How do we make sure classroom tech is in sync?

That tech has extraordinary value in the classroom is almost axiomatic, but as with so many axioms, the devil is in the detail, says Graham Doke

With so much available in terms of content and variety, it is relatively easy to get caught up, to lose sight of objectives. Technology can be incredibly seductive (vast sums are spent to ensure it is!), and it is easy to mistake the uptake of technology with advancement of teaching methods. Care must be taken.

The best approach is to step back, and approach the matter methodically. The first question is; what purpose is being served?

Five purposes for technology in schools can be relatively easily identified:

1. Maintaining relevance. The world is full of devices: quite simply, schools have to be device-orientated. This motivates nothing specific, but it must be recognised.
2. Accelerate students’ skills acquisition of basic skills in specific subject areas. This will include assessment tools.
3. Broaden application of learned material: encourage students to supplement class material with research and produce multimedia reports or projects.
4. Increase motivation. Modern apps and on-line materials employ a wealth of techniques to engage the user, and to motivate the learning process.
5. Provide material that is otherwise not available. 

The first we simply accept with a shrug. Technology is inevitable, and it is essential we adopt it, but the shrug is not capitulation. Importantly, technology must add to the sum of education. It is insufficient that technology be harmless: any use of technology will be time consuming, for both teachers and students, and time is the teacher’s scarcest commodity. Any technology adopted must add value in return for the time invested.

The balance of the items in the list together form a general rule: if something does not fit into one of these categories, it has no place in the school. But that is not all: any technology, app or online programme, must fit into not only the individual school curriculum, but into its ethos. 

It is not sufficient that the correct basic skills are taught, there must be complete school compatibility: the skills must be taught in a manner consistent with the values of the school, the manner in which learning is delivered at the school, and with objectives in mind consistent with those of the school.

The only way to assure appropriate technology is adopted is clear-headed examination of apps and online programmes, with nothing but content in mind. A whizz-bang user interface coupled with content full of fabulous graphics and attractive incentives (or ‘hooks’ as they are graphically known) are all well and good but the educational content is the king. 

Such an evaluation is no easy task — although it is made easier where an app or online programme presents material desired but not otherwise available. Easy or not, it is a necessary task, and we will consider some of the parameters below.  

The only way to assure appropriate technology is adopted is clear-headed examination of apps and online programmes, with nothing but content in mind

The threshold task is of course how exactly to find the app or online programme. Some will of course make themselves known to the schools by individual presentation, which solves that particular problem. There will be times, however, when a school is looking for something specific here – given the thousands and thousands of apps available, finding a needle in a haystack may seem a comparatively easy task.

Luckily, there are tools to help, in the form of specific app search engines such as (in no order) appcrawlr.com, appolicious.com, and appadvice.com (iOS only). They all offer filters, perhaps the most helpful being appcrawlr, which has an easy interface allowing you to select audience and purpose (including apps to assist teachers).

There are other peer-group app search assistants, such as phonehomer.com and appetiteapp.co which will tell you which apps people in your networks like. A drawback with this seems to me to be the peer-group filters: inevitably, the designers seek maximum exposure, whereas it would be more productive if the peer group were limited to a selection of like-minded teachers.

Even with the tools, the task is enormous. This now becomes a management matter. For efficiency and quality control purposes, a two-tiered structure is needed at each school: a single person responsible for initial evaluation of apps and online programmes, and a senior level committee for final evaluation and decision. 

Practically, given time constraints, it may well be that the single person does no searching at all, finding sufficient material between industry publications such as this one and direct presentation by app producers. At the end of the day, the best apps and on-line programmes will float to the top, and come to common knowledge. Whatever the source of the material, it will be evaluated by both educational content and school compatibility being the principal criteria – with the overarching principle that the technology must add value. 

Recommendations will be made to the committee based on the two principal criteria, but at this stage other criteria will be brought in, such as look, user interface, dynamics, fun factor, and, of course, price. Technology offers wonderful potential for education both in the classroom and out. For that potential to be realised, it is imperative that technology be treated with rigorous, almost ruthless clear-mindedness.

Those apps and online programmes that pass tests of content and school compatibility, as well as add value, are the educational tools of the future. 

Graham Doke is the founder of Anamaya for School

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