No matter how clever its functionality, a smart device is a tool like any other, and has to be applied and used skilfully to do the job well.
Put in the hands of a learner, a smart device might help to open the Connected Learning door, but on its own the device isn’t (yet) intuitive enough to perform two of the most meaningful activities carried out by digitally-literate educators - facilitating and guiding the individual through their learning journey.
Both the Further Education Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report, and the Office of Communication (Ofcom's) latest research on technology trends in its Communications Market Report, illustrate the growing significance of technology in education. To optimise its potential, it’s vital that educators understand and are able to make the most of current and emerging technologies.
Here are six tips to help you take control of digital technology for learning:
Don’t expect to know it all
From interactive whiteboards and internet-enabled mobile devices, right through to online and cloud-based software, there are a multitude of digital technologies to help learning and teaching which can be overwhelming.
For many educators, the truth is that lack of resources and time make it nigh on impossible to become an expert in every new product and technology. This was highlighted by a City and Guilds Technology in FE, Special Report, which revealed that 62% of tutors lack the time to investigate all options properly.
Start by working within the constraints available and identify and apply those which will have the greatest benefit to you and your learners.
Get to know your chosen technology
Demonstrations and formal training can offer an excellent introduction to technologies you may be unfamiliar with, but getting to grips with how to use them effectively takes time.
Once you’ve decided to implement a particular technology into your own lesson plans, set aside time to practice how to operate the equipment and understand its functionality. It’s not about becoming an IT expert, but knowing how to navigate the technology to best effect and resolve minor issues.
Set clear objectives and constantly review your goals
In the rush to show return on investment, there’s a risk that the application of technology will be made without proper thought of how it will support learner success and achievement. This is particularly true for FE and skills, in the wake of the FELTAG recommendations.
Take time to understand how the technology can support your delivery and outline your objectives from the start. The evidence for its usefulness will be much more powerful where the application is thoughtfully considered, tested and evaluated to demonstrate the use of technology in producing the best outcomes for learning.
This year’s New Media Consortium Horizon Report into HE recommends a 'continuous process of exploration and definition, especially because of how rapidly technologies evolve.' Use this approach for your own learning programme, by constantly reviewing and re-evaluating your goals in line with new developments.
Practice, practice and more practice
Today’s educators need to be experts not only in their chosen field of academia but also in the technologies that support the subject’s delivery, according to City & Guilds’ Culture, Coaching and Collaboration, which says,
Teachers also need to take the lead in using technology, as many learners are unlikely to take the initiative.
We tell our learners that the way to become skilled and competent is through practice and doing. Proficient use of technology is achieved in the same way, through study and practical application. Teachers need to practice what they preach. Of course, a little common sense is needed - the day of an Ofsted inspection is not the time to try out a new technology.
Use technology relevant to your learners’ chosen career
These cost conscious times can raise questions about proper use of resources, however, for many learners being digitally literate is essential for future success - even in careers you might not expect. For example, the automotive sector has evolved so that often the first tool a car mechanic is likely to reach for is an internet-enabled device, to access diagnostic data from the Engine Control Unit (ECU).
The point is that the use of technology - and indeed the equipment selected to support the learning process - should reflect good practice and be relevant to the learners’ chosen industry or profession.
Constantly review and refine your offering
Fast-evolving technology means that the devices and programmes we prefer to use and recognise as best practice today will likely be upgraded or replaced in years to come. Think back to once common equipment like Dictaphones, which have disappeared from the modern classroom, while even more modern solutions such as interactive whiteboards are now being replaced with interactive data projectors and touch screen technology.
Keeping up to date with technology should be just as important as staying abreast of the latest research on teaching or developments within your subject discipline.