Technology promises

Recent declarations in the media by some high school principals that computers are a ‘distraction’ is unhelpful at best and shows personal preference as the default argument in tSt Clare's Catholic HS 227his critical issue.

Attempting to divide technology use into a convenient either/or argument and blaming the machine for poor learning outcomes ignores a simple reality – change and innovation is a fact of life and schools are not immune.

I had the opportunity last week to hear Singapore’s acting education minister speaking at a conference on technology in schooling. Ng Chee Meng believes Singapore’s future success relies on the possibilities technology can bring to learning and teaching. Instead of debating whether to ban computers in schools, Singapore has been asking broader questions about what technology means for education overall and how can teachers respond to the opportunities in classroom settings.

In 2015, the OECD released a report Students, Computers and Learning.  It stated that the real contributions ICT can make to learning and teaching haven’t been fully ‘realised and exploited’ yet but to deliver on the promise that technology holds requires all countries to design…..’ a convincing strategy to build teachers’ capacity’.  Improving the knowledge (pedagogical and pedagogical content) base of teachers as well as their understanding of learners all takes place in the context of a technologically rich world. We can’t hermetically provision teacher learning from technology, yet we can explore ways in which technology extends teacher practice by helping to develop in students the habit and power of deeper thinking and inquiry, personal autonomy and creativity.

Intel Corp says that in 2006 there were 2 billion devices globally; 15 billion in 2015 and in 2020…..200 billion connected devices!  Today’s learners already recognise the promises that technology holds – it’s up to us to deliver on the promise.

10 thoughts on “Technology promises

  1. My children will use technology to support their learning – research, drafting, re-drafting, collaborating etc. They will use technology in the workplace – research, drafting, modelling with data, collaborating etc
    But at the point that we measure the output of the education system – HSC, NAPLAN, University exams – we will turn them away from all of that and insist they work alone, with no reference material, with a pencil and piece of paper, and be judged.
    Until we fundamentally recognise that the problem is the assessment system, we’re going to be stuck.

  2. Sorry Greg – I beg to differ. I have worked in many school systems (including yours) and I have witnessed technology ‘disruption’ to erode quality teaching and learning.

    I guess the fact that the article shows what outstanding outcomes that school has achieved, speaks volumes:

    “Academically, Sydney Grammar rates among Australia’s top-performing schools, and is frequented by the sons of Sydney’s business and political elite. Almost one in five of its Year 12 graduates placed in the top 1 per cent of Australian students for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank university entry scores last year.”

    1. Josh, thanks for the comments. Sydney Grammar is highly selective in terms of academic ability and SES. To equate this to mainstream schooling is to ignore these fundamental realities.The point is it is always about good teaching. The tool is only an idea in the hand of good teachers. We need to look at ourselves and why we are using these tools ineffectively.

  3. It definitely is about effective use. It’s understandable that technology would cause distraction if it is not used in a guided way to support learning. The Internet offers a world of possibilities for the classroom but good teachers know that there must be a link between what the individual learner needs and how they will take that next step. Technology can provide very specific support when teachers provide the right technology-based experiences to achieve specific outcomes. I have seen students achieve outcomes that were not even considered by the teacher because they were able to use their own creativity in choosing a learning path. We a robbing our students of exciting possibilities if we don’t provide them with opportunities to learn in they way the rest of the world is learning.

  4. I don’t see that the Ray Fleming comment holds water at all, and I am willing to justify myself if someone asks. However the reason I am here is that I want to raise a concrete question that has everything to do with technology and education. It is something that I ask every maths teacher who I come across, and by now I have pretty much concluded that there is no proper answer.

    The question is why are Computer Algebra System (CAS) calculators used in maths lessons. It is counter-intuitive after all to do that, and it consumes a lot of time to learn to use them which could be spent actually learning maths. The typical response from teachers is that they are compelled to go along with CAS calculators whether it is educationally justified or unjustified. If pressed, most seem to doubt the educational value of it. This is an unsatisfactory, even disturbing, outlook.

    I am trying to bring this all out into the open and if I am right, get some changes happening. I would appreciate any response from Mr Whitby or his readers.

    1. My starting point is always the learning and what is good learning and teaching. Good learning and teaching involves great teachers in connection with students around content, that’s the foundation. What enhances that foundation are appropriate tools just the same way that chalk, the blackboard and the classroom is a tool to help that basic foundation. So my proposition is that calculators are just one tool that a good teacher will determine when, where and how it is used.

      If the Computer Algebra System (CAS) calculator does the work of the teacher it is a very poor substitute.

      The situation we face at the moment is that with the power of algorithms artificial intelligence is getting more intelligent and can be of greater assistance to teachers.

