Beyond the Best App For…

I’m learning a lot this year. Actually, it’s thanks to the TL21C PD program that I’ve realised that there’s a whole world of professional discourse going on out there that I can tap into. The latest epiphany I’ve had is almost completely thanks to this article by Mal Lee*. I found it so compelling that I thought it was worth summarizing my understanding of it, and what I see as its implications for my job.

There is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment.

Mal Lee, 2014

An excellent painting app hasn’t improved my illustrations.

I must admit that I’ve often had trouble articulating how I think digital technologies improve student outcomes. I have no doubt that they do, I just haven’t been able to clearly say exactly how they do this. When there has been talk of evaluating the 1:1 program at work I have been quite worried that we are not getting “bang for our buck” even when the NSSCF funding is taken into account. What I’ve been wanting, and I suspect many people would like, is a Hattiesque “effect size” for the 1:1 program. Mal’s opening statement, above, seems to express what I fear: That we could remove the computers from almost any class in the college with no obvious adverse effect on outcomes.

I was therefore relieved to read on. Mal states that while there is no “significant linear connection between… digital technologies and … student attainment” there is a significant, positive, non-linear impact of a school ecology where the use of digital technologies is infused into “all facets of their operations”. So, although we could remove computers from any individual class and not notice the difference for that particular class, as soon as digital technologies aren’t being used consistently across the school, results across the board would deteriorate. The question is, why?

The answer isn’t simple, and I’m not going to try to simplify it. I strongly suggest that you read Mal’s article as it goes into detail about the mechanics of the relationship. However, I will suggest that the positive impact is partly due to connections; connections between students, teachers and course content, connections between home and school, connections between schools, and connections between course content and the rest of the world.

So how does this effect my job? As an elearning coordinator my discussions with other teachers often revolve around what programs or tools they can or should be using. It is a part of my role at school to know and understand the different software that each learning area uses or should use. This aspect of my role often troubles me. Why should I understand Geogebra if I don’t understand geometry? (The fact is that I don’t.)  And can I understand a piece of software or a web tool if I don’t understand the subject area in which it is being used?

Mal’s article suggests that this shouldn’t be my role. At least, it shouldn’t be something that I’m too worried about. In the long term it’s certainly not something that should take up too much time for anyone. As teachers’ expertise and familiarity with edtech improves, my role should change. What my focus should be is on changing the “ecology” of the school so that digital technologies are “infused” into all aspects of our work. Obviously the role of ICT in teaching and learning is a huge part of this, but it is still only a part.

Mal suggests that the same things that make teachers and lessons effective are unchanged, however the integration of ICT across the school amplifies them. So my role should be to look at how technology can do this. For example, there are obvious ways that technology can be used to improve feedback loops between teachers and students.

So, the next time someone asks me “What’s the best app for…” I’ll tell them what I know. But I’m not going to be staying up late into the night trying to keep up with the latest, best apps, or learning geometry. I’ll be looking at a much bigger picture.

I’m not certain if this has made my life easier or harder. Thanks, Mal.


*Mal taught for some years with my aunt. He lives just up the road from my parents, and I played with his daughters as a youngster, so I’m going to feel free to call him Mal from now on. I hope that’s okay, Mr Lee.


2 thoughts on “Beyond the Best App For…

  1. Great post Eric. Off to read Mal’s piece. I think that I spotted it in my Twitter stream, but it got caught in the current and I lost it. I could not agree more and that is what I hope to focus on in the session at DLTV. We shouldn’t be teaching the tool, we should be focusing on pedagogy and what this allows us to enhance.

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