Digital technology has been a feature of classroom life for decades. While white boards were yet to be conceived, even the 1980s classroom would invariably see children huddled around BBC Micros writing simple programmes in BBC BASIC. I recall the excitement as a teen of whole lessons devoted to working with computers, and the disappointment of equipment being spread far too thinly in the bulging classes typical in my experience. In the subjects I chose to pursue post-16 and beyond, computers did not feature at all, so that early rudimentary introduction to edtech remained isolated, essentially useless.
Decades later and the picture is dramatically different. Children are used to using digital technology and have access to it for their work across the curriculum. The Education Endowment Digital Technology summary of the evidence available on the use of computer and technology assisted strategies to support learning within schools reveals that this has “moderate impact for moderate cost, based on extensive evidence”.
The summary makes for an interesting read, suggesting five points for consideration when implementing a digital learning strategy in your environment. In addition, the EEF Guidance Report, Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning published in March 2019 offers four key recommendations:
- Consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before introducing it
- Technology can be used to improve the quality of explanations and monitoring
- Technology offers ways to improve the impact of pupil practice
- Technology can play a role in improving assessment and feedback
It is clearer now than ever that the benefits of digital technology are there for the taking but the need for wisdom in its deployment is strong. Cat Scutt, Director of Education and Research at the Chartered College of Teaching offers a path through some of the issues facing schools as they devise effective strategies for the use of technology. Not surprisingly, Cat says, teachers are key. “Making critical decisions about when technology is the right solution (and when it is not) relies on teachers’ knowledge and understanding of their pupils, their subject and content, and also the affordances of technology,” explains Cat. “Technology is also far from always beneficial in the classroom - it can be a distraction, reducing attention on learning or negatively affecting behaviour, and subsequently attainment, so empowering teachers to make decisions about technology use is important.”
Before adopting any strategy in the classroom, our concern should be the extent to which it might assist us in developing high-quality teaching and learning. This is the first and last concern of the educator, and it helps us to appreciate the links between sound pedagogy and the use of technology as a supportive tool in the classroom. Any use of technology should be underpinned by rigorous, evidence-informed principles. As Cat explains, “feedback, for example, is widely recognised as a key support for pupil learning, and technology can enable new approaches to giving feedback, including video or audio commenting or instant automated marking and feedback. Review and recap of previously learnt content can be enabled with online quizzing tools; and processes can be modelled and excellent examples of work shared with a visualiser. In all of these, it is pedagogy rather than technology that is front and centre.”
For Miles Berry, Principal Lecturer Computing Education at the University of Roehampton, digital technologies, particularly the web and the smartphone, have already changed education. “We routinely turn to the likes of Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and social media to learn new things, to share new insights and to connect to a community of those who share these interests,” he explains. “Digital technologies have had a rather more limited effect thus far on schooling, with many, not just the neo-traditionalists, believing that ed-tech has repeatedly failed to live up to the claims made for it.”
There must be reasons for this. “Perhaps this is due to a conflict between the learner-centred paradigm that characterises some of the best use of digital technology and the teacher-centred model we see in most schools,” suggests Miles, “but even here there is much that teachers can do to make better use of technologies.”
Firstly, Miles offers, we should not assume young people make the best use of the technology they have. “Access to devices, content and community are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions. As educators we can play a role in teaching, supporting and challenging young people to make better use of all these, giving focus, purpose and criticality.”
We can make better use of technology for teaching too, Miles believes. “There's strong evidence for how multimedia content can best be used to teach, but all too often cognitive load theory, dual coding and principles of multimedia get overlooked in our design of instructional materials.” There are opportunities we might explore, though. “Web-based tools may extend the opportunities for collaborative learning way beyond the confines of the classroom,” Miles explains. “Wikipedia is not fixed: where there are errors and omissions these can be fixed and filled, including by pupils themselves. Scratch's power as a platform for learning to program is not due to its block-based language, but to its culture of remixing and offering feedback. Blogging, such as pupils' writing for the weekly 100 Word Challenge prompts, is not just another text-based medium, but a way to share creative writing with a global audience.”
For Cat, it is clear where our attention must lie if we are to improve the use of edtech in schools and ultimately improve teaching and learning. She feels that “It is critical that we invest in the development of teachers and ensure they not only know how to use a particular edtech tool, but also have the time and resources to engage with and in research, reflection and discussion about why and when they might (or might not) wish to do so.”
Edtech can focus our minds on the core task of teaching and like any strategy we adopt, there is the potential for it to help or hinder. “With or without digital technology, effective learning is about sustained concentration and intellectual curiosity,” Miles says. “With or without digital technology, effective teaching is about meeting learners where they are and taking them on to somewhere they wouldn't otherwise have reached."
Find out more…
There are many useful sources of support for teachers seeking to develop their use of technology in teaching, but perhaps the most fruitful sources at least initially come from the collective expertise of staff in a school. Beyond that, these sources may help:
- The Education Endowment Digital Technology review of the evidence can be found here
- The EEF Guidance Report, Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning
- The Chartered College published a special issue of its journal, Impact, in January 2019, which focused on the use of technology to support teaching and learning.
- The Chartered College also published a free 4-week MOOC which focuses on how technology can be used effectively to support classroom practice that is informed by research and evidence, available here.
Are you currently seeking your next role? Search our jobs here.