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Don’t forget about pedagogy when chasing technology!

What schools can learn from a simple tailor

What does tailoring have to do with education? Nothing much would be an average answer, but I beg to differ. And the following story will make my case.

You see, I grew up wearing almost only tailor-made clothes. They were unique, they fit me perfectly, and all my friends and classmates envied me for this. No, my parents were not millionaires. My mother was a professional tailor.

Growing up in the same house with a professional tailor had a not-that-glamorous aspect as well: scissors. Many scissors. One sharper than the other.

My mum’s collection of scissors was indeed impressive. And only she would decide if a certain pair of scissors could join it. If the new scissors wouldn’t meet her requirements, it would end up in my father’s toolbox, doomed to cut wires and various other things that were not fabric.

She always used to say, referring to her scissors:

A great tool does half the job for you.

Because apparently you can’t cut wool or jeans with the same scissors you use for silk. Well, you actually can, but you just shouldn’t. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

And then, when we played Fashion Police and critiqued poorly-made clothes, she would add: “It’s not the scissors’ fault that clothing item is bad.”

School leaders today could surely learn a thing or two from my mother's scissory wisdom, don’t you agree? No? Well then, allow me to put a spin on her words, to make this a bit clearer.

“A great tool does half the job for you.” becomes...

... Technology does half the job for educators!

The past 10 years have witnessed more significant and significantly more technology advances than the previous 50 years combined. Technology is a huge part of our lives and also our students’ lives.

The children who go to school today will surely engage with unforeseen technologies in their future. It is schools’ ultimate job to prepare students for the future, so adopting technology in the classroom might not be such a bad idea.

There already exist plenty of technological solutions that have been specifically created for the education market. These put automation to great use and assist teachers in their class instruction:

  • this app using gamification is great because it makes students deeply engaged with the learning activities, keeps their tushes in chairs and their hands up in the air;
  • that AI-powered content curation platform helps teachers find the most relevant and up-to-date resources for their teaching materials;
  • this LMS makes it easy to create personalized learning paths of online courses for students, keep track of their progress, collaborate with everyone, and also maintain contact with parents;
  • that VR headset can create the most immersive learning experience for students and dramatically improve their retention rates.

Even for tech-savvy teachers there’s a whole new world out there when it comes to using technology to enhance classroom instruction.

Chasing technology

This and that technology sure have the potential to do half the job for educators teaching any grade. And many school leaders are happy to invest heavily in acquiring new hardware and software for their school, lured by this potential of making their educational institutions better respond to the 21st century learning needs.

But making investments in ed-tech and urging teachers to embrace technology is the smallest and easiest thing school leaders can and must do. You can’t just order a bunch of Chromebooks and iPads, throw in some software as well, and assume everything else will turn out to be alright.

Deciding on the right technology is more complicated than that.

Before pulling out the money, you need to make sure the new piece of technology really responds to the specific needs of your educational organization. Because if this is not the case, you could just throw your money and everyone’s time out the window.

The only way to avoid this is to empower teachers, as they are often the forgotten stakeholder in this whole ed-tech deal. Just like my mother would decide which pair of scissors to add to her collection because she was the one using them the most, teachers’ voice must be taken into account when deciding over a new piece of school technology because they are the ones who’ll use it most.

If the person responsible with technology procurement is an expert in pedagogy, he/she should be able to assess the impact of those solutions on the quality of teaching, of student learning and on school culture. That technology and pedagogy expert will surely not dismiss technology without batting an eye, and neither will adopt it just because it’s nice and shiny.

Teaching teachers

After deciding on the best technology and making the necessary investments, school decision makers sometimes overlook the fact that they need to invest in teaching teachers how to make sense of it. Because technology alone can’t make any big difference. It may get half the job done for teachers, but only if the teachers know how to use it.

School leaders need to make sure all teachers have a clear vision on the value of that new technology for student learning. Otherwise, they’ll consider it an unnecessary burden that complicates their lives, makes things harder and endangers everyone’s health. Some will even ban it in their classrooms.

And this brings me to my mother’s words again. “It’s not the scissors’ fault that clothing item is bad.” becomes

It’s not technology’s fault that educational outcomes are bad.

Those that blame technology for bad educational outcomes are no better than tailors blaming their scissors for a bad piece of clothing. An amateur can use any scissors to cut wool, but when he/she will need to cut silk, that same scissor will ruin the soft fabric. A professional tailor knows exactly which scissors to use in any given situation.

In order for all teachers to be more like professional tailors, they need to be trained on how to use each piece of technology to achieve the best outcome based on it.

Teachers need to be given time during the day to learn how to pick the right technology to enhance their teaching activities in the classroom — and outside of it — and how to integrate it smoothly in their instruction. Great teachers will happily use the technology that supports teaching and learning.

Using technology well and ensuring it is integrated in a pedagogically sound way are two things that can seriously affect the desired educational outcomes.

So don’t forget about pedagogy when chasing technology

In the end, the success of any technology initiative in a school will be acknowledged based on whether or not it has had a positive impact on educational outcomes.

Deciding to adopt technology in their schools, choosing the right ed-tech and supporting teachers in using it are the three most important challenges school leaders must overcome.

Schools sure have a thing or two to learn from the professional tailor wisdom of my mother, don’t you agree now?

This post was originally published on Microsoft UK Schools blog, May 5, 2017.