What is a DLC, & what does a DLC do? - Digital Literacy Dover

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What is a DLC, & what does a DLC do?

I'm a 'Digital Literacy Coach', a 'pedagogical technologist' (Woo, 2012) would probably be a more accurate description; that is a pedagogical coach who specialises in digital technologies. We're a rare, but fast growing breed in any TELE (technology enhanced learning environment) where the tech in question is digital, ie screens, because let's face it, all teaching environments are enhanced by some kind of technology even if it's just paper and pen/cil.

I commonly find myself on the receiving end of a blank eyed, uncomprehending, incredulous, somewhat vacuous expression when I give an answer like this. Especially if the person in question is a student, or a parent. Something like.

A pedagociawhat? What on earth is a DLC?

You're a ... what?
"A what?" "so, ... what do you do?"

So, 4 years of research, and 1 Master's degree later, here it is. My answer.

Studies (McGarr & McDonagh, 2013) indicate that for many schools, the provision of even one person who has this kind of role is rare. Unfortunately, it is more common to vast commit amounts of expenditure on ICT, while skimping on financing the expertise that would enable teachers to make effective use of it. It would be better to purchase less equipment and instead utilise the released funds to employ skilled facilitators. Without this kind of investment, expensive hardware will almost most likely languish in cupboards (Nesta report, 2012).

So providing technical skills training to teachers in the use of technology is not enough (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013) and teaching skills in isolation does little to help teachers develop knowledge about: how to use technology to teach content in differentiated ways according to students' learning needs (TPK); how technology can be used to support the learning of specific curriculum content (TCK); or how to help students meet particular curriculum content standards while using technologies appropriately (TPACK) in their learning (Harris et al 2009; Mishra & Koehler, 2006); this is where having a dedicated ‘coach’ is essential.

Teachers need professional development in the pedagogical application of skills to improve teaching and learning (Carlson and Gadio, 2002). One of the most effective ways to help teachers take advantage of, and integrate technology is to provide ‘situated’ professional development through the provision of dedicated technology facilitators. These are known by many titles, eg DLCs, ICT Coordinators, Tech Integrators; all of which place far too much emphasis on the digital-technological.

Perhaps the role is better described as that of a pedagogical coach, but one who has an affinity for technology. The emphasis being, first and foremost, on the pedagogical aspect of the role, the technology supports pedagogy - not the other way round. Perhaps, despite the multiplicity of syllables, a better description of this role could be that of a ‘Pedagogical Technologist’ (Woo, 2012). These are dedicated teachers who support individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) authentic technology integration, mentoring, just-in-time support that addresses teachers' needs, individualised instruction, observation of technology integration in practice and self-directed learning (Jacobsen 2001; 2002). This approach goes beyond skill centred strategies (teaching the use of tools) and emphasises the importance of helping teachers develop and use technology to teach curriculum content using specific pedagogical approaches that support successful technology-enhanced teaching and learning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

Perhaps another question we should ask is, what happens if you do NOT have a DLC? Fullan and Donnelly answer this question nicely:

"Study after study has concluded that the impact of digital technology has been stifled when there is no emphasis on the pedagogy of the application of technology as used in the classroom. this phenomenon has been recently documented by Steven Higgins et al. in a large meta–analytical study on digital learning. When teachers are not taught how to use an innovation, how to adapt to the model, and provided with on–going support, they revert to their traditional behaviours and practices. And, if professional development is stacked at initial launch, it risks neglecting the need for continuous reinforcement and upgrading." (p19)

So DLCs emphasise pedagogical application of technology. And how do DLCs do this? Well, they... 

Synthesise, problem solve, filter... 

Key to this role is synthesis. A DLC must consider the curricular goals, the talents and experiences of the team they are working with, the potential connections (support, reinforcement, or duplication) of related areas and skills, and how best to determine priorities. Tsai & Chai (2012) describe this problem solving capacity in terms of ‘design thinking’ where the ability to “re-organise or create learning materials and activities” and adapt these accordingly (ibid, p1058) is seen as necessary to overcome a ‘third-order’ barrier of a lack of ‘design thinking’.  The DLC also reviews recent practice and tries to anticipate how best to implement future projects. As they begin to develop new visions, communicate them to colleagues, and contemplate how to realise these innovations, they enter the realms of strategic leadership and creativity within the profession (Gardner, 2006). Synthesising the current state of technological knowledge, incorporating new findings, and delineating new dilemmas are critical to the work of any DLC who wishes to remain current and therefore relevant.

