I was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, where I completed my secondary education up to A- level Cambridge School Certificate. I completed my initial teacher education as a primary school teacher at the University of Zimbabwe. During this time there were no computers or any form of technologies except for good old pen and paper. I commenced my teaching career in the same environment where the only resources were inadequate text books which students shared five learners per text book. The thing that broke my heart was that these students where so hungry to learn because most of them knew that education was their passport from poverty. They learnt as best as they could with the bare minimums.
I later transitioned from primary school teaching to secondary education where I taught geography and Divinity to O level students. The struggles that students and teachers in Zimbabwe faced in the 1990’s up to the early 2000’s was shortage of resources. Educators just had to be resourceful and creative about their teaching and student learning. At the same time students had to sit international exams (Cambridge School Exams).
Moving to New Zealand at the beginning of 2003 brought a whole new dimension to my professional journey. I got into the education system and had to learn how to use a computer and all the other technologies in the classrooms really quickly. I was surprised when teachers complained about lack of resources while where I was coming from everything we had in the classrooms would have been luxury in Zimbabwe.I worked as a teacher at a special needs school for twelve of years.
Seeing the diversity in the needs of students got me thinking of how best these students could be engaged. Since I was not technologically savvy myself, I never thought of the use of technologies. Due to my frustration with not being able to fully engage my students, I later enrolled to complete a Bachelor of education degree here in NZ and it opened my eyes on how important the use of educational technologies is, in this digital and information age. It gave me a hunger to continue learning and utilizing that knowledge in my profession. I was inspired by Hansson (2006, p.554) who asserted that “aspects of society need to be organized in a fundamentally different way because the world of today and tomorrow is and will be totally different from the society of yesterday due to the effects of information technology and globalization. There is a need to change the whole education system, the view on knowledge and power relations between teacher and student.”
Therefore, after finishing a course on education in the Digital Age during my B.Ed, I began to explore ways creating technology enhanced learning environments. Watching those learners struggling with learning things that we take for granted everyday strengthened my resolve to keep exploring how the emerging technologies could assist these students to access their learning better. They had a range of diverse learning needs some of which could only be assisted through using assistive technologies, be they physical techs or internet based. Seale, Drafan, & Wald (2010, p. 446), highlighted the importance of educational technologies in this cohort of learners by coining the term digital inclusion. They articulated that “ Digital inclusion is broadly understood as a phenomenon whereby marginalized people , in this case disabled people, are able to access and meaningfully participate in the same learning, employment, social and citizenship activities as others through access to and use of digital technologies such as computers [and other e-tools].’
Therefore, it was paramount for me to understand the students social, medical and educational backgrounds and needs, and the way these impacted their learning (barriers to their learning). Knowledge of their learning styles was also important in order for me to design appropriate learning goals, assessments and to choose technologies that developed their competencies for lifelong learning which would allow them to become independent individuals. Having that pedagogical knowledge enabled me to have high but achievable expectations for the students by empowering them with metacognitive skills which would allow them to reflect on their own thinking, learning and actions and to take responsibility of their own learning as much as possible through self –monitoring, self- assessment and peer assessments. For these learners it was possible and achievable by utilizing sound learning design principles and appropriate technologies.
To improve my professional knowledge to be able to help these students, I completed a PGDip. In E-learning where I explored a range of E-learning pedagogies and completed a course in learning Design (Instructional Design for e-learning). At this point I was becoming quite confident in utilizing educational technologies and e-learning tools in ways which were engaging to my learners and my colleagues wondered how I was succeeding with these students.
A few years later I was appointed as an Assessment for Learning and teaching as inquiry coordinator. This was a challenging position because I was working with colleagues who were over worked and who did not want anything new added to their work load. In trying to respect their time I set up a collaboration online platform where we could share our ideas, successes, issues and solutions to classroom practice. A few enthusiasts picked it up but we were not supported by senior management who were not supportive of social media or online stuff which they blocked from the school intranet. We did not even have Youtube nor could we even access our personal e-mails. This became a real operational issue because they quoted “privacy.”
I created a wiki using my personal Gmail address and invited people to collaborate on using assessment for learning and teaching as inquiry. Initially the senior managers had given permission, but they did not participate, so most colleagues did not engage. However, the professional development succeeded when conducted offline and using face-to-face with good old power point, videoing practice and having face –to-face, open-to-learning conversations. This form of PD method was successful, so it shows the constraints that we had in the use of technology.
Finally I became a learning designer at NMIT and I am overwhelmed by the technologies that are at my disposal. I am now revisiting all the technologies that I learnt when I was doing my PGDip and MEd. I am slowly exploring how I can support the departments that I work with on how they can utilize all these technologies in a pedagogically sound, inclusive and engaging ways for our students. This is just the beginning of so much more to come.
Hansson, H. (2006). Teachers’ professional development for the technology-enhanced classroom in the school of tomorrow. E- Learning, 3(4), 552- 564.
Seale, J., Draffan, E. A., & Wald, M. (2010). Digital Agility and Digital Decision-Making: Conceptualising Digital Inclusion in the Context of Disabled Learners in Higher Education. Studies in Higher Education, 35(4), 445-461.