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Barriers: What we need for success with Technology

I spent two days last week at the IWB Solutions conference hosted by IWBNet in Sydney and it’s got me thinking again about the increasingly complex puzzle of true integration of technology into learning within our schools. One of the things that is finally becoming clear to many teachers is that the greatest barrier to successful use of technology is not the costs associated with it, but the failure of schools to change the way they operate to fully leverage the benefits.

My observations based on some of the sessions I attended over the conference:

1. Teaching and Learning ARE different, and BOTH are valuable

As Chris Betcher kept emphasising in his Keynote on day one, there is value in differentiating between teaching and learning. There are times in every class (and I don’t care what you teach) where standing up the front and giving your class some factual information or demonstrating a skill IS the best way to introduce or explore something. You CAN do this in interesting and exciting ways – ways that engage kids with the ideas you are presenting – and this can still be defined as teaching. You are the focus and in this case you need to be – you remain the person with the knowledge and it is your role to impart that to others.

In other situations, the students are actively engaged in learning – they are seeking answers to problems, questions, issues etc either individually or in small groups based on what they have previously been taught, what they have previously learned and what they want to know more about. The teacher in this case plays a facilitator’s role – we guide, nudge, encourage and nurture without giving away the answer (if indeed there is one for the issue under investigation).

It is useful to keep these practices separate – both require different pedagogical approaches, and each is supported by technology in different ways. An IWB may not be an effective learning tool in a classroom, but it can be an effective teaching one – just like a 1:1 program will not necessarily improve the teaching capacity of the teacher.

2. Technology is an amplifier

Following on from above, it should be noted that what technology does is amplify the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the teacher. A good teacher will be a good teacher regardless of the technology they have access to, but a good teacher who knows how to use technology has increased capacity to be much better. Likewise, someone who’s pedagogy is not effective will not improve when you provide them with technology – it will become another tool that is used poorly and fails to improve the learning experiences of their students.

For this reason, we must continue to ensure that teachers are trained not just in the technical skills of new technologies, but are shown how to either improve or enhance their existing pedagogical knowledge to leverage them effectively. The investment in staff is more important than the investment in the technology – something our politicians might need to think about…

3. No single piece of technology is a silver bullet, even for a “good” teacher

Since a good teacher uses multiple teaching strategies, pedagogies and tools to keep students engaged and active in the learning process, it should be evident from the above that no single piece of technology will lead to an improvement in the outcomes of their students. Instead, multiple technologies need to be made available that support each of the numerous teaching methods employed by the teacher and the learning activities that students are participating in. This requires a massive investment if every student is going to have access to every tool in every classroom – something not possible in most schools in the country.

4. Schools as we know them are becoming irrelevant

Which raises the question – are schools as they currently exist still relevant in society today? If students can walk out of the classroom into a world where their access to information and learning opportunities is increasingly growing, is the classroom a productive place to be spending a third of your day?

The evidence is clear – that the single biggest factor effecting the performance of students is a good teacher – so the classroom still has its place. What needs to change is the approach we use when students are in our classrooms with their teachers. Teachers must be more open and flexible; be more willing to adapt and allow the lesson to evolve as students become caught up in the experience of learning. Our current systems with structured timetables, concrete curricula and fixed hours are no longer appropriate for how our world operates, and the schools that begin changing some of these “ancient” practices will be the schools that groom the most successful citizens in our future.

Nothing I’ve mentioned above is new or ground-breaking, but in the hope that my voice added to the many others will help make these points heard, I felt the need to get them out there, as it were.