technology in Australian schools

‘Click bait’ hijacks the real story about technology in Australian schools

A recent education report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said, among many other things, young people first “need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitized society of the 21st Century”. It went on to make tenuous links between too much technology and falling literacy and numeracy, but first warned, quite early in the report, that “the findings must not lead to despair”.

That was all it took. What followed was a media frenzy, here and overseas, which produced a range of very negative stories. For example: “Are iPads a waste of money? OECD report says yes” stated The Age; in the Huffington Post in the United States: “Putting more technology in schools may not make kids smarter: OECD Report”; and in the United Kingdom the title of a BBC News story “Computers ‘do not improve pupils results says OECD”.

If you look closely at the report Students, Computers and Learning, which uses results from the 2012 PISA computer-based assessment of ICT literacy of students aged 15 in 31 countries across the globe, it is saying there is much good news. The leaps of logic in the interpretation and application of findings in the report picked up by various media outlets are considerable and unfortunate.

The examples I gave are just three of at least twelve damaging stories I read after the report’s release. They show how complex education issues in schools, and for principals, teachers, students and jurisdictions are increasingly reduced to the ‘education sound bite’. This kind of reportage serves as click bait for online readers.

Politicians may then take what reporters say as ‘gospel’. However, far more insidious, is the harmful effect such headlines have on teacher morale and the public’s view of education and schools more generally.

The real story about technology in Australian schools

In 2015 teachers’ work in technology-enhanced learning in classrooms in NSW is exciting. I have carried out research in a number of Australian primary and high schools since 2011 and my research shows there is good progress with technology enhanced learning and the pace is hastening. This research is ongoing.

Students are doing tech well in many Australian schools. They are stepping up to embrace the challenges that learning effectively with technologies demands. Results in student assessment in these schools show this. However connectivity in many schools is still far from ideal and even within major cities it is variable.

I agree with the OECD report where it states, “young people do want to be taught how to search more effectively”. My recent research indicates that. It also demonstrates that in some high schools in particular classrooms, students want teachers to leave behind the industrial model of “talking at them”, using “mindless work sheets” and “copying endless notes off the board”. Students desire many more opportunities to problem solve, work in teams, carry out long-term real-world projects, create films/animations, and use inquiry and project-based learning. The OECD report says this too.

I know from first hand experience that technology inequities exist in our schools and the “digital divide” is real. I also understand most schools make provisions for providing computers and other mobile devices to students who cannot afford them.

Something that has not been reported widely is that groundbreaking programs like the Digital Education Revolution (DER) meant for the first time every student from Year 9 onwards in an Australian public school had access to a small technological device. The program was not perfect but what it did do effectively (and there are evaluations that show this) is it placed technology in the hands of students who could not normally afford it. DER served to ‘whet the appetite’ of technological things to come, like educational apps, augmented reality, 3D printing, maker labs, geo spatial technologies, code and digital games. It enabled tech-savvy ‘early adopter teachers’ to play with technology, to see how it changed core concepts and how learning inside classrooms could be more engaging and motivating for young people, whose ‘digital bedrooms’ at home were a parallel universe to their lives at school.

Technology hardware and software is expensive. Governments must replace outdated equipment. Provide more time for professional development. This is vital investment that will allow teachers, as the OECD report contends, to become “active agents of change”.

I am about to start teaching a digital technologies course in a doctoral program for teachers in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in the United States. This is relevant because yesterday the school received a $5.6M gift from an alumnus. The donor, who wanted to remain anonymous, hopes the philanthropic commitment will inspire others. “Without properly trained teachers, our country would not have an educated population. Teachers are critical if we want a strong and vibrant society,” said the donor.

We need the Australian public and politicians to understand, and actively support, what is going on in our schools and in teacher education in universities, but how can we do this when complex issues are reduced to the lowest common denominator in the media? We are doing all educators a disservice when stories about technology in schools are hijacked as ‘click bait’.


Jane Photo copyDr Jane Hunter teaches pre-service teachers in curriculum, pedagogy and technology enhanced learning in the School of Education at Western Sydney University. She is a researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the same institution. Jane is the author of Technology integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK, New York: Routledge published earlier this year. In March 2016 she is a keynote speaker at the Future Schools Conference in Sydney.


Why aren’t more teachers involved in educational technology innovations?

