Does it really make a difference?

The Federal Government has invested $2.4 billion on the integration of ICT into schools. This is in addition to money our education systems have invested in meeting technology demands in schools.

My colleague, Dan Haesler wrote a good opinion piece today on the role of technology and I am the first to acknowledge that technology is a powerful tool in enabling powerful pedagogies and facilitating learning and ideas among teachers.

But what I want to know is are these tools making a difference to the quality of learning and teaching?  Have our students become more reflective, creative, innovative, inquisitive, empathic as a result?  Are they more literate and numerate? Where is the data and importantly, what is the catalyst for re-imagining schooling – pedagogy or technology?

I came across two articles recently that reflect opposite ends of the spectrum – one in the Wall Street Journal on virtual schooling and the other in the New York Times on the Waldorf School of the Peninsula.  Waldorf’s mission is to ‘awaken children to their own individuality and unfold their higher capacities of thinking, feeling and willing.’  And it’s not extended by technology but pedagogy.  Teachers help develop learners, technology helps develop skills.

As Will Richardson writes:

We [teachers] have to be about the thing that technology cannot and will not be able to do, and that’s care deeply for our kids as humans, help them develop passions to learn, solve problems that are uniquely important to them, understand beauty and meaning in the world, help them play and create and apply knowledge in ways that add to the richness of life, and develop empathy and deep contextual understanding of the world. And more.

There is a lot to discern but we must be honest in asking whether the tools are supporting the learning and the teacher or whether the learning is supporting the tools.  Are we really investing where it counts?

6 thoughts on “Does it really make a difference?

  1. No doubt that technology is indispensable and indomitable in the modern educational system but still pen is important says Gloria Chia, a student at Cherrybrook Technology High, says handwriting has become tougher as laptops and electronic communication has become more ubiquitous (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 14th Nov’11,” The pen’s no longer mightier but still important”). Those who read this article will understand that soon our students in few years will really find challenging in using pen to write and will end up with many nerve-related diseases. Even now itself, many of the present students don’t take up any enthusiasm in writing by pen because they are very much addicted to technology. I would say that the writing skill has been deprived by technology.

    It does make a difference but may be boom or gloom, soon or later.

  2. I heartily agree that pedagogy will always be the most important aspect of effective teaching. We decrease the quality of the pedagogy to the peril of student learning. Technology can never replace pedagogy. Rather it is one of the means of implementing the pedagogy in more innovative ways. It is not a miracle cure on its own.

    Technology can provide a breadth to the pedagogy through collaboration with others anywhere, anytime. It can provide an audience and authenticity for items created from these great pedagogical foundations. It can provide access to unlimited information for students to sift through, evaluate and then use innovatively to meet the set learning outcomes. Technology provides almost unlimited permutations of ways to achieve a single learning goal and engage students at their entry level to each task.

    All of this is possible but will it happen? Not by just adding the technology to the classroom. Teachers need to understand the possibilities and be willing to try new learning techniques. Teachers need opportunities to experience new strategies and to be supported in both trying them in their classrooms and in questioning their ways of thinking about the strategies currently used in their classrooms.

    There is plenty of evidence that when students are more engaged in their learning they learn more effectively. Excellent pedagogy which uses technology to achieve high quality learning goals can achieve this. So the question really is, how do we support the teachers to do this right now.

    1. Well done Sandra, very clearly you explained about the technology and its uses and greatly abused by students. It is authentically true that it cannot replace the pedagogy at all.

    2. Article is quite timely. A gap exists between finding ways to get teachers to use and be comfortable using technology and where we need to be to achieve deeper learning goals. Some teachers as digital immigrants are exposed to a range of Web 2.0 tools to break down any reservations they may have about moving into broader use of technology in the classroom. We need to do this to enhance their belief that they can… and free them to know it is okay to lean on their students as experts in some areas!
      But educators need to go further than just using the tools or we will not achieve the goals of 21st century learning. To me, using tools without exploring WHY we use the tools (for collaboration? critical thinking? real world exploration? creativity? etc…) runs the same risk as using cloze passages or scaffolds alone so we can say we “do” literacy. We can’t just “do” technology because we have computers. It must be a vehicle for enhancing learning.
      The pedagogy is much more complex. Frameworks such as PBL or challenge-based learning tick a lot of boxes in that we can use the technology to enhance creativity, collaboration, thinking, through exploration of real-life issues.
      A bigger question exists as well – if this is where we need to head in education to provide the best for our students, how do we align the current HSC with 21st century learning goals – it can be done, but this requires a fundamental shift in the thinking of secondary teachers in particular.

  3. Such pertinent questions. I write from a primary school perspective, where currently significant proportions of school budgets are being spent on new technology, especially IWBs. Yet some research, such as that of Hayes & Harriman in 2001 finds that: “In a large proportion of the classrooms we visited computer-based learning was being integrated in ways that afforded less opportunity for higher-order thinking, deep knowledge and substantive conversations than in classrooms where it was not being integrated”. My informal observations make me think that this is still true in many classrooms in 2011.

    Perhaps the questions could be refined to say: What kinds of uses of technology make a difference to the quality of teaching and learning? and How can we collect data to inform our decision making?

    In addition, I agree with Sandra – pedagogy is the more important consideration. So to me a very important question is: How can we ensure that school leaders consider the kinds of pedagogy they want to see in their classrooms as the most important issue when they are planning the introduction of technology to their classrooms?

  4. As always it is the teacher and parents who should make education relevant to students. Technology should become nothing more than a tool. Where all can have access to hardware and applications.On the one hand I bet using technology is not learning – just as using a remote control does not teach you about tv. We are the slaves to the technology; not the technologist.

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