Is your school using technology as a marketing gimmick? (Part 1)

(Part 1 of 2)

Is your school using shiny new gadgets to lure you into thinking that they have a forward-thinking educational program?

At Coding Kids, I’ve been hearing from parents that they are sometimes sceptical about the use of technology in the classroom. With the proliferation of computers, mandatory tablets and laptops in classrooms, ‘educational’ apps, games and robots that ‘teach’ children to code, and free online coding courses and games, it is becoming an endless task to sift through the increasing volume of coding education resources. It is not easy to identify the educational resources from the “educational” resources, but nevertheless a lot of these find their way into our homes and classrooms. In fact, more than 72% of the top apps for sale in Apple’s App Store come from the Toddler/Preschool category.

Proliferation of "educational" apps means it is harder to identify truly educational apps from the gimmicky ones.

Proliferation of "educational" apps means it is harder to identify truly educational apps from the gimmicky ones.

Here’s how you can find out about whether the technology in your classrooms are marketing gimmicks or education enhancing tools. We’ll also show how you can support your school in using technology as a tool to enhance educational outcomes.

Does your school use any of these?

  • iPads
  • 3D printers
  • robots
  • online coding courses
  • educational apps
  • games that teach kids to code

Are they shiny new tech gimmicks? Are they being sold to you as their ‘world class’, ‘high tech’, or ‘forward thinking’ educational programme?

Technology is just a tool. They are not the educational programme and they are not the teachers. They cannot replace a poor educational programme or a poor teacher. However, they can enhance the teaching experience.

Here are some stories from the ground:

No pedagogical strategy

A school was considering buying 3D printers. It was great to see their enthusiasm, but I noticed that they did not have a computer room. The school had 15 laptops in the library but this was not enough to have one per student with a usual class size of 25.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Issue:

My concern with this situation is that the school did not appear to have an overarching strategy that would help achieve digital literacy outcomes. A strategy would allow the school to make decisions that would prioritise classroom needs and lead to better educational outcomes as well as improve access to the new programs.

3d prints - increasing accessibility for students and schools

3d prints - increasing accessibility for students and schools

Solution:

I would prioritise the following: in the short-term provide a computer room where each student can access a computer, whether a desktop or laptop. This allows the entire class to access the new programs and not just a select few.

Digital literacy programs should not be limited to the high achieving students. Digital literacy is for everyone and actually my experience shows that students who normally under achieve in traditional academic environments are very capable of becoming a high achieving computer programmer because it does not follow and is very different to traditional educational methods.

Develop a program to explore digital literacy, problem solving, computer programming, and 3D design. After developing a program to achieve specific digital literacy outcomes, then and only then should the tools be identified e.g. 3D printers, circuitry or inventions kits.

Lack of authentic learning

You ask your child about their coding class at school. They tell you that they are “learning to code” using an online course. So then you ask them, “What project are you building? Are you building a game or an animation or solving a maths problem?” The child responds, “No, I’m just doing coding exercises.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Issue:

Completing online coding courses is probably a sign that the teacher is teaching themselves with the online course and is simply staying ahead of the students.

Online coding courses are great when you are: 1) already very enthusiastic about learning and 2) learning by yourself. But only using an online coding course means that students are missing out on so much that can be achieved in a classroom situation where you have access to someone who is proficient at coding and can create collaborative projects. Completing online coding courses is a last resort, it is what you do if you do not have access to a class or a teacher.

Solution:

If you have the benefits of a classroom environment and a teacher then the best way to learn to code is to build a project. Project based learning or authentic learning is what happens in the real world. Authentic learning is real life learning. It is a style of learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful product to be shared with their world.

No professional human programmer can know everything. Being a professional programmer means a lifelong journey of learning. So just like a professional programmer, start with a small, simple project and work your way towards larger, more complex projects.

What do I mean by a project? For most students, the most engaging way to learn to code is to build computer games or animations because they are already familiar with these, but now they get to build their own and personalise them. Once a student gains confidence in a programming language then they can start applying their programming knowledge in maths, science and entrepreneurship subjects.

Project based learning is more engaging, collaborative, exciting and effective than simply completing online coding exercises. It leads to transferable skills and entrepreneurial skills.

In Part 2 we will look at 3 more commonly used gimmicks:

  1. Extrinsic vs intrinsic drivers for learning

  2. All hardware, no (or a little bit of) software

  3. Schools that say "We solve real world issues"