Does a good teacher need technology?

7

June 13, 2012 by samuelshep

So I’m at a conference, killing a few moments and thinking about the debate I’m going to be engaging in this afternoon.

The question for the debate is simple enough: do good teachers need technology? Once upon a time I would have answered the question with a resounding “YES!” but I have grown older and fatter if not wiser since then, and my reaction has changed. For the sake of argument, by technology here I mean digital tech: that is another debate again!

There are two strands here: the first is around good teaching, the other is around the good teacher as a developing teacher. They are not unconnected, but they are definitely two separate sides of the same coin.

So the first point: is there a relationship between good teaching and technology? Leaving aside definitions of “good” for a moment, my answer is this “yes”. Except it’s not that good teaching uses technology, or must use technology. For me one of the qualities of a good teacher is that they innovate, and innovators are more likely to engage with new developments and therefore technologies. And this is where the correlation comes in: a good teacher might use tech in the classroom because they like to try stuff out, and not necessarily because the tech will make them better. And so the tech gets used well, and becomes associated with good teaching practice. A bad teacher will make bad use of any resource, including digital technology. There is a correlation between good teaching and technology, but correlation is not necessarily clear evidence of causation.

But then when it comes to teacher development, I think technology, especially web 2.0 technology, offers enormous potential in the form of networking and sharing of ideas and resources, and the good teacher will very likely be looking for these opportunities to expand and develop. But I know plenty of teachers who barely touch social networking and online sharing, yet are open and active “professional developers” using more traditional resources, and older web technology. For me the correlation here is less clear, and there is not necessarily that direct link.

I’ll update this later once the debate is done!

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7 thoughts on “Does a good teacher need technology?

  1. kclevel1 says:

    Correlation / causation : an interesting take on the question. I agree about innovation and trying stuff out. You are currently ‘trying out’ teaching unplugged, but you are using digital technology to reflect and plan and engage in social networks as you undertake this mini action research. Would not engagin in the way wih technology for your own development have a qualitative difference on your classroom practice and the experience for your leaners? It would have a clearer impact on you professionally I think.

  2. samuelshep says:

    That was what I meant about my two strands being two sides of the same coin: my interaction with technology is what has indeed led me to the little action research project with the beginners: although a lot of what I have done with ESOL has been in the unplugged vein for some time, I have to say. And the reflection and engagement with the project has led me become a better teacher of beginners than I was (although I still have issues there, I think), so it has indeed. But then the value of any teacher development activity is based around the impact on learners, ultimately, generally through alterations in classroom practice.

    I would say here that it was the act of reflecting which has led to changes in practice, but the motivation for the reflecting is the presence of an audience: the show-off in me which is better at writing than at taking part in debates! So yes, again, the nature of the blog and the promotion via twitter has led directly to a change in practice. But then that is in essence my second point above: the public nature of the blog appeals to a part of my personality, and so it works for me. But other people like to, ooh, I don’t know, just talk to each other about it, write it down in a little private notebook, just have a think about it, or something equally outlandish!

    I’m not saying, and never did say that technology doesn’t have a positive impact: my issue with the question is simple: you can’t just insert digital tech and improve teaching and learning. And this is what a “yes” answer suggests. You can’t just equate “good” with “uses technology”*** any more than you can equate it with “uses active learning” or “uses careful questioning”. Teaching/learning is not that simple, and anyone who thinks such a complex social interaction can be reduced to a bunch of ticked box standards is a fool.

    Sorry, a little off topic and a tad ranty there, but I love using tech in classes, I have seen learners engage and do wonderful things with it. However, like any procedure, resource or approach, it works sometimes for some people in some contexts. I just wish I’d thought of that during the debate. Hindsight….

    ***incidentally OFSTED tend to say “use technology effectively” – but what, actually, does that mean?

    • ‘then the value of any teacher development activity is based around the impact on learners, ultimately, generally through alterations in classroom practice.’

      Thinking about Will’s session on passionate teachers yesterday, it was so refreshing to be talking about teachers and teachers as opposed to teacher/ing-as-impact-on-students. Isn’t this view a little like saying teaching ESOL is based on impact on using English in the workplace?

      • samuelshep says:

        Not at all. ESOL learners learn for any number of reasons: the only consistent measure we have of our impact as language teachers is an improvement in their ability to use the language. Our primary function, after all, is to be language teachers, not social services or the job centre (although there is a role there as well).

        It’s important not to confuse having an impact and measuring that impact. Professional development for teachers will, in some way or another, eventually filter down to learners, including the active and reflective non-adoption of a particular practice.

        By the same token, you also can’t remove teachers from the equation either. Teaching is important, and teachers need room to talk about teaching as teachers, but the learners come out better for teachers having that room, however and wherever it happens. You may not be able to measure it in terms of success rates and observation grades and you shouldn’t have to. But that’s another story.

  3. suebrady says:

    Clearly the answer is no. Just spend several minutes adding my comments only for my PC to freeze and all my words of wisdom were lost. Someone pass me my pen and quill and then I’ll send you my thoughts by carrier pigoen – so much more reliable and you gain from the benefit of thought through communication rather than a quick comment posted and then maybe regretted.

  4. suebrady says:

    Yes, just read that hastily typed reply with grammar error and should have said pen and ink. Could the use of more technology lead to even greater lack of accurate language learning. I know that my writing/spelling etc is not what it used to be because I don’t spend so much time thinking about it and checking it. No doubt my students are just the same. Don’t confuse technology with learning was the summary of my lost comments along with today’s technology is tomorrow’s boring routine stuff. Also you’re maybe influenced by your own personal interests. I would like to teach students through the medium of geography and history (not LIUK), and miss having students who have world/country knowledge.

    • samuelshep says:

      I agree with you Sue, I really do. I think you do make a good point about confusing ones own interests with those of your learners, but then it behoves the teacher to look at the interests of their learners and adapt course content and methodology accordingly. I hate the VLE generally, but some learners might love it. And you can go further: personally I can’t stand it when you get a training session and someone “shares the objectives” with you. But other people get a lot from that.

      Perhaps the lesson here is that we can’t assume that other people like learning in the same way we do. And no, that doesn’t mean we should waste time on learning styles inventories, but rather we should just get to know our students and encourage their feedback from day one, listen to it and respond accordingly. Of course that may mean saying something like “I know this is better for you, trust me”!

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