Have we Reached the Pinnacle of Teaching and Learning?

Reaching-Pinnacle-Teaching-Learning

A perspective on screens and the classroom

Some people in education believe that the use of computers in the classroom should be banned or severely limited. Some believe computers serve little purpose other than distracting students, negatively impacting learning, producing antisocial behaviour and more. Hence, we regularly read headlines such as:

  • Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results
  • Technology “distracts’’ from old-school quality teaching.
  • The False Promise of Classroom Technology
  • Computer Use in School Doesn’t Help Test Scores

The Pinnacle of Education?

If we don’t use technology to enhance teaching and learning, are we to assume we are already close to the pinnacle of optimal education? That all we have to do is fine tune the current methods that rely largely on direct group instruction and we ‘are there’?

Are we to assume that of all the industries improving by using technology, education is the only one that is exempt…that teaching methods that are relatively unchanged over the past thirty or more years are the best solution?

Yet, would you

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  • Feel comfortable with a surgeon who uses operating equipment from thirty years ago?
  • Go back to VHS video tapes and your old CRT television instead of using DVDs or streaming media such as NetFlix and large screen LCD televisions.
  • Want everyone to drive cars from decades ago? Cars without airbags, ABS brakes and all of the modern safety features?
  • Get rid of your smart phone and go back to only landline telephones?
  • Have no barcodes at supermarkets and rely on price tags and checkout staff memorizing or looking up prices of items before manually entering prices into a cash register? (Barcodes weren’t widely used until the mid-1980s.)
  • Have no microwave oven, coffee machine and a host of other modern devices in the kitchen?
  • Not have air conditioning in cars and homes?

After years of teaching and leading elearning in schools, I believe many have not really introduced technology enhanced learning into schools, they have merely introduced technology. There is a big difference.

Introducing technology into schools focusses on the technology, as if adding laptop computers, Internet access and some software will create positive change…it won’t. Looking for the latest technology and then trying to work out ‘how can we use this’ is prone to failure. Introducing technology into schools often looks for the quick fix. There is no quick fix.

Introducing technology enhanced learning into a school is different. It is a long term, slow burn strategy. It is kaizen. The introduction of technology into the classroom is almost the last part of the process, not the first part.

(See the article “When does educational technology become disruptive in the classroom?

It requires research, planning, consistent goals, professional development of staff and a clear picture of the long-term goal. It takes commitment, not just short-term enthusiasm. It requires an organization wide approach rather than relying on a few ‘lone innovators’. While not complex, this longer-term strategy is difficult. That is to be expected. This is the biggest shift in education in over a hundred years; it isn’t going to be quick and easy. There is no magic ‘educational weight loss pill’; instead there are many hours at the gym. My school has been on this path for over six years, and we aren’t ‘there’ yet. The article “Stop asking whether laptops improve learning outcomes” explains more.

Some of the reasons for not enhancing the classroom with technology are common, and I will discuss a few here.

It doesn’t support the way I teach.

Of course it doesn’t always support the old methods of teaching. That is actually what is supposed to happen. Much of current teaching is based on models from a past era. Just adding technology doesn’t change the era and paradigm. In fact, just adding computers to an old paradigm usually causes problems. Yet the research of classes where the school has provided a modern learning ecosystem and systematic professional development to effectively change the teaching and learning to support the introduction of technology are positive.

Technology impairs learning and academic results.

Yes, technology can impair learning if it is introduced as an afterthought or a “let’s do this technology thing” approach. Unfortunately, an ad hoc approach produces poor results and gives teachers, students and parents a negative impression of technology.

However, when part of a well-researched, well planned, well supported, long term, structured, focused approach it doesn’t impair learning. My school was rated in the Top 20 schools in Queensland in 2016 for Senior results by a leading newspaper, and the results in 2017 were similar. The students in those cohorts had been involved in a technology rich environment, including a Bring Your Own Laptop program, for the whole of their Secondary schooling. It didn’t negatively impact them.

We already get good academic results. We don’t need technology to improve learning for our students.

This assumes that academic results are the only, ultimate goal of education. Really?

Good academic results are certainly important, and they are something my school also focusses on. However, we also provide extracurricular activities, sport, drama, music, debating and more in order to help students become well rounded and be more prepared for life after school.

Technology is another area we need to prepare students. They need to be able to ‘really’ use technology to assist learning. They need to know how to use technology to learn, not just be entertained. If they don’t learn how to do this at school, where will they learn it?

The article “The traditional classroom works so why change it?” explains this point in more detail.

My students are comfortable with technology; they don’t need it at school.

Many students are comfortable with many aspects of technology. However, these are often areas of entertainment or online social interaction. They are usually not the deeper aspects of technology that are needed for education. Just because a student can socialize online for hours, download and install apps, use search engines (sometimes without critical evaluation of the results), etc. doesn’t mean he/she is ‘good’ with technology.

Few students have taught themselves

  • Good research skills
  • Document layout and design
  • Effective graphing and use of formulae in spreadsheets
  • And many other skills that require time and thought to develop.

I am a teacher who is ‘good’ with technology, but I don’t want to use it in my classroom.

There is a big difference between being ‘good with technology’ and being good at ‘using technology to enhance learning’. Just because a person can use a computer in some way doesn’t mean that person understands how to use the computer to improve learning. These are two different things.

They are trying to replace teachers. I may lose my job.

I have heard this over and over again over the years. It is wrong and born of ignorance. In my school, we have actually increased staffing to support the technology enhanced learning. Our goal is to make the teacher even more important by using the technology to remove the repetitive and mundane, and to provide information and time to work more closely with individual students.

This article by Jon Bergman, a pioneer of flipped learning, explains.

Students need me as their teacher.

I agree. The teacher is a key part of the classroom and learning. If technology in the classroom is removing the teacher, you are doing it wrong.

However, students may not need a teacher standing at the front of the room in every lesson conveying the same information to all students at the same time, and then repeating it over and over, class after class and year after year. Direct instruction has its place, just not all the time.

Conclusion

It is time we as educators looked past the superficial – the technology – and developed robust programs that foster effective technology enhanced learning. It is time for education to evolve. It is time to leverage technology to make learning even more personal and ‘human’. It is time we looked past ‘laptops’ to develop better learning. Our students deserve it.

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Peter West

Peter West

Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen's College
Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College on the Gold Coast, Queensland.


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