      You might want to visit the website where the writer addresses predictions of three technologies that will define our future.

      It’s interesting that the writer makes not comment on the technologies in the hands of good teachers. The core is that the teacher is the most important ingredient.

      1. Thanks for your response, Greg, and I will now make use the second person verbal form.

        You ask specifically about “great” teachers and CAS calculators. My contention is that good teachers generally understand that the calculators are a waste of time (some evidence below). Great teachers would be the same. It is more important to think about average teachers, by the way, because that is what students get, on average.

        This is a very concrete issue that I am raising and you have to know about maths to understand it properly. I am serious about it and trying to bring about change. (How can I do this?) Do maths teachers read your column?

        Your hypothesis that CAS calculators might be a useful tool in their own way does not do because there is a significant time and effort required to learn how to work them, this for no educational benefit. Note that we are not talking about something that is incidental to maths teaching. It is something rather deeply lodged as again evinced by the quoted teacher’s comment.


        Here is one teacher’s response to my question of why maths teachers use CAS calculators. As is frequent, the teacher doubts the educational value but says he or she is forced. This comes from a readers’ comments session in the Age.

        “You are writing this as if we have a choice. When Year 12 exams are set in such a way that they cannot be completed in the time without a CAS calculator (and skills in using it), there is a trickle down effect on the rest of the mathematics curriculum so that students can acquire those skills. The more challenging Mathematics subjects also have a calculator free exam, so students also need to be able to solve problems manually. In addition, having asked parents to fork out for an expensive piece of equipment, there is an obligation to make good use of it.

        “I would love the autonomy and time to make decisions based on rigorously debated educational philosophy, but I have neither, so I do the best I can to help my students be numerate, prepared for the mathematics they may do in the future and able to pursue their personal career aspirations. And I tick the boxes that need to be ticked so I can continue to do what I can for my kids.

        April 12, 2016, 7:53AM”

  5. This discusssion about the use of technology in the classroom is a mixed one. Everyone seems to be talking about different “things” within technology and not the system itself. To me the main argument is not if one item is good or bad but is the system necessary. In the case of digital technology the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!”.

    There are numerous items that teachers identify as “technology” and sometimes the argument is based on equipment. Teachers relate to the equipment based on their own experiences. Interactive whiteboards and other devices can be used very effectively if the culture of a school promotes it. If the school principal is not in favour of technology and believes that good teachers do not need to use devices, it is unlikely that the teachers will use the available technology because they will be deemed to be an inferior teacher if they do so. So the nay-sayer manages to create the situation where the technology is a “waste of money” and “does not work”.

    Another point that seems to be misunderstood about technology in the classroom is that it is not the device itself but the applications. Of course there are items within technology that promote learning and others that don’t. Just like there are some good text books and some that are not. There will be individual preferences and biases that affect the outcomes. In 2001, Mark Prensky coined the terms digital native and digital immigrant -

    While most teachers are currently not digital natives (this will change), many are adapting to the digital world. In a sense they can be called digital converts. But there are still too many of the digital immigrants who are using the technology in ways that they were not meant to be used. Until the digital natives become the teachers this will be an issue.

    We need to put students at the centre of the teaching and learning. Our students are using digital devices to do everything else in their lives – interact with friends, play games, draw and colour-in pictures, create game world cities, watch videos on how to fix things or make things, order pizzas or cabs etc. – then why on earth would we want to segregate school learning from this experience?

    It is up to teachers to get with the program. If they are using something technological – equipment or application – in the classroom that does not “work” then they need to work out how to make it work. If they are using a textbook that does not give a good explanation then they will look for another textbook. That is what teaching is about. In fact, these days we can always ask the students to help. They will come up with better solutions than any teacher. Instead of saying some technological tool does not improve learning ask the students what they would change to make it work. They are very insightful when it comes to what they need. After all, as Dr Vallance of Sydney Grammar said, “One of the most powerful tools in education is conversation.”

    Let’s have the technology conversation with the digital natives and focus on the learning that will work for them rather than the teaching we think they should have. Hats off to the Singapore government and other educational establishments like the Catholic Education Parramatta Diocese who are taking this step. The future starts now.

    1. You are just talking about the likes of office and consumer electronic equipment aren’t you? There should no big challenge here. Like the rest of society you should buy and use this stuff if it gives value for money and you can determine that by seeing what other people do who get one first. That is how this stuff sells itself. On the other hand, if it is supplied to people who did not know they needed it as a result of top-down decision-making it might end up just being a distraction. Something of that nature may have happened in Australia where we have over-invested in electronic stuff in schools.

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