Ed tech is amazing, but the personal touch trumps all

23rd May 2014 at 01:00

Given recent developments in educational technology, it feels very much as though we might be on the cusp of something big. And when I say big, I'm talking about class sizes.

With the internet allowing individual lessons to be beamed into thousands of classrooms worldwide, the possible ratio of whiteboard wizard to pupil stretches.

Just look at the way the UK Department for International Development is funding a project in Ghana, where one teacher will teach a 1,000-strong cohort dotted around small, rural schools. It's amazing what can be achieved with an internet connection and a solar panel.

And last Friday, TES and Jamie Oliver broke the world record for the largest ever live cooking lesson. Hundreds of thousands of pupils in something like 100 countries paid rapt attention as the pukka chef appeared on their computer screens making a "rainbow wrap".

So there you have it. The lessons of the future will come free of charge through your broadband cables. Sack your teachers and upgrade your wi-fi provider. There's never been an easier time to be a school leader. Don't worry about performance management: with the onset of educational innovator Sal Khan, flipped learning, distance courses, YouTube and everything else, teachers can be employed as mere educational cinema projectionists.

Well, no. Not quite.

It was interesting, for example, to note how the Jamie Oliver event was set up. The 30 pupils he was "teaching" in the studio followed his instructions to the letter. But they did so only with a little help. Each group of seven or eight had a teacher and a Jamie Oliver staffer guiding them through the recipe.

This was replicated around the world. Teachers didn't simply fire up the interactive whiteboard, hit play and disappear into the staffroom for a brew. They stayed in the classroom and taught a lesson, alongside Jamie. He was, in essence, a classroom resource. Teachers were, well, the teachers.

This, then, is what happens when technology is introduced into teaching. If anything, the pedagogist becomes more important. This is true of flipped learning and other radical ideas: the personal touching point - the tutorial - becomes the key ingredient. Successful large-scale lessons need successful personal intervention. Universities have been doing it for years.

Jamie didn't differentiate between his pupils, and he wasn't in a position to spot that Little Jemima in Johannesburg had no idea what he was talking about when he explained that the dressing must coagulate. Similarly, the teacher being beamed into the classrooms in Ghana will be unable to tell if Little Jonny can't simultaneously equate. (Of course, the Ghanaian scheme if it works will be far better than no schooling at all. But surely it must be a stopgap until proper teachers are in place.)

Sorry to be boring, but when everything changes in education, nothing does. And nothing changing means that teachers are the key ingredient, delivering great lessons in person. Technology is simply there to aid this process.

Jamie was brilliant last Friday. As was the tech that helped to deliver the lesson. But neither were as brilliant as teachers.



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