After years of introducing technology into classrooms around the world, and with previously unimaginable levels of internet access, there are few signs that technology is meaningfully impacting learning outcomes.
So, should we give up and move to the next silver bullet?
Clearly not. Just as technology has impacted so many other aspects of our lives, it’s undeniable that it has enormous potential to help improve education for students around the world.
Instead of assuming that by simply presenting teachers and students with a bevy of tablets, phablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards outcomes will be transformed, we should start by asking ourselves how technology fits into our education system and what is already working.
John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, and his follow-up volumes synthesise 1200 meta-analyses from across the field of educational research, and led to a ranked list of 195 factors that impact learning outcomes. To the surprise of few, this work shows that many of the biggest effects come from the activities of teachers, and those of students carrying out habits taught in classroom practices developed and sustained over many years.
Sensibly enough we’ve collectively asked ourselves how technology can best support these existing pedagogies; providing teachers with information that helps them make even better estimations of achievement, enabling better classroom discussion, and so on.
Tools exist that very ably support teachers to deliver these lessons more easily than they were able to only a few years ago. This means the lessons being supported are often digitised versions of ‘traditional’ lessons; updated in some ways but not redesigned to make best use of the educational possibilities that technology has opened up.
So, how do we move on from a stage where technology has mostly been used as an alternative way to do what was already being done, albeit one that may save time and increase consistency?
Again we must turn to what works: Teachers.
Too much technology for education has been created based on technical possibilities rather than teaching needs. As with so many things, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. The best examples of educational technology out there have led with their purpose first and their capabilities second.
Change is coming, but it must be led by teachers. Digitally-native pedagogies have been well codified by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker in their book Blended, and many teachers have already started to rearrange their internal systems of teaching and learning around pedagogies such as the flipped classroom.
Teachers are best placed to make the most of the opportunities available, and to challenge current classroom practice. We should work with them to devise new approaches and training that can help increase knowledge and confidence in the possibilities of technology in education. We shouldn’t assume that what is technically possible is always what is educationally desirable.
Teachers have adapted to anything and everything from social turmoil to profound shifts in the needs of the global workforce. We should not be shutting them out of the conversation now.