Saturday, September 26, 2015

PISA - worth digging below the headlines

Most people don't really like change and secretly hope that any new challenges will simply go away and we can all get back to normal again. This is certainly true with educational technology and every time some study indicates that technology has not made the impact many had hoped for there is a great cry of "what did I tell you" from the tech skeptics, often lead by the popular media. In the past couple of weeks we've seen a new wave of this after a new OECD/PISA report, Students, Computers and Learning, indicated that pupils' test results in reading and maths had not risen despite considerable investment in technology (laptops and tablets for all). The findings showed that pupils who spent most time on the net often had poorer test scores and this was taken as "evidence" that technology was not helping education.

... even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.

This lead of course to headlines about the dangers of technology in education and gave fuel to arguments that the use of mobiles and laptops should be restricted. An example of the simplistic interpretation of this report was the BBC article, School technology struggles to make an impact, nicely commented on by Steve Wheeler in his blog post A message to Auntie. The truth, as ever, lies in the small print and the OECD report was actually arguing for more enlightened use of technology in education.

The OECD report explained the poor results by stressing that the focus of many schools and authorities has been on simply implementing technology without first reviewing and adapting the pedagogy and giving teachers adequate support. The report outlined several weaknesses in many schools' implementation of digital technology (see slideshow below):
  • overestimation of the teachers' and students' digital skills
  • naive policy and implementation strategies
  • resistance of teachers and students
  • inadequate pedagogy and instructional design
  • poor quality educational resources and software

What seemed on the surface to add fuel to the tech-skeptics in education was in fact a call for a deeper and more informed integration of technology where learning is always the focus but where technology offers a wide range of supportive tools and methods. Teachers need to see technology as an enabler rather than a threat and that digital tools can complement and enhance traditional methods rather than simply replace them as many fear. As I have written so often we need to stop these polarised discussions of digital versus traditional and focus on the pedagogy with a wide range of methods and tools to support it.

These issues are further discussed in an article from Merlin John Online, Computers and Learning: Missing the Connection, which describes a number of impressive examples of schools who have achieved great results by implementing a more enlightened approach to the use of educational technology. The head of one school, Jonathan Bishop of Broadclyst Community Primary School in England, makes a particularly apt statement:

ICT on its own is not going to raise the standards of education or the outcomes for children. What will raise those standards and outcomes is high-quality teaching; ICT used appropriately and effectively in the hands of capable professionals can deliver greater efficiencies, more personalised learning, enriched opportunities and greater outcomes for children.

As is often the case, we should not simply blame the technology but the superficial implementation of the technology. PISA's reports are often criticised by educators for simplifying education into league tables but if you read beyond the headlines they often have very sensible proposals down in the small print. This report is a good example where we need to dig to find the valuable information.

A final statement in the Merlin John article sums it all up:

In other words, is it the misuse of ICT, rather than the technology itself, that we should be blaming?

1 comment:

  1. Let's talk about - in a live webcast! - who is to blame:
    Alastair, you'll be there, right? I'll definitely be there and I'm pretty darn sure Tiina Sarisalmi will also be there - plus possibly a bunch of other world class educators :) See you On Air!