Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.
Navigating Educational Technology
by Vis Naidoo
In 1998, Shafika Isaacs and I introduced the concept of the value chain for the use of technology in school education. We reviewed various projects in South Africa at the time and noted that unless key elements of the education system are functioning at a basic minimum level, no matter what technology is thrown at it, we would not attain the expected learning outcomes and improve quality. We stressed the need to focus on education and not on the technology and be strategic about how we use it to enhance learning in schools, universities and other spheres of life.
Two key research conclusions about the impact of educational technology are:
- Technology itself cannot improve learning and instruction but it is the effective use of technology that will see better education impacts.
- Technology developments will continue to influence and change our lives, the way we work and live. It will also change the education landscape.
Technology on its own cannot improve education systems and require other elements to be functional and focus on the effective use of technology. Yet our education systems continue to invest in technology, often based on what seems to be the latest and greatest. How do we address this so that the education system can achieve the results we expect with current and innovative technology developments? How do we avoid our education becoming too influenced by the latest technology development and ‘carpet-baggers’ peddling the latest technology with promises to revolutionize education?
Perhaps a good starting point is to have an agreed understanding of educational technology. I draw on the research work commissioned by DfID where they define edtech as ‘the use of digital or electronic technologies and materials to support teaching and learning.’
For education technology to have an impact is to enable its effective use. Technologies have and will continue to emerge and offer new possibilities to impact learning and teaching, enable large-scale support of learning leading to improvements in learner progress and quality of education. For this to take place the policy environment, school management, digital content and teacher development are important. The report on the impact of educational technology notes the following:
Therefore, useful research on the impact of educational technology should focus on the complete system, including the teacher, the content taught, the technology used, the school system or environment in which the teacher is working, and the environment in which the learning is taking place.
I have developed a framework to consider when looking at ICT integration and use within the school system. Based on this framework, it is useful to consider the following questions to determine what constitutes an effective and cost-efficient edtech program:
- Is this within the policy framework of the country/province and does it help to advance the strategy leading to the achievement of the national/provincial goals, including the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)?
- What are the learning outcomes, how is the curriculum structured and where will technology be used to enable learning and the achievement of outcomes?
- What learning support materials and technology will be used?
- Is there an effective teacher development and pedagogy focus so teachers are able to use technology to improve their teaching methods?
- What evaluation methods will be used to determine the value of the edtech program and whether it supports the achievements of the outcomes?
When determining the educational technology that will best work for schools, perhaps it is important to note the criteria that will hold the edtech companies to greater accountability. Any edtech purchased needs to have effective support for teachers and their professional development, so there are no further fees required for this. Of course, having the education product developed with the central involvement of teachers is another imperative that helps to deliver relevant learning materials and methodologies in edtech programs.
When choosing an edtech products or services, it is important to understand how these will be used and the kind of after-sales customer service available. This helps ensure it is easy to install and use and there is an effective support to troubleshoot and address system-level problems. Once a purchase of a product or service is made, there should be no need for further purchases to make the edtech tools work.
There is increasing evidence of the value of edtech in support of attaining educational outcomes, the impact on teaching and learning and changing the way learning is taking place. Further evidence is required to understand ‘what difference was made to the educational experiences of the teachers, students, and communities involved.’ This further illustrates the need to ensure the design and implementation of edtech programs are carefully planned to improve educational quality and collect data and conduct analysis to determine the impact.
Power, T., Gater, R., Grant, C. and Winters, N. (2014). Educational Technology Topic Guide. The Health & Education Advice & Resource Team (HEART) with funding from British Government’s DfID.
Vis Naidoo is an IPE/BC Fellow and education technology expert .