When used effectively, technology can support teachers in improving educational outcomes. So, let’s explore five evidence-informed principles for great teaching and consider how technology can be applied to help along the way.

1 Quality of instruction

It will come as no surprise that quality of instruction is key to raising attainment. Following their review of research behind effective teaching, Coe et al. (Coe et al., 2014) found that:

“As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.”

Effective teachers display strong subject knowledge as well as an understanding of how their students might interact with the content they deliver. Technology can encourage and facilitate students’ interactions with content, through a variety of media, both during and outside of lesson time.

Content management platforms, such as a school’s virtual learning environment (VLE), allow us to create digital learning spaces that support teachers’ delivery of content and learners’ access to it, when and where it may be required.

Take, for example, the research on testing: it turns out that, perhaps counter-intuitively, frequent low-stakes testing may be more effective at generating long-term recall than high-stakes end-of-unit and end-of-year exams. After presenting new material, you could consider using digital quizzing tools to generate frequent low-stakes tests, helping you to assess levels of understanding. The resulting data, generated automatically, can be hugely beneficial for informing the next steps of your lesson planning.

2 Classroom climate and management

Another principle that is essential to foster achievement is classroom climate and management:

“A teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place.” (Coe et al., 2014, p. 3)

Environmental factors within the classroom can affect student outcomes, and digital resources can help teachers to create an environment conducive to learning. For example, controlled access to the internet allows students to benefit from a wealth of relevant, appropriate, carefully-selected information. (Simply providing access to the internet in its full-but-bewildering glory is not good enough!) Online, teacher-curated resources will remain available to be tapped into whenever required, whether that’s during a lesson or as homework.

In the hands of a good teacher, electronic devices can contribute enormously to sustaining a productive learning environment during lessons. For example, tablets can be put to excellent use in lessons as portable interactive whiteboard input devices. Wireless projection of the tablet’s screen to the front of the classroom frees the teacher from being anchored to the board when teaching. Being able to stand anywhere in the classroom when interacting with the whiteboard or projector allows teachers to spend less time writing at the board with their backs to the pupils, thus providing new vantage points from which they can react to developments in lessons.

3 Metacognition and self-regulation

Metacognition and self-regulation strategies have been shown to boost attainment (EEF, 2018):

“Metacognition (sometimes known as ‘learning to learn’) and self-regulation approaches aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development.” 

The Education Endowment Foundation reports that metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress. While digital resources are often criticised for being a distraction in the classroom, they can also put in the hands of every student a set of powerful tools to help them manage their own learning. Teachers can minimise distraction by establishing and implementing clear rules and expectations around the use of technology.

Indeed, environments where technology is being used effectively are predicated on a culture that views it not just a means of entertainment, but as a tool that can boost students’ capacity for reflection. For example, can students draft and re-draft responses to teacher feedback more efficiently and in a more timely manner using digital resources? Can students access material online, such as modelled problems, part solutions or quizzes, that can help them regulate their own learning?

It is down to every school to carefully implement whichever context-dependent strategies they feel can contribute to  greater independent learning and self-regulation. The challenges and opportunities that come with the application of technology need to be considered within this wider context. Once again, technology should not be seen as the end, but the means.

4 Homework

Discussions about homework can quickly become emotive. Students can resent the extra work required, usually outside school hours, to complete it, and teachers to mark it. Pointless homework and ineffective, time-consuming marking practices do nothing to support attainment, but homework can be a targeted, well-designed strategy that supports learning and understanding.

Research examined by the EEF (EEF, 2018) suggests that homework interventions have moderate to high impact, though it depends on the quality of the homework set:

“There is some evidence that homework is most effective when used as a short and focused intervention (e.g. in the form of a project or specific target connected with a particular element of learning).”

The fact that students can word-process and research online is often what first comes to mind when we think of technology-aided homework, but the added ability to easily record and edit sound and video, for example, allows students to produce digital artefacts that help them document their learning and help their teachers assess and evaluate progress in ways that would have been inconceivable without such technology. However, this all depends on the quality of the teaching and the ability of the teacher to set clear, purposeful tasks in the first place.

5 Feedback

The fifth and final principle contributes enormously to great teaching and learning and is, of course, feedback:

“Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.” (EEF, 2018)

In recent years, a number of digital tools — not just the traditional VLE, but also Microsoft Office 365, Google for Education and a suite of apps such as Showbie or Sparkjar — have been developed that support the setting of tasks, collection of work and delivery of feedback. A growing number of schools rely on these tools to support the effective delivery of feedback in various media beyond the usual red pen marking and the establishing of teacher– pupil conversations. Some of these tools are more useful than others, and clearly professional judgement is required. Always remember, however, that feedback is very impactful but that this impact can be positive or negative. Digital tools can help with the frequency, timeliness and delivery of the feedback, but not the quality – that’s up to the teacher!

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • There is no app for great teaching. Don’t rely on technology to spontaneously improve teaching and learning; it’s how it’s used that matters.
  • Teachers need to know their subject and how to teach their subject effectively, and be discerning as to what digital technology is best for specific purposes in the teaching of their subject.
  • We shouldn’t view technology use as a panacea or a single intervention, but rather as an agent or multiplier of the effects of strategies and interventions that we know are effective in the classroom.

Mark Anderson shares his ideas on Research-Informed Ways Of Using #Edtech: https://ictevangelist.com/research-informed-ways-of-using-edtech-to-help-learners-revise-effectively/.


José Picardo is Deputy Head at Hampshire Collegiate School and author of Using Technology in the Classroom, published by Bloomsbury. José teaches languages and is interested in how pedagogy and technology can combine to produce great teaching and learning.

References

Coe R, Aloisi C, Higgins S, et al. (2014) What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. The Sutton Trust. Available at: https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/great-teaching/ (accessed 2018).
EEF (2018) Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Homework (Secondary)/ Metacognition and self-regulation/ Feedback. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit (accessed 2018).