Magic bullets It’s not about the tech, it’s about the teach

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One of the things that worries me most about the use of technology in our classrooms is, well, how technology centred it all can be. Many of us fall in the trap of viewing particular technologies – a pile of netbooks or a bunch of iPads – as the solution to all that is wrong with education.

I was recently listening to a speaker from Apple who proudly gave an account of how some universities in the US and a school in the UK had given an iPod to every single one of their students.

He spoke as if the act of giving iPods away itself was the catalyst that would see education shift from 19th century style chalk-and-talk impartation of knowledge to 21st century style teaching and learning – whatever that may be.

Besides a suspiciously sudden increase in the numbers of iPods on sale in eBay, predictably little evidence was forthcoming to indicate that such a gesture actually impacted students’ lives beyond the short term.

Apple is just a case in point. Speakers from Microsoft, Adobe, Smart, Promethean… will all try to sell you their technology as the technology that will effect change.

In fact, it is you or I who will effect that change, not the technology. Yes, technology can be the driver of change, but only if people like you and me use it effectively.

I am often asked how I would use iPods in the languages classroom – often by the same people who first tell their students to keep their own iPods in their lockers and then splash out thousands on school iPods.

The answers invariably comes as a surprise: I don’t use school iPods, instead I make sure that my students have remote access to our resources and, crucially, are able to create and publish their own content – regardless of the platform.

However, these days iPods are so last year. iPads are now all the rage.

Throwing iPods or iPads at our students may well enthrall them for the first month or so and may even solve some problems, but it almost certainly also generates problems of their own. You’ll just be swapping one set of limitations for another. There simply is no magic bullet.

Would I welcome having a classroom full of iPads? Of course I would! But I’ll always keep in mind that what technology I use is not the most important factor.

As Ewan McIntosh once very aptly put it: It’s not about the tech, it’s about the teach.

Photo by eschipul

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  1. Hi José,

    I’ve read both your post and Laura Doggett’s and whilst I wasn’t going to comment, I can’t resist anymore. To kids, I really don’t think it matters if you give them paper, pens, a Nintendo DS or an iPad. As I have found out at first hand, unless you can find a way to engage learners with the tech you are using, it’s going to be pointless. I’ve tried hundreds of different applications over the last few years, and am now happy with the dozen or so that I know work with my students. That’s not to say that I won’t continue experimenting, but I don’t reckon that you will convince people that iPads are the answer to anything. I agree with you totally that the tech is irrelevant – it’s the imagination, skill, and vision of the teacher to make it work.

  2. A belated response to this posting:

    I agree. Technology itself is not the answer. This topic comes up over and over again – and rightly so. We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s what we do with the technology that counts not the technoology itself. See my posting in my ICT4LT blog headed “Technology v. pedagogy – lest we forget…”, 5 December 2009:
    http://ictforlanguageteachers.blogspot.com/2009/12/httpmarisaconstantinidesedublogsorg2009.html
    My posting was sparked by a posting headed “Don’t forget the pedagogy” in another blog maintained by Marisa Constantinides. Lively debate!

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