Annual global spending on educational technology in schools has been valued at £17.5bn and is set to rise to £19bn by 2019. However, worryingly, a recent report by OECD stated that students who use computers frequently at school get worse results.
This is baffling to me. While it's claimed that the use of technology in the classroom doesn't boost academic achievement, surely it's wrong to value our children's education purely by their exam results? Besides, in the teaching of STEM subjects, in particular, there is evidence to suggest that that the use of technology to support teacher-led learning can increase engagement and improve learning effectiveness.
Perhaps, it's the way we are using technology, rather than its presence that is the problem. Here's why we should embrace technology in the classroom and some exciting ways it's already being harnessed to improve learning experiences.
Active learning and increased engagement
Active learning encourages students to engage with resources, participate in class and work together. We know that activities such as discussion groups and collaborative projects encourages pupils to engage with lessons and helps them to retain information.
Research backs this up and shows that active learning has a positive impact, particularly amongst students in STEM fields. One study found that active learning reduced failure rates in mathematics, science and engineering university courses by 11%.
One way to optimise the classroom for active and interactive learning is through the effective use of interactive projectors or interactive whiteboards (IWB's). Making use of interactive technology has been found to have a positive impact on students' motivation, engagement and self-esteem.
Using an IWB as a central hub for brainstorming and research, to answer questions or complete games as a class, can increase engagement. Pupils can put together their own mini-lessons and lead the class. The ability to embed video, link to further reading and identify discussed locations using Google Maps encourages real-life research skills, and gives our children a great grounding for higher education.
Access to immersive experiences
The advent of accessible virtual reality equipment has opened a world of possibilities for immersive learning. Students can now travel the world and visit important historical moments from the comfort of the classroom. Teachers can take them to Machu Picchu, Antarctica or even the International Space Station.
Educators have long relied on video documentaries or photographic series to bring places or events to life. While such sources are important to our children's learning, they view these passively, sitting behind desks and watching the images rather than being able to interact with them.
Initiatives such as Google Expeditions support teachers in harnessing VR technology for educational purposes and bring learning to life. Students can experience the Apollo 11 Space mission, walk through a museum or explore the ocean floor while annotating key discoveries and discussing their experiences.
In the US, Google is taking the experience one step further by exploring the educational applications of Augmented Reality. Expeditions AR uses Google technology to map the physical classroom and place 3D objects that pupils can walk around, identify details and step back to see in a wider context.
Addressing the skills gap
While the technology sector in the UK has attracted 28bn in investment since 2011, finding high-quality candidates to fill positions in the tech sector is proving problematic. Potential STEM employees are almost twice as likely to miss job opportunities due to lack of skills.
However, initiatives such as the BBC micro:bit are tackling the demand for digital literacy head-on. The pocket-sized, programmable computer was given to every year 7 in the UK last year. It can be connected to various other devices, sensors and objects and was launched to inspire a new generation of coders. Easy-to-use software complements the device, ensuring it's accessible to a younger audience. The micro:bit can also be used in conjunction with devices like the Raspberry Pi, opening up possibilities to more complex learning. There's plenty of support online in the form of videos, forums and how-to articles to help support your child's learning at home.
Also available to schools, completely free of charge, is Scratch. Developed at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch gives students the opportunity to code their own interactive stories and animations. It's ideal for younger children as they can see the results of their programming in a way they understand. Pupils can also share their creations online, fostering collaborative working and collective creative thinking.
With so many free, practical tools available to support digital learning at a young age, there's plenty of easy ways we can begin to lay the foundations for digital literacy.
Learning is about more than just exams
One of the biggest benefits of technology is that it gives students access to interactive, timely, high-quality learning materials at the touch of a button. Instead of relying on dusty, out-of-date textbooks and resources, technology opens up the possibility of discovering fluid, cutting-edge research. Students can follow real-time events, share their ideas online and access a range of tools to support learning. In a world of 24-hour news and continuous social media updates, our children need to be able to work in this way to keep pace with the modern world.
Above all, it's clear that there's far more to gain from investing in technology in the classroom than purely boosting academic results. Global institutions have identified a need to prepare the next generation for a world crying out for digital skills and are investing in developing solutions. If we fail to equip children with the expertise they need to compete in our evolving jobs market, there is a very real danger that they will fall behind.