior to its introduction at their schools. This gave the three teachers an opportunity to form a positive relationship with the iPad before bringing it to the students. Further, the three teachers seemed to see the real potential of the iPad by adding it to the classroom collection of digital devices and letting their students decide for themselves what technology was the right choice to serve their needs.
     The teachers’ sense making did not occur in isolation. A second enabling factor was that the role of architect of learning embodies a constructivist foundation. In this role the three teachers made sense of the iPad with their students as intellectual partners, not by making the iPad the centre of their teaching. Contextual factors in the school environment also facilitated the teachers’ capacity to try out new things. In both schools a structure was in place to support a collaborative culture. The three teachers had professional learning opportunities within a reflective collaborative culture. They had administrative allowances for flexibility and support from the school district. The IT technicians kept software up-to-date. The teachers had a choice of technology and to some degree the school district supplied teacher-learning support. 
     A third factor that emerged was while constraints of time, infrastructure, and limited opportunities for teacher learning challenged the teachers to engage with unfamiliar technology. It was apparent that external and internal enablers had a more positive impact in facilitating the process of sense making than the constraints had on limiting it. In other words, for the teachers in the study, the constraints were not seen as barriers to making sense of unfamiliar technology.
 The findings suggested that the architect of learning role within a constructivist framework supported the teachers to make sense of an unfamiliar technology. In an effort to highlight the attributes of the architect of learning the discussion will focus on the teachers role and their responsibilities in their teaching and learning environment.

Concluding Remarks

     A key lesson taken from this study is that, it is unlikely that the implementation of any new technology will be successful without, first, a willingness on the part of the teacher to entertain unfamiliar technology. The greater educational community can support the implementation of new and emerging technology by bolstering teachers’ capacity to deal with it. A second lesson recognizes that teachers (not the technology) are agents of change in practice. It is essential to invite teacher participation into the implementation process and to listen to their concerns. A third lesson acknowledges implementation is a learning process. One size will not fit all; as learners, teachers need to personalize their approach to unfamiliar technology. Teachers will need ways of understanding and addressing the constraints that new and emerging technology generally bring with it.
     The three teachers, each in their own way, made sense of the iPad as architects within a similar collection of internal and external enablers. While constraints were seen as frustrating, the data suggested the three teachers had an internal quality (teacher capacity) to over look the constraints and successfully use unfamiliar technology. They did so mainly through their own determinations, as they were more than willing to spend the extra effort to learn and use the iPad. The three teachers were committed to life-long learning; they had skills, knowledge and experience teaching with technology. They had a belief in the value of technology. They were flexible towards diversity and change and they had a collaborative spirit. The three teachers were willing to entertain unfamiliar technology; they even referred to it as fun. In a role of architect of learning, the task for teachers is to design enriched learning experiences within a responsive environment where the learning need drives the use and choice of technology. This role incorporates the idea that if the changing nature of technology is to be beneficial, new and emerging (unfamiliar) technologies will have to be explored by teachers.  
The study revealed an enhanced understanding of the potential of the capacity of teachers as architects. In this role, the value of the iPad did not drive its use in the classroom. Rather, it was the pursuit of knowledge that determined how and why the iPad was used. The implication for teachers is a commitment to life-long learning, a willingness to act, and openness to possibilities. Teachers who do not have the opportunity to see themselves as learners will find it more and more difficult to cope with the ever-changing landscape influenced by educational technology. Therefore, a need is revealed to empower teachers with dynamic professional development experiences that are personally meaningful as well as connected in a collaborative culture of lifelong learning.
The observation and interview data also revealed that the three teachers made sense of unfamiliar technology within a constructivist teaching and learning environment that reinforced their beliefs about teaching and learning. The three teachers made sense of the iPad with their students as intellectual partners. They also participated in a supportive collaborative culture. An implication of this suggests it is not enough to focus only on the device when making sense of unfamiliar technology and putting new technology in classrooms will not automatically lead to meaningful use. The study also underlines the importance of teachers’ participation in the process of teaching and learning. However tempting it might be to focus on the hype and glamour of new gadgets, the focus should remain on the constructivist process of teaching and learning.
     How then might we bolster every teacher’s capacity to become architects of learning? School districts, school administrators and teachers each need to approach this issue as an interconnected responsibility to nourish the development of this role. The process of bolstering teacher capacity will benefit first, if teachers can build personal pathways for sense making of unfamiliar technology. Teachers can think of themselves as participants in the learning of their classroom. Consider how you are committed to life-long learning and how this might reveal itself in your teaching. As a teacher what opportunities can you create to learn in front of their students. How can you to take advantage of their experience and demonstrate how to grapple with unfamiliar technology? Teachers also need to experience the same affordances that they themselves provide for their students by following constructivist learning principles in their professional development. School administrators can consider how their current teaching and learning environment invites the development of teacher/architect. How are your teachers able to personalize their own learning? While technological change continues to accelerate and takes a broader role in our classrooms, how can you provided time for teachers and make it fun for them to make sense of unfamiliar technology within their workday? School districts can also consider how the jurisdictions’ human and technology infrastructure is flexible enough to cope with new and emerging technology.  How are teachers allowed to grapple with constraints within their teaching and learning environment? 
     Dewey (1916) noted that in a democratic society we should make provision for participation. Education, Dewey envisioned, should give individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control. As society adopts new technologies, teachers have an obligation to bring them into their classrooms. While the three teachers were provided with affordances for learning, most importantly they saw themselves capable of it and jumped at the opportunity to learn.


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