A learning-community approach to using digital tools to enhance student learning

Year: 2019

Author: Blake, Damian, Mooney, Amanda, Workman, Emma, Dick, Mel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Many schools are embracing a suite of digital learning tools as a strategy to transform students’ learning experiences and enhance learning. However, the challenge often remains of how to achieve a systematic digitally-enabled approach, given varying social, cultural and economic contexts in which schools operate. As such it is also increasingly common for schools to develop a contextually-informed, whole-community approach to use of digital tools in order to transform systematically and collectively teachers’ practices in ways that are genuinely responsive to their cultural and historical contexts. Relatively little is known to date about how this has played out in socially-disadvantaged schools.

We present findings from our investigation of how one P-12 school learning community developed a contextually-informed approach to use of digital learning tools to enhance student learning. Over a period of two years the researchers conducted classroom observations and interviews with school leaders, teachers and students to document: (i) the pedagogical model for using digital tools, and how this was understood to be responsive to the socio-economic circumstances of the school community; (ii) how the model informed different elements of teachers’ practice in relation to curriculum planning, implementing learning activities, giving feedback and undertaking assessment, and relating to parents and the wider community.

The data revealed that the whole-community approach to using digital learning tools was deeply motivated by the need to overcome many of the socio-economic challenges being faced by students in the school. In this sense the use of digital tools was not just related to students’ attainment of curriculum learning outcomes, but also for its potential to transform students’ life circumstances. Specifically the use of this situated approach created new opportunities for students to become more involved with teachers to set and monitor their individual learning goals. Students were able to use the suite of digital tools to engage more autonomously with the broad inquiry approach adopted by the school, and to document evidence of their learning that was then useful in guiding individualised feedback and progress interventions. The data also made visible situated barriers faced by the teachers, including challenges to teachers’ historical assumptions and beliefs about good learning and students’ base levels of digital literacy and their capacity for self-regulation in difficult circumstances.