Sunday, October 23, 2011

It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it

Does technology improve learning? Will results improve if all school pupils have laptops? Two frequently asked questions by tech skeptics and the answer in both cases is probably no. Technology on its own is not going to make people learn more and no amount of laptops or wireless broadband capacity is going to make pupils and students more insightful. At the same time we have no evidence that books make people learn better or that lectures have any effect on learning. You can have access to all the wisdom in the world without actually learning anything from it.

The key to learning is how all that information is woven together, the discussion that arises from it and how people discuss and develop those ideas. The central role in this process is that of the teacher, providing the context and inspiring reflection and inquiry. If that role is not developed then no amount of investment in resources will make a difference (whether they be physical or virtual resources). This is clearly stated in a blog post by Dennis Pierce, On ed tech we're asking the wrong question:

"Few people would suggest that textbooks—by themselves—hold some larger power over whether students learn. But if we wouldn’t expect this of textbooks, then why should we expect it of educational technology?"

We seem to be preoccupied with asking the wrong questions.Technology never promised to be an instant cure. It all depends on what you do with it. Too many initiatives buy the hardware first and then wonder what to do with it. We need to invest much more in helping teachers make the most of all the exciting tools and methods that the net can offer today. We need more vision, strategies and above all leadership in helping all sectors of education become relevant for the 21st century instead of entrenching itself in the structures and practices of the 20th century.

"Technology can facilitate this learning process; it can open up new avenues for learning; it can provide teachers with useful information about their students, and it can point children to lessons geared toward their particular needs. It can do all of this in ways that are clearly superior to other resources or methods of instruction. But technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For technology to have an impact on student achievement, schools also need sound teaching, strong leadership, fidelity of use, and a supportive culture, among other things."

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