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Trust, Empowerment and Learning with Digital Technology

The COVID-19 crisis raised many issues about the purpose(s) of schooling, views about what should be learnt and what learning looks like, and who is responsible for young people’s learning. The rapid move from face to face to online schooling involved some amazing and some terrible uses of digital technology. Perhaps most glaringly was the difference between those who tried to maintain formal schooling, with virtual lessons interspersed with ‘independent learning’ (which in practice often meant filling in worksheets) and those who used it as an opportunity to spark young people’s intrinsic curiosity and capacity to learn. In both cases digital technology was critical. However, in the latter case so too was having a digital mindset.

Being digital is all about your mindset.

A digital mindset is one in which:

·      Everyone is assumed to be intrinsically motivated to learn (learning is a human disposition)

  • Risk taking is encouraged
  • Experiments happen alongside a give-it-a-go attitude
  • Mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, and reflection is part of everyday practice
  • Digital technology is a core tool – used to extend learning
  • The views and interests of learners are valued
  • Learners are expected to be agentic
  • The focus is on dispositions, competences and knowledge
  • Learning is connected, networked and social - not individual, and not about control
  • The focus is on being flexible, change oriented and problem solving
  • Power has shifted from the teacher to the learner, the teacher is not seen as the font of all knowledge, teachers are co-learners

This aligns with a sociocultural view of learning: learning is about your identity, who you are and where you fit in the world. It is about becoming a valued member of an enduring community of people who are engaged in a shared endeavour; with shared values and valued ways of thinking and working. The process is about being inducted into those shared values and ways of thinking and working.

Many features of a digital mindset are not unique to digital technology. But what digital technology does is make it possible to be more independent (e.g. digital technology reading out text to a child; pre-writers being able to communicate ideas through audio and video; access to information and expertise which is not reliant on teachers; tools to complement current competence (e.g. Siri to answer questions, calculators, spell checkers); ability to network with other people who share hobbies and interests).

If you are reading this blog you probably recognise a gap between your current practice, and where you want it to be. At the heart of that gap are often fears about safeguarding, visibility and accountability which can make us hesitant or anxious about adopting greater uses of digital technology in our classrooms. Within the four walls of our classroom the only eyes, ears and voices are our own, and our students’. We fear what might happen if our students connect with other people beyond our control.

The solution is to focus on controlling the things that matter. This means empowering your students by giving them the information they need, and trusting them to do what they need to do. This is about two central things;

  • Learning Intentions: make sure your students know what they are expected to learn, how that relates to what they already know, and [genuinely] why it’s important to them to learn it. Stay focused on what the ‘fixed’ deliverables / measurables are.
  • Learning Behaviours: If our students understand how to reflect, how to be critically discerning about who and what they find, how to identify who is best to help them and how to engage others, they will be equipped to engage in their learning in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Stay focused on helping the students to help themselves.

Then, our students will be intrinsically motivated. We as their teachers will be freed from the need to control surface level activity (e.g. misbehaviour). Students will be empowered to learn. We will be empowered to teach. This combination creates something called Collective Efficacy ; thought to be the greatest influence on learning – where we are all working together, with clarity, towards the same goals (Hattie, 2018). When that mindset is in place, digital technology offers achievable and transformational solutions; opening up opportunities to extend learning in ways that are not otherwise possible.

This is the first of six linked blog posts. In future blog posts in this series we will look in more detail at the scope that teachers have to change their practice, the sorts of things that they can do that will have an impact, and we will explore some of the reasons (debunk some of the excuses) people give for not integrating digital technology into their practice.


This series of blog posts was written by Fiona Aubrey-Smith and Peter Twining.

Posts in the series include:

1. Trust, Empowerment and Learning with Digital Technology
2. Trust and empowerment of teachers
3. What can you do in practice?
4. Trust and empowerment of students
5. But I can't because ...
6. In conclusion - expanding possibilities

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