There are few things which have the same potential to revolutionise teaching and learning as technological innovation. Many schools have been quick to adapt and integrate new technologies into the classroom. But with so many possibilities, the big challenge for schools has been how to harness them in ways that improve outcomes and don’t break the bank.
In the hurry to jump on the tech bandwagon as it speeds past, it can be easy to forget why we want to be on board in the first place.
The best research, summarised in the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, tells us that technology is not an end in itself: it should be used to supplement other teaching, rather than replace more traditional approaches. In short, it is unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly, but instead affect teaching and learning interactions instead, such as by providing more effective feedback or motivating students to practise more. Just having a tablet computer, for example, isn’t going to make a difference; the key is how a teacher uses it with their students for maximum benefit.
The possibilities technology offers to improve learning are far-reaching and tremendously exciting. The question has shifted from whether technology should have a place in the classroom to understanding which technologies should be used for what specific purposes and with which particular groups of learners.
Should schools try and improve learning by strengthening relationships with parents through regular text messages? Or should they take a more radical approach by experimenting with ‘flipped classrooms’, where lessons are first studied by pupils on their own at home, leaving more time in class for discussion and feedback? These are all questions the Education Endowment Foundation is investigating through rigorous randomised control trials in schools.
We believe that teachers need access to high-quality evidence of which approaches have worked in the past if they are to make the best decisions on where to spend precious time and resources in the future. If schools, developers and universities alike put serious effort into evaluation, we will be in the best position to capture the educational benefits of new technology, as well as avoiding some expensive mistakes.