“Like  you at the Contact Sheet we have experienced a year-on-year growth of students who display anxieties around learning which are demonstrated with a fear of failure and the reticence to experiment in the college environment.  Your positive research reassures us that we are not alone and that there are teaching methodologies we can develop to address these issues both for learner and teacher alike”.
John Carberry Senior Lecturer, City of Glasgow College

Why Should I Do This?

Connecting Classes is both a teaching practice and a research project, which has grown out of Jonathan Worth’s PhonarEd, Connected Courses, and a class at Newcastle University he delivered titled The Future of Learning. Seeing the success that came from a very different application of the methods and lessons he’d learned from previous open and connected learning projects, he decided to design a teaching structure that could be employed by anyone, teaching any subject who wanted to draw on the affordances of the connected classroom.

The transition from print to digital modes is going on all around us, changing how we work, teach, and learn. Colleges and universities are re-examining their digital literacy strategies, hoping that students who come to us steeped in consumer technology will be transformed into able producers and contributors of digital content by the time they graduate from their technology-supported academic programs.

However, the consumption and production of digital content are two different things. There’s a parallel in the print world: You’re not really literate if all you can do is read. You can get by, but you are not going to be able to participate fully in your community and society unless you can both read and write. The same is true in the digital world. Gregory Ulmer, a theorist at the University of Florida coined the term electracy to describe this broader notion of digital literacy. At universities we are all more aware now of the growing significance of digital literacy, as we are seeing a widespread transition from print to digital and an accompanying transformation of teaching and learning practices.

The stakes are high for both us and the students. We need to look at the curricular side of our teaching and the implementation of these technologies in the classroom from a point of understanding. That is an understanding of the power of inter-connective communities outside of the formal classroom, the power of social media, the role it has in our students lives and both the negative and positive impact it can have in both our teaching and their learning.

What’s needed is a shared vision and strategic plan for how mobile technology will be utilized to improve student learning outcomes that are aligned to higher standards.

As Eric Sheninger a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education states “When implementing and successfully sustaining a mobile learning initiative, it is imperative not to allow the device to drive instruction. Lessons, curriculum, schools and districts should never be built around technology. Everything we do in education should be built around learning. Thus, if the ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes then the role of any mobile device initiative should be to support or enhance learning.”

Most students know how to use technology. However, we cannot assume that they know how to use technology to support their learning. This is where attention to sound instructional design is necessary, first and foremost. With a pedagogical foundation and better assessments firmly in place the stage is set for students to truly begin to own their learning in ways never imagined. The key is to determine what we want our students to know, and then let them have a choice as to how they will demonstrate or apply their learning.”


Don’t Be Afraid, Confused or Discouraged…

It always surprises my how many people profess to be unable or are unwilling to engage with social media let alone digitally informed pedagogy. I am over fifty years of age and am often far more engaged with social media than my eighteen year old students. Communication is communication whatever form it takes and as educators we should be at the forefront of communicating ideas, concepts and learning. For this reason I embrace new ways of progressing the communication between myself and my students. The #ConnectedClasses structure outlined within the Toolkit section of this website will give you a simple to implement structure which you can evolve, develop and implement to work for you and your students.


Addressing Issues of Open Connected Learning…
Before introducing any new technology in the classroom, there are tough questions that must be asked — about student privacy, data ownership, and equal access across students. Here are 3 more questions to ask that can help you avoid common mistakes when integrating new technology in the classroom:

  • What is the primary goal, and how will this technology choice support it?
    Nothing is more disheartening than seeing a teacher having a meltdown because a website isn’t running properly, the school’s wi-fi is down, or students are simply struggling to use the technology altogether. If success in student learning is contingent upon an assumed successful functioning of technology or the students’ ability to use it, expect disappointment. You will need to prepare for your classes from a tech perspective as well as from a teaching one.
  • How will this technology choice broaden student perspectives?
  • How is this technology choice going to help my students learn?
    If you use technology just for the sake of using technology, then student achievement will probably fall flat. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model — Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition — upholds the principle that the level at which teachers integrate technology determines its impact on student achievement and learning. The lowest level of SAMR is substitution — using technology as a substitute for non-tech without a significant change in the learning task.For example, digital textbooks may replace paper textbooks, but will this shift in itself strengthen students’ ability or desire to read? The ‘mistake’ is not in using technology in but in limiting students to using technology as a replacement or alternative solution when one does not need to be used. If education technology only serves the purpose of task-efficiency and submitting assignments, students will use technology in your classroom just enough to hate it. Alternatively, just because “there’s an app for that,” doesn’t mean the app is best for your students’ learning needs. The key is purpose and balance.


