I’m a big fan of teaching with technology but have some concerns that some feel it’s all about the technology. The debate whether technology should be used appropriately in classrooms has long been won. Indeed, the research evidence over the past forty years about the impact of digital technologies on learning consistently identify positive benefits. Studies that link the provision of technology with attainment tend to find consistently positive associations with educational outcomes. But a causal link cannot be identified from the research and it seems probable that more effective schools and teachers are more likely to use digital technologies more effectively than other schools (source).
Many will, rightly, point out that this is nothing new. However, the best points are worth repeating and revisiting because every year we welcome new teachers into our profession. Myself, I can look back twelve months ago when I had a range of digital technologies available and compare my teaching then to now. Since September, I’ve had very limited access to technology to use with students in the classroom. My teaching hasn’t suffered. If anything, it’s become a little more creative. I’m not anti-technology now, I think teaching with technology is essential, but it’s not the answer nor the only way to improve teaching and learning. The argument that you don’t need to use technology to teach well does have some merit, but is not easy to agree with if we consider the use of Twitter for Teachers’ Professional Development; the internet and online resource depositaries such as the TES; data management systems to track attendance and the good old fashioned technologies of board pens, rulers and books.
So, how can teachers use technology appropriately?
1. We need to model the appropriate use of technology. I’m a Microsoft Expert Educator, but this type of thing concerns me:
To be more specific, this approach in schools concerns me. I’m a great believer in the power of learning anywhere and at anytime, but encouraging teachers to be available to students 24/7 isn’t appropriate. I try not to send work emails past 5pm or at the weekend not because I haven’t got masses of work to do, but because a genuine work-life balance is important to model. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be available outside of hours, just that it needs to be reasonable and managed well. Are we encouraging the workaholic constantly switched on approach to life from our students, or do we also want them to appreciate the simpler things in life? Just because we can give an instant answer, doesn’t mean that we should. Learning anywhere and anytime isn’t new, see this TES article from 1998.
2. Getting subject specific and teach those teachers that Twitter doesn’t reach.
I recently gave a talk to some geography teachers as part of a Royal Geographical Society event. None of them knew about the Ordnance Survey feature of Bing Maps. Only two of them (6%) were on Twitter. Neither of these points makes them bad teachers, just that the messages about good teaching and learning are more effective when they are targeted within schools and at those audiences that benefit the most. It also highlights the need to revisit the simple tools time and time again. Just because technology moves on at lightning speed, doesn’t mean that majority teachers or students are keeping up.
3. Keep it simple and effective.
The most effective use of a student’s mobile device in a classroom I’ve ever seen? A lesson where one young person read out their mobile number in French as a another dialled it in. If the phone rung, a winner. Teaching with technology needn’t be complicated but it does need to add something different. Creating an individual mind map on an iPad isn’t any better than drawing one on paper. It just looks shinier. Great teachers will get the best from students with, or without technology. Start with the learning and personalise the use of technology to the teacher’s learning objectives. Remember that just having access to a tool such as the entire Pathe back catalogue can transform lessons
4. Use technology to enhance teacher workflow.
The most revolutionary thing I’ve ever done with technology is use Google Docs to create ‘living schemes of work’ and to improve the efficiency of student tracking and staff meetings. As a leader, my job is to help to stretch a teachers’ use of technology to get better results from young people. It’s not about better engagement, but better achievement. The use of technology needs to be measured and evaluated carefully.
Technology is here to stay. It’s been around for a fair old while. I love using it, but let’s look beyond the shiny.
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