Have you ever felt hesitant or nervous about using digital technology with your learners? What about when it comes to supporting them to use it for themselves? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Many of us suffer from a lack of confidence in our own abilities in using digital technology – and then there’s the threat of organisational challenges or even technical reliability.
With mounting pressures on teachers to have a whole spectrum of digital skills, knowledge and attitudes, it’s no surprise that it can be disengaging rather than engaging. However, in this digital age we must educate ourselves and our learners in order to learn, live and work happily, successfully and safely online.
Education and Training Foundation’s recent report says that 37 per cent of learners felt that “teachers lack confidence in digital skills and therefore create a barrier to using technology in learning.” So how can teachers address the barriers they are facing and foster that confidence in digital capability?
Edtech: digital capability
Jisc defines digital capability as this: “At an individual level we define digital capabilities as those which equip someone to live, learn and work in a digital society.” Basically, the attitudes and skills needed in order to be successful in a digitally driven world. It’s about your broader digital skillset, not skills in using a particular tool or system. It’s understanding, practising and developing how capable you are with specific digital tasks.
Digital technologies – devices and a wide variety of applications – are widespread and easily accessible. We often use these daily to help us to learn, live and work. Education technology focuses specifically on supporting and enhancing learning, teaching and assessment processes and tasks.
Identifying barriers and overcoming them
Having an awareness of personal and organisational barriers can help you determine what you can and can’t achieve in planning and using edtech – I’m sure you have felt at least one of the following. The list is limited but the possibilities are endless – there are usually solutions to every problem. Can you think of any positive ways that these can be overcome?
- Having the time to evaluate, learn and practise using edtech.
- Having the confidence to take risks.
- Wi-Fi and access to computers and devices.
- Edtech not working or live in the classroom.
- Explaining/justifying the pedagogical use of edtech.
- Lack of peer support.
- Lack of technical support.
- Problems with organisational infrastructure.
- Resistance to change/change overload.
- Students being open to using edtech.
- Designing and perfecting eLearning activities and resources.
- One size doesn’t fit all.
- Fear of repetition/lack of variety in teaching methods.
- Access to training/ CPD.
- New edtech becoming obsolete quickly.
- Degree of buy-in/ support from senior management.
- Not got the kit, the right kit or up-to-date kit.
- Funding to purchase/rent edtech.
So, what other ways can you overcome barriers so that you can positively engage, develop and extend your digital capabilities? An ideal way to start is to identify your own knowledge and skills gaps in digital teaching with a self-assessment. Follow this up by reviewing the suggestions below to help get you started. These won’t solve all your issues but will help you on your journey of developing your confidence and digital capabilities.
- Identify edtech champions or role models in your organisation or outside of it to ask for advice and share any good practices.
- Arrange to peer-observe a colleague who uses edtech well. Make a list of what you want to see, and make notes.
- Attend "show and tell"-style events to see how other people have embedded edtech into their practices and what is possible.
- Find relatable case studies like the ones Jisc has compiled for ideas on how to get started with embedding edtech into your curriculum, programmes and lessons.
- Learn in your own comfort zone: choose a time and place to explore the functions and features of a tool or system and how they can be used for learning and your own development, as this will increase a sense of ownership.
- Talk to others about what you are experiencing – two heads are better than one. Why not join an online community and view people’s questions and answers in a forum?
- Most, if not all, digital tools and systems have "help" features; identify where these are.
- Conduct an initial assessment, before your programme starts or before an activity, of your learners’ skills and whether they can, or should, bring their own digital technology (smartphone, tablet), usually referred to as BYOD (bring your own device).
- Ask your learners to show what they can do or select a "digital mentor" to help you learn and practise new edtech.
- Work with a learning technologist on how they can support you with any edtech-related developments and queries.
Final words of wisdom
- Be brave,
- Identify a purpose,
- Give it a go.
- involve students in the planning and get them talking about their experiences during and after.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if it isn’t successful first time.
- Understand what went wrong and why.
- Identify where you can get help and make the most of it.
- Evaluate the impact on the identified purpose.
- Make the experience fun and social where possible.
Daniel Scott is a former FE teacher, digital learning specialist, and author of Learning Technology: A handbook for FE teachers and assessors