‘Using digital technology to improve learning’ EEF report response: technology is not an end in itself

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has today published Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning, a guidance report (download it here). The report reviews the best available evidence and offers schools four recommendations of how technology can improve teaching and learning, It also includes guidance on tailoring school communications to encourage parental engagement and offering more intensive support where needed.

London CLC welcomes this report and its recommendations, which we believe offer timely and sensible advice to schools and educators who are seeking to make the most of the opportunities offered by education technology, inspired, perhaps, by education secretary Damian Hinds’s £10m edtech strategy pledge.

One of the common themes across much of the work we have done is that technology use needs to be considered, targeted, appropriate and not ‘over-used’ – and we are delighted to see this approach reflected in the EEF report.

Taking the recommendations in turn:

Recommendation 1: Consider how technology is going to improve teaching and learning before introducing it

We agree wholeheartedly with the advice to spend time looking at the pedagogical need for a product before introducing the latest shiny new thing.  A clear shared vision, a plan for leading change and CPD are essential for any new introduction of technology, and tech suppliers are not always the best people to do this. Interestingly, the advice coincides with a call this week for there to be an edtech expert on leadership teams in schools and trusts to avoid the ‘short-term, tactical decisions’ to which heads often fall victim.  

We also recommend building capacity within the team and building in time to adopt the new technology. It is important to communicate the benefits to pupil learning and workload before the implementation as there is always some front loaded effort required.

Recommendation 2: Technology can be used to improve the quality of explanations and modelling

This is particularly important and we would highlight  apps such as Explain Everything that let you teachers demonstrate and interact with content as a way of demonstrating, modelling and explaining core concepts.

Recommendation 3: Technology offers ways to improve the impact of pupil practice

Technology can certainly help pupil practice and we’ve been working with Rosendale Research School Metacognition on an EFF-funded project looking at metacognition, or ‘learning about how we learn’, as a way of encouraging pupils to better understand how they learn. Together we developed a programme known as ReflectED – an approach to learning that teaches and develops children’s metacognition skills. Technology plays a supporting role in this programme: iPads sit in the middle of the table and pupils pick them up when they want to record a reflection. They use an app (originally Evernote, now SeeSaw) that gives the teacher access to their catalogue of reflections and allows them to tag their reflections accordingly. It is also easy to enable rapid teacher and peer feedback via text or voice recording. In this case, technology is supporting the process by enabling fast, effective reflections and feedback. The first small-scale, randomised trial in 2013 showed that ReflectEd had a positive impact on children’s attainment and the project is now being rolled out to a larger number of schools.

We have also seen the impact of tools like Quizlet and Socrative, that enable pupils to practice retrieval in a range of ways.

Recommendation 4: Technology can play a role in improving assessment and feedback

We recently ran a ‘Using technology for assessment and feedback’ workshop, a half-day session sharing how teachers can use video, audio, digital image and presentation tools to capture pupils’ learning and reflections, and how pupils can use technology to present and reflect on their learning.  Formative assessment with technology can enable teachers to get an insight that they wouldn’t be able to without technology, and gives pupils instant feedback as they work through questions. There is great potential in verbal feedback via technology and there are a range of apps that enable this. Verbal feedback can be time saving for teachers and more personal for learners.

We are at a pivotal moment in technology-enhanced learning in UK where pockets of research-based innovative good practice are on the brink of becoming far more widespread.  This is partly due to the increased accessibility of the technology in these settings. More and more schools are investing in devices, whether iPads or Chromebooks, and cloud infrastructure.

The key to getting this move right is setting a vision that is shared by all staff, having an effective staff development programme and ensuring that the choice of devices and cloud services serves the context well: there is no single best device or solution, context is key. For this reason, multi-academy trusts, local authorities and schools need to be clear on how the technology should be used and not just what the technology is. “Build the roads before putting the cars on them” is a good lesson: if you try to deploy devices without the right infrastructure, wifi and systems, disaster looms.

Once in place, technology must be more than a productivity tool in the classroom. Rather,  it is a creativity tool, which in turn promotes active learning. But to understand what works best, we need to look at research and we need to think carefully about whether we are using it in the most effective way and what this means for learners. Technology can encourage creativity and  offers a range of ways to inspire, engage and improve learning outcomes for pupils. In choosing how to make the most of that potential and the best use of these tools to support learning we must always remember the context of the learners, school and staff and ensure decisions are informed by research, learning theory and teacher practice. Technology is not an end in itself.

EEF’s report is a very useful guidance document in terms of helping educators make sure the road is built in the right direction.

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