As part of my CPD, I had the opportunity to complete the Certificate in Evidence-Informed Practice with the Chartered College of Teaching. The course was online and fitted with a busy schedule as we approached the end of the year! It was self-paced and well stocked with resources for reading/reflecting and reviewing to put into my own teaching pedagogy! As part of the course, I had to submit a report on a given topic. The topic I chose is entitled: “Is Technology the Future?” It seemed custom-made for what I do here on this site but allowed me to consider a more-evidence based approach, as well as give me new resources to read up on and assimilate into my own writings!
Here is the complete report as submitted to The Chartered College of Teaching.
Is Technology the Future?
I believe the answer to this question first requires context and secondly, knowledge of the intended goal. Bouygues (2019) discusses how the issue of using educational technology is far from clear. The distraction that technology can cause to learning has been noted to as much as two-thirds of class time is spent on ‘off-task duties’ (Ragan, Massey & Doolittle, 2014) and contributed to as much as an 11% decrease in student understanding. Whereas studies by Herodotou (2017); Li & Ma (2010) & Berkowitz, Schaeffer & Maloney (2015) have all shown how using technology can have positive effects on learning in Science and Maths.
In this response I intend to focus on the point that technology can have an active and powerful role to play in education, but only where an effective digital pedagogy is in place. To explore how technology can have a future in education and create meaningful learning experiences for learners.
At the outset, I believe it important to set out my ideological position: that technology is and can be an intense force for effective learning in the classroom; to assist teachers in improving learning outcomes and goals for learners. I write about the topic of educational technology on my website, https://edtechist.co.uk/.
A major advantage of using technology in the classroom, focuses on the ability to build teaching and learning around the needs of the student, including their prior learning and track student progression (Ma, Adesope, Nesbit & Liu, 2014). There are proponents of technology who would argue that using technology will help to prepare students for their future in the workplace. While the role of technology in a pupils’ future may be accurate, I do not believe this to be a helpful argument in the debate with regards to the use of technology in education. Our position needs to have a greater rationale for inclusion. We need to have stronger, evidence-based reasons for our use of technology.
Keppel, Suddaby & Hard (2015) set out to establish best practice in technology enhanced learning environments. They maintain that developing a common understanding of TEL is a necessary starting point. Teachers in schools would rarely have access to research – jointly due to cost and availability of time to invest in reading research and so this presents an extra obstacle to overcome in disseminating a common understanding and shared starting point to technology enhanced learning.
The government paper entitled ‘Realising the Potential of Technology in Education’ (2019) raised five areas in which education can “build on existing good practice and drive further innovation” (2019:6). These points raise the central theme of why technology can be the future, but only when it builds upon good practice and innovates in a meaningful way: it can make completing tasks within education easier, reduce time spent on non-teaching and adds real value to the life of a teacher.
Wenglisky (2005) found that “the effects of school technology depended on how teachers chose to integrate these technologies into the classroom.” The deciding factor was quality, not quantity. This would pertain to a recurring theme within the research. The quality of teaching and learning in using technology is the deciding factor, not simply the inclusion of technology in lessons.
Price and Kirkwood (2010) asked a simple question with regards to technology enhanced learning: ‘where’s the evidence?’ They look at how the implementation of many online learning platforms and their accompanying digital pedagogies have been “of secondary concern.” They also ask in which ways has learning been enhanced by technology –and how this is measured. Valid questions, but perhaps more focused on the terminology, rather than how the ability to publish tutorial videos on YouTube which allows teachers to reach beyond their timetabled lessons and deliver the same high-quality learning to students at a time the learner needs it most.
Christodoulou (2020) discusses the idea of obtaining “the right kind of interactivity.” A key point highlighted here is that “study after study shows that what matters is not the preferred learning style of the student, but the best learning style for the content being studied.” The evidence points towards the idea that we need to think critically about what we as teachers are trying to do and how technology can help achieve that goal, not simply how can we use technology to achieve the same goals as what we did without the technology.
Discussion: An Evidence-Based Response
In discussing Christodoulou and her point that we need ‘the right kind of interactivity’, looking to ‘big tech’ and their education channels as a solution is not the right answer either. Google, Microsoft and Apple all have their education platforms, but a careful review of these platforms will reveal that each of them show how to solve an answer using the proprietary technology of the individual corporation. If we asked the question: ‘how do you solve a problem with educational technology?’ The answer would be that it depends if it’s Microsoft if Cortana was answering, Apple if we were talking to Siri or Google if we asked the Google Assistant. This bias effectively reduces the use of technology in schools to be little more than technological evangelism. There is value in these programmes, in as far as receiving training in the technology and its use in the classroom, but none of these education platforms tackle the issue with the digital pedagogy of how we can enhance learning through technology. As a teaching profession, we need to develop our understanding of our digital pedagogy. I believe this should encapsulate our understanding of how learning happens, and then how we can use technology to enhance learning. With these two initial concepts, we can greatly impact our students and how they learn. This would echo the recommendations with regards to the technological side of teaching made by EEF in their ‘Improving Digital Technology to Improve Learning Guidance Report’ (2019).
How we harness the potential for learning will depend upon the skills and competences of teachers. A considerable limitation of this will be financial. Currently, the cost of 3D printers, augmented reality devices and virtual reality devices are too prohibitive for schools, but if the cost for this hardware decreases (and budgets to schools increases), then we may well see their presence in schools as teachers are trained in using the hardware and adapt their digital pedagogy to incorporate these new tools into their teaching, being pedagogically embedded and the learning outcomes clear.
A limitation to the future of technology use is the skill/competence level of teachers. A teacher will not integrate technology (or a new part of technology) if they do not feel confident and competent in using the hardware/software. Therefore, training will be necessary to build the skill level of the teacher to a position where they feel confident and competent in using the device. A support network of other teachers will also be necessary to support teachers as required. Where teachers see the advantages that can be gained by adding these new skills to teaching and learning, they will begin the journey of embedding these skills into their classroom.
The key to considering technology as having a future in education is to understand the role it can play in speeding up the individual tasks we complete in our day-to-day job and not as a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all our problems. We may use a number of different apps to enhance our learning in different ways
Follow-Up Question: Can you elaborate on the implications of using educational technology within your own classroom practice?
As an ICT teacher, educational technology already forms a large part of my classroom practice. Programming demonstrations (including recorded video content posted on YouTube); posting class work and homework on Google Classroom allows me to present learning opportunities to my students outside of my timetabled classes. When we consider the weekly time I have with my junior (non-exam) classes (in some instances 1 hour per 2-week timetable), and the nature of trace decay theory, being able to present learning material online helps to recall prior learning and allow pupils to follow a step-by-step live example of the correct way to programme.
While this can present as a positive, within it are two issues that I would like to address. The first is that I assume all pupils have equitable access to the online content. Not all pupils have the same socio-economic capabilities and so presenting this information online may create an accidental inequality. To mitigate this, I will make my ICT classroom available to students after school if they want to access the required technology to complete the tasks. In this however, is another issue – our IT systems are Windows-based, but some of our pupils will have Apple hardware at home – the second ‘negative.’ Online systems can be accessed without issue, but there have been instances where certain technologies do not exist on the Apple platform (e.g., database software) and so I have had to be able to recommend suitable alternatives so that pupils can complete homework. The hardware issue can therefore apply to teachers and pupils in this context equally – I do not have Apple hardware, nor do I wish to spend that amount of money on expensive hardware.