What role for learning technologies in reform of the Junior Cycle?

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection has met twice in the past month to discuss issues related to learning technologies.   Firstly, to discuss digital literacy in schools with Department of Education representatives and then with two ‘eLearning’ providers to look at college and school-based online learning.

It’s no coincidence that these conversations are happening whilst there is growing anecdotal evidence of wider technology adoption by Irish schools, particularly at post-primary level.  And at the same time, there is a national programme to implement a new Junior Cycle framework, which itself offers the potential for greater engagement with technology.

We know from our own experience in the Learnovate Centre that there is a vibrancy about the learning technologies space at the moment, particularly in K-12 education.  From start-ups through to established SMEs and multi-nationals, there is a level of innovation which means that schools in Ireland have world-class technologies right on their doorstep.

Technologists will tell you that technology can do anything.  And they are right.  However, implementation experience for K-12 in other countries also tells us that technology on its own will not necessarily deliver increases in learning performance.  The ‘light a fire, stand back and watch’ approach doesn’t work, particularly in K-12 education.

So, we find ourselves at a very interesting juncture in the development of our education system, particularly for our Junior Cycle cohort.  Reform of the curriculum is about to change the way that our students learn.  And these curriculum reforms and new assessment arrangements open up the possibility for greater engagement with technology: for students, teachers and parents.

Opportunities to implement real change don’t come along very often – here are a few simple, high-level guidelines for implementing learning technologies in K-12 based on our own research and experiences:

  1. Design the technology around the learning and teaching, not the other way around.  The technology is the means, not the end.
  2. There are no ‘silver bullet’, off the shelf solutions.  Take the best of what is available and adapt it to the unique requirements of the learners and the curriculum.
  3. Invest in training and development for teachers – technology is enabling new models of teaching as well as learning.  Identify innovative pedagogical frameworks within which teachers can effectively deploy technology to enhance learning.
  4. Delivery of a curriculum requires content – and we live in a world where information is in abundance online.   But such content requires curation, context and interface to make sense of it.
  5. Integrate assessment as part of the solution.  If students are required to generate evidence, give them opportunities to do so digitally.  If teachers are being asked to provide feedback, give them the tools and methodologies to do so online.
  6. Infrastructure is key.  Some infrastructure services (e.g. connectivity, authentication, data protection) demand universal, national provision.  Others (e.g. devices) can be more distributed but must be platform agnostic.  Otherwise, implementation will be patchy and uneven.