I’ve been wanting to write this blog for quite some time, and I realise it could be controversial, but I feel now is the time to do it. Last week I presented at the BETT show in London where I discussed and shared innovative approaches to teaching and learning. The following day I had the pleasure of talking at the first UK Digital Citizenship Summit at Bournemouth University, again centered around teaching and learning but with an explicit focus on pedagogy and the ethical/savvy use of it. Technology and its use within education featured heavily at both events, no surprises there and rightly so. However, there was a significant polarisation of the content in the two events, on one hand at BETT, the main focus was centered around apps, software and hardware with the inevitable associated ‘hard sell’ (in some cases). This begs the question, hence the title Ed Tech & the Everest fallacy: should we use technology simply because it’s there? Or to explore this at a deeper level:
How do we ensure we are savvy in our use of technology to accelerate student learning gains without it becoming a gimmick? Just because young people today have grown up with technology it doesn’t mean they’re experts in its use for their own learning. So using our deep pedagogical knowledge, how can we address this?
In my humble opinion I see the current situation with technology in education like this:
The current rate of acceleration of technology is disproportionate to that of pedagogical development in teaching practice, this is a prohibiting factor in truly integrating technology in learning. Research supports this hypothesis and a recent ISTE study suggests that 77% of teachers say technology use in the classroom motivates students to learn and 76% of teachers say technology allows them to respond to a variety of learning styles, this is encouraging, but what about learning gains leading to student progress? More worryingly, schools in England alone spent more than £1.4bn on technology in the past three years but they claim that all too often it is not being used to its full promise and potential (NESTA). Not only do we have a moral obligation to spend public money effectively, we also need to integrate technology to enhance and accelerate learning gains and not to simply replace or mask poor pedagogical practice. I believe we need to meet in the middle and hit the ‘sweet spot’.
“Costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it, a study claims”
I completely agree and actively promote digital, blended and one-to-one learning, however I do have reservations about how deep and embedded the use of technology in the classroom actually is and applied consistently for all students. Above all what is the impact? or perhaps in some cases the lack of it upon students learning? Let me pose a basic hypothetical scenario with two outcomes, that will hopefully exemplify my point: you have a class of 30 students, 8 of which are quite challenging in terms of behaviour, do you:
a) offer a compliance route using technology to avoid confrontation
b) challenge students in their learning using your ‘toolkit’ of pedagogical strategies to engage and motivate them in their learning (with or without technology)
The Rationale For Teaching & Learning
Are we teaching with technology, about technology or how to use technology? – I would suggest all of these. Without intentionally marginalising computing/ICT subjects, I would like to explore beyond these specialist courses delivered by specialist teachers and concentrate more on the wider context of a schools’ curriculum and the wide range of subjects within it. First, schools need to define how technology will support pedagogy and cognitive development:
“There is little evidence to suggest that the human brain has evolved significantly in the last 50 years, moreover, our capacity to learn remains the same as it was before digital technologies became so widespread.”
Therefore technology should function as a tool kit allowing itself and learners to be intellectually linked, where the cognitive responsibility for performance is distributed by the component that performs it better and not replace it. It’s a fact that there is currently a profound skills gap in the teaching profession when it comes to the use of technology. This is a generational thing, which has coined the phrase “digital natives” with regards to our students. What bothers me is when this ‘net’ generation are considered to learn differently to other people, this is absolute rubbish. There is little evidence to suggest that the human brain has evolved significantly in the last 50 years, moreover, our capacity to learn remains the same as it did before digital technologies became so widespread. One theory could suggest that young people today have developed an ability to focus their attention differently. Nevertheless, the cognitive developmental capabilities of young people are fundamentally the same as 50 years ago. Furthermore, we mustn’t assume that because young people have grown up in technological evolution they are experts in its use for their own learning.
The EEF report titled ‘The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning’ suggests:
“Training/professional development for teachers (and for learners), often focuses on skills in using the equipment. This is not sufficient to support teachers and students in getting the best from technology in terms of learning. On-going professional development and support to evaluate the impact is essential.”
Professional development is crucial not only to teachers’ practice but whole school improvement as well, this is common sense. We could also argue that as the teaching profession gets younger (don’t get me started on the recruitment crisis) this will inevitably go away. This would be short sighted and foolish to assume that learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, and that today’s children/young adults don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it. Again, absolute rubbish, this totally depends upon the context in which this is being used, for example, finding out factual information on a new car you’re purchasing would be fine, but would you want your dentist using Wikipedia to brief themselves before your next root canal surgery!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for educational technology and totally believe in developing our students to be responsible, safe, ethical and savvy users of technology. But, with regards to teaching and learning, this operational element needs to be underpinned by a sound pedagogy and not used as a substitute for it or to mask poor practice, otherwise it’s simply a gimmick, encouraging compliance but adding no educational value to students learning and therefore outcomes.
**The Everest fallacy is a little-known name of an often made logical fallacy: the confusion of the exception with the norm.