I understand the concerns raised by many educationalists about poor technology integration. Technology used without pedagogical justification is, like any other method, pointless, and eventually damaging. In this regard, and considering the prevalence of edtech now, teachers need great skill in sorting the ineffective from the useful, but this is no different to having to wade through the huge amount of content and information about all aspects of teaching and learning. The point is not to give up because there’s so much stuff, but to search with the expectation that your teaching will improve.
The Argument for Tech
Tech tools that improve the teaching and learning space come under two categories: disruptive tools that invent something new to the environment; and tools that take an existing pedagogical practice and improve its efficiency.
Disruptive categories: these are tools that create a new context for the classroom. They facilitate opportunity for students to engage in learning in a unique and beneficial way, and improve learning. Take for example the invention of a digital shared learning space. A student and teacher being able to see what other students in the class are thinking presents an incredible opportunity for immediate assessment for learning. Ideas shared around the room are eventually funnelled into an agreed response or interpretation, and the process continually stimulates the need for each student to justify thinking and choices, a process inextricably linked to most higher order thinking activities. It is practically impossible for every student to see the thinking process of their peers in a traditionalist classroom; of course movement around the classroom is desirable and possible, but not to the extent it would have to happen for the students to continually share, and I don’t just mean on their immediate table.
I have also invented another disruptive tool called Degrumbler. Of course i am aware of the flagrant conflict of interest in discussing it, but the tool is free for teachers, so i thought it would be ok. Since high school began, when teachers have set homework they have had no way of knowing how much work the students have already been given throughout the day by their other teachers, or on any other days. Teachers set homework blindly, and ultimately randomly. Notifying parents of homework is important but doesn’t solve the issue of potential overloading. Degrumbler fixes that; in real time, teachers can see how much work students have before deciding to set some more, by clicking on an icon. This radically changes the learning space because the work being assigned is likely to be completed to a higher level if it doesn’t have to compete with other tasks. If you imagined that students only had the equivalent of a lesson and a half’s time to complete homework, imagine halfway through the English hour Mathematics popped in with the a similar amount of work, 10 minutes later Science did too, immediately followed by Geography. Expectations on the student remain, but the possibility of success is exponentially reduced. Solving this issue is a case of tech benefiting teaching and learning significantly. Without the use of this technology in the classroom teachers are left with the overload issue and have no way of being able to address it efficiently, thus reducing the majority of students’ success in completing the tasks.
Improving existing processes: Time of course is every teacher’s enemy and any process that can be streamlined to save time is important, and ultimately necessary as it seems that my workload is forever growing.
Take for example two of the leading tech platforms being used in the UK presently: Show My Homework, and ClassCharts. Both of these platforms are used extensively throughout schools. They don’t disrupt an aspect of teaching but they certainly help streamline processes of notifying students and parents of receiving information about aspects of their schooling: general information, homework, academic and behaviour progress. They improve the learning space by making it more visible to people more easily. Most LMS’ come under such a category, unless, their user experience negates any intended improvements. This can also happen when platforms try to do too much and create functionality that isn’t needed, or conflate their prerogatives.
Teaching and learning is indeed an art form, as well as a science. Finding the right technology to use in the classroom is just as important a decision as finding the right resource. The poorest use of tech is a massive distraction, as well as a waste of valuable cash and/or time. But tech used with strong pedagogical justification serves to benefit the teaching and learning experience significantly, and if solutions exist that disrupt the space, they must be employed.
Disclaimer: i am the inventor of Degrumbler. I know there is a potential conflict of interest in promoting the product, however the tool is free for teachers, and my motivation behind building the tool was purely to better the education of students, and am at peace with the potential conflict of interest, as I can’t really see another way to spread the word about fixing the issue of poor homework distribution.