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Learning that promotes 21st century skills

SWCHS is currently engaged in an exciting research project, jointly run by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oslo. The Digitalised Dialogues Across the Curriculum (DiDiAC) project is investigating the effects, on student collaboration and knowledge building, of the use of micro-blogging technology in the classroom. Teachers in three subject areas are involved, with their Year 7 classes using iPads to access the ‘Talkwall’ technology ( devised by the University of Oslo. This enables groups and individuals to ‘post ‘ideas’ onto a teacher wall at the front of the class, and to manipulate these posts in various ways to extend and develop their ideas in English, Geography and Science. The teachers are working on parallel techniques to enable students to use language more effectively in the classroom, and University of Cambridge researchers are examining the interaction between the student’s spoken language and their use of Talkwall. An important part of this work is that Talkwall is a software in development, so the teachers are acting as teacher-researchers, feeding back ideas about ways in which the technology might be developed to suit their particular needs.

Why is this important? Education in schools must of course develop the subject knowledge that is central to understanding our world. Teachers work hard to take advantage of digital technology in developing this understanding, but often classroom experience does not match the potential of either the technology or young people's extensive use and experiences with such tools. In other words, students’ experiences of the use of technology as an aid to learning, inside and outside school, are often very different. DiDiAC is intended to help teachers create a culture for learning that promotes 21st Century skills, particularly collaboration and critical thinking skills such as evaluating and integrating information, forming ideas, and justifying and communicating in and across knowledge domains. It is these skills, perhaps even more than specific subject knowledge, that contemporary employers value; so the challenge is to find ways of developing teaching and learning that can combine developing subject knowledge with developing 21st Century skills, in the context of technology use.

Currently, each teacher involved in the project is carrying out research lessons, which use Talkwall and dialogue in lessons that are already part of the curriculum. These lessons are being filmed so that they can be looked at in greater detail by researchers. The University of Cambridge team have seen some genuinely inspirational practice by teachers in the research classes, and some wonderful uses of the technology by the students. We have no doubt that there are some potentially very exciting practices that will be developed for classrooms across the country as a result of this work; watch this space…

Paul Warwick, for the DiDiAC Research Team, Cambridge & Norway

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