The importance of being e-Pedagogical: Reflections on the OECD report on Students, Computers and Learning

The recently released OECD report  Students, Computers and and Learning: Making the connection, seems to have been widely misrepresented in the press. The emphasis has been on headline grabbing statements such-as, “Computers ‘do not improve pupil results” and ‘iPads in school a waste of money? OECD says yes‘.  However, although the report does explore the negative impacts of poorly used technology, the focus is much more on how do we use technology appropriately in order to support learners to succeed in a digital world (conveniently buried in the news reports).

As mentioned in the report, dropping technology from  education is simply not an option. Technology is such a central element of our culture that to be unable to confidently navigate your way around technology leaves you at a disadvantage socially and economically, with the majority of the UK workforce expecting some level of digital literacy.

To return to analogue classrooms in a sea of digitization just isn’t practical and it is failing our children who need help and support with how to face and confidently handle the challenges and opportunities that the digital world presents.

However, we also cannot ignore the message given by the OECD report that when technology is used inappropriately in the classroom it has a negative impact on learners. That is a powerful statement and one that we need to examine more closely. Technology isn’ t neutral and it certainly isn’t a panacea for poor teaching. The OECD report is saying that in some instances learners would learn more effectively if technology was removed from the classroom (hence the headline grabbers that popped up all over the BBC).

This statement in itself could be enough to have swathes of teachers hanging up their ipads for good. It certainly doesn’t read like a ringing endorsement for technology enhanced learning. But this is also a message that educational technologists, like myself, have been trying to get heard for years. The technology alone does not improve learning.  it is a tool, like any other tool. If it is ignored it will do nothing, if it is used badly it will detract, if it is used well it will improve. Placing a paintbrush in your living room will not improve the state of the decoration, unless you use it appropriately. Using it badly, like poor use of educational technologies, will likely leave you with something worse.

Adding a computer to a classroom is not going to do anything, unless, its use is carefully and considerately designed into learning activities. Handing an ipad to every student at the start of term but not explaining how and, possibly more importantly, why it’s going to be used is a waste of time and money. The same argument could be made for the use of a VLE – if it is not explained to students how and why it should be used, we should not be surprised when they don’t use it.

The OECD calls for a “21st Century pedagogy” and that we should be using technology not to support 20th century teaching practices but to take full advantage of the opportunities that technology offers to support “experiential learning, foster project-based and inquiry-based pedagogies“.  In other words, we need to focus much more support for educators on how to use technology pedagogically – this is not a call for computers to be banned from classrooms but plea for technology to be seen for what it is, a tool. Without great teachers the technology will never enhance learning. We need to help and support teachers to design learning activities that are in line with the digital demands of the 21st century.