What is the point of Educational Technology?

I spend a huge amount of my time reading about the top 5 apps for teachers, the best software for collaborative writing, the best web tool for this, that or the other, how to do something that I’ve never heard of but should have and now feel guilty about, so I’m going to Google it and try to drop it into a conversation next time I’m face to face with another teacher, so that I seem on top of the ever-burgeoning world of educational technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan. I might even describe myself as being someone close to the cutting edge of what is going on, but the more I read, the more concerned I become about the quality of what is going on in schools.

For every success story, there seem to be a couple of examples of really poor practice; schools that have launched a 1:1 initiative that has backfired, or teachers that use web-based-project-based learning as an excuse to sit down and let the kids get on with it.

I don’t blame these teachers. I don’t blame the IT guys who help rollout devices to students. So where does the blame lie?

 I’m not sure I have an answer, but I suspect that the ‘real world’ outside of school and perhaps the internet, might not be entirely without guilt.

The problem with the real world is that it functions at a different pace and in a different way to a school. Schools don’t need to be progressive to be successful, they simply need to produce good results. If you look at league tables in this country there are not a lot of ‘progressive’ schools at the top. There are however, a lot of schools that are built on a reputation of excellence. Excellence is defined in these league tables as schools which get really good exam results and sometimes by the number of students that they get to university. There is no doubt that these schools do very often give their students the most incredible of extra-curricular activities too, but one must wonder to what extent these schools are leading by example when it comes to looking to the future.

A business must be adaptive, flexible and innovative to keep itself afloat in today’s aggressive marketplace. A school must be rigorous, solid and dependable. There is an inherent contradiction here.

Businesses want to utilize the latest social media to let as many people in their key demographic know about the products they offer as possible. They want their customers to be excited about what is being offered to them, to know that they are valued and that they are getting a great deal. The business world is competitive, but this manifests itself in such a way as (generally) benefitting the customer, otherwise they lose out to someone else.

I won’t bother making the comparison with schools; I think it’s fairly obvious that what is described above is not what we get in the classroom.

For a school to thrive it needs good exam results. For its students to survive, a school needs to teach them skills and prepare them for reality. At present this is an unhappy juxtaposition.

I am not naive enough to think that educational technology can solve these woes. The technology is only as good as the hands it is in. But, in this way, I think I can offer an important insight.

Technology used well in schools can offer a tangible link to the outside world – it can be a bridge in many different ways to what is happening outside of the classroom. It could act as a link to other schools, learners and countries that will enhance the experience that students can have in a classroom. They also offer an idea of the type of workflow they may experience when they leave school. Organizing your work on a mobile device is inevitably the future of schools, but it is the reality of many businesses already and certainly will be by the time the students currently starting secondary school leave.

There are a lot of people who think that students using things like iPads in classrooms are pandering to the pressure of being cool/current/getting carried along with a passing fad. In some schools this may be true, but in general, this is a naive assumption.

The world progresses. We don’t write on slate any more. We don’e use chalk. We don’t force kids to use fountain pens. We let them type work. We let them use the internet (sometimes grudgingly). Each of these steps were painful for the teaching profession to move away from. Many thought that those that leapt first were insane. But the truth is simple. The world progresses. And, so too do schools (eventually).

Educational Technology is not a gimmick if done right. It is an inevitable progression of how we teach our children. What is important is that we learn how to use it in the best possible way. This may mean changing the way we teach. It may mean changing the way a school functions. It may mean completely redesigning the concept of school.


I’ve said ‘maybe‘ a lot in the previous paragraph. I didn’t mean it. It definitely will mean these things change, I just know that this is frightening for a lot of people.


How can teachers help?

To start things off, I think teachers need to take a step back and evaluate where they stand at present.

There’s a very simple model from the 1980’s (Schulman 1986) which outlines what makes a good teacher that I think few would argue with. It goes like this:



Now, this model has been redesigned (Mishra & Koehler) to incorporate our current tech-centered needs and now looks like this:



The point is simple. Teachers need to be able to understand how to embed technology into what they do. But you can’t do this unless you’re already a good teacher. The technological side of it only comes into to play if you already knew how to balance pedagogical knowledge with content (subject) knowledge. Only then can you understand how best to integrate an iPad into a classroom.

The biggest problem with Educational Technology to date is that the people that sign off these projects, or design ‘education apps’ didn’t have Pedagogical Content Knowledge in the first place – they just guessed at what we needed and threw something our way expecting us to figure it out. Which is why there’s so much to read about on the internet – slowly but surely there is a great team of people around the world who are beginning to make sense of all of this and eventually, the people who make the decisions about these things are going to have to listen and look at the models that work. These are almost always going to come from the people who have been or are at the coalface of education.



14 thoughts on “What is the point of Educational Technology?

