In teaching it is a necessary part of the job now to make decisions on what technology we use in the classroom. It might be a hardware purchase or trialling a piece of software. Regardless of the task at hand, there are five key questions we should consider when it comes to evaluating technology for use in the classroom:
1. Who will be using the technology?
Is the technology being evaluated, to be exclusively used by the teacher, or by the students? Is there the potential to have a mix of both? While this answer will be dependent on the type of technology being used, there are specific situations to be mindful of.
Consider an Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. If the teacher is the only person using and interacting with the technology, then we might need to look at the pedagogy. This would mean we would spend £10,000 (or more depending on the size of the school) on interactive whiteboards that would only ever be used by the teacher. The teachers might love the delivery of new technology, but when you aim for the best possible use of limited resources, we need to ensure the tools fit the job that can’t be done. Could an alternative be considered?
In evaluating technology, we need to make sure it is fit for purpose and not just to dazzle staff with new provisions-it needs to be meaningful and help solve a problem.
2. If we remove the technology, how would the lesson be completed?
This point aims at getting into the heart of the pedagogy and forcibly create a context where we are evaluating technology and how it is being used. Technology use in the classroom should enable students to do something that they couldn’t previously do without it. We can communicate with students around the world by having a pen-pal, but when we use Zoom or Google Hangouts, we can communicate much quicker (and with an element of face-to-face) and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact.
As professionals, we need to consistently reflect on what and how, we teach. Could the same lesson be delivered and have the same impact without the technology? Do we need the technology? Do we need the analogue? In a previous job, teaching programming to degree students, we had a lesson in week 7 (of 15) that required the students to write Java code using pen. The purpose of this was to test students in their real knowledge of Java. Could they create a full working document from memory? Can they write code without an auto-complete? The purpose of this was not to expose a lack of knowledge, but to show students the distance needed to travel before mastery of a subject can be achieved. This lesson regularly featured as a high point for students when submitting module reviews as it taught them what success would look like and gave them a metric by which they could measure their own success and competence. In this instance, in a Computing subject, the lack of technology was the difference. When we think critically about how the technology is being used and would the learning be the same without it, then we are in a good position to evaluate our use of technology.
3. How much variety is there when using the technology?
When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things?
Are we asking them to do the same as an analogue task, but as a digital equivalent, like making notes on MS Word insteaa of on paper-why do this? Just keep it on paper, it at least will be stored in their brains as they write it.
Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programmes? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn’t pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know, or our favourite. Pupils need to have learning opportunities to use several different types of software and sites to build and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways, regardless whther the teacher knows them or not (that’s a learning & an area for development for the teacher). Evaluating technology in this area should lead us to a deeper and more effective use of technology to enhance pupil engagement and learning.
4. What opportunities are there for students to collaborate with others or through the technology?
Collaboration (or groupwork in old money) can be a difficult concept to sell in education. There are so many variables that can add to the difficulty for any teacher (no matter how experienced):
- are groups pre-selected (to separate the pupils who are prone to mess around) or pupil-selected (which will inevitably pair the kids who are prone to mess around together in one super-villain group)?
- How do we ensure work is divided and completed equally?
- Does the level of preparation outweigh the benefits?
And I suppose in rebuttal to those questions (and they are valid questions) and in many ways, irrespective of those questions, students need the chance to learn with and from each other. Technology enables us to achieve this goal much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? A shared document, discussion forum or class chat forum could create a context for this to be shared. Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just observing one student using the technology on an individual basis? If so, depending on the context of the task, it could be time to reflect upon how students work together through or with technology and design for a new learning opportunity.
5. What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology?
Learning really takes hold with a student when they can take a piece of understanding and apply it to a scenario and do something with it. This could be creating a meaningful product or new knowledge with that understanding. Technology makes this creation so much easier and in many cases, more meaningful, which in turn makes evaluating technology more important to get it right. The abilty to share the creation on many different platforms can have a powerful effect on current and future learning experiences. When you see that students are using technology to perform recall or low-level learning, is this truly creating something meaningful, filling time or hinting at a reliance on technology to mask a lack of learning/understanding?