A message to Auntie

Now and then, just to fall in step with the tabloid press, BBC News resorts to sensationalist headlines. I'm not sure why they do it, because they already have a huge global audience and they don't need to hype themselves. But one of The BBC's most recent headlines is a little misleading.

Yesterday, 'Auntie' (the affectionate nickname we Brits give the BBC) ran this headline: Computers 'do not improve' pupil results says OECD.

Predictably, the somewhat negative spin in the article provoked a small storm of social media comments and TV interviews, while the anti-technology brigade gleefully rubbed their hands. Earlier, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) had released the results of a survey on the use of technology in schools. Its director of education and skills Andreas Schleicher had said among other things that 'technology had raised too many false hopes.' The BBC article then went on to quote Tom Bennett who said: 'teachers have been dazzled by school computers.' Reading this, you might think the BBC was itself anti-technology in schools wouldn't you? But if you don't read the entire story and simply take in the headline and opening salvo, or fail to get to heart of the OECD report, you won't see the full picture.

Anyone who takes time to read through the OECD report summary will see that it is actually very positive about the use of technology in schools. It's certainly more positive than Auntie's article. It calls for new approaches to integrating technology into teaching, because at present technology use is not optimal.  It would be mindless to read this report and then simply dismiss technology as having no place in schools. What the report is actually saying is that technology is no substitute for good pedagogy. All teachers would agree with this. It also suggests that technology can be a distraction for students if it is poorly deployed. Again, there is no argument with this. Both conclusions tell us more about the pedagogy prevalent in schools than they do about the potential of technology.

The study reports that in schools where they use technology more, children's grades suffer. So technology prevents good grades? Care needs to be taken here. Far too many variables are unconsidered for us to make any firm conclusions about such statistics. To conclude that the more children use technology the lower their grades will be, is tenuous at best, and at worst absolutely misleading.

The bottom line is this - if used appropriately, technology can, and often does make learning more engaging, and it has the potential to transform educational environments. Schleicher has gone on record to say this in recent TV interviews. The key word is 'appropriately'. The crux of the matter is that many schools have yet to find ways to embed technology. In the words of Andreas Schleicher himself: 'Technology can amplify great teaching, but just doesn't replace poor teaching.'

I have a message to Auntie: Please don't use sensationalist headlines to hype your news articles. Simply tell it like it is. We will respect you more if you do.

Related posts:

Mobile phones and iPads hamper learning!! by Neil Atkin
Pedagogy first, technology second by Steve Wheeler
Tech doesn't improve student results study: Why news reports like this are damaging by Claire Amos

Photo by Edward on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
A message to Auntie by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


AndrewJacobsLD said…
I've been waiting for someone in my PLN to articulate a reasoned and appropriate response to this story. Thanks Steve.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks, needed to be said mate. Check out Neil's post also (link above)
Kevin said…
Perhaps 'technology' is what has has caused Aunties to focus on the wrong metric to assess its achievement - a little like education do you think? Should there be a call to ban technology in reporting too citing it does little for journalism.
Anonymous said…
Great post Steve. I completely agree with everything you are saying. The headlines that I have seen in most media, not only in the UK but also abroad, are misleading.

There is a very good TED Talk by Richard Culatta (http://bit.ly/1FibSFr) that explains what causes the confusion when talking about the benefit of using technology in the classroom.

We also felt that something had to be said about it and wrote this article (http://bit.ly/1Y8i1ds) with suggestions to making the use of technology more effective.

All the best, Maya.
Martin King said…
I've been in edtech for over 35 years and was working in Edtech in the exciting early 1980's with Logo, Turtles, Commodor, Atari, Micro Mouse and of course the introduction of the BBC Micro.

From the 1980 to 1999 we could argue that computers in schools had an impact but since 2000 computers in schools have been appropriated and colonised by big systems thinkers to more efficiently deliver and performance manage education.

I was excited by the work of Xerox Palo Alto and MIT Media lab in the mid 1970s ... the Edtech situation in 2015 is not the future I imagined .. its more of a dystopia!

However ... outside of edtech I find the current period in technology much like the mid 1970s I mentioned above .. there is a lot of emerging nascent tech that has enormous potential - just like the tech of 1970/1980 period.

This is one of the most exciting times in technology I can remember!

Today we have AI, Robotics, IoT, AR, VR 3D printing, mobile and wearable all emerging into a "cambrian explosion" of new potential.

Education has to get over its obsession with computers and move on - the next decade is going to be very "interesting"!
Martin King said…

An image of an eBoard to represent the positive effect of technology in education?
Well articulated Steve. Perhaps the positive side of "sensationalizing" will be to stir discussion at the next ed tech purchase table...one would hope there will be at least one among them to raise the issue with hoping of making a dent on technology's Achilles heel - achieving high quality implementation (Gene E. Hall - university of Nevada)

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