How to make your school’s tech work for you

by Troy Martin03 Jun 2016

This month’s Education Week in Victoria focused squarely on technology; inviting teachers, students and parents to be ‘inspired by digital learning’. During the week, once again we saw the subject of technology and education being hotly debated. For every evangelist, who promotes the benefits of classroom technology, there’s a counter view which claims that investment in ‘ed tech’ does little to improve student performance.
But, the more conversations on the benefits or pitfalls of technology that I’ve heard, during Education Week and beyond, the more I realise that tech proponents and naysayers alike are failing to address the heart of the issue. For me, the problem isn’t with technology, but with how it’s being used. Used badly, or ineffectively, technology investment is at best a wasted expense, or at worst detrimental to students and teachers alike. But used properly, the right technology can significantly improve teaching and learning.
Key to the success of technology in the classroom is proper integration into pedagogy, sufficient training for students and teachers alike – and a clear vision on the objectives for ed-tech investment – right from the outset.
To get teachers and students thinking, let’s look at some of the ways properly integrated technology can benefit students, and ultimately help to fuel the workforce with tech savvy, digital literate, graduates.
Appealing to digital natives
We are surrounded by technology all of the time: digital tools and devices are present across every facet of our personal and professional lives from connected offices and remote working, to mobile games and video streaming. Our children were born into this digitally advanced era and are what sociologists call ‘digital natives’ - living a ‘technology-first’ existence. They are as used to negotiating the world on a screen, are keen to ingest quick, bite-sized content and have instant access to discussions through a social network of peers and friends.  
The way that children are traditionally taught, by rote and using textbooks, is entirely at odds with their life away from the classroom. Technology in the classroom, such as access to video and rich media, reflects the way that children now choose to consume information.
Giving children reliable and intuitive digital platforms to work with in school ensures that their educational world is as immersed in tech as their “real lives”.
Increasing engagement and transforming the learning experience
Using digital content and sharing lesson plans and ideas globally with a teacher network can create engaging and interesting lessons. New pedagogy like the ‘flipped classroom’ are powered by technology and can totally transform the way in which children learn. Completing rote material or passively ingesting lectures at home can free up classroom time for more in depth and personalised teaching.
Classroom technology can help to measure a student’s performance in real time, for teachers to look at what aspects of the teaching and learning have worked and what have not, and then adapt their instruction accordingly. Integration of technology such as virtual learning environments mean that students benefit from more responsive teaching and a collaborative teaching and learning environment. Additionally, digital learning tools also allow parents the ability to observe their child’s learning engagement habits in real time, rather than waiting for periodic feedback from teachers which in turn offers another opportunity to foster better learning outcomes.
Preparing children for the digital economy
The world we live in constantly evolves, as does the technology we use, and our global economy will continue to digitise over the next years. By the time our children join the workforce, most jobs will be digitised, and have more technology components that tomorrow’s employees will need to master.
Including technology in classrooms is vital if we want our children to learn skills that they will need to be successful at University and throughout their careers. By banning or removing technologies from the classroom, schools create a gap between education establishments and the reality of the world that our children will have to work in. By integrating industry standard technology into the classroom, children can exit their education as digitally literate  graduates, ready to enter the working world.
So how can schools get past this quagmire of debate, and begin really realising the potential benefits we’ve discussed? The key is to set clear objectives from the outset. Teachers and administrators alike must ask not ‘which devices and online learning management platform could we be using at school?’ but rather ‘what can technology help to achieve?’ We need to work backwards, by first identifying a problem to solve or the outcomes we would like to achieve and then as a second step identify which technologies we should implement.
The questions we should be asking ourselves as teachers, students - or even parents are: What is the long-term objective? How can we accelerate or diversify learning? How can we increase collaboration whether it is children to children, teacher to child, parent to teacher or parent to child?  How can we ease the workload burden on teachers? How can we increase personalised learning? Why and how can we use technology to do so?
This helps to narrow the focus of choice about the technology a school needs to use, and determine how it can be included into a school’s pedagogy in a holistic way - to ultimately make teaching and learning easier for everyone.

Troy Martin is director of APAC at Canvas by Instructure, a cloud-based Learning Management System designed to make teaching and learning easier.