Technology vs pedagogy

I was alerted to this article in this morning’s NZHerald by Toni Twiss (via Twitter) who is quoted in it. Toni has a passion for using mobile technologies for learning, and has done some excellent research in this area.

The article describes two “m-learning” programmes at Orakei Primary School in Auckland, one called Mobile Maori Learning that provides podcast lessons for playback via mobile phone, and the other called Mobile Learning for Boys that includes an online digital reading clinic to focus on improving reading comprehension, spelling and writing skills of students.

It’s encouraging to see these sorts of initiatives developing in our schools, with the exploratory use of emerging technologies to address authentic learning needs.

As I read the way the article was reported, however, I couldn’t help feel that there’s still an over-emphasis on the technology, and not enough on the pedagogical rationale for using it (which I’m sure is there!). The impression can easily emerge that the secret is in the use of the technology, not in the careful structuring and pedagogical intent of the activity that it is being used for.

In my role I see lots of technologies being used in all sorts of creative and inventive ways to support teaching and learning in classrooms – some of which is contributing in genuinely new and creative opportunities for learning, and some which is simply substituting new technology with old (eg some instances of interactive whiteboards replacing OHPs). The difference is not the technology – but the pedagogical intent.

I frequently hear that use of technology supports personalised learning (as quoted in this article) – a view that I have lots of agreement with, but only as a potential use, not inherent in the technology itself. It’s not that the use of technology such as cell phones is only now enabling personalised approaches to learning, that’s always been the case – I recall the ultimate personalised learning approach when I was at school – those boxed up SRA kits. The key to success is not in the technology, but in the learning design – as it is with any other form of classroom programme or activity.

The Herald article, with its emphasis on the technology (presumably because that’s what will attract our attention?) undersells what I’m sure is a great deal of thought and effort that has gone into the learning design of these applications.

We need to encourage the media to provide this emphasis, or at the very least, ensure that this emphasis is given in our reports to our own communities and made explicit when we are working with students.

“Technology in and of itself cannot make school practice innovative, and will not produce educational change, but technology, in the hands of pedagogically skilled educators it can enable innovative practice and facilitate educational change.”

2 thoughts on “Technology vs pedagogy

  1. Thanks for covering this issue here Derek. I agree that it is fantastic to see Toni’s work being quoted by the media as so often they look outside of New Zealand for their research information. And hers was carried out in classrooms with kiwi kids.
    I was also struck by the emphasis on the technology in this article and was looking for the pedagogy behind what they were doing, but as you say, that probably doesn’t sell newspapers. This blog post would be the perfect forum for one of the teachers to drop in and share some of the thinking behind what they are doing as it is clear we could all have a lot to learn from how it outworks in their classes. Another area of interest to educators is how they manage the logistics of these m-learning programmes with the younger age group.

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