My name is Cat Scutt and I am the Director of Education & Research at the Chartered College of Teaching. When schools are thinking about how they might use technology to support teaching and learning, I think there are, sort of, five areas that we need to think about building on the research and the first one of those is really that it always needs to start with teaching and learning, rather than with the technology.
It’s one of these things where actually if something is not a good idea anyway, just because you’re using technology to deliver it, it’s probably not going to be a good idea suddenly, unexpectedly, so we really need to be thinking, what are the things we know work well in teaching and learning? What are the sorts of things that support our pupils to develop? And there are lots of things that we know work really well, for example, high quality feedback, modelling and scaffolding, what pupils are doing, supporting students to understand their own learning through metacognitive processes and those are the sorts of things that can all be supported really well by technology.
Other things also, like helping students to engage in retrieval practice, that’s the sort of thing where there are hundreds of quizzing apps that can really effectively support pupils so I would say that that should always be a starting point in using technology. The next thing really, is the idea that it’s important to be clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve when you’re implementing technology in schools. Quite often, that can be a bit vague, we think ah yes, we want to improve things but being more specific about what you’re hoping to achieve will help you to measure whether you’re actually managing that.
Is it that you’re expecting it to improve pupil attainment or are you hoping to use technology to reduce teacher workload, for example, or one really important area might be about increasing access to things to pupils that might not otherwise have been able to access it. We see this in a higher education setting quite a lot where comparisons may look at technology and say well, online versions of this course have worse outcome for pupils or students, than we might see in a face-to-face version and that might be true but actually that online version of the course might mean that people who would never have been able to access the face-to-face version, whether that’s because of the location of it or because of the cost of it, are able to do so so there’s often trade-offs there and we need to think about that as well.
And that means that once you know what it is you’re trying to achieve, you can more robustly baseline and measure whether you’re achieving that over time or not and that adds a critical point as well that I think you need to be quite open to the fact that sometimes the things that you do might not work in the way that you expected. Technology is often a really expensive thing to implement and that can lead us to want things to be successful even when maybe the evidence suggests that they haven’t been, so being open, really genuinely piloting and rigorously reviewing the effectiveness of what we’ve done is a really important thing when we’re talking about technology.
The next area that I think it’s worth thinking about again is implementation. Just like anything else that we do in schools, technology depends on how well it’s implemented. It’s just a tool essentially, that’s being used by teachers so we really need to focus on ensuring that teachers are supported, that teachers are enabled to use their expertise and make decisions about how to use technology best. An example of that perhaps, is the use of Powerpoints. Really, really popular still in education and they can be used really well or they can be used quite badly to support teacher explanation.
We know lots of things from the research, for example, about how we can use Powerpoints more or less effectively, Richard Mayer in the US has done a lot of work about multimedia principles and ideas about how we can chunk information, about how diagrams can be used effectively, even down to the detail of how helpful it is to have labels within diagrams rather than keys separately which actually can create greater cognitive load for students.
There are things that we know as well about not filling our slides with huge amounts of information and then reading those out loud, again taking into account the cognitive load of the students that are engaging with what we’re producing, so that’s an example where teacher expertise and support to understand the research is really important. The other things that we need to be aware of are really around the potential unintended consequences of using technology.
One of the really obvious ones there is the potential workload implications for teachers, both in developing materials in the first place, but also there is a risk particularly where infrastructure is not in place or reliable Wi-Fi is not always in existence, that teachers feel the need to actually, whether explicitly or otherwise, plan two versions of a lesson, one for if the technology is working and one for if the technology is not working and that’s obviously really problematic so we need to think about what we’re doing when we’re introducing technology, is it going to be reliable? Is it going to be increasing teacher workload? Or is it going to be ideally reducing teacher workload?
There are also things we need to think about where technology can be a distraction, both for teachers in terms of not focusing on the most important things for their pupils but also, really critically, it can be a distraction for pupils in the classroom, particularly where personal mobile devices are being used, we see quite a lot of evidence around behaviour issues and distraction issues being created by those, so we need to think really carefully about that when we’re talking about or figuring out how to introduce or use technology effectively and there are wider questions as well around e-safety, around data security particularly and also about things like the environmental impact of using technology of approaches where we might be saying, okay well we’re expecting our devices to last just three years now and almost a quite a disposable approach to technology in schools which it’s all part of a wider picture that we need to consider and we know that there’s a huge amount we don’t yet know about technology and about the impact that has on education and more widely, so we need to be keeping up to date and thinking really carefully about everything that we do.
The final point is really around the idea that technology may have the most powerful uses where it’s not being used necessarily for pupils. One of the really powerful uses of technology could be in teacher development, we’re seeing increasing amounts of online content, online training for teachers, I think that’s really exciting because it adds greater flexibility, it means that teachers in remote areas can be accessing things quite easily, it can be more personalised, teachers have access to things that are really specific to their subject areas and that’s a really exciting thing, although there is a caveat there that I’d be concerned if we started to see a situation where schools are saying well actually you can just learn this stuff online so we don’t need to give you time for CPD.
Critically I think that we still need to be ensuring schools are giving teachers time to engage with CPD whether that’s online or face-to-face, but if we can reduce the travel time, that in turn may reduce cover requirements, may reduce workload and can reduce costs as well over time, so that is powerful. We also know that social media is connecting teachers really effectively, letting people learn through collaboration and through collegiality, there are some great examples of teachers sharing things like multiple choice question sets which other teachers can then edit and use and adapt and that kind of sharing of resources can be really powerful too.
And the final and I think important area is how we can use technology to engage parents. We know that home learning is a really, really important part of student attainment that actually how much parents able to support and engage their children in learning can really make a difference and we’re increasingly seeing examples of schools being able to use technology to support and exemplify things for parents to mean that parents feel more confident in supporting their children so I think there’s a lot that we can look at in that area as well.