The good, the bad and the ugly (truth) about educational technology

This article was written for School Business Manager Magazine and was first published in September 2018. If you have a subscription, you can read the full version on the SBM website

Education secretary Damian Hinds, speaking at the launch of an EdTech50 event at the House of Lords earlier this year, said: “There are so many reasons to be optimistic about the possibilities for technology across education. [Education technology] is increasingly supporting improved outcomes across England and internationally, and in my short time [in office] I have already seen how it can support and transform education at every step of the journey.”

Jisc CEO Paul Feldman, speaking at the same event, said: “A former teacher with a mission to remove homework headaches, a headteacher who used digital technology to improve special educational needs teaching and an entrepreneur who creates STEM play experiences […] show how education technology can be a catalytic force for digital innovation in teaching and learning.”

The Guardian Teacher Network announced in 2017 that “From interactive whiteboards that aid language learning to virtual reality headsets that demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion, technology has the potential to yield strong results in the classroom.”

Schools can’t ignore technology – it’s all around us, after all, and our pupils are digital natives – but that’s not to say that all technology is equal or that the use of technology is always preferable to more traditional ‘analogue’ forms of teaching. The challenge for SBMs is knowing when to sign a cheque and invest in tech, and when to say no to the new.

To help you make an informed choice, let us take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly (truth) of educational technology…

The good

Firstly, using technology in the classroom allows for more active learning. For example, the teacher can increase pupil engagement through online polling or asking quiz questions with instantaneous results. Digital textbooks that embed links to relevant materials or pupil-maintained course wikis can also make information more dynamic and engaging.

Secondly, technology in the classroom helps promote fuller participation. Online polling and other tools help to engage all pupils, including shy pupils who wouldn’t normally raise their hand in class. Online engagement systems also allow the teacher to check in with pupils at regular intervals in order to receive feedback on their learning.

Thirdly, at the beginning of the lesson, technology can be used to help the teacher gauge pupils’ prior knowledge and understanding of a subject. For example, a quick, anonymous onscreen quiz which can inform and direct what the teacher needs to focus on next. Setting the same quiz at the end of the lesson allows pupils to gain a sense of the progress they’ve made and allows the teacher to assess the effectiveness of her lesson.

Fourthly, classroom ‘gamification’ – the use of competitive scenarios, and the distribution of points and rewards – can make the classroom more fun and engaging and more relevant to young people’s lives outside of school. Games also encourage pupils to accept challenge without fear of failure because they instinctively know that gaming means learning from your mistakes.

Fifthly, technology affords pupils instant access to new, up-to-date information. There is much value in having high quality, expertly edited textbooks and other printed materials. However, information online is usually more up-to-date and young people used to Google are more likely to engage with it.

Finally, our pupils live in a digital world, are digital natives, and developing their use of technology is an important life skill. In short, we can’t ignore tech in the classroom when it is ubiquitous outside of it. Being digitally literate is more than obtaining “isolated technological skills,” (so says the NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition in the US). Rather, it’s about “generating a deeper understanding of the digital environment, enabling intuitive adaptation to new contexts and co-creation of content with others.” Creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet and maintaining proper online etiquette are all vital skills that pupils can learn in the safe and supported environment of the school classroom.

…to continue reading this article, visit the SBM Magazine website.

Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley

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