Pedagogical innovation : why edtech is more than gadgets

Eric Sheninger, award-winning former teacher and thought leader on digital leadership and why education needs to focus on pedagogical practice

I was lucky enough to sit down with Eric Sheninger, renowned public speaker and former High School Principal during the WISE summit for education in November, and talk to him about how digital literacy and edtech can help prepare students for the world of tomorrow.

Charley Rogers: Firstly, a big topic that I’ve come across a lot, especially with teachers, is that technology is great, but it is only as useful as its implementation. Putting it out there and not doing anything with it is pretty much useless and can even be detrimental.

Eric Sheninger: There’s a quote by William Horton that sums that up pretty nicely, “If we don’t get instructional design right first, all technology will do is speed up the rate of failure.”

CR: That’s exactly what I’ve been hearing a lot, and I wondered if you had an insight on what you think the most important factor is in that implementation, in that pedagogical change that we are chasing?

ES: Number one, it’s time. Time on behalf of teachers and administrators. Two, learn how to use the tools. Before that, it comes down to professional learning. You know, for so long, we’ve talked about PD – Professional Development. It’s not like technology can’t improve outcomes, [but] if we don’t change teaching, learning and leadership, in tandem with the tech, we’re never going to experience the broad claims that have been made. So really it’s about support, but then it’s about accountability. You can provide all the professional learning support ever, but if you don’t hold people accountable for the changes that we love to talk about, it doesn’t really matter.

CR: So that’s where big data and analytics come into play, to review how pedagogy is changing?

If we don’t get instructional design right first, all technology will do is speed up the rate of failure. – William Horton

ES: Well, I’d say you take a combination of qualitative and quantitative means, you know data is one indicator of evidence –  but we’ve seen, across the world, that’s all we focus on – why? Let’s look at how is assessment changing. That’s the biggest one. Level of questioning, even before assessment – you know, how do kids use technology in ways that they couldn’t learn without it?

CR: When you were Principal at New Milford School, you had a lot of attention from the media about your innovative changes. But how can schools implement similar changes in their processes when faced with budget and time constraints? 

ES: Well, I love this quote: “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll make an excuse.” My school didn’t have money. We needed more time. We had unprecedented change from a governmental level. But we were able to forge a new path by creating a school that worked better for our kids, that worked for adults. So, we have to look at how we spend our time, how we utilise our time. Is our time being spent actually to improve learning? A lot of time we waste. How do we find resource partners, through our work? If we share more of how we’re making a difference with innovative practices, and the media, for example, takes a risk, it helps us attract more opportunity.

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