Our panellists and audience members enjoyed a lively debate hosted by Jeremy Vine on how technology can help to close the attainment gap, but there were some strong opinions about the need for harder evidence about its effectiveness in the classroom, as we explore below.
The second of our debates looked at the different uses for technology in schools and how it can be applied to close the attainment gap. However, there were some polarised opinions about the true effectiveness of technology due to the lack of comprehensive research and testing into what does and doesn't work.
Whilst technology has made a tangible and significant difference to back office operations, saving schools time and money with measurable results, there is comparatively little research into how it can have the same impact in terms of attainment.
One audience member recapped the statistic quoted by our Managing Director, Toby Black - that secondary schools are spending up to £250,000 a year on technology - but concluded that there was no other industry outside education that has so little to show for such a major amount of investment.
Other audience members felt that it was genuinely difficult to leverage that technology when teachers are still waiting to see how it can make a profound difference to attainment, and some schools felt that their results hadn't reflected a significant increase in the last 20 years despite advances in technology. However, it was also noted that there is no hard evidence to suggest that spending millions of pounds on a new school building has any impact on attainment either.
We also heard from the Head of a school who had not purchased any devices despite being focussed as a school on digital technology. Instead, the school had invested in a separate server which their students were charged with managing and maintaining.
This, he said, was helping to develop their problem-solving skills and teaching them in more practical terms about content sharing and management, pointing out that the jobs students will go into in the future are more likely to be 'back office' IT roles that they would need these technical skills for.
One of our panellists suggested that technology should also be used to enable children to capture examples of their own progress, via pictures or videos, when they reach a personal best, as opposed to teachers sitting in judgement; this kind of self-assessment and acknowledgment could be very powerful.
Jeremy Vine posed a question about whether technology could be stripped entirely out of a school; another audience member, the head of an SEN school, suggested that when their servers went down one day, their teachers and pupils enjoyed one of their most simple and productive days; the lack of technology enhanced the social and emotional elements of learning in his experience.
However, a number of schools had been tremendously successful in making technology work well in their classrooms. Access to the internet means teachers can show their students on all kinds, and since many children are actually more savvy with equipment than teachers, it is fundamental that educators are up to speed and using technology which is both familiar and engaging to students.
One panellist commented on what was a strong theme throughout the day; schools hit a brick wall when technology leads learning, as opposed to learning leading technology. He cited seeing some amazing examples of children making astounding academic progress using technology, as well as seeing tremendous improvements in school efficiencies and teachers working well with learners to inspire and engage. Conversely, he'd also seen interactive whiteboards sitting in the corner gathering dust because teachers hadn't learned how to use them.
The widespread consensus is that there is not enough tangible evidence to illustrate beyond a doubt what does and doesn't work in terms of technology. In the world of medicine, doctors are constantly running studies to examine what works but in education there isn't really any solid evidence of large scale implementation.
This is complicated further by the lack of contextual evidence in the relatively small scale trials, so teachers have no idea if tests were conducted in a similar classroom to theirs or not. Again, there is a demand for harder evidence from medical-style research models.
We heard from one audience member who was using randomised controlled trials across his group of schools to determine what worked. He discovered that pupils from mixed backgrounds and age groups across different communities made far more progress using Accelerated Reader, for example, compared with those who weren't using it.
Some of our panellists agreed that the biggest danger in technology is when schools are told something is the 'next big thing' and rush out to buy it expecting miracles but without having invested the time in proper training and, most importantly, having a clear understanding of how it can support existing pedagogy.
So can technology really make a difference to attainment? Yes; but only if it is led by learning.
We’sharing lots more content from our REAL event over the coming weeks, including summaries from some of our speakers and debates, key themes, new technology trends and classroom ideas.
To stay informed, follow the links on Twitter from our profile @RMEducation with the hashtag #RMreal.