Technology isn’t hard – but learning is.

I got asked a question this week which started me thinking – again. How did I acquire my existing knowledge of technology? Although I readily accept that I am no technological expert/guru, I do accept that I am developing my knowledge of technology all the time, as well as how to apply this technology to the teaching and learning process. I also know that I actually enjoy learning about technology and I’m very motivated to learn about it. But how did I get to where I am now with my understanding and, perhaps more importantly, why am I so motivated by it?


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With the ‘term’ coming to an end for the Christmas break, students are ensuring that their assignments are complete and ready to be submitted before heading home for some well earned rest. The mathematics assignment in the second year is based on assessment and I often get asked, when discussing next steps and what evidence means, which books I have read to get my existing knowledge. If there was a book I would happily recommend it as essential reading to everyone, but unfortunately it is through experience that I have gained much of my knowledge and understanding – something which I can talk about but not actually impart in its entirely. Furthermore, much of that experience compromises of negative experiences from which I have evaluated and subsequently learnt from. Many experiences I have had with technology have been very similar to this, although I do adopt a slightly different approach when learning about technology than I do with teaching. Teaching, I usually try new things and see what happens – I guess it is more of an innovative (notice I am avoiding the word creative) approach while with technology I would class my learning as more of a problem solving approach. I recognise a need or a problem which needs to be solved and then I start to search for the answer. The problem which needs to be addressed might be as simple as a piece of code which is not working or an outcome which I want to achieve – e.g. a way to collect data easily across the net. This problem solving approach to learning can be very rewarding as well as being extremely frustrating. Despite this, I think this style of learning is actually beneficial to me. Why? well, as usual, here are three reasons…

  • Motivated by outcome… – There is a matrix produced by Haylock and Cockburn which we share within mathematics that relates to developing mathematical thinking. The horizontal axis ranges from real life mathematics on the right to more abstract mathematics on the left. As we progress through mathematics, concepts have the habit of becoming more and more abstract and therefore can lose meaning unless this is firmly established. Real life contexts can be a very strong motivational factor for learning – by seeing how something can be used or a purpose for the knowledge you are learning can increase the motivational value of the learning. In order to be motivated I need to see a purpose for the learning or activity. This is probably why I can focus so much within gamification situations when a target is identified and a need to achieve this. Having a purpose to learn something is very motivational for me and technology often gives me this since it often presents problems to be solved, whether these are related to new outcomes or current ‘debugging’ issues.

  • I’m a problem solver… – One thing which always appeals to me is a problem. I’m not talking about personal problems or worldwide issues, more of situations which need a solution. Whether these are an undesirable outcome from some code or some logistical nightmare which needs to be solved, my brain has the habit of going into overdrive in order to find a solution. The focus is solving the problem with the learning almost becoming secondary to the outcome. What is even more motivational for my learning, is that the problem is often self imposed rather than being imposed on me by some external agent. Some learners might find imposed problems less motivating but for me they are still appealing. I am sure that my colleagues are aware that if they give me a problem, then I have the habit of dropping all other projects just to solve this. This need to solve problems links to the first section on purpose and also to the next section on how my brain works.

  • How my brain works… – Don’t worry, this is not going to be a section on neurophysiology or even the psychology of my mind…that is far too scary for a waffle! When you look at the subjects I teach, mathematics, science and computing, there appears to be something very logical and quantitive about them. Data and numbers abound in both and theories and connections are firmly rooted in empirical results and cause and effects. When it comes to the more subjective qualitative subjects which require the application of opinion and inference, my motivation and achievement definitely starts to falter. Within the aims of the mathematics curriculum there exists words such as problem solving, perseverance and following lines of enquiry. These are reflected in working scientifically and are definitely essential skills when looking at the debugging aspects of computing. From experience, it would appear that my brain actually enjoys these processes and, maybe because of this, I tend to be motivated by learning processes which involve these skills. As you can probably see from the sections above, technology has a multitude of situations in which I can apply these skills and so I guess you could say that my brain might be hardwired for learning technology.

  • This has probably been another waffling waffle which has no real substance. I suddenly had the urge to write this yesterday and maybe I should have stuck with the waffle I had originally planned for. However, if you have got this far, then it is probably too late now. I mentioned before that my brain doesn’t work very well with words – now you see that evidence of that. You might have noticed that Wilson Waffling Live has been absent for the past couple of weeks, this is because it is undergoing yet another face lift. It will be back in the new year with a new approach focusing more on the tagline of my waffles – ‘Teaching, Tech and Twaddle’. If you have any comments or ideas about this waffle then please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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