We live in a digital world. There can be denying that technology has become all-encompassing. However, a massive irony exists today in UK education. At a time when technology is everywhere and we are constantly looking forward to the next advancements, the method of assessment that our education system uses to judge the achievement and attainment of our young people by has gone decidedly backwards – at least 30 years.

GCSE exams now look much more like the old O-levels that were first introduced in 1951 and abolished in 1988. Pen and paper still dominate the classroom and the exam hall, even though it’s becoming redundant in many workplaces. Children start school as digital natives. 5-year olds learn to code. And many of the jobs that pupils of today will end up doing in adult life haven’t even been created yet.

So, why isn’t technology used more in classrooms?

The problem with smartphones

The use of technology often starts and ends with a debate about mobile phones. Of course, smartphones are essentially hand-held mini-computers. They could be incredibly useful in the classroom. However, more schools have limited their use or banned them altogether, than have fully embraced the possibilities they offer for learning.

From inappropriate use – the silly and the serious – to mobiles being a constant distraction, it’s no wonder that many schools have taken a hardline approach.

Engagement v Learning

Sadly, rote learning seems to have made a comeback in the classroom, as teachers believe this is the best preparation for the new-look GCSEs. Technology has been placed on the back burner in many ways.

It’s true that studies show that traditional ‘chalk and talk’ methods and reading a hard copy of text and writing a response on paper; or using video clips, the internet and then composing a response on an iPad, actually show little difference in terms of student learning. The major difference would be on student engagement.

There are two schools of thought. One camp sees the former method as the most effective way to prepare students for exams and doesn’t concern itself with pupil engagement. The other camp wants to promote engagement and a love of learning. It worries that a lack of engagement is impacting on behaviour in the classroom.

In truth, both sides of the argument probably have a point. But most teachers would surely prefer their lessons to be engaging and compelling.

A balance needs to be struck

The solution is not an either/or argument. It should not be about Technology v No Technology.

We should be using technology in the classroom more to enable students, to use devices that enhance learning and as a way of developing and honing their digital skills. But mobile technology shouldn’t just be used as a gimmick. Use needs to be grounded in learning and skills.

Having said that, although technology should not just be about engagement, we should not forget the importance of having an engaged classroom.

More than anything else, technology is a great enabler in terms of connecting students, communicating with others, and for collaborative work. If a school can find ways of allowing this to happen that reconciles with its safeguarding policy, then it should be encouraged and celebrated.

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