‘The relationship between technology and pedagogy will intensify over the next few decades’

Dr Aspa Baroutsis, postdoctoral research fellow at the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, believes tech can be both an educational driver and accelerator – depending on the context

Q. What’s meant by the phrase: ‘pedagogy is the driver, and technology is the accelerator’?

Personally I don’t use that phrase, but if I were to interpret it, I’d say: teachers teach. As the word ‘pedagogy’ implies, they teach children and young people. For many teachers, this is their focus. Rather than ‘teaching a subject’, they ‘teach children’. It’s what they do.

Technology might be viewed as one teaching strategy or approach in a whole range of strategies and approaches that teachers use to teach. It comes down to what works across various learning contexts and situations. The goal would be to enable children and young people to both experience and develop 21st century skills within their learning contexts.

Where I have found technology to act as an accelerator is in relation to its affordances. What does technology offer teachers in term of pedagogy? Learning can have a greater or different impact because of the use of technologies. For example, learning through visualisations, interactive scenarios, creative collaborations, or experiences that would otherwise be unavailable to children and young people within a classroom. These are all aided enormously by technologies and in this way, technologies would act as accelerators.

Q. In what context would technology be considered the educational ‘driver’?

There are many drivers within a learning context – things that generate, promote or encourage particular ‘outputs’ – in this case, learning. Some drivers are positive and productive and others less so, in that they present challenges or barriers to learning. Technology use in learning can mean either or both to different teachers and learners, and at different times or learning situations. For technologies to act as positive drivers, there would need to be:

  • Access: an availability of the digital technologies in the required quantity (e.g. three iPads shared amongst 28 children will not drive learning).
  • Time and knowledge: teachers need to be given sufficient time to develop their knowledge and capacity to use the relevant technologies, school systems and practices to be able to better support integrated technology usage.
  • Acceptance: practices such as banning the use of mobile phones may send a message to children and young people that ‘technology isn’t used in learning’. While I understand that mobile phones can be distracting for some, for technology to be a driver in learning, it would need to be accepted as natural aspect of learning spaces, rather than something that requires children to seek permission to use or that’s banned within a school context.
  • Learning spaces: reconfiguring classrooms and schools so that learning spaces are better suited for integrating technologies within learning. Many schools have classrooms in old buildings where connectivity is hampered, or they have outmoded furniture that does not support digital learning. So, a greater flexibility within school learning spaces would better support technology as a driver of learning.

Q. What are the pros and cons of using technology as the driver, rather than the accelerator, and vice versa?

I don’t really see it as one or the other. I would say that I am more inclined to see technology as both a driver and accelerator, depending on the context. What I mean is, I think there are a range of processes that occur during learning. If we isolate technology and think about the first time a digital skill or device is being used within a learning context, then in that case, technology might be acting more as a driver. But once a level of ‘capability’ is gained, once knowledge about the conditions or parameters of use are established within a learning environment, once procedures are known and understood, once the limitations are known and experience is gained after multiple learning opportunities, then technology becomes an accelerator. Maybe thinking about this in terms of multiple overlapping waves with their peaks and troughs to represent movement from driver to accelerator would be a good way of visualising what I am referring to here.

I would look at the idea of pros and cons quite generally. Within the context of learning, whether a driver or an accelerator, the overuse, or an over-reliance on one thing – whether that’s digital technology or something else – is a con. But then so is a lack of usage or exposure to digitally-based learning opportunities.

“But once a level of ‘capability’ is gained, once knowledge about the conditions or parameters of use are established within a learning environment, once procedures are known and understood, once the limitations are known and experience is gained after multiple learning opportunities, then technology becomes an accelerator”

Q. Where does digital literacy fit in to the technology-pedagogy debate?

Engaging children and young people in ways that develop their digital literacies is an important part of education. Literacies have become a significant part of government education policies and large-scale testing practices tend to focus on traditional literacy components such as reading and writing. I see digital literacies as another aspect of literacy and one that should be incorporated into the core focus of literacies.

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Capabilities with digital literacies are developed when pedagogic practices support, promote and encourage the use of technologies within the learning context.

Q. Is pedagogy restrictive in a way that technology is not?

No, I don’t think it so. Well, at least I don’t think it should be. Perhaps if we extend the notion of pedagogy to include mandated curricula, then ‘yes’, pedagogy is possibly more restrictive than technology. 

Q. How far do you agree with the statement that ‘we should allow technology to shape educational experiences’?

Technology does shape educational experiences in that it sets the limits of use. The digital materials and virtual ecosystems that teachers could select to use as part of the pedagogic practices have particular affordances that support particular usage, while potentially inhibiting others. These affordances may also limit the conditions of use, for example, when a device is connected to the internet, limits would need to be set around conditions of use to ensure children’s online protection and safety.

Technology is a part of our everyday life so it would stand to reason that there is scope for technologies to shape children’s learning and engagement experiences, provided these are available and accessible within school contexts.  

“The digital materials and virtual ecosystems that teachers could select to use as part of the pedagogic practices have particular affordances that support particular usage, while potentially inhibiting others”

Q. It’s often said that the focus on pedagogy ensures educators prioritise content, strategies and students, but are there examples of edtech doing the same?

The affordances of the individual edtech would likely better support the development of certain content knowledge and learning strategies. For example, some technologies would better support instructional pedagogies while others would be better suited to creative or design-based pedagogies. I would see edtech as prioritising students in terms of them being able to work individually at their own pace. In other contexts, edtech could support children in working collaboratively within groups. I think that edtech best supports inquiry-based learning, enabling children and young people to become curious and engaged.

Q. Is there an argument that the relationship between tech and pedagogy should be symbiotic, rather than teachers prioritising or favouring one above the other?

I view pedagogy and technology as complementary so in that way they would be symbiotic. I think that there is a uniqueness about all teachers and schools which makes generalisations difficult. I can draw on my own experiences and say that I don’t prioritise pedagogy over technology, nor technology or pedagogy. They go hand in hand, supporting each other.  When it works, it’s like a jig-saw and the pieces fit together. When it doesn’t work, no amount of force will make that piece fit the puzzle.

There’s also a lot to be said for including a variety of learning experiences within pedagogic practice. If children are always doing to same thing, whether it’s with or without edtech, they are likely to get bored. So, I found that including a variety of learning experiences supports learning engagement.

Q. How do you think the relationship between technology and pedagogy will evolve in the next 10 years?

We’ll see how important partnerships are with families; teaching kids and families to be resourceful.

I am of the opinion that the relationship between technology and pedagogy will intensify over the next few decades. Perhaps part of the impetus for this intensification is the global pandemic. In many instances, across many nations, schooling would not have been possible if not for technology infrastructures and systems, and because of the good will of many teachers and educators in taking on additional workloads. I’m not suggesting that schooling should adopt a virtual format, but there is scope to learn from 2020. For example, we have seen that there are socio-economic based limitations that affect the learning potential of virtual teaching formats conducted outside the scope of a physical campus. Potentially, there’s also the loss of focus on the human and relational aspects of education and the many other interactions that occur in school as part of learning. These become very important considerations when thinking about the evolution of the technology/pedagogy relationship.

The partnership between teachers and the families of the children they teach is of paramount importance. I fully acknowledge that families are a valuable part of the learning process, able to support and reinforce learning in the home environment. While I’m not sure that it’s within the scope of a teacher’s role to teach families how to be resourceful, teachers are some of the most resourceful people I know. They have to be, because often, schools are so underfunded that teachers need to be able to think outside the box. Hopefully, children are able to learn from teachers’ resourcefulness and use these ideas in other contexts – including at home and with their families.


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