Technology and effective and efficient teaching

Much research into the impact of technologies in the classroom, including from the OECD work, John Hattie, and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), suggests that the impact of ICT on pupil attainment is limited, particularly given its significant cost; some studies even suggest this impact may be negative. Of course, there is a whole host of outcomes that schools aim for beyond just academic attainment, and a range of reasons schools may wish to adopt technologies.

But even if we begin by focusing on academic attainment, there is a fundamental challenge in treating technology tools as if they are a pedagogical approach in themselves, for example by pitching them against interventions such as peer tutoring or metacognitive strategies. Such comparison suggests that the technology is actually the end goal in itself, rather than a tool used to achieve other pedagogical aims.

But it is when education technologies are used purposefully to support or even transform evidence-informed pedagogical approaches that we start to reap its rewards. Feedback, for example, is widely recognised as a key support for pupil learning, and technology can enable new approaches to giving feedback, including video or audio commenting or instant automated marking and feedback. Low-stakes “retrieval practice”, or review and recap of previously learnt content can be enabled with online quizzing tools. Processes can be modelled and excellent examples of work shared with a visualiser. We can enable peer support through collaborative document-sharing; or promote metacognitive practices through the use of video annotation. But in all cases, the pedagogy itself is front and centre – and there is a clear pedagogical goal in using technology.

High-quality teaching

We know that quality of teaching is the most important in-school factor that influences pupil attainment, and as such high-quality teaching and learning must always be at the heart of technology use. Teacher expertise is also key in making decisions about technology. Recognising the unintended or unexpected consequences that may arise from technology is important; making critical decisions about when technology is the right solution (and when it is not) relies on teachers’ expertise, knowledge and understanding of their pupils, their subject and content, and the affordances of technology.

Professor Steve Higgins, author of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, coined the phrase ‘the Bananarama effect’ when talking about education interventions, seeking to articulate the inconsistencies in research outcomes. What works in one place may not work in another, and how a new approach is introduced and implemented is critically important.

This is particularly poignant when we think about technology; even perfectly conceived and designed tools will have no impact – or, worse, have a negative impact – if used badly, whilst effective deployment of very simple tools can be highly effective. Continuing to build a robust research base and ensuring that teachers have access to it is therefore an important step in teachers being empowered to make informed decisions about technology use.

Effectiveness and efficiency

Any discussion about technology and impact would not be complete without a consideration of not just effectiveness – that is, whether a technology-based approach leads to improved learning – but also efficiency. A rapid skim of the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, or of John Hattie’s work, leaves the impression that there are many different things we can do that may have a small, positive impact on pupil attainment. But with limited classroom time and huge workload issues for teachers already, it is not feasible to do everything, so we need to be selective and adopt approaches that appear to be effective relative to the time they take – and when thinking about technology, which can be hugely expensive, we also need to be considering cost.

In some cases, technology-based approaches may not direct affect pupil learning, but they may make teaching and learning or administrative processes more efficient, freeing up valuable teacher time. Clearly, this is a worthwhile gain in itself. In these cases, when we seek to measure impact, the effectiveness or otherwise of a technology implementation would need to be measured in terms of time saved, rather than pupil attainment – so again, being clear about your goal from the start is important.

Transformation or augmentation?

Ruben Puentedura’s popular SAMR model of technology use encourages us to think about technology use in terms of whether it substitutes, augments, modifies or redefines traditional teaching and learning activities. Whilst it is sometimes presented as a hierarchy, with ‘redefinition’ as the pinnacle of technology use, it is more helpful to see these as all potentially having a place – in many cases, it’s less about technology “redefining” what is possible in the classroom, and more about it “augmenting” existing, effective classroom practices, improving functionality and efficiency. Seeing transformation as the pinnacle of technology use is, then, perhaps looking at things the wrong way round. But whatever our goal, whether the desired outcomes are improved academic attainment, development of some sort of ‘soft skill’, or reduction in teacher workload, we need to be clear about these, in order to being able to evaluate impact.

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Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

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