Using technology to make us power teachers

Spot the difference. In your mind’s eye, picture a science classroom of today and contrast it with one 15 years ago. Same school, same classroom. What is the most notable difference between the two (other than hair styles, and which type of pencil case is in Vogue)? Technology, of course! Over the past 15 years, technology has well and truly spread into school classrooms around the world. Smartboards and student devices are readily available in most classrooms, even at some of the more economically disadvantaged schools (though don’t get me wrong, there is a big gap between the advanged schools and the disadvantaged, a topic for another day).

Teaching with technology can be scary. Students are the masters of seamlessly switching between what they’re meant to be doing and playing games, watching videos, or messaging friends. This leaves us feeling as though we’re not in control. And there are other associated headaches too: “Miss, my battery is dead”, “Sir, I can’t log in”, and so on.

Here’s the thing though: technology is here to stay. Schools banning technology from the classroom are fighting a losing battle. I assure you that the classrooms of 2050 won’t have much in the way of pens, worksheets and textbooks, and the employers of tomorrow will increasingly require recruits to have strong digital literacy skills (walk into the office of any business around the world: how many workers do you think are crunching data on hand-drawn tables, writing their reports with pens, or messaging their colleagues with hand-written memos? Also why do you think that Pearson is looking to sell their K-12 business?).

So what do we do? As educators, I believe it’s our responsibility to rise to the challenge, but I also believe that we can’t do it ourselves. We need the support of governments and education companies to build tools that leverage classroom technology for great learning outcomes, and alleviate some of the issues it can cause. Take your mind’s eye back to the science classroom of today, and let’s wave a magic wand: The students are more engaged than those 15 years ago, having stimulating discussions and pushing each other to deepen their learning. The teacher is using the insights they’re getting from their laptop to best use their limited time with students: addressing misconceptions faster than ever, helping the class where they need it most. All while the technology fades seamlessly into the background. That’s the goal, right? But how do we get there?

Clearly a lot needs to happen for us to get there, and it’ll take time, but I wanted to share a few of the insights that I’ve gained from having visited a great number of schools from around the globe over the past five years:

  1. Train yourself up. Those that I’ve seen use technology best have booked up on it (so to speak!). It may seem an obvious thing to dismiss, but the reality is that teaching with technology is a whole new ball game. I know that there’s never enough time, but if you can find a couple of opportunities to upskill yourself to be as good at using classroom technology as you are at using your current suite of resources I guarantee you’ll start to notice the difference.
  2. Don’t ‘set and forget’. I’ve heard a lot of teachers say they’ve had bad experiences with ‘set and forget’ resources: setting their students to work on their devices at the start of the class, and having them work on their own until the bell goes. For me, the time you have with your students is way too valuable to have them working on their own the whole time. Let technology be your faithful little companion: supercharging what you’re already doing, not dictating how you teach.
  3. Mould the technology to you, not the other way around. We’ve all been modifying paper-based resources for years. Get the scissors out, unscrew your tub of white-out and start making something just right for your students. The best technologies will allow you to do the same. Tailoring resources for your class and differentiating for individuals is such an important part of what we do as teachers and we shouldn’t let technology get in the way of it. When you’re evaluating digital resources, make sure that it provides you with the flexibility to make it just right for your students (an oversight of many of the resources out there!).

I know there’s a lot more to teaching with technology, but for me, this is a starting point. Above all, as a wise man once told me, we need to make the technology our servant, not our master.

That’s it for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about teaching with technology in the classroom: what has worked well and what hasn’t. And if you’re interested in how we recommend that you teach with Stile in the classroom, check out this simple guide to teaching with Stile.

Until next time,

Head of Education at Stile