Why edtech needs to be part of our CPD

Graham Lowe, Deputy Head at Birmingham City University, looks at what teachers are looking for from edtech

In my experience, there are two main reasons why the adoption of technology into mainstream education is held back, and neither of them are cost related. Anyone who has ever taught knows two things about teaching – it is difficult and it is time consuming. The processes involved in learning and teaching are complex and revolve around a myriad of interconnections between content knowledge, pedagogic skills, motivation, behaviour and social issues. Whilst the selection and training of teachers and lecturers is clearly important there is a very large element of learning ‘on the job’, by trial and improvement, involved in every teacher’s development. After a period of time the best teachers settle into a form of equilibrium somewhere between confidence in what they are doing and a feeling that they could do it better.

Most teachers therefore want two things from educational technology. Firstly they want it to at least fit in with the pedagogical approaches that they have developed and, hopefully, solve pedagogical problems that already exist. If the introduction of technology fits in with existing practice it is more likely to be embraced whereas if it is at odds with the pedagogical position of the teacher then they are likely to resist it, even if there is potential in the long run for a new pedagogy to emerge. For example, a primary teacher whose pedagogical approach to a subject revolves around whole class teaching is unlikely to be immediately drawn to the ‘whole class set’ of hardware and activity plans I saw for sale recently that was based on working with groups of eight children.

Similarly, any new technology that is seen to offer improvements in terms of convenience or time saving over existing methods is much more likely to be embraced than anything that is likely to add to the workload. The difficulty here is to understand and accept the inevitable increase in workload that initially comes with any new technology before the benefits kick in.

Having the benefits explained by an enthusiast is never as effective in changing the views of a sceptic as a steady realisation for themselves that there are benefits to be had

This is why the inclusion of edtech in CPD is important. If teachers and lecturers can see the technology first-hand and can appreciate the benefits for themselves, they are more likely to want to take this in to their own teaching and accept some of the initial issues around inconvenience and workload increase. Having the benefits explained by an enthusiast is never as effective in changing the views of a sceptic as a steady realisation for themselves that there are benefits to be had. This means that teachers need to be given time to work out for themselves what pedagogical or organisational problems will be solved. It may take a little longer, but is almost certainly going to be more effective than any top-down imposition. 

It is almost impossible to keep up to date with every individual development in edtech in terms of the wide array of products, services, software and hardware released every year. However, it is sensible for all educators to keep abreast of trends and understand the direction of travel of educational technology. It is not always clear where these paths will lead and some inevitably end up as cul-de-sacs and blind alleys, but keeping up to date in the general sense will enable educators to both anticipate and engage in debates around procurement and implementation in their settings.

At the moment there is much ‘buzz’ around augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). My personal view is that VR, in mainstream educational settings, is something of a solution looking for a problem. I’m struggling at the moment to see how VR fits in with what we know about the importance of social constructivist theories of learning. It seems to me (from the demos I have seen) to be an isolating experience. Conversely, I can see much potential for AR, in terms of layering additional information and content on the real world, at all levels of education. However, as both these technologies advance and mature, who knows what may happen? 

I think it is important that educators keep up with issues like this even if they are not the innovators or early adopters themselves. As budgets become ever more challenging, decisions about what technology to invest in (and by definition, what technology stay away from) will become ever more important and it is crucial that all voices in the staff-room are heard.

An easy way of keeping up with edtech trends is through the range of websites and blogs available. Many of these offer sign-ups to free regular e-mail newsletters or, for the more tech aware, provide regularly updates on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.