The Facts Concerning Mental Illness and Students

Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental well-being working group, said in a BBC News article in September 2015  that university counselling services are facing an annual rise in demand of about 10%.

She estimates the use of counselling usually ranges between 5% and 10% of students, depending on the university, which would suggest at least 115,000 students are seeking help.

In the same article it was stated that “A report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, using anonymised data, found a rapid increase in demand for counselling, with one institution seeing an annual increase of more than 50%.”

“This analysis, published before the new term, showed mental health problems on campus had “increased dramatically” in recent years, rising from about 8,000 to 18,000 in the four years to 2012-13.”

“The study also warned students want help with more serious problems. Instead of homesickness or relationships, they are increasingly suffering from “anxiety, depression or low mood. Additionally, increasing numbers of students are at high risk of harming themselves””.

The article goes on “The University of Reading says there has been a 20% year-on-year increase in students wanting help from counsellors. The university’s head of well-being, Alicia Pena Bizama, says students feel under more pressure”.

“As well as perennial problems of loneliness and relationships, she says there are worries about the rising cost of studying, fear of failing to live up to expectations and uncertainties about job prospects”.

“”There is a cultural change in being a student,” says Dr Caleb, who is head of counselling at Brunel University”.

“Instead of a stereotype of student life being about long lazy days, she says increasing numbers experience anxiety and stress, beyond the “transitional” problems of leaving home”.

“Student life is also affected by wider social changes. Dr Caleb says there is a pattern of parents splitting up when their child goes to university and sometimes selling the family home, which can leave young people feeling vulnerable and unsupported.”

Key statistics about children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing as compiled by the UK based Young Minds organisation.

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm.
  • There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%.
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time.
  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression.
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s.

The figures below are based on the finding of the latest ONS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey which was published in 2004 (11).

Any figures on the number of children with these disorders are estimates based on the prevalence rates found in this study and demographic data from the 2001 census.

  • 9.6% or nearly 850,000 children and young people aged between 5-16 years have a mental disorder
  • 7.7% or nearly 340,000 children aged 5-10 years have a mental disorder
  • 11.5% or about 510,000 young people aged between 11-16 years have a mental disorder

Mental health statistics: the most common mental health problems

  • Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.2
  • 4-10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.3
  • Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society. The poorer and more disadvantaged are disproprotionately affected by common mental health problems and their adverse consequences.4


Digital Intelligence

An article written Yuhyun Park (Yuhyun Park is the chair of the infollutionZERO Foundation and is a researcher on digital education and policy at Nanyang Technological University. She is an Eisenhower Fellow and an Ashoka Fellow. She is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a member of the steering committee for the Forum’s Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society project) and posted on the World Economic Forum website raises some interesting discussion points concerning the key skills students need to learn and teachers need to understand when dealing with digital learning.

She states that “Children are using digital technologies and media at increasingly younger ages and for longer periods of time. They spend an average of seven hours a day in front of screens – from televisions and computers, to mobile phones and various digital devices. This is more than the time children spend with their parents or in school. As such, it can have a significant impact on their health and well-being. What digital content they consume, who they meet online and how much time they spend onscreen – all these factors will greatly influence children’s overall development. ”

“Moreover, there is the digital age gap. The way children use technology is very different from adults”.

“So how can we, as parents, educators and leaders, prepare our children for the digital age? Without a doubt, it is critical for us to equip them with digital intelligence”.

 8 digital skills we must teach our children

She goes on to explain that “Digital intelligence or ‘DQ’ is the set of social, emotional and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of digital life. These abilities can broadly be broken down into eight interconnected areas:

Digital identity: The ability to create and manage one’s online identity and reputation. This includes an awareness of one’s online persona and management of the short-term and long-term impact of one’s online presence.

Digital use: The ability to use digital devices and media, including the mastery of control in order to achieve a healthy balance between life online and offline.

Digital safety: The ability to manage risks online (e.g. cyberbullying, grooming, radicalization) as well as problematic content (e.g. violence and obscenity), and to avoid and limit these risks.

Digital security: The ability to detect cyber threats (e.g. hacking, scams, malware), to understand best practices and to use suitable security tools for data protection.

