The debate about the impact of digital technology in the classroom has been rumbling for years, but a persistent thread within it is starting to irk me: the belief that to be interested in technology as a teaching tool you must also be “progressive” in your teaching philosophy.
We need to be careful not to make this assumption. In simple terms, traditional education is based on the learning of facts and skills, whereas progressive education advocates learning through discovery, problem-solving and reasoning. Why would using technology suggest the teacher favours one over the other?
Digital technology is one of many tools employed by teachers. It can be implemented in many ways and is not an approach in itself.
I might have chosen to teach my class how to use technology to develop in-depth peer assessment, but that doesn’t mean I’m progressive, traditional or tech-mad. It means I came across a tool that I thought could really enhance their writing in the long run – which it did.
Similarly, having tablets in class doesn’t mean I think they don’t need me to teach them stuff because they have access to Google, or that I value the dissemination of knowledge less or dislike direct instruction. It also doesn’t mean that I think digital technology should be used in all my lessons or that I opt for freedom over structure by default.
I’ve written before about introducing new programming tools within a framework that enables children to explore and discover them – this can be really useful to allow them to get used to a new interface, for example. However, to be under any illusion that, when using digital tech, most learning suddenly happens through discovery alone is more than a stretch.
Also, there is now more specific digital literacy content to teach in computing – and much of it I would not be willing to let a student discover on their own. I would rather teach pupils directly about how to use online communities responsibly and create strong passwords than let them discover the hard way.
That’s not to say that some of them won’t find out through trial and error, because that’s life, but the starting point has to be teaching them what they need to know.
Really, when it comes to using digital tech, our pupils still need all of it: basic skills, factual information and the ability to think critically and question what they will go on to discover themselves.
The unshocking, sensible reality is that when it is used best, digital technology isn’t completely aligned to either progressive or formal methods, but is implemented using a balance of both, with a shift between the two occurring when needed – like any other resource in the classroom.
Claire Lotriet is a teacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She tweets @OhLottie and blogs at clairelotriet.com