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Five mistakes to avoid when using technology as a teaching tool

Increasingly, digital technology is a regular feature in lessons across the curriculum across all key stages. Technology can be a great way to engage students and to bring learning alive through the use of video, interactive apps or a real life audience across the world using social media or tools like Skype.

If you’re planning a lesson which relies on the use of digital technology as a teaching tool, there are a few common pitfalls you should take care to avoid (we’ve all been here…)

Thinking your role as teacher is redundantClassroom-technology
There are some absolutely fabulous apps and websites available, many of which are designed to teach students and they do so very well. However, this doesn’t mean that the technology replaces us as the teacher. Whilst our learners may be relatively independent for the lesson, there are several ways in which our knowledge as teachers can be used to facilitate learning. For example, we can:

  • Ensure that pupils are appropriately stretched and challenged – some will be tempted to stick with learning at a lower level than they may be capable of trying.
  • Facilitate problem solving – conversely, some students will try to stretch themselves as far as possible and may become stuck. A skilled teacher can often help a student to work their way around an issue and apply what they’ve learnt so far to help them aim higher in a way that the technology alone cannot.
  • Set the learning in context by helping pupils to understand how the activities they’re completing fit within the broader curriculum and considering what skills and knowledge they’re drawing on.

Assuming that technology = engagement
Another common mistake is assuming that as soon as we introduce digital technology to a lesson, that students will automatically be engaged with the lesson content. Whilst this may often be true, the only way to ensure this is to set the learning into a relevant context and do our due diligence when it comes to planning, especially when considering how to differentiate our lesson for our most and least able learners.

Remember that a students’ digital competence may not match their mastery of the lesson content, so consider both how to stretch and engage the learner who is an able technologist but has a shaky grasp of the lesson content as well as thinking how to best enable the learning of students for whom the lesson content poses less challenge but for whom the technology may prove more of a hurdle.

Insisting you must ‘be the teacher’
Before teaching a lesson using digital technology it is, of course, important that we’ve gained a fair understanding of the various technologies we hope to employ. However, if during the lesson it becomes clear that some students need more support in the use of technology, whilst sometimes it makes sense for us to step in as teacher, sometimes a fellow student can do the job as well, if not better, than we can. Allowing students to take on the role of teacher can be beneficial both to the student giving and the student receiving support. The student asking for support will receive an answer which is closer to their own abilities, understanding and spoken ‘in their language’ whilst the student giving support will benefit from a boost in self-esteem and will also have the chance to consolidate their own understanding. In these lessons, our role often becomes primarily one of facilitator rather than leader.

Being terrified it will all go wrong
If we walk into a lesson terrified that technology will fail us then it’s more likely that it will because we’re ready to fall apart at the slightest technical hitch and are half-expecting to have to watch our lesson fall into disarray.

With appropriate preparation and understanding of the technologies being employed, it is rare that things will go catastrophically wrong. You can increase the chances of the lesson running smoothly by:

  • Doing a complete run through testing all the technology – are you sure you know how it all works?
  • Re-testing everything just before the lesson starts – it’s not uncommon for sound that was working to turn itself off, or for firewalls to appear from nowhere or for network connections to be inexplicably lost. Discovering this a few minutes before a lesson starts rather than just as you’ve asked 30 pupils to log into the learning puts you in a far better position.
  • Having some super users – if there are some students in your class who are especially good with technology, ask them to become your super-users and brief them ahead of tech heavy lessons so they know what technology you’ll be using and they can help to facilitate the lesson and lend a hand if things go wrong. Especially with older students, you’ll find that there is a great degree of digital knowledge and competence in the room and many students will invite being asked to draw on this skill and expertise and will often be able to help you out of any digital disasters.

Not having a back up plan
All that said, there is no excuse for not having a back up plan. Sometimes technology goes irretrievably wrong and there is nothing at all you can do. The website you planned to use goes down for maintenance at a crucial time, the school’s internet connection goes on the blink or a fuse blows somewhere… or perhaps students just don’t engage with the task in the way you had hoped.

In any of these situations we need to hold a plan in mind about how we can rescue the lesson before it fails completely. Having a back up plan in mind will also give you more confidence when battling gremlins as the situation is less desperate.

Utilised well, technology can be a great tool for learning – don’t be scared of it, but equally, never assume it can supplant you as the teacher. Good luck!

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Using iPads in the English / Maths / Science Classroom

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