Please beware, I will mention the iPad in a positive way during this article. Cynics and the ill-informed may look away now.
I find it very frustrating reading about all the great work that is going in to trialling, testing and implementing education technology only to then read the reactions of those who post ‘comments’ afterwards. Very rarely does anyone write an endorsement or support for those that propose edtech can make a difference, and yet there are so many out there ready to pick apart the slightest ‘flaw’ in an article.
Cynics seem to fall into several categories, but the most vociferous are the outright sceptics who believe technology does not belong in the same postcode as a school and those that think tablets and especially iPads are a gimmick.
There is no doubt in my mind that much good work is undone by misinformation and those few who blindly throw money at technology hoping it will solve their problems. I often get pulled up on the fact that I have no ‘evidence’ in my posts. But evidence means different things to different people and in teaching, evidence is a pretty flexible thing. We see evidence in the form of work students produce and exam results, but these are not infallible. I have written reports which say things like, ‘despite a poor exam result I’m sure that X will improve’ or ‘I don’t think I have yet seen the best of X’. But where’s my evidence? It might be a moment in class where they contributed something brilliant, or a conversation about a non-curriculum topic that got them fired up and enthusiastic, Or it might be, as so often is the case, a ‘feeling’.
Don’t worry, I’m not proposing that we invest thousands of pounds on a 1:1 mobile device rollout because of a feeling, but I am saying that there are lots of ways of measuring and evaluating ‘success’. I have never claimed that an iPad can get you better results in an exam. But, what I have categorically seen it do, is make the sharing of information between students and teachers easier and I have definitely seen them get students to engage more deeply on a topic. And, I have seen students access new knowledge more quickly and efficiently than they could in any other way. These things do not mean exam success is guaranteed, or that exam success will be better than if they had been taught differently. But, what it could mean is that students are more independent than they were and that they will have a more positive relationship with learning.
Where can I get evidence for this? Well I could survey my students (and I have), the ones experiencing this, but I have read comments in the past implying that they are an invalid source of information. This disappoints me – if our students can’t be trusted to evaluate their own feelings about learning then who can?
I understand that league tables are a convenient way of compiling and ranking schools in a way that everyone understands and I understand that exam results and truancy rates are tangible, hard ‘evidence’ of what is going on at a school, but I don’t think these things really tell you enough.
Does it not count for something that a student might go away and read more deeply around a subject because you showed them an online resource that had university-level essays and criticism that they would not have found in their local library? Does it not count for something that a student played a game with an obvious educational value IN HIS OWN FREE TIME? Does it not count for something that because a teacher has implemented the flipped classroom that he can spend more time talking to his students in lessons and as a result has found out that one of these students has an untapped love of X, Y or Z?
These revelations and developments are facilitated through the use of technology but they might not improve a school’s standing in an Excel spreadsheet.
I don’t need to measure results in this way to know whether what I do is working. We all know when a lesson has gone well. We know if we were ‘outstanding’ and we know if the learning was ‘outstanding.’ We know because this is what we do. We teach and we facilitate learning. If there is a chance that we can do this more effectively with technology, then isn’t that worth trying?
It isn’t pandering to engage with our students on a level they are familiar or comfortable with. Don’t you wish that your teachers had been more human? Don’t you wish that your teachers had tried to take the time to use what you know, or what was relevant to the world in which you live or were going to be released into one day, to grab your attention?
One of the most provocative Tweets I have ever read came across my feed today – it said simply ‘would you want to be a student in your own class?’
If you’re good at evaluating your own performance then I think this is just about the best question you could ever ask yourself. If you’re not, if you’re closed off to change or self-relfection, then it will mean nothing.
This is the challenge for us all. Deciding whether or not we are able to answer that question honestly, and whether to not we want to do something about it when the answer is ‘no.’ And let us be honest – there are always times when that is the answer. It’s how we respond to this that matters.
I am not arguing that technology is a cure to all the problems we face in the classroom (though that is often the accusation of the cynics), but it is a possibility. It is something that could help your students. It is something that is unlikely to hinder them if the environment in which they are being used is appropriately structured (more of this another time).
As educators we have a duty of care to our students. Part of this must surely be to engage them with the learning that we are allowing them access to. How many students do you know/teach that don’t have a phone/laptop/internet access? How many do you know who don’t use social networking? How many do you think get their phones out during the school day whether we ‘allow’ it or not?
Our students are connected. To disconnect them by removing technology that is embedded in every other aspect of their life seems to me to be counter-intuitive and perhaps even damaging. Perhaps they don’t use the technology they have in a way that you would like them to, but this is where we could step in and make a real and genuine difference…