Skepticism is good. It forces us to explain why we should do something differently, use a new tool, or even use technology at all. In the case of schools investing in Education Technology, it is a necessity. Skepticism prompts us to face the reality of the consequences of adopting technology and its impacts on teaching, learning, behaviour and the culture within a school. The voice of the teacher in this case, agreeable or not, is invaluable.
Rapid technical change and highly uneven distribution of expertise make technology leadership particularly challenging. Schools are immersed in government, commercial and media rhetoric (Gove, 2012; Government ICT strategy 2013; Bett Guide, 2014) that assumes technology as a panacea for learning, results and student engagement. Companies offer "Education Solutions" and "Innovation", accompanied with provocative case studies and testimonials of schools buying into their visions of the future of education (an issue discussed in a forthcoming post).
These messages treat technology as a neutral artefact and are replete with "technological somnambulism", a term coined by Winner to describe the way in which Western Society sleep-walks through its interaction with technology, and does not question its role or long-term consequences (cited in Selwyn, 2013, p.2). In an age of performativity and competition in education, schools are pressured to leverage their acquisition of advanced technology to compete with one another. Lone voices questioning the validity of such an investment are often frowned upon by Senior Leadership, and even academic research is preoccupied with ways in which to raise "Teacher Acceptance" of technology.
However, preoccupation with technology can obscure more beneficial and "effective" changes in teaching models and pedagogy methods that can yield the same, long-term, results at a much lower level of disruption and financial investment. Education is no stranger to fads and trends, in management and pedagogy, promising much and delivering little. The chance to explain or defend a policy/action to an audience that isn't necessarily in agreement is a chance to reflect and gain crucial insight into what can have unforeseen consequences.
Engaging with sceptical teachers, listening to their doubts and addressing these concerns directly in technology integration plans can make a school's strategy more robust; enable the value of an investment in education technology to be discerned; and ensure that the technology is addressing the needs of the school community.
Worryingly, schools are projected to increase their spend on technology, which currently stands at £472 million a year. However, the evidence that technology improves learning and attainment, however contestable the measures may be, is inconclusive (Luckin et al., 2012). The questions that need to be asked are often the hardest ones to hear compared to a purchase order that promises shiny new learning gains, but they hold the key to ensuring that education technology continues to be interrogated by is most important stakeholders. How will this technology going to improve teaching and learning? Can this be achieved without the technology?
(I wonder how many school leaders were asking themselves this question at Bett 2014, when they were surrounded by "order today" discounts.)
Thinking about this issue prompted another thought. A 2007 McKinsey Report on the Best Education Systems in the world found that 'the quality of any education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers' and of all the controllable factors in an education system by far the most important is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher. After visiting the Bett tradeshow in January, I wonder how long it will be before the next popular aphorism mentions the quality of a school's technology and who will be left to contest this?
Government ICT Strategy (2013). (Online text). URL: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/government-ict-strategy
Gove, M. (2012). 'Digital Literacies Speech' (Online text). URL: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jan/11/digital-literacy-michael-gove-speech.
Luckin, R., Bligh, B., Manches, A., Ainsworth, S., Crook, C., & Noss, R. (2012). Decoding learning: The proof, promise and potential of digital education.
McKinsey Report. (Online text). URL: http://mckinseyonsociety.com/how-the-worlds-most-improved-school-systems-keep-getting-better/
Selwyn, N. (2013). Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. Routledge. pp.7.