Tony Blair famously put “education, education, education” at the heart of his priorities for office; this could equally be applied to the application of technology in today’s classrooms.
The Scottish Government have released a Review on the Impact of Digital Technology on Learning and Teaching and they are unequivocal about the benefits of technology in schools: “There is conclusive evidence that digital equipment, tools and resources can, where effectively used, raise the speed and depth of learning”. However, a theme that appears regularly in the report is the importance of teachers being able to use this technology effectively and their ability to "identify how digital tools and resources can be used to achieve improved learning outcomes".
So how do we go about ensuring that teachers have both the skills and the understanding to use technology successfully? Well, to paraphrase Mr Blair it comes down to training. Nobody expects an individual to walk into a classroom and magically be able to teach, and the same consideration should be given to existing teachers when asking them to adopt new technologies and the teaching strategies associated with them. Furthermore, if we are agreed that training is a vital part of this process, we must also consider the nature of that training. It is not enough to simply learn how a technology works, which buttons to press and so forth; the best digital resources are already easy to use and require a minimum of training.
Of far greater benefit to teachers is an understanding of how this technology might work for them, in their classroom, with their students. They need to be shown how these new tools work in practice and the ways in which it will enhance their teaching further. Some teachers may well be anxious about embracing not just the new technologies, but also the learner-centred pedagogies they enable. Training in context, and the opportunity to talk to teachers already using the technology, should go a long way to allaying these concerns.
Teachers also need time to experiment with the technology, both on their own and collaboratively. All too often, INSET days flash past in a blur of workshops and meetings. Staff then have no opportunity to practise what was discussed once the day to day pressures of term arrive. Training needs to be regular and varied, so that it involves a degree of instruction and demonstration, but also time to discuss, consolidate and reflect. This is where we learn from other teachers, develop our ideas still further and generate the excitement and enthusiasm that can accompany technology in the classroom. We do this in our lessons, why do we not do it when we are the students?
Finally, the training offered to teachers needs to grow and evolve with them. All too often schools bring in a trainer to get teachers started, but then simply leave them to their own devices. Some teachers can survive in this technological version of Darwin’s natural selection, but many will struggle. Proper, appropriate training can help teachers take the next steps and provide them with the confidence to keep going.
With technology in schools costing an estimated £623 million this year alone, it is surely sensible to have support systems in place to make sure that this huge investment is being used to good effect. The benefits that the successful use of technology can produce in learning are clear and unambiguous, but these can only be properly exercised if teachers know how to implement them.