EENEE presentation

Mark Brown and I have been working on an EENEE report on the impact of digital technologies on educational outcomes. Last week I presented at the NESET II and EENEE conference in Brussels on 22nd November. The presentation was entitled “Education Outcomes Enhanced by the use of Digital Technologies”. The research questions underpinning the report are:

  • How does digital technology enhance teaching and learning?
  • What are the enablers for successful digital technology use in school education? 
  • What are the implications for education policy, in terms of harnessing the potential of digital technology in schools?

 

The report builds on the 2015 seminal OECD report, which helps to frame the significance of recent changes and the impact of digital technologies on school education. It largely supports the OECD’s (2015) assertion that connections among students, computers and learning are neither simple nor hard-wired; and the real contributions digital technology can make to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised. However, there are many examples of innovative practice and given the complexity of educational change we need to be realistic about what we can expect from schools as there is no single off-the-shelf solution to harnessing the potential of digital technologies. 

 

Six strands when woven together help explain the conceptual underpinnings adopted in exploring the questions outlined in the introduction, which are the primary focus of the report (see Figure 1). To summarise these six strands, technologies have the potential to enhance pedagogical approaches but good teaching remains fundamental. New technologies are arising all the time, offering new opportunities for teaching, learning and assessment. Generalisations and finding direct causal effects from the implementation of digital technology remains problematic as learning takes place in a complex ecology. Although technology offers educational institutions a variety of mechanisms to support a myriad of learners, context is crucial to understanding the conditions whereby the affordances of new digital technologies enhance educational outcomes. In a similar vein, institutional and discipline cultures have an impact and need to be taken into account in efforts to understand the conditions for the successful use of digital technology in schools. 

 

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The report then describes the nature of today’s digital society, arguing that it is complex and dynamic. In this wider societal context, it discusses and critiques the trustworthiness of many taken-for-granted claims around a number of themes: the changing nature of work, the concept of the ‘millennial generation’, the wide spectrum of learning activities, resources and educational offerings, the changing role of teachers and learners, and the potential impact of new and emergent technologies. It argues that there are a number of competing and co-existing mindsets or perspectives influencing the pressure on schools to use new digital technologies. 

 

The report argues that the affordances of digital technologies differ according to the technology and the educational contexts in which they are used for teaching and learning. It argues that the use of digital technologies in schools is not a single entity and that today’s educational context is complex and dynamic and digital technologies add to this complexity; i.e. there is a complex ecology of digital technologies in schools.

A number of frameworks for effective and innovative pedagogy are described and the report argues there is no single pedagogical or theoretical model in terms of guiding or underlying the successful use of digital technologies in schools. More to the point, the adoption of learning-driven approaches to school education which seek to embed digital technologies at the heart of the curriculum require an intentional combination of pedagogies that respond to a complex inter-play between the particular context, nature of the learners, learning intentions, discipline cultures, and so on. 

 

In looking to the future of learning, the report describes a number of new and emergent developments in digital technologies which might be able to help reimagine the curriculum. It argues that, in the future, students will be likely to learn across a range of formal, non-formal and informal contexts, with increasing digital leakage across different places and spaces of learning. Examples of the ways in which digital technologies might provide engaging learning environments are provided, along with some scenarios for the future. Alongside of these examples and scenarios, the perceived advantages and disadvantages of digital technologies in school education are described. The report demonstrates the potential opportunities digital technologies can offer, especially when fully embedded in the classroom, but argues that the field is still dominated by hype, hope and disappointment.

 

A key message throughout the report is that teachers matter most and that the teacher’s role is central in the design, delivery and support of learning interventions. With respect to this, the report argues that key to harnessing the educational potential of digital technologies is the need for, and importance of, Teacher Professional Learning (TPL). Some of the principles of effective TPL are introduced along with the importance of addressing teachers’ mindsets or deep-seated pedagogical beliefs if the goal is to go beyond merely taming new digital technologies based on traditional practices.

 

The main barriers and enablers to the effective use of digital technologies in schools are discussed, in terms of first and second order factors that influence enhanced educational outcomes. The discussion of barriers and enablers illustrates that there is no simple answer to overcoming the reasons why schools and teachers do not fully embrace the educational opportunities made possible by new digital technologies. Arguably, one important lesson is that policy-makers and educational leaders would benefit from more explicitly framing discussions about the potential of digital technology for real problems faced by teachers , rather than falling into the trap of promoting digital solutions in search of problems. Slides for the presentation are available on Speakerdeck.

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