What good is technology without training?

The most impressive piece of kit might as well be a digital paperweight if no one can figure out how to use it, writes Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey

Teachers need to be the right training to know hot to use technology to its full potential

Working with technology on a frighteningly regular basis, I’ve seen my fair share of kit come and go over the years. I’ve seen shoddy stuff endure like the most insidious bit of malware and fabulous ideas go to that big desktop wastebasket in the sky.

It’s a bit of a mystery as to what stays and what gets derezzed, but something that I have learnt is that one of the contributing factors to whether technology is useful in an FE setting (or any other educational one for that matter) is the training that goes along with a product.

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How do you make it work?

It’s ironic that in the education sector, it’s often the educational bit of buy-in that is overlooked, as the razzle-dazzle of what some shiny new software can do overshadows the sometimes much less sexy process of how you go about making it do it. That part’s graft. And it can take practice. And time. And effort. Totally unsexy.

But comprehensive training for those who are using a new technology product is essential because the truth of the matter is that the most impressive, paradigm-shifting, time-and-effort defeating, sunglass-wearing bit of coolness might as well be a budget-sapping digital paperweight if no one can figure out how to use the damn thing to its full potential.

As an assistive technology adviser, I run one-to-one sessions with students (many of whom have disabilities) looking at the equipment they’re using and it’s with depressing regularity that those sessions take the form of filling in the gaps of training that they’ve already received. It’s not fair that students who already have so much to deal with are given further hurdles because an explanation isn’t up to scratch.

Lack of sufficient knowledge

And I’ve seen this happen in former teaching roles where technology – good technology, mind – has been abandoned owing to a lack of sufficient knowledge; knowledge that (if someone had taken as much time in building their training package as they had their product) could be easily imparted.

There is despair on the part of those who promote ed tech about the lack of take-up of tools that would so obviously benefit professionals in the sector. But, for me, that’s where so many projects fall down – the process of making things obvious. Good training instils confidence and clearly illustrates the rewards of using something new. Without this, who are we to moan when staff fail to make use of what’s in front of them?

Good instruction is one of the essentials with regard to effective teaching – in further education, it’s something we work on and hone to try to get the best out of our students and we should expect it from those who are providing equipment that is to be used in educational institutions. We need to be as interested in the manual that we use to get the sleek new tool to work as we are in what the sleek new thing does (as do those who are pushing the sleek new thing).

Not very sexy, but then again, essentials never are.

Tom Starkey is a former lecturer who taught in further education for more than a decade

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