Ed Tech and meaningful approaches to IT in the classroom

Raja Ali

Second Master at Wellington International Tianjin

In a world filled with digital natives, millennials and the iGeneration, it may seem impossible to keep up with the demands of a constantly shifting educational technology landscape for teaching and learning. We must, however, remember that educational technology is a tool that can be used to varying degrees of effectiveness, resulting in potentially different levels of impact on pupil engagement, motivation, progress and attainment.

During lesson observations, rarely is the technology that learners use the main factor in outstanding practice. The best lessons are meticulously planned. There is provision made to challenge and support different types of pupils and their needs, and there are opportunities for pupils to engage in a wide variety of learning activities that promote deeper understanding, reflection, collaboration and independence.

In such classrooms, there is a feeling of excitement in learning as pupils are motivated by their success and learn from their challenges. None of this requires educational technology to be in place. However, through the strategic introduction of educational technology, schools are developing increasingly innovative and sophisticated applications for teaching and learning.

Over time, educational technology has enabled a baseline of expectations around teaching and learning to be established in schools all over the world. Most teachers now are adept at researching using the internet, using word processors to plan lessons and preparing resources using various multimedia software. Classrooms invariably will have an interactive whiteboard and a range of devices for pupils. Beyond this, there is considerable variance in investment and effective use of educational technology, some of which are influenced by external factors such as group and school resourcing and expectations, and others that are dependent on the knowledge, skills, interests and passions at a departmental and classroom teacher level.

Those schools that had moved beyond essential educational technology provision could better cope with the need for e-learning at very short notice during the pandemic. What became clear also is that it was not merely enough to provide the systems and resources required for e-learning. High levels of training were needed to ensure a reasonable level of consistency in delivering e-learning between teachers in the same school and across different settings. Those schools that had taken note of what was best practice in industry and education before the pandemic often thrived; those that had not done so struggled to cope. Therefore, regularly reviewing educational technology and how best to apply it is an essential process in making sure that schools, pupils, teachers and parents can adapt to the challenges that they face in the future.

There are many ways that innovative use of educational technology can positively impact the quality of teaching and learning. It can make the process of information giving more efficient and effective, which means that teachers should be able to spend more time on the more pivotal activities such as planning rich learning experiences and evaluating the impact this has on pupil outcomes. This does not have to involve investment in the latest gadgets that will become outdated even before they are unwrapped, but what it requires is the teacher to be skilled at applying educational technology purposefully and strategically.

Teachers are increasingly part of collaborative networks where they can share ideas, resources and innovative projects within and beyond their school. If teachers are outward-looking, reflective and review what they are doing, this will impact their expectations of their pupils. Educational technology can also support improved planning by providing more comprehensive contextual information about pupils, including previous assessment information, pupil feedback and markers about their learning preferences. This can help teachers target learning outcomes and activities more scientifically.

Schools are increasingly investing in artificial intelligence-driven curriculums and assessment systems to supplement their work with pupils in the classroom. Such systems are adaptive, allow pupils to work at their own pace, and can be used within and beyond the classroom. They are a valuable assessment tool and can provide further evidence of pupil progress.

Giving access to devices within the classroom provides pupils with far more immediate and equal access to information which helps promote research, analytical and evaluative skills. They can question the reliability of data, review various sources of information, and be aware that there is never a single source of valuable, accurate information.

Tools such as OneNote and Teams enable collaboration within and beyond the classroom, allowing pupils to access and create content and make notes in a far more efficient way than traditional pen and paper. Inkable devices use a more natural means of data input and do not have to be restricted to those year groups where they need to complete test papers, draw or keep their own notes. Indeed, even in some early years settings, pen-based devices promote handwriting in young children.
Where there is a high level of effective technology implementation, models such as flipped learning are valuable ways of ensuring pupils’ time in classrooms isn’t taken up by sharing and recalling information. Instead, pupils can focus on more activities that promote deeper understanding, group work and the development of transferable skills.

With unprecedented access to technology, online platforms and information outside the classroom for pupils, it is vital that pupils be aware of technology’s dangers and how to use it responsibly. Where technology is used in a school, it is an ideal opportunity to reference relevant elements of digital citizenship at an appropriate level for pupils.

Educational technology has the potential to transform teaching and learning in many ways. However, we need to ensure that educators are knowledgeable about the developments in their area, aware of the potential impact this can have on standards and outcomes and take the time to invest in reviewing the relevance to their context. Training and development are also crucial – providing the latest hardware and software alone will not create effective teaching and learning if teachers cannot apply the technology appropriately.

Just as a bad cook can ruin the finest ingredients by cooking something barely edible, schools should ensure that our educators know how to best use educational technology. This can only be achieved through effective leadership and the promotion of a positive and supportive culture that encourages creativity, risk-taking and innovation at a classroom level, which in turn benefits pupils’ engagement and academic progress.

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