Digital emotional intelligence: The ability to be empathetic and build good relationships with others online.

Digital communication: The ability to communicate and collaborate with others using digital technologies and media.

Digital literacy: The ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share and create content as well as competency in computational thinking.

Digital rights: The ability to understand and uphold personal and legal rights, including the rights to privacy, intellectual property, freedom of speech and protection from hate speech.

She concludes that “Above all, the acquisition of these abilities should be rooted in desirable human values such as respect, empathy and prudence. These values facilitate the wise and responsible use of technology…Indeed, cultivating digital intelligence grounded in human values is essential for our kids to become masters of technology instead of being mastered by it”.

My experience is that this digital intelligence also requires a level or re-understanding the possibilities of digital connection.


Pedagogy Comes First — Devices Second

Successful and sustained ‘edtech’ (As digital pedagogy is often called) implementation requires that good pedagogy must first be in play within the classroom; put simply good kit does not make good teaching. A common mistake institutions and institutional non-teaching management make is to assume that the technology will make for a better teacher, when just the opposite is most likely to be true. A pedagogically skilled teacher leverages and manages ‘edtech’ to maximise the possibilities of their teaching and their students learning. The tech is a tool to be used not a teacher replacement.

A perfect example of the device-before-pedagogy mistake is the often quoted 2011 Los Angeles Unified School District initiative, which involved the purchase of more than 100,000 iPads for its classrooms at a cost of $500 million without any return on investment in terms of student outcomes. Four years later, the district was demanding a refund from Apple.

Most analysts — and the school district itself — blamed the failure on poor and inefficient software. But follow-up studies showed a bigger problem. Where the iPads were used, they were used for whole-classroom instruction, as a replacement for the old school blackboard and new/old school whiteboards. They failed to motivate their teachers to improve or master their pedagogy or introduce them to newer, more effective personalized learning models that could leverage the power of the tools they had been given.

If the history of education has taught us anything, it is that education is a human process, it’s a people business. An enthusiastic teacher who has mastered pedagogy and is passionate about their subject and student learning is more powerful than any form of technology in the classroom. However, that same teacher  could be even more effective by leveraging technology, ‘disruptive’ ideas and new models of learning.

Individuals have belief systems based upon their personal experiences, situations and environments so it would be ridiculous to try and implement a one-size-fits-all approach to any form of pedagogy, which is why the #ConnectedClasses format allows so much space for you to mould, evolve and implement the classes in the way that you feel most comfortable.

Technology is there to help teachers do their job more efficiently and effectively — not to replace them. Too many initiatives treat teachers as robotic implementers of a higher plan, whereas in reality teachers in classrooms today can use edtech to become learning innovators, inspiring a teachers’ creativity, not stifle it.

As Diane Ravitch writes in her book Reign of Error: “The education profession must become more professional, not less so. In a professional environment, professionals have the autonomy to do their work and are not expected to follow scripted programs or orders written by non-professionals.”


Do Digital Natives Exist?

The phrases digital natives and digital immigrants were first used by Marc Prensky (2001) to identify the generational conflict between younger students and older teachers.

Digital natives (your students), are presumed to have a natural affinity towards newly emerging media, formats, software and platforms. Digital immigrants, on the other hand, are those who encountered technology later in life, and as a result have found it more challenging to keep up with the increased use of technology in their professional occupations. But is this a reality in the classroom?

While devices such as smartphones and tablets have encouraged a significant percentage of us to become more digitally literate in our social lives, the extent to which the teaching of these literacies is integrated into learning activities is one of the most pressing concerns of higher education today. The argument is straight forward, If students engage with information and communication technology frequently in their non-learning activities, to what extent can – and should – their enthusiasm and aptitude for technology be harnessed by teachers to enhance their learning? However, I would argue that their is an enthusiasm for this technology. I would argue that it is an acceptance rather than an enthusiasm and that acceptance is made without understanding.

I would argue that we have reached a point at which we need to reconceptualise our entire approach to teaching and learning to account for the digital, networked and open environment in which today’s students are studying.

The generation of students now entering university is the most digital, networked and connected in human history, but their ability to think critically about their world is very much in its infancy. It is the responsibility of Higher Education to help them develop a critical approach to both learning and technology if they are to acquire the mindset and skillset required to transform the structures that dominate their existence. Then, and only then, will they have the knowledge and skills that will enable them to grow into transformative global citizens.