Response to OECD Report on Integrating Technology in Schools

Students happy to use tech (Photo at Annapolis, MD by Jay Baker, 10 January 2012)

A recently released OECD study has suggested that a new approach to technology is needed in schools. Jonathan Ketchell responds for HSTRY.


While some media headlines were quick to claim that technology doesn’t help students learn, this OECD study actually highlighted what we’ve been saying for a while, that more thought needs to go into integrating technology into the classroom, and that we need to develop apps which make the best use of technology and which also allow new kinds of interactive learning.
As this Wall Street Journal article suggests, technology has indeed raised false hopes, but only because it was branded as a magic wand that will instantly improve education.

There are three reasons why technology has not had the desired results, but we have reason to believe things are looking up and that technology will actually become a huge benefit to education.

Clunky Technology

For starters, the technology used in the classroom is not always up to scratch. I’ll take a recent example. At my old high school, I used at the time outdated desktop computers that were slow. The internet speed was no better, even in the pre-Wifi period of stable cable connection.

13 years later, I returned to the school to observe how my old social studies teacher — very open to integrating technology in the classroom — was using HSTRY in the classroom. I was startled to still see old, slow computers running on Windows XP. Half way through the class, as students were getting into the swing of the task at hand, the internet connection shut down and did not return by the end of the period.

In these circumstances, and this being a relatively well-off school in Belgium, no wonder technology is not improving students’ results. Valuable classroom time is wasted by faulty, outdated technology.

Outdated Software

Importantly, it is not just the physical tech that is outdated. Many, including the large traditional textbook publishers, were keen to have a piece of the pie and developed software for the classroom. Problem was, too often they replicated what was already available on paper, simply transferring a textbook to the screen.

The top-down approach of teaching is dead and the tech tools that foster this approach should follow it to the grave. As the report suggested: “adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”
We have moved away from teachers telling students what to learn, from students sitting down for hours, itching on their seats to do more than passively and unproductively taking in information.

It’s about creativity, collaboration, project-based learning. It’s no longer students putting theories into practice, it’s about students figuring out the theory themselves and applying it. The tech tools should reflect this kind of teaching — just like HSTRY does!

On top of this, these educational products provided teachers and students with nightmare user experiences. Time was also wasted here: simple tasks required too many clicks, layouts were not intuitive, text was difficult to read… In other words, none of the advantages of technology were properly implemented.

Bottom-down approach: too many classrooms still look like this. (Photo taken at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines by Malate269, 29 January 2011)

Lack of training

Political scoring and commercial interests have thrown technology into teachers’ faces with little or no assistance. I don’t blame the skeptical educators. If the benefits of using software instead of pen and paper are not clearly explained, it’s normal to be hesitant in embracing change.

It’s no coincidence that the most successful kind of technology in the classroom is the kind that mimics the process teachers know of. That is why white boards are so successful. The same could be said of LMSs (Learning Management Systems) that simply digitalise the processes a teacher used to apply with pen and paper (with more features of course).

Reasons for optimism

We believe there’s going to be bright future for technology in schools, one that will bring about a better learning environment and ultimately better results.

What we normally expect of apps and websites we use in our daily lives — useful, fast, good design — are becoming standard in educational apps and websites. Moreover, products that embody the 21st century student-centred teaching methods are filtering through and should be fully embraced.

We can now find apps that encourage collaboration between students to solve problems, apps that push for creativity and engagement, apps that make it easy for teachers to use the wealth of information on the web. We can also find apps that help dyslexic children read, apps that adapt to a learner’s pace.

What modern classrooms should strive to. Notice the wheels on the chairs and the small white boards on the walls. (Photo taken at Técnologico de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus by Thelmadatter, 15 January 2014)

Yes, those at the top must do more on an infrastructure level. Yes, teachers need to adapt and need guidance. Yes, teachers have to guide the students themselves in our digital world. But let’s not forget that laptops or tablets don’t have to be used for the sake of it. Students don’t want to be behind a screen all day, they want to interact with their peers, communicate, get their hands messy. Technology can go a long way in helping student-centred teaching.

We have visited many schools that have embraced technology the right way and with fantastic results. We see no reason why this could not be extended to all schools across the US.

If you have any questions or comments, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via Twitter (@HstryOrg) or else you can contact me directly at jonathan@hstry.co.

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