How to Improve Learning Outcomes: Thoughts from EdTech Leaders

This post was written by Sue Beveridge, Education Advisor, and roundtable participant. 

During the recent Inspire Greatness Conference held by SMART Technologies in Australia, a group of education thought leaders met to discuss the tie between education technology and learning outcomes and how we can all work toward improving what is currently a flat outcome line.

In his keynote for the conference, Jeff Lowe had challenged the conference participants to inspire greatness in their students, improve learning outcomes, and effectively move the impact of classroom technology “above the line”.

The group, which included Dr Phil Lambert (ACE), Prof. Pam Ryan (UTS), Prof. Kelvin Gregory (UNSWG), Martin Spears (UNSWG), Dr Bron Stuckey, Dr Damian Maher (UTS), Charles Branciforte (School Principal Victoria), Jan Warhurst (School Principal NSW), from SMART Technologies Jeff Lowe (VP Marketing),Giancarlo Brotto (Global Education Strategist), Peter McAlpine (Region Manager APAC), Sue Beveridge (ANZ Education Advisor) was asked to reflect on the following:

Despite 50 years and $7B investment in education technology, research indicates we have not seen a significant impact on classroom environments and learning outcomes.

What do you think are the barriers, and what are some solutions?

The Executive Round Table members generally expressed the view that to get “above the line” where technology would impact significantly on classroom environments and learning outcomes, teachers are the critical key.  The group discussed the quantum of change required by teachers to ensure that our students are future ready. They expressed the importance of implementing 21st century skills in the classroom and learning how we can assess if teachers are delivering these skills especially in the context of pre-service teacher training.

Future ready learning requires students to have the capacity to collaborate and communicate effectively which means developing students’ social and emotional skills (link).

The OECD is currently working on: The Future of Education and Skills: OECD Education 2030 Framework. The framework is to help shape what young people learn for 2030.

Four propositions are integral to the 2030 Framework:

  1. The evolution of the traditional disciplinary curriculum should be rapidly accelerated to create knowledge and understanding for the 21st century.
  2. The skills, attitudes, and values that shape human behaviour should be rethought, to counter the discriminatory behaviours picked up at school and in the family.
  3. An essential element of modern learning is the ability to reflect on the way one learns best.
  4. Each learner should strive to achieve a small set of key competencies, such as the competence to act autonomously. A competency is the ability to mobilise knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values, alongside a reflective approach to the processes of learning, to engage with and act in the world.

The Framework describes what children will have to learn as:

Attitudes & Values

 Knowledge

  • Disciplinary knowledge
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge
  • Practical knowledge

Skills

  • Cognitive and meta-cognitive skills
  • Social and emotional skills
  • Physical and practical skills

In addition to this future thinking, teachers currently need to consider gamification in learning, innovations in digital and online assessment, implementing digital technologies and listening to “student voice’ to identify and understand the technologies that students are using in their own lives.

Working Toward Improved Outcomes

The group at the Inspire Greatness Conference recognised that the pace of technological change is so fast that it is almost impossible for teachers to be abreast of every advancement and to be constantly upskilled.  However, it was seen that applying the learning lens to new and emerging technologies is extremely important in determining any potential educational benefits. In order for teachers to embrace a technology, they need evidence that there is a learning impact and research to investigate and establish this can be protracted.

In the discussion, group members also stressed that the professional development of teachers can be a neglected part of technology implementations and recommended that change management or implementation strategies need to be effectively planned and costed as part of education technology rollouts. Educational leadership is therefore critical in providing the strategy and conditions for teachers to be learners and researchers.

It was also discussed that teachers are not generally the decision makers in procuring technology solutions in schools and are often required to work within the constraints of the infrastructure they have been provided. In contrast, teachers who are leaders in technology innovation rely on networks beyond the school e.g.  via social networking groups, to support their practices which means that there can be considerable differences between classrooms in technology use in schools. Finding ways to share outstanding practices within schools and across schools is critical for upskilling all teachers.

Finally, the group noted the importance of teacher inquiry, practitioner research, and research partnerships to understand the affordances of technology for learning.

The Executive RoundTable represented an outstanding group of educators who contributed their considerable expertise to discuss this complex question. Their reflections are significant and important in continuing to improve the future of learning for our students.

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