Thursday, 6 August 2015

We need to talk about: Technology in the Classroom - Challenges and Opportunities

(Disclaimer: Whilst I try to make my entries academically rigorous, supported by educational research, I have had some difficulty in constructing this entry owing to a real lack of accessible research on Educational Technology and its pitfalls. Please direct/link me to research and I will amend any points accordingly.)

What is educational technology? The term appears to have become truly ubiquitous in education today. It's used a lot in Twitter bios, particularly by educational consultants, and, increasingly, teachers are starting to use the phrase.

In my search for a definition, I have encountered a wide variety of definitions, each with different emphasis and nuance on the phrase. After sifting through a wide number of definitions, the one that most closely fits my understanding of 'EdTech' and my experience of it is offered by Januszewski and Molenda (2008):

"Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources."

A full conceptual rationale for this definition is offered by the authors in the referenced text. To simplify this, I see EdTech as any form of technology that can be utilized to support learning.

Common challenges with EdTech

A) The lack of appropriate resources to implement effective learning. 
By this, I mean: the computers are too slow/the computers only work for some students/some students have forgotten log-in details/the computer has restarted because it needed to be updated/the previous class shut down the computers.

B) Prioritizing the use of tech over good curriculum planning.
The temptation to use EdTech can mean that we may create a stand-alone lesson to maximize the technology, but sacrifice the curriculum plan to accommodate it, creating mismatched learning episodes.

C) Loss of learning time.
Similar to A, the movement/log on/log off process that teacher must go through each lesson can result in a loss of instructional time, which can cut into the learning.

D) Technology, and particularly the internet, offers a huge bank of information.
This sounds great right? However, this can be a hugely limiting factor in the use of internet based lessons. Without proper planning and implementation, students can follow any leads they find, with sometimes disastrous (incorrect information) results, a problem often called the 'Wikipedia Problem'.

E) A lack of training can lead to bad experiences.
In the 21st century, we tend to assume all people have been exposed to a range of technologies and thus are confident and able using them. This, naturally, isn't the case and can lead to a bad experience for practitioners. This bad experience, often manifested through disruptive behavior/poor quality learning, can lead to practitioners attributing this to the technology and being cautious/rejecting it for future use. 

Photograph: Rex Features. Image Source / Rex Features/Image Source / Rex Features

So, how do we deal with these problems?

A) This is obviously a challenge for the individual educator to deal with, whilst we may not be able to completely overhaul our institution's technology resources, we can work smart. By this, actively seek out the people responsible for technology in school (IT Technician?) and have the discussion with them.

- What are the problems with the tech? Are there any machines to avoid?
- What can be done to help it run more smoothly? 
- What is the protocol for students forgetting passwords? 

B) Most important thing to remember here - technology is a tool to support the learning. It certainly shouldn't be used to jeopardize great medium-term plans. It's easy to fall into this trap, especially if you find a great new piece of EdTech you're desperate to use. That said, don't reject EdTech outright because it doesn't fit with current schemes of learning. Be creative, find ways for it to fit in, it can enhance already great plans. A great example of this, from a fellow Geography teacher, revolves around the Skype Classroom. This practitioner planned to link his students to a scientist in Svalbard to augment a scheme of learning on glaciation. The great thing from this was that this teacher planned with students, the week before, some key questions and clearly outlined the learning outcomes to guide student experience of the technology. By all accounts, great success!

C) Now this one may not even apply to most of you! However, I've had some experience with this and it comes back down to routines and expectations. Just because the environment has changed (e.g. the computer room) that shouldn't have any affect on what you do. Don't let the change of environment change what you do - keep up those routines.

D) Now this problem just requires a little bit of forethought and planning. Using a Geography example (banging the Geo drum!!), if I have asked my class to research development indicators for a variety of countries, I need to be aware of saying to a group of students; "Go and find the life expectancy of a country in Sub-Saharan Africa." I need to be aware of two things:
- 1) My students may not have any idea what life expectancy looks like beyond the abstract teaching of the classroom.
- 2) How many teenagers would have any idea where that information could be found, short of a Google search?
It is these questions that I need to account for in my planning. Using EdTech just frames lesson planning in a different way. The internet is an amazing resource, but as with any other resource, it may require differentiation to allow students to maximize its learning potential.

E) Great schools and learning communities have a culture of collaboration. We share what works, we share our failures and we offer our advice and guidance to our colleagues when and where it's appropriate. EdTech seems to be a bit of a taboo in some schools, professionals seem afraid to admit fault or misunderstanding of how to use different forms of technology, meaning they may be missing out on a whole world of opportunity. As professional learning communities, and as individuals, we need to make sure we don't neglect technology in the classroom and instead embrace it and all of its potential.

And my final two cents? Technology is merely a tool to support great teaching, it's not a gateway to great teaching. Be sure to trial and experiment with it, but never forget those core things that make great teaching and learning.

This entry is designed to be a quick overview of my experiences of EdTech and not anything like an exhaustive list! Feedback and sharing are key here - we're a professional learning community after all!


- Januszewski. A and Molenda. M, (2007) Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


  1. I've written a fair bit on educational technology over the years. I tend to agree with you that in all its current conceptions - since these are, as you point out, many and varied and not particularly related to each other - its value is dependent on the competence, vision and pedagogical ability of the teachers. My view and frustration, however, is that technology can enhance teaching, learning and, in particular, assessment in ways most teachers have yet to imagine. While other countries are pursuing these avenues, England is dragging its heels. Meanwhile, most of what we can do with technology in our schools, could also be done without technology. We need to use it in ways and to achieve things which could not be feasible without.

    1. Hi Ju, thanks for a thoughtful and insightful comment.

      I agree with everything you've said here and find your point about use of technology particularly enlightening. I think you're right, too often we look to technology to augment our practice when, perhaps, it might be best to create new opportunities. I suppose, the difficulty is in finding these.

      Any ideas?

  2. The EEF has said as much and while I share Ju's frustration, the quality of teaching has to be taken into account here. The reality is that the best teachers use technology to great effect to enhance the learning of their pupils and the worst don't. The former are able to choose technology when it best meets their purposes whereas the latter are likely to use it as a silver bullet when they don't know how to teach something well. The effectiveness of using technology is also based on the children's own experiences, which can become negative when they are not taught how to use it in a way that will enable them to achieve.

    Too many have linked it to discovery learning which is a death knell for the implementation of technology. Adults who forget quite how much they know in comparison to children, make the mistakes, as the author indicates, of not asking the right questions.

    Discovery learning has to surely be the death knell of all of this. Children need explicit guidance on how to use technologies effectively to learn. I am not fooled by the odd child that TED talks or the like produced once in a while, they are the exception not the norm. Most children get frustrated with technology when it comes to learning or start to muck around as the tasks if their teacher has not thought through the purpose, knowledge and skills required.

    Also no child is born knowing that adding the words 'for children' to a search will bring up age appropriate webpages, or what pages are reliable or indeed if using technology is always the appropriate tool to use.

    I am a huge fan of technology but I can see that if we are not careful we will turn a large number of children off by not thinking through their experiences if we are too hands off. Already I can see children who see technology as pos for games but negative for learning - this can only hinder our attempts of using technology to enhance learning.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tarjinder, you have made some incredibly valuable points here, especially in relation to the pitfalls of bad practice.

      I agree with your points about explicit guidance - at the heart of this matter lies explicit practice. Do you think teachers need more explicit guidance themselves in how to direct the use of technology effectively?

      Perhaps the issue is more systemic. I can recall from my own teacher training, only a year ago, there was little/no reference to methods for the effective use of technology...