How do we best embrace the educational benefits technology-enhanced learning can bring to our classrooms?
What is technology-enhanced learning (TEL)?
What exactly do we mean by technology-enhanced and, importantly, what does this mean for your setting and practice?
For many in the education world, articles about new edtech Apps, technologies for teaching, new devices to use in the classroom and 'quick wins' for using technology in lessons, are always appearing. Whether this be on social media pages, in subject association magazines or in staffroom conversations. However, what is actually meant by edtech and digital education, what is the difference between edtech and e-learning tools and why is it so important to consider the theory behind edtech use in your classroom?
Firstly, when you hear the phrase 'edtech', it is a portmanteau, a blend of two words. That is, education and technology. Therefore, what is being referred to is how technology, broadly, is being used to enhance learning experiences, otherwise known as technology-enhanced learning (TEL). For example, the aim would be to improve the education for students, through the use of technology. The difference with 'e-learning' is that it is solely referring to electronic learning, which is when learning materials are presented through electronic means, which could be through Learning Management Systems (LMS) or virtual learning environment, such as Moodle or Instructure, or, more basically, through online conferencing, such as Teams or Zoom. The latter would be of more relevance to educator colleagues across the globe, since the COVID-19 pandemic, though, maybe through the term of synchronous or asynchronous learning, or distance learning.
For some, edtech and digital technologies bring the classroom or lecture theatre to life, provide flexible learning opportunities for some learners and, overall, enhance the learning process and student experience.
Is technology-enhanced learning an integral part of education?
There are, no doubt, many cynics across the globe when it comes to edtech and digital technology. Like with many things, unless it has been proven, over a period of time, as being effective in improving the outcomes of students, many may say that it is not worth pursuing. However, there is an increasing bedrock of literature and research that suggests that the inclusion of edtech and digital technology in the classroom is, actually, having a direct impact on learning and teaching. There is also a growing range of reports, from different companies and institutions, ranging from online learning environments, online assessments, communication technologies, hybrid learning, or enhancing the student learning experience. These suggest the positive effects of edtech in the classroom, whether that is using an Apple, Microsoft or Google basis for your digital education deployment.
The Department for Education, in the United Kingdom, in June 2022, produced a report answering the above question. Though, maybe not as euphemistically. Their report into blah, suggested that a clear vision for the school, training and practical strategies for staff, help to embed digital inclusion in schools.
Apple, for example, are clear in the purpose of using iPad in the classroom: to inspire creativity and to make learning more powerful. Their annual report, summarising worldwide results of iPad in education, present some profound and encouraging claims, from across the globe, on the impact of Apple technology in the classroom.
The World Economic Forum, in their recently-published report of the future of jobs, include a list of the skills needed for the workplace of 2025 and, within this, technology is included twice. Specifically:
- Technology use, monitoring and control, and
- Technology design and programming
It is also no surprise that, each year, thousands of educators embark on a journey to the British Educational Technology Trade show (BETT), in London, Brasil and Asia, to explore, engage and network with like-minded colleagues, with a shared mission to drive impact with edtech and digital technology.
Therefore, in brief, the question that many are asking should not be: Should technology be used within the classroom? Rather, many are clear that technology has benefits in the classroom and are beginning to ask the question of: How can I use technology in the classroom to enhance learning and teaching and educational outcomes for students? The focus has changed to considering how edtech provides enhancement of learning.
Being cautious of technology 'quick wins' in the education sector
For the purposes of this article, edtech and effective education practice is going to be the focus. To begin, though, it is important to note that, with a quick Google search of 'education and technology', you will be presented with a wealth of articles and research on the topic. In addition, let us not also forget that the most-recent devices being used in schools, such as iPads, only appeared in classrooms around 2010! So, the credibility and the claims made within these articles may not be as quantitive and quality-assured as they could be. These could, then, lead some to taking whimsical actions based on some unsubstantiated claims to success.
Of course, there are many educators who have read about a new App on a Sunday evening, planned to use it in their lesson on Monday morning and had a very successful experience. Maybe they then use this, sporadically, throughout the academic year whenever they have a 'computer room lesson'. If, for them, this helps them to enhance their lessons, it is important to support them in their use of this. However, on a macro level, it is important that, whenever edtech in used within the classroom, it is carefully planned, researched and deployed to ensure that the technology used is directly enhancing learning and teaching.
Teacher adoption of classroom technology
For many, when it comes to edtech in the classroom, they are astronomers. They are the kind of person who may love the idea of using edtech, but, do not do anything about it, in reality. Similarly to an astronomer, who studies something using ground-based equipment, they are detached from the reality of what actually happens in space and what it is actually like to walk on the moon or drive on Mars. More and more educators, though, are becoming astronauts! Unlike astronauts, astronomers are moving from the limited, ground-based study of something, to doing it in practice, on the moon or on Mars. The point is that many people are edtech astronomers, which is good. But, if more educators could be edtech astronauts, the learning experiences of the students in our classrooms would be enhanced and, in turn, the learning outcomes of our students would be improved.
What does the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) recommend?
