This week I wrote about the OECD’s new report on technology in education for the EC. It’s a vital call to action for all of us who think we are on the cusp of an education revolution.
There are two types of people in the debate on technology in education: tech utopians and tech sceptics. Headlines this week from the OECD’s reportStudents, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection were aimed at the sceptics, saying computers do not improve pupils’ results. Educators, innovators and researchers should pay attention to the challenges laid out in the report.
Confront the reality. Technology has not yet delivered on its potential.
In his introduction to the report, OECD Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher delivers a hard truth. “The reality in our schools,” he says, “lags considerably behind the promise of technology. Even where computers are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed at best.” We should not despair, as the potential of technology is still clear, for example in increasing access to information. However, we must do more to understand how best to use technology. It’s possible that too much of it detracts from human engagements that are vital to education. It’s equally possible that we haven’t yet developed or scaled the pedagogies that will unlock technology’s potential.
Technology today is an amplifier of effects, both positive and negative.
“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet
Kentaro Toyama used to be a tech utopian. He worked for Microsoft in India for more than a decade, running experiments in education technology. He thought that technology would solve every problem, and perhaps even replace teachers. He now realises that he was misguided. He noticed one day that although Microsoft told people to value technology above all, the company valued people more than anything. Toyama now believes that technology has an amplifying effect, which can be both positive and negative. As we know, people matter above all, their hearts, their minds, their will. A good student or teacher will get better with technology, a bad student or teacher will get worse.
You can’t think about technology in isolation from teachers.
Sugata Mitra ran the famous ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment across India. It was seemingly a great success for all involved. In fact, it was a perfect example of the Law of Amplification. A few students did brilliantly, whilst many just surfed the net. Today he agrees with the OECD about the importance of teachers, saying that “educational technology can amplify great teaching and facilitate great learning; but great technology and computers alone cannot substitute poor teaching.” The report says the same, and argues that above all, countries need “a convincing strategy to build teachers’ capacity.” There are no signs yet that technology can completely replace teachers.
Zone of greatest impact for kids
We’ve not yet entirely understood what the implications of technology are for education.
There remains a sense that we do not yet understand how to embed technology and education. Today we use twenty-first century technology to give nineteenth and twentieth century lessons. I always go back to the example of the teacher at the education conference, who is using the most innovative interactive whiteboard software to teach kids handwriting. Talk about a mismatch. Instead, one of the challenges posed by this report is to think beyond the usual measures of proficiency in math, reading, science and digital skills. We should be asking ourselves if there might not be other skills that students are developing in their use of ICT that we can’t yet see the use of, and cannot yet measure. Let’s not forget about advances like the BBC micro:bit.
We risk increased inequalities in education in the digital era, with some exceptions.
Perhaps the most worrying news in the report is that technology seems to be increasing inequalities in the digital era. This comes back to the idea of amplification. If the effects of technology depend on the hearts, minds and will of students, then it makes sense that the most disadvantaged will come of worse. We already know that MOOC users are likely to already be well educated. The OECD report says that disadvantaged students are more likely to play games online than read the news. Yet there are examples that give us hope. We heard in the #EdDigEra conference of the successful distance learning program at the University of South Africa, or free access to open textbooks in Poland. And individuals like Arun Chavan, who went to Yale after teaching himself at a hole in the wall give us hope.
The challenge is clear: invest in technology taking teachers into account.
The conclusion of the OECD report is a challenge to educators, innovators and researchers. We must recognise the central importance of teachers, and develop technology with them. Andreas Schleicher writes that “to deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.” Already of course, organizations across Europe are doing this. For instance, theWith Class programs of Poland’s Center for Civic Education (CEO) have been building the capacity of teachers to use technology since the turn of the millennium, with great success.
OEE is taking teachers into account. Join us on October 1st for a further discussion.
As you know, the portal is pushing for greater engagement with teachers. Here, you can access a free ebook on re-engineering the uptake of ICT in schools, which focuses on developing a more effective and efficient approach to Technology Enhanced Learning. There is also an upcoming eLearning Paper on teacher-led innovations. Finally, you can register now for the ‘Open Education Europa’ Webinar & Tweetchat on Educational Innovation in the Classrooms / 1st of October, 18:30 – 19:30 CET, where we’ll be discussing how Europe can put into practice the recommendations from the report. Experts Agata Lucynska and Steve Wheeler will join us to share best practices.
 According to nineteenth century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham there are two types of people in the world; those that divide the world into two types, and those that don’t. I’m one of the former.