The Great ‘Edtech’ debate (again)

Once again the battle lines have been drawn on twitter …. those who think Edtech has no value and those that think it does.  I stayed out of the debate, I don’t think these protracted debates where we try and convince each other that they are wrong ever works.  Everyone has their own confirmation bias, and 140 characters is never going to change those views.

David Didau (@learningspy) is one of the most respected educational tweeters out there, and is a clever, insightful man.   His book on education (‘What if everything you knew about education was wrong’) is a great read and I would recommend it to everyone.  A few days ago, he took  exception to an article published in the Guardian about 20 uses of a tablet, and I have to say he was right to do so.  The list of uses was largely uninspired, and ignore the real potential that technology can have for education.

I have to start by saying I hate the term ‘Edtech’, there is simply technology, and any new technology is always treated with suspicion and scepticism. I remember, as a head of department, having to write to governors to grant me extra budget to get a data projector installed into my classroom.  My colleagues thought I was mad,and questioned why I would want such a thing.  But it made my subject come alive, and meant that I could dispose of my OHP, video player and Slide projector.   This technology is now pretty standard in schools, but at the time it was something new and revolutionary.  Tablets are also rapidly becoming commonplace in school, and it is fair to say lots of people are not convinced of the benefits.  David Didau’s blog was titled ‘Give me one good reason to use a tablet in the classroom’, so here are some good reasons:

  1. Tablets are great for AfL.  Without tablets, a teacher can ask one question at a time. Once the first student has answered a question you will never know if the rest of the class knew the answer or not.  With tablets and a simple app like Socrative, the whole class can be asked at once with instant feedback to the teacher.  These questions act as hinge points determining the direction of the learning from that moment.  The technology makes this a lot easier and instantaneous. Without tablets or another form of computer, the teacher has to take work in to mark before determining the future direction.  Tablets enable this to be done within lessons rather than between.
  2. Tablets make feedback much easier, richer and more detailed.  And we all know how feedback impacts on learning.   I use an app called Showbie for feedback as it allows me to pin voice notes to each section of a students work.  Students still write essays/extended answers in their books, but a quick photo and that can be uploaded to me, and I can read, giving detailed feedback as I go.  This makes the feedback much more personalised, its a lot more detailed and the students can get the feedback much quicker.  For example, before tablets I would take work in on say a Monday and then the student may not get it back until the next lesson on a Friday.  Now, the students hand work in, they get feedback often on the same day and they can then redraft this before the next lesson.  See below as an example.  In this case the student handed work in, got it back with feedback and resubmitted it before I had even see them for a lesson that week.  This would never have happened before students had tablets.  Plus, it takes me half the amount of time to give three times more feedback – win:win for all concerned.Feedback
  3. In my subject we have a lot of physical processes that traditionally drawn by students and they are told to memorise them.  However, many of these processes are quite abstract and things like Glaciation are hard to visualise.  Using tablets, students can make animated models which can then be compared to the theoretical framework.  Students can then see each others via AppleTV or online in an app like Seesaw, and give feedback.  Again, great for AfL.
  4. GIS.  GIS is part of the national curriculum, one of the fastest growing industries globally and is also part of GCSE and A Level specs.  Tablets enable the GIS to be used as part of a series of lessons when it is relevant, rather than taught as a separate unit whenever a computer suite might become available.
  5. Exploring the world.  The ease which students can access map, satellite images from anywhere we are studying makes tablets pretty handy.  Does Brighton fit the Burgess model?  Get on Google Earth/Maps and you can investigate it.  Plus, they are fantastic for the rare occasions that you can get students out to do fieldwork.

I could talk about how tablets can be used in MFL or any number of subjects, but that should be for other people to do.  I could also point to cost savings in teacher time, photocopying (in excess of £10,000 reduction in costs) but for me the real gains are in learning.  11% gain in headline results in my previous school since tablets were introduced for every student.

Of course, this won’t change David’s mind, that has already been made up but I will enjoy the continuing debate nonetheless.

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