  1. The contradiction that you mentioned is very interested, I have never thought about schools and businesses in that light. The expectations put on schools to put out good exam results really has caused the students’ learning to be put aside. The teachers are so worried about their ability to teach being judged on the exam results of the students that all they focus on is preparing students for those exams which results in the students actually learning much less. They are not engaged in the classroom and the teacher doesn’t have time to stop and worry about it because the administrators are pressuring them to produce students with better test results. Being able to navigate and use technology efficiently to accomplish work and school goals is a skill that students will need in their lives but in many classrooms teachers, for a variety of reasons, aren’t willing to try new approaches that include technology and will prepare students for that. Why is it that schools seem to be one of the last things to accommodate to the times? I don’t know how many times in high school I was discouraged from using the internet for research even though the internet can be a valuable resource and it’s not exactly new technology anymore. I think self-evaluation by teachers is really important because teachers, just like everyone else, can get caught up in their work and may not realize that they aren’t preparing their students as well as they should be.

  2. I must say, your comparison of the business world and education gave me quite a bit to think about. It is interesting how the business world must adapt and change but education must be steady. I think you are right in saying that the world is changing and I think education needs to change with it. We continuously depend on test scores to grade a school and the teachers but we dont look at the students’ independent thoughts and survival in real world situations. You have given me a lot to think about.

  3. I think that educational technology is definitely an “inevitable progression of how we teach our children.” It is becoming a big thing in today’s society. Everyone is using technology in today’s world whether they realize it or not. I think that teachers now are starting to lean more towards using technology because it is becoming part of everyone’s life. I think that if we as teachers need to learn how to use technology in the classroom before we start teaching it. If you don’t know how to use certain technologies in a classroom then your students won’t learn as much because you don’t always know what you are doing. I think that technology is progressing in today’s world and we are going to be using it more and more in classrooms in the future.

  4. Education, whether we like it or not, is progressing. It is becoming more and more electronic and the system is starting to change as the idea of a flipped classroom is coming around. I agree that this can either be good or bad depending on the teacher and administration. In my hometown, the school system purchased iPads for every student grades K-12 this school year. I graduated just last year and got to hear input from my teachers about what they thought of them. Most thought that they would be useful in the long run, but they did not want to change the curriculum that they had been using for their entire career. Yet, most of them embraced it and are using the iPads effectively. Like you said, a teacher has to be good at their job before they can implement new technology into the classroom. My teachers all cared about their students and wanted what was best for them. They were also creative and collaborated with one another. I think that teachers need to work together in order for new technology to reach its full potential in education. In my future classroom and school, I hope to be able to use technology in a new, interesting, and innovative way and be able to share that with my colleagues.

  5. I completely agree with this article. I think teachers have an important responsibility of discerning how much and which technology to integrate into their classrooms. Technology can be beneficial, but with children, this can be potentially damaging as they are also developing their relational and social skills. This article says that you cannot integrate technology well “without being a good teacher.” This truly is a fundamental principle today because without good teachers, we are setting the upcoming generation to fail not thrive in life. Educational technology can help prepare students for the future, the discernment of a teacher comes in handy when they figure out how much and which pieces of technology a teacher should introduce a classroom to. This article was well said and I agree that as teachers, we must start preparing our students for the future and technology is one way to do this.

  6. This article made some very good points, and points that I certainly agree with. First, technology must be used effectively. Teachers need to be up-to-date on how use devices, and they need to provide material that is engaging to the students. Next, I certainly agree with the point that too much stock is put in exam scores. These days, teachers “teach to the test.” Their effectiveness as a teacher is measured (wholly or partly) by their student’s scores. I believe that most than just the results of standardized testing scores should be looked at to evaluate a teacher. For example, how much did the student’s progress? What would the students rate the teacher? What would the other faculty rate the teacher? Getting back to the subject of technology, the world we live in is a fast-paced, ever-changing world. We must adapt our teaching methods and activities to fit this world. Our students must leave our educational institutions prepared for the world they are entering. This is the goal of education.

  7. I believe this article touched on a issue most people already knew about. Yes, technology in the classroom is only as effective as the teacher using it. But can’t the same be said about a particular curriculum? The biggest issue I have is how effective the current generation of teachers will be at using this tool. I have a friend that recently began teaching at a school that is gradually replacing the older generation of teachers with newer ones. There is naturally a level of tension with the older teachers feeling replaced. For technology in the classroom to work, teachers will need to work together.

    1. Thanks for your comment Henrique. I think you make a fair point, though I don’t agree that this is about new and old teachers. In my school there are plenty of established teachers doing great things with technology and younger staff who are not finding it as easy. The current generation of teachers that you mention, need training and opportunity; they will use technology effectively if they have these things. The key here is to appreciate that there is a difference between using technology and using technology effectively. Many more established teachers will find it easier to measure effectiveness exactly, because of their experience.

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