Technology in the classroom

27th February 2019

Technology in the classroom

By Peter Clements

Associate ELT-Consultant

In this digital age it’s important for teachers to take a critical, principled approach to the use of technology in the classroom. Some teachers, including me, have plenty of tech available for use in their context – interactive whiteboards (IWBs), tablets, internet access, and so on. However, having such resources doesn’t guarantee that they will be used appropriately.

Our teaching centre recognised this recently. After a series of observations, trainers and managers reported that lessons in our centres were often tech-heavy. Teachers were becoming reliant on the technology at their disposal, although this wasn’t necessarily enhancing the lesson. In an attempt to address this, trainers set up a ‘tech-free teaching’ competition. Teachers were encouraged to switch off their IWBs (used far too often as just a presentation tool), put the phones away and plan engaging lessons minus the screen time. I understand the sentiment, but as an edtech advocate I felt this approach failed to address the key issue. We shouldn’t be opting out of using the tech available, but instead we should try to establish how best to integrate it.

Technology is, for us lucky ones, just another resource we can utilise in class. That doesn’t mean that just because technology is available it should be utilised. The same applies in our context to coursebooks – if the content is relevant, engaging, and is likely to facilitate learning then great, make use of it. However, don’t do so without considering the value of the resource in achieving the lesson aims or meeting learner needs. Select appropriate activities, reject others, adapt if needed, supplement, etc.

The process of selecting, rejecting and adapting is equally relevant to the use of edtech. The SAMR Model, devised by Ruben Puentedura (2009) outlines four different categories of technology integration in the classroom.

S – Substitution: technology is used in place of an existing non-tech classroom tool, but there is no functional improvement.

A – Augmentation: technology is a substitute for an existing tool, and there are some functional improvements

M -Modification:  technology allows for significant task redesign

R – Redefinition: technology allows for the creation of new tasks which were previously impossible.

The model is divided in two sections – substitution and augmentation enhance learning tasks, while modification and redefinition transform the tasks. Puentedura suggests that transformation categories have a more significant effect on learning.

You can find some clear, practical examples of SAMR on the Emerging EdTech site, and this video from John Spencer also offers a good introduction.

The SAMR Model is useful guidance for teachers looking to integrate technology in the classroom. Personally, the model has helped me recognise that some of the tech-based approaches I have used in the past may not have been as effective as I once thought. An example is my use of Quizlet, the digital flashcard tool. There are certainly some functional benefits in using Quizlet as opposed to traditional paper flashcards, such as how easy it is for learners to undertake spaced practice in their own time. However, based on student feedback and self-reflection I found that my use of this tool in class focused mainly on enhancement rather than transformation. That’s not to say that enhancing learning tasks is a bad thing, but this feedback prompted me to search for more transformative uses of this tool. I tried to go beyond the enhanced function of digital flashcards that Quizlet offers, and devised tasks for learners to edit, evaluate, and collaborate on the creation of their own study sets.

Evaluating a tech tool and establishing how it can be used for more transformative purposes isn’t always easy. I find that Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Andrew Churches) is a good source of inspiration in this instance – you can find a good infographic explaining the Taxonomy here (via Global Digital Citizen). 

While the SAMR Model is useful, there are other models which go into greater detail regarding the processes involved in technology integration. A particularly good resource is the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM). This provides a clear outline of the stages of integration, along with examples of how learners and teachers might interact with the technology at each level. This matrix categorises integration into five different stages – entry, adoption, adaption, infusion and transformation.

What does this all mean to my practice?

It is very useful to refer to models such as SAMR, TIM or Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy when planning lessons. If you are considering using a new tech tool in class, you might want to ask yourself some questions beforehand, such as:

Are the classroom tasks undertaken with this tool enhancing the lesson?

Is the tool more than just a substitute for a non-tech resource? If so, how?

Can the tool be used in any way to transform learning tasks?

What am I asking learners to do using this tool (e.g. identify, find, categorise, create, etc)? Where do these actions feature on Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy?

Can I address high-order thinking skills (such as evaluation and creation) using this tool?

Devising your own ‘checklist for effective tech-tools’ based on the aforementioned models may prove worthwhile. It might be time-consuming in the first instance, however it would be recyclable and may save classroom time in the long run as tech-use becomes more principled.

It is also important to reflect on our use of tech in the evaluation stage of a lesson. The most important aspect of this evaluation (in my opinion) is to gather feedback from your learners. What impact do they feel the tool has on their learning? When gathering such feedback, be careful not to reject a tech-tool based only on feedback from one group of learners. I have recently experimented with the use of backchannel chats in class – while these seemed gimmicky to one group of students, another group reported that the tool offered a more authentic context for conversation and was highly-engaging. Whatever tech tools you choose to experiment with, ensuring that your planning is informed by learner feedback, however forthcoming learners are with this, is fundamental.


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