Schools spend £1.4bn on technology-little tangible impact

Published on Friday, 16 November 2012 11:16
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

UK schools are buying in to hype and lure of digital education, spending in excess of £450m a year with little or no evidence about the impact on learning.

Technology has the potential to transform education for the better when it is combined with effective teaching practices. But too often technologies have been imported into classrooms without the necessary changes to teacher practice and school organisation to support them, Nesta argues.

School budgets are increasingly assigned to technology, without a strong understanding about how to use it or its potential benefits. As a result, millions of pounds worth of kit is languishing unused or underused in school cupboards, Nesta warns.

From tablets to voting pods, whiteboards and games, individual technologies have been sold to schools with great expectations of enhanced learning. In too many instances, however, innovations - and their investments - have failed to demonstrate an attainment return, Nesta's report highlights.

Decoding Learning argues that education technology should be designed around how students learn; revealing that technology is currently being used to support existing teaching practices, rather than transforming teaching and learning.

Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta, explains, "A tablet replacing an exercise book is not innovation - it's just a different way to make notes. There's incredible potential for digital technology in and beyond the classroom: but as in other fields, from healthcare to retail, it is vital to rethink how learning is organised if we're to reap the rewards.

"The danger is that the technology of the 21st century is being applied using teaching methods of the 20th.  The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware - rather than how it's to be used."

From learning through making to assessment and inquiry, the report shows the learning practices where digital technologies are starting to have an impact, and where there is still vast potential. It shows that there is great scope for independent learning, with huge growth in the amount of information available to learners. But, when it comes to 'learning with others', good ideas and methods developed through academic research and commerce are not filtering through to the classroom.

Decoding Learning identifies the following areas and opportunities for digital education, through the innovation of products, processes and delivery:

  • Assessment tools:  There is currently too little truly innovative technology-supported practice in this area. Although not unnoticed, there is significant opportunity here;
  • Learn through making: Build on the current enthusiasm for 'making' and 'doing' by supporting students with the right tools and thinking about application beyond the classroom environment;
  • Techniques for practising: Not much is currently being done to know which tools are helpful; innovation in this area would be greatly welcomed;
  • Turn the world into a learning place: Stop thinking about learning taking place purely in schools;
  • Social learning: Consider technologies that support a dialogue between teachers and learners - in and outside of school - so that information can be swapped

Nesta cautions that in the last decade technology has been put above teaching, and excitement has been put above evidence of what things work. If developers are to design affective kit and educators are to invest their time and money wisely, they need to work together. It is only through joining the dots that we will move from a 'plug and play' approach to technology to 'think and link' - where tools are used with lots of other types of resources.

Teachers need more inclusive and genuinely innovative tools, with multiple functions and ways of using them. Arguably, there is considerable incentive for industry to design such tools, with an imperative that learning is put first.

Mulgan concludes, "As we continue to develop the understanding of technology's proof, promise and potential for education, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond."

Source: ©Nesta

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