Now you see IT Technology works best when it's invisible

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I’m delighted to be participating in the iPedagogy event coming up in November. In the run-up to the event the organisers asked me to write an article for their blog, which is published here and you can read below:

Last week we handed out just short of 400 iPads to pupils in years 7 and 12 and new staff in the first phase of our staged 1:1 iPad implementation. This initial roll out was preceded by months of research, rigorous preparation and a multitude of staff training sessions exclusively dedicated to tablets and other digital tools. Pupils have also spent a great deal of the last week immersed in iPad-related vocabulary and syntax: setting up their iCloud accounts, configuring their Exchange email addresses and enrolling on our Mobile Device Management program. Witnessing how words and phrases that were completely foreign to many of us can quickly gain currency and become part of the vernacular is remarkable.

In a sense, the focus we have placed on technology over the last few months and, especially, this last week, is precisely the polar opposite of the main stated aim of our digital strategy, which is to make technology invisible – like plumbing or electricity. This is because we believe that technology is at its most effective when it goes unnoticed, when it’s just there when it’s needed, on tap. When it comes to technology integration in schools, invisibility is indeed a superpower.

However, this is much more easily said than achieved. As teachers and pupils are suddenly faced with a bewildering smorgasbord of new apps, iBooks, iTunes U courses and seemingly overwhelming array of media rich resources, not to mention ubiquitous access to the sum of all human knowledge, the technology is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But this is to be expected at this stage.

The key is not to remain at this stage for long. What is really striking about schools where tablets have been around for a while is just how normal and ordinary having one is. Technology use in these schools is so ingrained that teachers and pupils are often unaware that they are using it. As far as they are concerned, they are just teaching or they are just learning – the fact that technology is being used is completely incidental.

We often refer to the transformative potential of technology with unbridled enthusiasm. But we must be able to recognise that the truly transformative potential lies within us, because it’s not what technology is used that matters, but how it is used. Or not used, for knowing when to use technology is as important as knowing when not to. Once everyone understands that technology is just a tool and and that teaching and learning are the only things that matter, technology tends to fade into the background.

This is not to say technology isn’t valuable or that its impact is minimal. Much like plumbing or electricity, truly great educational technology should only come to our notice when the supply stops. Of course it is possible to teach and learn without digital tools, but if technology is there to support and improve the processes involved in teaching and learning, why would you want to?

Education theorist Thomas Carruthers wrote early in the 20th century “a teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. His words still carry enormous significance today, early in the 21st century. Were he still around, I wonder if he would agree with my conclusion that great technology is that which that makes itself progressively invisible.

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