In 1965, George Moore observed that the number of transisters in a dense integrated circuit doubles every year and predicted in 1975 that the doubling would continue every two years (Moore’s Law). This proved to be accurate for the next 40 years, yet recently it has been predicted that it has reached a saturation point, thus causing the rate of progress to slow significantly. In this post, I argue that we may be experiencing a similar effect with technology in education, specifically FE.
I want to set my stall out before you read on. I’m a huge advocate of learning technology and believe that it will play an important role in education going forward. I’ve written articles that have advocated the need to use technology, its importance and how to maximise its use here and here. However, just recently, I have started to question my thinking. In fact, last weekend at the UKFEChat Conference, Tom Starkey’s brilliant presentation on ‘Ed Tech and You’ got me reflecting upon my initial exuberance. Amjad Ali followed Tom’s presentation with a lovely post entitled ‘Don’t start with the APP, start with the gap’. In this post Amjad comments on the fact that many, including himself have chosen the APP over the gap (the learning need).
I reflect on my use of technology and to be frank, I did this too. I jumped on every new app and piece of software going. Like Tom, I to loved shiny new things, regardless of what they did. I was trying new technology in every lesson. I was heralded as a pioneer, a beacon of best practice, damn I even became a Google Certified Teacher! To what end though? In retrospect, I’m not convinced that the learners I supported actually got the best deal. Sure, they had a bit of fun and learnt new digital skills in my class, but did they learn the core knowledge and skills any better than those taught in a more traditional classroom? Now this is no RCT, but my results were no better than other teaching staff if I’m honest.
I know I wasn’t alone in embracing and running with new technology in the ‘early years’ and I hope that I’m not alone in realising that there is a place for it and that place is when it serves a purpose – filling a gap. Aside from the fact that the technology I was using may not have had the impact I first thought, it seems less and less innovative software/apps are appearing – just more of the same stuff. I haven’t seen anything of late which has solved a problem. Sharing information and marking work was a whizz when I first came across Google Drive. Typing up marking and reports using ‘talk to text’ on my phone saved me hours of typing time, but that’s relatively old hat. Are we experiencing education’s version of Moore’s Law?
I couldn’t write this blog without mentioning the work of FELTAG. I’ve worked at three institutions since the initial recommendations and have spoken to many peers across the sector, but get the sense that things are slowing in this regard too. Though it has been great having a powerhouse in the sector and there’s no doubt that some institutions have embraced it, the vast majority are moving at a very slow pace (though this may not be a bad thing). I know of many institutions that are adopting the whole 10% thing, but it’s not always being done in the spirit of FELTAG, rather it’s being used as an opportunity to make savings. Sticking 20 learners in a room for an hour to complete a blended learning activity without a teacher isn’t, in my opinion, the intention of the proposals. Having said this, the work of Hattie (2009) has shown low ES for both distance learning (0.09) and web learning (0.15), so I’m not convinced that sending learners away to do this sort of thing is the answer either.
The once bright flame of FELTAG is fading, a quick look at their website shows that the last news post was March 2015. This is in no part a reflection of the great intentions, but more of the priorities of a sector trying to save itself. But what next? There’s no doubt that technology will play a role in the future, yet in my humble opinion, moving forward more work needs to be done with the awarding organisations – those that create the curriculum we deliver. They need to build a curriculum that can allow for a different type of pedagogy, then we may see things speed up a bit.
I will remain optimistic and going forward in my new role as a Teacher Trainer will continue to use technology to fill the gap, but unless we see something worthwhile, you won’t find me embracing tech in the same way I did several years ago.