Education and Tech: Is it even worth it?

I tweeted a couple of days ago that I had been thinking about how we should use technology in education. I wrote then that my thoughts are inchoate and they have not developed much since but I wanted to put pen to paper in the hope of starting a discussion.

Some context: We are – like most schools – thinking through contingencies should we have to shut up shop because of Corona Virus. We have been asked to put a plan in place should we need to educate pupils remotely.

This has been interesting, not least because of the varying technical abilities of some of the staff body. But, as in wartime, necessity focuses the mind, and technological innovation outstrips our normal peacetime rate of development.

I like technology and I use it, but it made me think about what core principles ‘EdTech’ has to meet to succeed or to be worth fully embracing. After all, there are a huge number of different companies out there, all trying to make a difference and make some cash doing it.

I think the key principle around using technology is education is this: the technology should complement rather than (claim to) revolutionise educational practices.

Let me briefly make my case.

Call me conservative, but I think there is immense value in building and tweaking on the educators of the past. One of the things pupils often get wrong about history is to assume that people in the past were less clever than we are today.

Thus, I am deeply sceptical of any product that offers to ‘fundamentally change’ education. I am not opposed to new ideas; I do hate fads (although I cannot always spot them).

Take Microsoft Teams and the in-built Class Notebook. The folks at Microsoft are confident in its strengths. And, don’t get me wrong, it has positives. It is, for instance, great for sharing worked examples from lessons. It is also wonderful for sharing resources.

But the teaching skill here is still the same: the teacher needs to model the work in the lesson and they also need to select high-quality resources that are tailored to their pupils. This is not fundamentally different to normal good teaching.

Similarly, a few of my colleagues have got excited about marking via One Note. They have access to laptops where you can annotate PDFs and therefore mark work that has been uploaded as a PDF. I think this has merit insofar as pupils’ work (and teacher feedback) is stored safely on the cloud.

But marking on a screen when I can do it on paper? No thank you.

And, from what I have seen, I am not convinced it is any faster. (Plus it creates a whole new realm of excuses for pupils to hide behind.)

One of the best online pieces of education I have seen is Corbett Maths. For those who have never used it before, there are videos for nearly every GCSE topic and then lots of practice questions. The answers, with full working shown, are also provided. It is an exceptional resource.

But, again, the reason it is so powerful is because it adopts the basic key principles of all good teaching:

  • Explain stuff really clearly
  • Use lots of examples to explain stuff
  • Give pupils access to examples to practise
  • Give them the answers so they can self-assess their work

In short, I suggest we ask this of EdTech: Is the new product/website that you are going to try and embed within your classes going to complement what you fundamentally already do?

If not, just teach well using pens, paper and books.


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