Ethnographic research retrospectively

In autumn 2013 the Learnmix team carried out an ethnographic study in Estonian schools. As we have rather limited resources in our hands, we implemented a rapid and focused ethnography study in the following Estonian schools:

1. Tallinn Secondary Science School (3rd grade math; 9th grade geography; 7th grade geography; 5th grade English; 6th grade English)

2. Tallinn Central Russian Gymnasium (5th grade math; 6th grade math lesson; 5th grade informatics; 4th grade Estonian; 2nd grade Russian; 10th grade English

3. Tallinn English College (1st grade math lesson)

4. Tallinn Pelgulin Gymnasium (12th grade biology; 11th grade biology)

5. Kiili Gymnasium (12th grade history; 12th grade society studies)

Our ethnographic research tried to capture patterns of use and role of digital artifacts in current teaching and learning practices in order to provide food for thought to re-conceptualise e-textbooks. Throughout our school visits we collected an extensive body of data via observations, photo shooting and notes. After every school visit the research team carried out sense-making sessions for developing concept maps and transcriptions of the visits.

We all have experienced that nowadays various tools and services allow us to take control over what we are doing. Despite of the fact that schools are using tablets and different applications we can still witness the situation, where a teacher controls, dictates and organises learning experiences and knowledge building. For instance the following graphic illustrates the current situation in schools quite well.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.23.18

The sliders on the graphic show who controls what. The more they are pushed to the right, the more the component is controlled by a teacher.

Based on our ethnographic research we can claim that lack of technology in schools is not the reason for not implementing it more extensively and creatively. The dominating teaching approaches are still rather traditional, in which technology is taken just as another medium to replace paper, pencil and blackboard.  It doesn’t add any value to a lesson, in which a student is asked to solve a math assignment in teacher’s computer, which is projected to the screen for everybody to watch. A blackboard served that purpose rather well.

In addition we implemented Gagne 9 instructional events (gaining attention, stating the objective, stimulating recall of prior learning, presenting the stimulus, providing learning guidance, eliciting performance, providing feedback, assessing performance, enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts) to our data set. We were interested in which instructional event is supported by digital artefacts and technology. The data analysis showed that technology is extensively used by a teacher to recall prior learning, present new information and students were mainly using technology to perform a concrete task with a concrete application or program.

To conclude, our ethnographic study showed that technology is in schools, but often implemented in a way that teachers control and dictate putting students in a passive receiver’s role.

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