Oh yes, that is the question. To frame my thoughts in the words of Shakespeare is so much more apt than a Descartes-esq, ‘I tech therefore I am. ‘The latter implies a kind of technological determinism, that without technology our lessons or our practice is not a whole deal for the students. I much prefer to think of using technology as being a choice, where the teacher has the confidence and competency to be able to decide if technology is being used purposefully. If a teacher decides to use technology it should be for a good reason, that is, it brings something to the learning that otherwise could not have happened.
This article was originally published in the April 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine. You can order a printed version of the magazine by clicking here, or freely read the article in our online version by clicking here.
Edtech enthusiasts will trot about a phrase about using technology to ‘enhance learning‘, now this is all very well and good, but what does it actually mean? For me, there are several key things that make the use of technology really have impact in the classroom. I can’t say how much I really believe that technology should not be used as a gimmick or a tick box for observation. Much teaching can be exciting, innovative, interesting and engaging without the use of any technology at all. What we do need to consider is how can technology have meaningful impact and affect outcomes for our learners, as well as the quality of experiences that they have during their time at school.
Something which is not uncontested in educational circles is the value of students collaborating together. For me, this is one of the key positives that technology has to offer, and can change the habits of learning, develop soft skills such as teamwork or leadership, as well as refine academic skills and knowledge. Consider for example the use of Google Drive in education. Asking students to work on a collaborative essay requires planning and behaviour management on the part of the teacher. The technology in no way replaces the teacher, but it does provide opportunities for teacher formative feedback, and peer feedback. You can also role model via live writing how you want students to craft sentences and answers, and show them the writing skills they need to develop. Further to this, you can correct any knowledge errors and work with students inside and outside the classroom to improve their writing, and subject. This, massively wide range of teaching opportunities, simply cannot occur in the same way without using technology. It’s not really about what type of technology you choose to use, there are many platforms available, and again it is worth considering what is going to work in your classroom, not trying to import solutions from other schools. Our learners are individuals, and so our use of technology should be bespoke for them, rather than wholly subscribing to a company that you are a teacher enjoy using.
Another thing that technology can bring to students learning is equipping them with skills that they will need to survive in a world that is becoming, unarguable, increasingly digital in the way that people live, communicate, and share ideas. Curating information from the Internet is a skill in itself, and curing information about our own selves is crucially important for our learnersmany of whom will have sat through PSHE lessons on their Digital Footprint, without fully appreciating the negative implications that not being mindful of this can have on their future prospects. Curating for me, the ability to accurately research, cite sources, and be respectful of other people’s content is something that all learners need to be proficient in- otherwise they will leave school Ill equipped for future learning. Our ultimate aim as teachers is to prepare students for what awaits them in their life after school. Being an independent learner, and someone who appreciates the importance of having a positive online profile, and the opportunities this can afford them, is crucial.
Certainly using technology is engaging to young people. Many spend a large amount of time in front of screens. However, what I have found they are most comfortable with is the use of apps that facilitate social interaction, rather than educational opportunities. I think the final thing I would advocate when considering using technology is not to rely on the students to be able to work apps or devices without teacher support. Aurasma.com is very exciting, as issuing AudioBoom.com to podcast, but neither will work in a vacuum of skills deficits on the part of the teacher and the students. Plan well, know your learners, and give them the time and space to play with technology so that they can…
Rachel Jones is a teacher and e-Learning coordinator. She shares interesting ideas about pedagogy and other geeky stuff on her blog at createinnovateexplore.com. You can find her on Twitter @rlj1981.