Personal perspectives

Is disruptive technology a good thing?

Six minutes
Michelle Parker Monday, May 16th, 2016

As I survey the grey sea of laptop lids in front of me, I can’t help but feel a wave of trepidation. Jimmy is smiling way more than the task calls for. Helen and Sophie are both staring at one screen, mesmerised. And Josie? What on Earth is Josie doing? But as I calmly traverse the room I find that all screens are dutifully displaying the task at hand… of course, until I move to the other side of the class.

Back in my day, kids didn’t have laptops in class. Hell, we didn’t have laptops full-stop. So even if we weren’t fully engaged in a lesson, the furthest we could retreat from the present was to stare out the window and daydream. And the scary thing? I’ve been out of high-school for less than ten years. Now I gaze out at my class and know that a percentage of students have already switched off. Gone. Left the building. If they aren’t playing online games with a student across the hall, they are watching YouTube parodies of Barack Obama’s speeches (at least they have some notion of politics, right?).

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE technology. I honestly have no idea how people studied a University Degree pre-1990s. However, the rapidly changing nature of the classroom and the pervasiveness of technology raises an abundance of questions for teachers.

  • How can I ensure that laptops are being used to enhance learning in my classroom?
  • Am I using technology in a non-tokenistic way?
  • Could this task be achieved just as well without technology?

And, the ever-present concern…

  • How do I keep my students on task?

The necessity of our students becoming 21st Century Learners is drummed into us from every which direction. But let’s not pretend that the average teacher is really going to teach a 15-year-old digital native how to use the internet. So if it’s not about teaching kids the tools, what is the real point of using technology in the classroom?

Transforming the way students learn

The premise of the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution was that laptops would transform teaching and learning. That the nature of the classroom would shift radically and students would be using laptops to connect with students all over the world. But how many of us are using technology in a simplistic way? I know I am. Instead of writing notes on the board, I project it on a screen using PowerPoint. Instead of handwriting assignments, students can type them up and submit online. But is this really enhancing learning outcomes? Yeah right.

While interrogating my own perceptions about technology in the classroom, I read an article – ironically, on my computer – titled ‘Computers in class ‘a scandalous waste’. There are a multitude of articles with similarly provocative headlines being published daily in mainstream media condemning the shift from paper to PC. However, critical commentary on teaching with technology is not only relegated to the comment section of the news. Hattie’s synthesis of meta-analyses assigns an effect size of just 0.37 for computer assisted instruction. Translation: Not Very Good. However, it is not enough to simply compare the outcomes of students who use computers with those in tech-free classrooms. As much as the Digital Education Revolution would have us believe that the mere existence of technology automatically results in student success, I think we can all agree that we need to look closer at how teachers are using said devices.

I stumbled across this framework for evaluating the integration of technology in the classroom called RAT (there is also a similar tool known as SAMR – same concept, but harder to pronounce). The premise is that technology can be used in a number of ways – from simply replacing traditional classroom practices to creating new learning opportunities which would be inconceivable without technology.

Assessing Technology Integration – The RAT Framework

(Hughes J, Thomas R & Scharber C (2006), Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework. Accessed http://doverdlc.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/the-rat-samr-transformative-technology.html)

Using this framework I can evaluate any number of lessons I have taught over the past year and acknowledge that I am certainly not using technology to its full potential. And no, embedding memes about Harry Potter into my PowerPoint slides isn’t really going to enhance the way my students learn (although, there’s a giant tick for ‘building relationships’). Unfortunately, most of the ways I incorporate technology into the classroom are simply replacing traditional teaching practices. Sometimes, technology definitely increases efficiency or productivity, such as when students conduct research tasks or work together on a shared google doc – but is this really ‘transformative’? What does a transformative use of technology even look like?

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

We all learnt about Bloom’s Taxonomy in teaching 101, but I recently discovered that there is a digital version which challenges teachers to use technology for higher order thinking skills. It provides a list of potential activities with digital tools and also adds a new level – Sharing – which involves using technology for publishing, broadcasting and networking with people from around the globe.

(Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy by Fractus Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Accessed at https://fractuslearning.com/2014/08/18/blooms-digital-taxonomy-overview)

I’m not going to lie – this list scares me a little, and not just because I’ve never sent a tweet. We all know that being a teacher requires so much more than simply knowing your subject area. But being a teacher in 2016 seems to require knowledge of wiki-ing, programming and video blogging. Or does it? Is this really a ‘transformative’ use of technology? Will creating a podcast help my Year 12s handwrite three essays in three hours at the end of the year?

The influx of technology raises more questions than answers – for me, at least. I find myself yoyo-ing between excitedly creating a class blog and tearing my hair out in frustration as the network drops out (again). But one thing seems clear – technology is here to stay. And whether we love it or loathe it, it is our responsibility as educators to use it in a manner which truly enhances the way our students learn.

I know there are countless teachers out there using computers in exceptionally transformative and innovative ways. For example the notion of Flipped Classrooms seems to be one of the most exciting implications of technology in schools. But the most flipping I’m doing right now is flipping out when my students are so blatantly playing games instead of being on task. Sometimes that sea of laptops seems more like a tidal wave. I’m just trying to stay afloat.

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