One of the most qualitative pieces of research recently published on the topic of digital technology in the classroom, is from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). In 2019, Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the EEF, said that technology is in constant use in the world and 'The pupils we teach do not know a life without it. The opportunities it offers us to improve education are truly exciting.''. With this in mind, the EEF published four recommendations for using digital technology to improve learning. Before we go into what these are, the title of their research report is useful to note. Without saying it in their research report, it is referring to the astronauts of edtech. The educators who will use digital technology not as an add-on, not as an accessory, but, rather, as an enhancement and with the intention to improve learning.
Their recommendations are:
- Consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before introducing it
- Technology can be used to improve the quality of explanations and modelling
- Technology can play a role in improving assessment and feedback
These recommendations, although not a checklist, could be used as an effective self-evaluation for educators and school leaders, considering deployment of digital technology in their settings or classrooms.
This template might help.
The purpose of the template is to help educators establish where they are, in line with the EEF recommendations, and to assist in producing an action plan in response to these.
Best practice in technology-enhanced learning
Some may ask why a teacher should use technology to enhance teaching and learning. Pages and pages could be written on this topic and hours of discussions could be had. However, having mentioned what some of the theory says, who has done this, with impact? There are many educationalists, schools and settings, who have been working to embed edtech and digital technology into their classrooms. However, one commonality of any successful deployment of edtech starts by establishing a culture of edtech and digital technology in their classrooms, on a macro-level and then filtering this down to the classrooms, on a micro-level.
- Royal Grammar School Worcester is one example of a school who has been successfully using iPad in their classrooms to enhance learning for many years. They use a one-to-one iPad programme to enhance learning in the classroom, have a termly digital learning publication to support building an edtech culture and have achieve Apple Distinguished School status.
- Sandringham School, who were also an Edtech Demonstrator (until the programme came to an end in July 2022), has championed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) since 2014 and trains and advises colleagues on edtech and digital technology, through their Sandringham Edtech support.
- Oasis Community Learning have been a torchbearer for one of the biggest one-to-one iPad rollouts in the England, with 30,000 iPads being provided to students, teachers and support staff. Their programme, called Oasis Horizons, helps to build this culture and establish support, when required, for colleagues or students.
- Glasgow City Council have been working on and beginning deployment of around 52,000 iPads for either one-to-one use or shared use in their schools. This is the largest Apple project in Europe, to date, with a focus on innovative practices in their classrooms. Their project, being supported by companies like Showbie, an innovative feedback and assessment platform.
There are, without a doubt, many other educators, schools and settings around the globe who have been championing edtech and digital technology in schools to enhance learning. However, the examples above act as case study to explore further if you, like them, are interested in or keen to change the edtech culture of your school.
Technology and your teaching practice
What these ideas mean for your teaching practice starts with where you and your school are at with building an edtech and digital technology culture. This does not happen overnight and takes careful planning, after discussions and involving various partners and associates. Most people will fall into one of these three categories:
- You are exited by edtech and digital technology, but, do not know where to start (you are an astronomer)
- You are already using edtech and digital technology in your classroom and want to move this forward in your school
- You have an embedded culture of edtech and digital technology in your school
Dependent on which one of these categories you fall into, here are some ideas, which are practical and impartial, which, if nothing more, hope to spark some ideas and motivation to ensure that the students in our classrooms have every opportunity to be as successful as they can be.
You are exited by edtech and digital technology, but, do not know where to start (you are an astronomer)
- Talk to others who were once in your position, but, now have embedded edtech practice in their school. This list is a helpful starting point. Make sure that, when you reach out to them, you ask specific, relevant questions about how they made their edtech vision a reality.
- Attended training about building an edtech culture in your school. There are always courses running on this topic. Reach out to one of these schools or search for relevant courses here. There are many free courses, but, pick carefully, as you want a high-impact course, base on your vision for edtech in your school.
You are already using edtech and digital technology in your classroom and want to move this forward in your school
- Support others within your school to also champion what you are doing. Build your network within the school of teachers and best practice and share this with the leadership in your school. You need to complete due diligence to prove that, what you are doing has impact. There are some very useful resources here, especially if you are working with iPad in the classroom, that could help.
- Be the catalyst for change within your school. If you can prove, empirically, that edtech and digital technology is improving outcomes, that is part of the battle. Request meetings with leadership to present your own research and begin discussions with them. Base your meetings around research and reach out to colleagues for support.
You have an embedded culture of edtech and digital technology in your school
- Inspire others to do what you have done, enquire to speak at local conferences, promote this within your Trust or District. One of the reasons you have been successful is by by building a positive culture of edtech and digital technology in the classroom and this will have a direct impact on the learning outcomes of students.
- Present best practice to others. This does not mean those disparate 'quick wins'. But, rather, asking yourself these questions and letting others know your answers: What was your vision for edtech in your school? What were the top three challenges and how did you overcome them? How have you got where you have? What is the impact in your classrooms?
Final thoughts on technology and learning
There is so much more to write about on this topic: theory vs. practice, feedback, assessment, quality assurance, leading others, cultural capital and edtech. The abundance of educational tools available to schools can sometimes be overwhelming, and it's important not to be drawn into the new shiny thing. Within a formal education setting, there is definitely room for enhancing teaching practice with individual tools that can scaffold the learning process for our students. If you are keen to read more on this topic, and explore relevant articles related to Edtech, then please do visit our dedicated learning tools webpage.
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