Once upon a time, there was a “techvangelical” teacher.
Every lesson she taught involved a dizzying array of technology: flipchart voting, notebook computers, moving text boxes and images that danced before students’ eyes.
This teacher even presented research on how VLE forums could be used to enhance learning, and participated in research on harnessing creativity through building websites.
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How else, she wondered, would she be able to engage the students? After all, most of them hated reading and writing, but they loved technology. Everyone said so.
All went well for a number of years, but the technology was beginning to get creaky, the students were getting fractious (the dancing PowerPoint was hardly Fortnite) and the learning just wasn’t where it should be.
Things needed to change. The focus needed to shift. This teacher (me, if you hadn’t already realised) needed an overhaul.
The overhaul came in the form of something very simple. A whiteboard. Not the whizzy kind that you plug into the internet, pulsing away with colour and interactive opportunity.
This was a simple whiteboard, adorned with lines to write on. I procured it from the back of the music department’s stock cupboard, hidden beneath broken keyboards and tambourines. It brought an immediate shift in my classroom.
Instead of students being “engaged” by pressing a button or dragging an image across the screen, they were engaged by teacher explanation, diagrams and models.
More and more time was spent on texts, rather than moving colourful digital boxes and shapes around a screen.
Technology had, I realised, become a distraction in my room and the students’ minds had been filled with what the computer was doing rather than the actions of the author.
But my classroom now feels less like the set of a low-budget science-fiction film and more like a place where learning takes place.
There were other benefits, too. The time I had spent fiddling with boxes on the board or trying to find the right image now became time to think deeply about my subject, to consider how I needed to convey this knowledge and how the students would apply it.
Into the abyss
It sounds so simple, but in a world where technology is so interwoven with our everyday lives, walking away from it can feel like a step into the abyss.
I’m lucky that my subject is centred around what Northrop Frye described as “the most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented”: the book.
I’m also lucky to have had opportunities to explore how technology can be used to enhance learning.
I’m not a complete Luddite; I still have an interactive whiteboard, ready to beam a production of Macbeth straight into the room from the RSC, or to allow us to google the etymology of a word and its range of uses.
I also now have a visualiser, so that instead of trying to cram whole essays on the board while battling with a board pen that has seen better days, I can create slick models for the class and live-mark student responses, all from the comfort of my desk chair.
A new idol
Technology definitely still has a place in education. But now it is no longer the "dangerous master" in my classroom (to quote Christian Lous Lange), constructing the lesson and ordering the learning. Instead, it is my servant, enhancing what we are doing, not enslaving us.
I am still evangelical but my devotion has a new idol. Learning. If the technology helps me to achieve this, then great. If not, I’m no longer afraid to pull the plug.
Zoe Enser is an English teacher and director of improvement at Seahaven Academy in East Sussex. She tweets @GreeboRunner