Forget the technology wonderkids – it’s the practitioners who really count when it comes to learning

Have the technology ‘wonderkids’ blinded many learning professionals with technology?

It’s my view that at some point in the past few years of the education technology revolution that the kit has moved away from its original supporting role as a tool to enable learning. It’s taken a starring role. The end – better learning – has in some cases been eclipsed by the means – the technology.

The early years sector has not been immune from the influence of the technology industry’s gurus and bright young things. Each comes preaching a new ‘bright ‘idea, but few have any idea of what effective learning and pedagogy really looks like.

As a provider that uses technology as a servant to the learning process, we at chatta look on with a mixture of astonishment and fear at how iPads, apps and other devices are being used in some settings.

As techno-sceptics we believe it’s time to shift the spotlight back onto learning and the factors that make a profound difference to children’s healthy development.  And many of the practitioners that we meet around the country agree with us.

We’re not the only ones who are sceptical about using technology as some kind of ‘silver bullet’.

Studies, such as 2015’s OECD PISA report, paint a very mixed picture of technology’s impact on the progress and achievement amongst secondary-age students. It is our view that this is due to technology being used as a quick fix for better learning.

Indeed, it is clear to us that technology can have a toxic effect on learning. You often see this where children are the unwitting victims of an increasingly technology obsessed culture, often where it is used by parents ‘to keep children entertained’ or even more worryingly, where parents are driven to distraction by their own devices and social media. How often have you seen a family out for a meal with each adult and child staring at their smart phones?

The Education Endowment Fund’s 2012 report, The Impact of Digital Technology highlighted the need for technology to be used diligently. It tells us that “in researched interventions, technology is best used as a supplement to normal teaching rather than as a replacement for it. This suggests some caution in the way in which technology is adopted or embedded in schools.” We concur with this message and it applies to early years settings.

At chatta we believe that where technology is used, it should be as ‘a servant to learning’. It is an incidental part of what we do. The more profound and unique aspects of our approach are those that centre around the learning process itself and the pedagogical elements that help children to become confident communicators.

As the EEF’s early years toolkit tells us “technology on its own is unlikely to have impact; it must be accompanied by a change in pedagogy to improve learning.” It is by getting the learning process right – and not relying on the technology for answers or solutions – that we can ensure children develop the skills they need to become confident and healthy young people.

The chatta approach uses technology to capture memorable experiences and the oral narrative around those. However, much more significantly, it is the practitioner who uses the imagery and recordings to model language, encourage listening and reflection, engage parents and monitor progress. Twenty years ago this same process could have been supported by a good old analogue tape recorder, and, it if was used correctly, good progress would have been achieved. Don’t be fooled – iPads and their like have not created a revolution in learning outcomes by themselves. The point is that the technology changes, but – ultimately – it is the informed and skilled practitioner who secures children’s learning and progress.

Implementing a new approach to pedagogy such as ours (and particularly one that makes some use of technology) should never take place without adequate training and support. As the 2012 EEF report tell us: “At least a full day’s training or on-going professional inquiry-based approaches to support the introduction of new technology appear the most successful.

“Such support should go beyond the teaching of skills in technology and focus on the successful pedagogical use of technology to support teaching and learning aims.”

This is important in ensuring that technology doesn’t dominate the practitioner and the learning process. Technology should be the servant and practitioners should receive training to ensure that is the case. chatta places a lot of emphasis on staff training – which is integrated within the programme through practitioner guides, toolkits and a helpline. We are very clear: the learning process and the role of the practitioner is at the forefront of chatta’s approach – technology is a means to an end.

So, technology is certainly no silver bullet for improving children’s progress and language skills. It must be used in a way that serves the learning process, supports effective pedagogy, and by staff who are trained to use it. We’re working with practitioners to make sure this becomes a reality in more early years settings.