On a Saturday morning in mid-October, some 50 people gathered in South London with one question in mind: does education technology improve learning?
This was the first edtech-focused ResearchED conference, and it was quite timely. Judging by recent headlines, along the lines of “Computers have zero impact on learning”, you could be forgiven for assuming that the question had already been answered.
After spending some time thinking about the day, here are my thoughts on the important points raised:
In his keynote speech, Toshiba’s education adviser Bob Harrison (@bobharrisonset) argued that “Will tech improve learning outcomes?” is the wrong question to be asking. There’s no evidence of a causal link between tech and improved outcomes, but there is a correlation between outcomes and teachers who use tech effectively.
This was built upon later in the day by Oliver Quinlan (@oliverquinlan). Discussing what he’s learned from two years of digital research at Nesta, a charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK, he suggested that using tech to save teachers’ time could be something really important and it doesn’t always have to be about students.
I’m inclined to agree. Let’s not completely write off using tech to make teaching easier and focus on it being used only for learning. Ultimately, these two things are intertwined, aren’t they?
Elsewhere, José Picardo (@josepicardoSHS), assistant principal at Surbiton High School, gave a solid account of tech in his school, which incorporates 1:1 iPads for all. Some may question the cost versus the impact, but the truth is if you teach in a school where students pay £14,000 in fees then the cost of a tablet is really neither here nor there. It was a reminder of context.
Mind you, whatever the context, there’s one thing none of us should be doing: tying tech use to learning walks or appraisals. If you make it a box to tick on all lesson observation forms, you run the risk of forcing teachers into using it.
The final session I wish to highlight was run by Terry Freedman (@terryfreedman). He took us through the process of how research goes from academic report to news headline and how it can get distorted. This brings me back to those headlines about computers having no impact on learning, all based on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report Students, Computers and Learning. What this suggests is not that computers are a waste of time but that pedagogy may not have caught up with what tech has to offer. Yet.
That last word is important. Events like ResearchED are vital – the more we share, the more we can learn and, hopefully, catch up so we make the most of tech in the classroom.
Claire Lotriet is a teacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She tweets at @OhLottie and blogs at www.clairelotriet.com