The education system is awash with technology. Laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, learning management systems, messaging services, e-books, blogs, wikis, gamified resources, mobile learning… it’s everywhere.

And yet the much-referenced September 2015 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), ‘Students, Computers and Learning: Making the connection’ made global headlines when it presented research implying that students who use laptops at school very frequently perform worse than those who use them infrequently.

While there is some truth to this, the media frenzy surrounding the report focused squarely on what the research discovered. Very few news sources mentioned the most important part of the research – its conclusions as to the root cause.

What is the real problem?

The OECD determined that the problem lay not with the technology, but with the way we try to use it. Their research suggests the issue is caused by the simple fact that the tools we are using in classrooms have evolved far more quickly than our pedagogical practices.

The technology available to us has the potential to revolutionise the way that education is approached across the globe. But in order for that to happen – in order for the Digital Education Revolution to become a reality – we need to start asking some questions.

What is the right question?

When it comes to education technology, one of the best questions we can ask is “What MORE can this tool do?”.

If that sounds silly, consider this:

Fifteen years ago interactive whiteboards first started to arrive in schools. Yet they experienced a huge variety of issues: the boards were installed at adult height in primary classrooms; they failed to be connected to projectors; many educators did not even realise they were interactive. Who knows how many fell victim to the dreaded permanent marker pen?

Ten years ago­ laptops were used as word processors. Eight years ago Learning Management Systems were employed for basic file storage. Five years ago tablets were reduced to sketchpads. Schools adopted these new tools but maintained the same teaching techniques.

Without employing the tools’ full capabilities to find more effective ways for students to learn, the technologies fell short of their potential to enhance education.

How can we pave a better way forward?

The Government’s focus on STEM education and their plans for building the Innovation Nation have resulted in an unprecedented level of investment in businesses creating education technology. The quantity of new and exciting tools arriving in our schools is set to grow exponentially.

If we want those tools to make a real difference, we need to stop thinking about how we can use them to do what we’re already doing, and start thinking about how we can use them to do things differently.

A novel use of a familiar technology

Take Facebook, for example. It allows us to message friends, share content and interact with new people. Most people reading this are probably familiar with the technology.

But how many have thought to use it beyond these basic capabilities? I recently learned of a school that used Facebook to recreate ‘Othello’. By creating accounts for each character, students working in groups adopted the identity of a modern day Shakespearian character and found an incredible new way to tell the story.

So, how can we use technology to REALLY help education? It’s simple – we can start thinking about what these tools can do beyond their face value, and how we could use those features to bring about our own ideas for better teaching techniques. Better still, we can start exploring how we might use different technologies together to really propel student learning.

Technology WILL revolutionise education – we just need to let it. Here are two readily available tools to spark your imagination:

  1. Click here to find out about 360fly
  2. Click here to find out about Google cardboard

– Jon Chivers


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