Scanning the media on education technology could easily lead one to believe we are wasting our money when putting devices into the hands of students.
Whether it is districts that have had disturbing problems trying to implement technology for learning (such as here, or here), or folks who tell us why we shouldn’t have devices in school, or schools that have decided that technology is too disruptive and have banned it, or authors who caution about the over-promising with technology (such as here, or here), it is not surprising that we are dubious of investing in education technology, and wonder “why bother?”
On the other hand, educators in Washington County, PA, find that their devices benefit students, and in Auburn, ME, educators found that when they carefully selected apps aligned to their curriculum or participated in professional learning focused on using apps to build conceptual understanding of mathematics, student learning improved.
So what’s different between these two groups?
From my perspective, each of these instances are really just reflections of either the problems we experience when we focus on the device more than we do the learning, or the benefits of doing the reverse (the notion of “more verbs, fewer nouns”). It is ludicrous to look inside a classroom and decide if technology is a waste of investment or a distraction without also investigating how we are using them for learning. Simply having technology does not improve learning.
And there are plenty of authors and organizations out there who are anxious to help us be successful with education technology:
- Digital Promise tells us that, when it comes to ed tech, the pedagogy must come first.
- LearnMaker points out that what separates the successful mobile learning projects from the unsuccessful is the extent we focus on pedagogy more than apps.
- Global educator Julie Lindsey reminds us that our education technology dollars can easily be wasted if we aren’t also attending to how we’re using our devices for instruction and learning, what classroom management strategies teachers are (or aren’t!) leveraging, and how we’re supporting teachers with professional learning.
- Even Alfie Kohn, when cautioning us about the overselling of education technology, says that his response to EdTech is “It depends!” and points out, “We can’t answer the question ‘Is tech useful in schools?’ until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: ‘What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?'”
- Researchers are starting to define the conditions of success with digital learning, and other studies show the benefit of devices in the hands of learners.
Here is our advice to your school when considering the value of your education technology:
- If the goal of your technology initiative is to provide students with technology, then all you will end up with is students with devices (and probably distracted, off-task students at that).
- Your technology initiative should consider the kinds of learning experiences you want for your students and the supports you put in place to help teachers create those experiences.
- Keep in mind that student distraction is almost never a device problem. It is almost always a boredom problem. We must stop blaming technology and get better at engaging students with our teaching.
- Make classroom management in technology rich classrooms a part of your school’s professional learning plan. Support teachers in developing strategies beyond sending kids to the principal and requesting that devices be locked and blocked.
- When reviewing research on technology in schools, ask yourself if the study simply looks at the presence of technology, or if it looks at how the technology was used. Further, did the study measure student engagement? Don’t put too much value in the incomplete studies – we already know that owning devices doesn’t improve learning.
In short, start with the pedagogy, then think about the devices.