Seven ways education can benefit from technology

Yesterday we explored the idea of 'disruption' in the education system, in particular the rise of edtech. So, how can technology add value to a child's learning? Here are seven ways in which I have seen genuine and large benefit from using technology in education...

1. Access to quality information

It is awe inspiring to think that anyone and, in particular, students with the internet, can have access to the world’s highest quality information at any time of day or night. Examples of the most inspiring content are numerous and too long to list but my personal favourites, as a geeky mathmo, include Numberphile, VSauce and TED talks. There is no one that can tell me this is anything but one of the most amazing outcomes of using technology in education.  

That said it is crucial, and I am compelled, to state the associated problems.

1) In amongst all the great material there is truly awful, inaccurate and distracting material.  We owe students more than just saying "Google it". We must help them sift the wheat from the chaff. 

Read: The rise of EdTech - what does it mean for pupils?

2) Access to this quality information is only useful when the student has that hunger to learn and focus on that material. Bringing the internet and access to this information to countries where teachers are sparse could be a disruption with a truly transformational positive impact. Having this access in other places where the child is more entertained with the latest Vine clip, and I think that impact is less prominent.

3) There are voices arguing that given one can access so much knowledge, one does not need to learn or memorise facts as you can "Google them". I don’t want to get drawn deeply into this debate here other than to say I disagree with this. It is only with knowledge that other knowledge becomes interesting and I believe creativity comes from someone who knows things. Any great person in their field has put in hours of dedicated and deliberate practice to know more/be able to do more than anyone else and for me, it is dangerous if one thinks access to this information replaces the need to make the effort to learn things.

2. Making life easier

Some technologies make life faster, more efficient and easier and the same applies in the teaching and learning field.  Anything that genuinely saves the teacher time (something that is their most precious commodity) or helps them be more productive, allows them to focus more on their students. This type of technology can help teachers and, in turn, help students get better teaching. 

There are technologies out there that do this to a meaningful extent and as such are priceless.  One personal favourite includes using Google docs to be in the same document with students giving them live feedback rather than resending "draft" versions back and forth on emails for every iteration.

3. Disrupt in the right ways

Linked to the above point, social media in recent years has allowed teacher voices to be heard and even impact government policy. The use of technology and social media in this way, either to gain critical mass for ideas that we know work or to question the efficacy of ideas andpolicies, is powerful. This can only be only be a good thing. Movements such as Tom Bennett's ResearchEd typify this so well and have the potential to make genuinely beneficial changes to our education system. Other noble ideas include the Global Teacher Prize with the aim to improve the status of teachers across the globe.

4. Teaching coding and computing

In the UK, the recent focus on teaching coding and computing is a welcomed, albeit uncomfortable, change.  For me, this is a crucial subject for the future and I think that making this disruption is needed. 

Careful planning needs to be in place to help teachers be able to effectively help students and adapt but, in the long term, this curriculum change is in my opinion something that will be beneficial.

5. Student collaboration and sharing

There is great potential for students to communicate at the click of a button with other students, their teachers or anyone else in the world. This must be  good thing. Used in a gimmicky way and this means nothing, but allowing students to genuinely collaborate and work together could have huge impact on learning. In my role as judge of the UK Teaching Awards, I have observed students working together using technology on projects in meaningful ways, akin to how people work together in the workplace.

Read: The Dalai Lama and the importance of compassion in education

One group of students, worked online together to make a computer game for a European competition, which they won. The technology for them to collaborate when they were at home to the same extent as when they were together at school can only be a great thing for their project. Imagine a class of English students learning Mandarin having a voice call once a week with a group of Chinese students learning English. Something like this has the potential to meaningfully impact learning. There are many other examples that are too numerous to mention.

6. Custom built learning platforms

Finally, this may be a harder "sell" and certainly harder to make work, but I believe there is scope to create learning platforms that helps both teachers and students and make meaningful differences to students’ learning. Often edtech created in this arena is pitched at teachers but has little thought for the final user, the student, or the other way around, are aimed at the student but want to "replace" the teacher. There is a niche space, I believe, to create platforms that help teachers and help students and so improve learning. Any such product needs to be created with an obsessive focus on the science of teaching and learning.

Without this, it will be a gimmick. Example of  products I have high respect for are Membean and Memrise, amongst others, as they are clearly developed with clear focus on learning. I, myself, am releasing a website at the start of 2016 that I believe has the potential to genuinely help teachers and students in their maths journey at school.

I am so excited to release this product as it is something I have been wanting to build since I started teaching. Everything in my platform focuses on two things: (i) the student learning and (ii) how to help the teacher save time and put the focus on how the student is learning. With this combination I believe there is big opportunity to impact learning in great ways.

In summary, the blanket belief that edtech will solve all education's problems is a simplistic and erroneous view. Edtech can, however, have a great impact and it already is in some cases. I call for teachers out there, if possible in their busy lives, to make or call for the changes from the ground up that they know their students need. If there is an edtech solution that you thinks needs building could you make it or shout loud enough until someone does ? That is what I am trying to do. I also call edtech companies to please not plough all their VC funding into flashy solutions that you think teachers and students want. It’s not even good enough to consult teachers and students. Hire teachers and students to make the edtech that they need and only then might you make the product that actually makes the difference we would all like to see.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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