This role as filter is particularly important given the phenomenal proliferation of digital tools—on a literally daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. The DLC is all that stands between the teacher and a tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.  And neither can these just be ignored, as, not unlike the prospectors of old, sometimes lying in the sludge of similarity and 'revolutionary? not really' ... is the odd golden nugget of greatness. Yes, Apps like DoodleCast Pro, I'm looking at you. The DLC is the prospector who wades through the mediocre with filters of failure, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, which can then be brought back triumphantly and with considerable excitement to a, maybe not so interested team of teachers. Yet.

A ‘low power distance’ (Hofstede et al, 1991) is a crucial aspect of these roles, within a loose, decentralised hierarchy, where teachers are colleagues, not subordinates. A high degree of technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) is at the heart of this role—an understanding of how teaching and learning can change, when particular technologies [tools] are used effectively. This includes knowing the ‘pedagogical affordances and constraints’ of a range of technological tools as they relate to various disciplines with “developmentally appropriate pedagogical designs and strategies (ibid).”

Design (interventions)

Interventions significantly influenced by the need to use, "small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).” Helping teachers making even small progress in meaningful work is a powerful stimulant to inspiring them to want to do more. If people are involved in meaningful work, and if they feel capable, and if they are helped to make even small progress, they become more motivated and ready for the next challenge (Fullan, 2013).

All interventions should incorporate three essential elements (Rodríguez et al, 2011) they should be first and foremost pedagogically centred, collaboratively designed, and expected to result in transference.

A focus on pedagogy has been shown to be effective in ‘freeing’ the practitioner from the myth that they need to be the ‘tech expert’ in the room, instead focusing on their classroom management skills, seeing technical “pitfalls as teachable moments” (Steve, 2011, p16). This pedagogic model requires the definition and design of tasks for teachers and students, supported by ICTs. The interventions are how the pedagogic model is adopted, leading towards the “autonomous implementation” (Rodríguez et al, 2011, p84).  They are composed of planned activities, such as training sessions for teachers, practical experiences, and classroom observations (Rodríguez et al, 2010). In addition to this, during the intervention, the DLC continually monitors and evaluates progress in order to assess the suitability and efficacy of implementation and to determine the extent to which the pedagogical model is actually being adopted (Wagner et al, 2005). This is expected to lead to arguably the purpose of the entire initiative - transference, teachers who have adopted these practices to the point where they are intrinsic and habitual, where the vast majority teachers effectively and faithfully “carry out the intervention” (Rodríguez 2008).


None of these attributes count for anything unless the ‘coach’ or ‘facilitator’ is a “pedagogical leader and champion” (McGarr & McDonagh, 2013)—a “charismatic individual who throws his or her weight behind an innovation, thus over-coming indifference or resistance... (Stuart et al, 2009, p734).” These champions are “the individuals who emerge to take creative ideas […] and bring them to life” who “actively and enthusiastically promote the innovation, building support, overcoming resistance, and ensuring that the innovation is implemented (Howell & Higgins, 1990, p40).” Confidence, persistence, energy and risk-taking are key characteristics (ibid). Champions can be distinguished from non-champions because they can communicate a clear vision, display enthusiasm, demonstrate commitment and involve others in supporting innovation (ibid). Champions are also an important part of the innovation process in an organisation (ibid; Rogers, 2003), and are “especially important in the implementation of new technology (p3).” Loucks & Zacchei (1983) describe these facilitators as “cheerleaders” (p29); building commitment early and maintaining it through constant encouragement; as ‘linkers’, bringing in outside expertise and ideas—linking resources and expertise; and trouble-shooters, helping teachers solve problems.

So that's it. That's what I do.

Thank you, and good night.

*Or Digital Literacy Coach, ICT Coordinator, Technology Coordinator, Technology Facilitator, Pedagogical Technologist ... there are more... 


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