Edtech isn’t a problem, if it’s being used properly

Joe Mathewson, co-founder of interactive learning platform Firefly, gives his take on the recent OECD report

Much has been made of the recent OECD report on technology in schools, with author Andreas Schleicher – OECD’s education director – arguing that a new, more effective approach to technology in the classroom is required. 

However, much of the media reporting on the OECD’s research has misrepresented the findings, claiming that the upshot of the report is that schools shouldn’t bother to invest in technology. Now, it is an absolute truth that the excessive use of technology in schools has a negative effect on performance as IT in itself cannot be used to ‘babysit’ students. Over the years, technology has made our lives better in the home and in the workplace – saving us time, entertaining and educating us – but only when used in the right way. To have a positive impact in the classroom, technology needs to enable the teacher to be the superstar by saving them time on admin, and making their interactions with students creative and inspirational. 

One of the main problems is that there is a lot of poor quality technology available and that makes it very hard for schools to make good investments. Most of these solutions are unintuitive, requiring excessive amounts of teacher training, and reducing the amount of time that teachers can spend improving their lesson plans, presentation style and in one-to-one interactions with pupils. There is also an assumption that the current generation of students are all digital natives when in fact, EdTech needs to be just as accessible for them, and enjoyable too.

Technology today allows teachers, students and parents to research, communicate and manage their work better than ever before, encouraging higher achievement’

Twenty-five years ago, for schools looking at bringing computer systems onboard, there was approximately one option – the BBC Micro blazed a trail and became the de facto education machine. In 2015, things are a little more complex. Hardware options are abundant, software services grow on trees, all promising to revolutionise teaching. Technology today allows teachers, students and parents to research, communicate and manage their work better than ever before, encouraging higher achievement. But it is the plurality of promise on offer that, at the same time, makes technology selection so difficult for schools. Now, schools find themselves in a position that they effectively need a CTO to make purchasing and deployment decisions. 

Meanwhile, the OECD report has coincided with numerous calls to ban pupils’ own devices from the classroom, but this is also a somewhat shortsighted point of view. Like it or not, technology is changing the way that young people think and where they get information from. The old model of ‘chalk and talk’ is becoming a less and less effective way of engaging with today’s connected pupils. The student fiddling with their mobile in class might be playing a game, but equally they could be looking at online sources of information that explain a concept being taught in class, or to find alternative arguments with which they can challenge their teacher. The latter scenario should be every teacher’s dream, with pupils taking charge of their own learning and engaging with the subject at hand.

The student fiddling with their mobile in class might be playing a game, but equally they could be looking at online sources of information that explain a concept being taught in class, or to find alternative arguments with which they can challenge their teacher’

A blanket ban on mobile phones in the classroom therefore immediately removes an incredibly powerful educational resource. It also hamstrings new methods such as the ‘flipped classroom’, where learning is led by the pupils themselves, and the classroom becomes a place for discussing information and arguments that they have researched for themselves on their own devices. 

At Firefly, we appreciate the importance of teachers and have made a point of employing several on our staff as well as involving teachers in all our product testing. As the OECD report rightly says, collaboration is crucial to improving school performance and that is exactly what our platform is designed for. It all comes back to the teacher, and effective technology should save them time, enabling them to become more effective and inspirational to improve student performance.