Display screens, digital connectivity, interactive lessons, apps, email and more. Yet do we really know the extent to which the use of ICT impacts on education. Certainly young people today are more comfortable with digital forms of interaction, and a survey from Promethean reported that 55% of teachers believe engagement can be increased (and behaviour improved) through the use of images, music and more. The extent to which a quantifiable impact on educational achievement can be assessed however remains elusive.
BESA’s annual survey of edtech in schools continues to report that few schools feel they have sufficient information about solutions available or their efficacy or impact. We need to differentiate between ICT that supports digital education (including management systems, data gathering and monitoring, servers, wi-fi etc) and communication, and that which provides digital education. With countless vendors claiming their solution is best, in an industry valued by Gartner at £900m a year in the UK alone , what is a school to do?
The question needs to be asked, what is its purpose? What is the challenge or problem that it is expected to solve? Which pupils will most benefit from its use, and which may suffer? Will it highlight inequalities? Perhaps most importantly, what is different and special about your school and what are your specific needs and challenges?
On one level children should be educated using the tools that they’ll be using in their future lives. Engaging games which allow children to learn to code, to create and control an environment can be exciting and fun. Technological improvements and changes are so rapid however, that perhaps a better approach would be teaching children to see digital enhancements as tools and provide them with the means to be creative and flexible in their learning approaches.
Ed-tech is about more than technology, it’s about how technology in schools affects the environment, society and culture of a school, and of a children’s learning. As educational technology becomes mainstream, there are other factors that must come into consideration. Concerns about smartphone use and cyber-bullying are causing political backlash, while data concerns are increasingly driven by GDPR, fear about online safety and data scandals including Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
In a world where information lies at our fingertips, we need to teach children how yo interrogate the world around them, and understand that technology is a tool, not a solution in itself. Questioning lies at the heart of such an approach. Put simply, curiosity and its by-product, questioning, is how the brain makes sense and order of the world and if we can develop children’s questioning then we can ensure that the child takes ownership of their learning, rather than simply reacting by rote.
Surely that means we should pay more attention to questions. Surely improving the questioning skill of pupils is critical given that the quantity and quality of questions is a direct measure of pupils’ level of engagement, of learning taking place and of critical and creative thinking in action? If we can ensure that questioning is at the heart of our educational approach, then the tools we use to implement that approach may become of solving technological questions.
This column first appeared in the April edition of Education Today.