My professional interest as an educator is in technology and gamification, so with high expectations I attended the Teacher Tank 2015 last  week, a teachmeet  pitched to educators who “love to use innovative tools in the classroom” but get “frustrated by the lack of focus on learning of today’s EdTech products”.

We were given pitches for four early stage products aimed at teachers and schools. For me they were of varying educational value and two of them were arguably creating products to sit in an already overcrowded marketplace. The detail of the proposed products is not important. What was significant is that all four were initiated by people outside education.

My question is why are educators so very rarely the people pitching these edtech solutions? Why do tech people believe they can drive the educational innovation while educators and people on the academic and discipline side of the equation don’t think this way? I can’t remember when I last heard a story of a startup project initiated by an educator who found technical partners.

In the field of innovation in games and game-inspired spaces, the area I am most interested in, I see this pattern repeated over and over. And I have to continually ask why are educators not the instigators and founders of many of the products being sold into education?

I see people with many and varied corporate, enterprise and financial backgrounds launching and leading projects with a goal to selling to schools, children or (the new workaround) straight to parents. Many of these products are systems based and I am not sure they are answering a real need in education or have taken much advice from educators before getting some way down the track.

Sometimes I despair that the dominant thinking is that everyone went to school and now everyone has a child at school and is therefore an expert on schooling. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard in the past month a startup spokesperson, or marketing team manger for a product, use their own children as the example of why this or that educational solution is vital to education.

In April the prestigious ASU + GSV Summit, marketed as “The Must-Attend Event for Education Technology Investors” demonstrated that education is the new black for technology innovation. With serious large funders in the USA like Intel and Global Silicon Valley Capital (GSV) investing in new educational technology accelerators. Michael Moe Chairman and CEO of GSV Capital gave an excellent keynote  (well worth spending the time on) but if you scan the conference sessions and look at the players who are vested in driving educational innovation there are too few with education in their background. For me, that is the problem.

It’s not that people looking into education who are not educators could not define new or better solutions. But more respect should be paid to professional educators and what they could bring to the design if they were engaged early in the project. You wouldn’t create a program to reform banking processes without first bringing in the expert in financial planning to give advice. But when it comes to education we are relegated to being the end users, play testers or focus groups and are not seen as experts to be consulted.

The pattern looks something like this: ex banking consultants decide on a product idea and bring on a tech design team; when the product has some shape, form and funding they invite feedback from educators.

So that feedback is as users not as subject matter experts or partners. And too often the feedback is treated as optional for the developers to act on. Often the designers and developers are so far down a track, or invested, that they are unwilling to wind back features because of this expert feedback.

Which bring me to ask, why are fewer than expected educators the instigators of these new solutions? Where is the space that a teacher with a great idea for a new educational product or solution can go to find partners to realise the technical and architectural design?

One group missing from the pitches last week (it was a last minute cancellation) was Generation Entrepreneur , created by a group of year 11 students from Baulkham Hills High School. We need to see more of this kind of positive action in edtech.

Generation Entrepreneur was designed as a reaction to how poorly the students felt entrepreneur education was handled in the curriculum. In one year they have attracted lots of in-kind support from the startup sector. These truly are insiders in the educational process and they have big goals to reform the system. Significantly, they were prepared to knock down doors to be noticed.

Maybe we educators need to take a leaf out of the Generation Entrepreneur book, be much more audacious and stop waiting to be offered a place at the innovation table.


BronHeadDr Bronwyn Stuckey, is a Specialist in Gamification, Community of Practice and Open Badges. She has been engaged in educational community and gameful practices in learning development for the past 15 years. She has worked to explore virtual worlds, games in learning and how we can cultivate identity, agency, citizenship, leadership, and community. Bronwyn earned her PhD in researching the core factors supporting successful online communities of practice. Since leaving lecturing and learning design in the higher education sector (OTEN, UOW, QUT, UWS) her research, consultation and design have been in gamification and game-inspired designs for professional learning and communities of practice.

Bronwyn has consulted in K-12, adult and workplace learning contexts in relation to communities of practice, games based learning and aspects of gamification. She is a co-facilitator of the Open Badges Australia and New Zealand (OBANZ) community and has for the past 2 years researched the efficacy of open badges in re-imagining and re-framing academic learning programs and contexts. She is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Arizona State University Center for Games & Impact and is global leader in the gamification for community and identity cultivation. Bronwyn is also lead member of the Sydney Education Technology Group  working to support edutech startups and to make Sydney the hub of educational entrepreneurship.