Technology in the classroom has come a long way. In the past 50 years, technology has advanced from overhead projectors and handheld calculators to smart screens and internet-connected devices, not to mention a myriad of software now available, all with the view of improving participation and learning. In such a short space of time, the advancements in education technology have been truly astounding! So why has there been so little impact on achievement?
This issue was raised at a recent roundtable discussion at SMART’s Inspiring Greatness conference in Sydney. The panellists agreed that while there are many factors at play, one of the biggest issues is that the pace of technological change is so fast, it is almost impossible for teachers to keep up – there is so much new technology available that many teachers are suffering from technology overload. The expectation that a teacher might stay abreast of every technological advancement and to be constantly upskilled is simply too much to ask. Teachers cannot know everything about every technological innovation. And that should not be expected.
Narrowing Down the Choices
Rather than be dazzled by the plethora of various technologies available for classrooms, it is time to get back to basics; to make decisions pragmatically. When it comes to classroom technology, the ultimate outcome is increased learning. By applying the learning lens to technology, teachers can better determine the educational benefits of various technologies, choosing the ones which will best serve them in the classroom.
These decisions do not always involve teachers, but rather IT managers. Teachers should absolutely have a say in what technology is used in their classrooms, with school IT managers providing support in terms of current research and technology updates. It has also been suggested that students should be involved in the process of choosing classroom technologies, as understanding what technologies students are using in their own lives enhances the significance of their learning at school.
In the same way a teenager would not be expected to get in a car and drive without first taking lessons, teachers should not be expected to instinctively know how to best utilise classroom technology. There are probably dozens of functions on smartphones that most people do not even know exist – and classroom tech is no different. Without being adequately trained, the best technology in the world will not improve learning if it is not being used to its full potential.
One of the easiest ways to start improving learning outcomes in schools is by adequately training teachers on how to properly use the technology. Generally, when systems and schools implement new technology, the professional development of teachers is rarely costed into the rollout. Yet it is ultimately the most important aspect; making sure the technology the system or school has invested in is being used to its fullest potential. Without training the teachers, the technology is likely to be unutilised.
Remember why Teachers are Here
At the end of the day, despite the rapid advancements in technology over the past 50 years, education has not changed its goals. Teachers are there to provide an education, to instil in children a love of learning and to help young people make sense of their world. Technology is just one of the many tools they can use to help them do this.
There are many contentious issues in education, but the one thing most agree on is that there is no single factor more important in education than the quality of the teacher. There can be the most advanced classroom technology in the world, but without a teacher who can properly implement it, who can inspire the class to get excited about learning, then the benefit of the technology has not been realised.
To start seeing technology make a positive impact on learning outcomes, teachers need to be supported more; from purchasing decisions right through to quality professional development.
There have been 50 years of technological advancements with very little impact on learning outcomes – but if the focus is shifted away from the technology itself and teachers instead start looking more holistically at how it is being used for learning in the classroom, they will see significant improvement in learning outcomes.
Where schools have taken up this challenge they have implemented a range of solutions. Schools that are leaders in educational technology integration have a five-year strategic plan that is agreed by all stakeholders, where purchasing is not piecemeal and is governed by the best fit for learning. Teachers are bower birds who seek out and pick up the best ideas for their students, so they do not necessarily want to be channelled into a single solution. Therefore, in educational technology selection it is important to look at interoperability so that teachers are not the ones solving issues such as version control software updates and so on taking precious time away from teaching.
In these leading schools, there is a relentless focus on learning both for students and teachers. Teachers elect to train as specialists in technologies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and SMART so they become coaches for teams across the school. This provides the teachers with additional qualifications and leadership opportunities, enabling them to address their professional teaching standards. In these settings, students can also become coaches who are the experts in the school’s software and devices, who can then inspire their teachers and peers.
The schools provide opportunities for teachers to share their practices and demonstrate software and device use in context. Learning from each other in this way, in bite-sized chunks relevant to syllabuses and with trusted colleagues, enables the teachers in these schools to be confident users of technology for learning.
There are many examples across Australia of outstanding work in schools; it is important to showcase these practices so that all schools can learn from each other to focus on the future of learning.
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