Using ed-tech – getting it just right.

Over the last week or so, some podcasts I have listened to as well as conversation with colleagues has got me really thinking about our use of technology in the classroom. It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but that I wanted to consdier in more detail. Whilst one of the examples I give is specific to Spanish, I am trying to talk here in general terms, not just about MFL.

In her interview on Naylor’s Natter, Nicole Ponsford related the use of edtech to goldilocks, an anaology I had heard applied to other areas before, but which really resonated with me. Essentially, the idea is that use of edtech needs to not be too cold, not be too hot but just right. This reminded me of recent conversations with colleauges about the use of certain tools in the MFL classroom. Some colleagues are really keen on them and use them all the time, others think that we shouldn’t be using them at all. This blog post aims to explain why I think that the opinions that sit at either end of the spectrum are wrong and how I think we can get our porridge to be just the right temperature (I’ll stop there with the analogy, I promise). Also just as I started to write this post I saw that Kate Jones had put out a podcast episode on technology in the classroom, so there is likely to be some content here that has been influenced by that – for a start she reminded me of the EEF report on digital technology that I will refer to.

The four main things that the EEF report talks about are:

  • Consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before introducing it.
  • Technology can be used to improve the quality of explanations and modelling.
  • Technology offers ways to improve the impact of pupil practice.
  • Technology can play a role in improving assessment and feedback.

I am going to focus this post on pupil practice as opposed to explanations, modelling, assessment or feedback. With this in mind, two of the points from the EEF are important to us, considering how the tech will improve teaching and learning and the impact on pupil practice. A particularly useful quote from the report is the following:

Technology can be engaging and motivating for pupils. However, the relationship between technology, motivation, and achievement is complex.

EEF, Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning

I also took part in a Future Learn course run by the Chartered College of Teaching called Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning which is well worth your time if this is a topic you are interested in.

Over the course of this post I am going to discuss the pitfalls of technolgy and some of the ways that I think we are doing it wrong. I will then use a set of questions I think we should always ask ourselves to make sure we are making the best use of tech in the classroom.

Full disclosure, I know I am completely guilty of doing a number of the things that I am about to mention. I want to share for people that may not have realised they are guilty of these things and, like me, want to make a positive change whilst still using edtech in their classroom.

Using technology as a time filler. Got to the end of the lesson earlier than anticipated and decided to throw in a quick activity that hadn’t fully been planned. It’s easy to do, and if you’ve got a good bank of resources and the routines established for doing this effectively (to be discussed later), this could work. If you haven’t, it can become a throwaway activity that will affect how students see this in future.

Using quizzes etc that aren’t set up with exactly the content you have been working on. I’m definitely guilty of this one. Planning in a hurry and using sets that maybe I’ve not completely checked. If they’re standard sets from textbooks then it’s probably fine, but you never know the errors you’re going to come across or the alternative vocabulary that students won’t recognise. Depending on the students this could have benefits, they need to know that synonyms exist. But for some students this will just be confusing.

Not spending the time really setting it up for the most benefit. One of my biggest worries is when we use tools such as quizlet live or gimkit that generate the multiple choices for us. Let me give an example, students need to find the correct word to describe a blue book. They know the word for book (el libro) well already, so what they’re focusing on is finding blue with the correct adjective agreement. Which one of these questions is going to make them think more and which one are they going to know without having to think much at all?

  • Los libros azules
  • El libro azules
  • Los libro azules
  • El libro azul


  • El estuche verde
  • El ordenador azul
  • La ventana roja
  • El libro azul

Spending time making sure the questions are constructed well is really important, if they can answer all the questions without really having to think about it then what’s the point?

Allowing technology to be more about the fun than the learning. Students can get so swept up in the excitment of some of these activities it becomes more about that than the learning. In some students this will mean random guessing of answers to get through them quicker, worrying more about what others are doing or general rowdy behaviour rather than any sort of real focus on the learning.

The key for me is to always relate any use of tech in the classroom to the teaching and learning. I find the following questions useful guidance for this:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • Is this tool definitely going to do this? How do I know?
  • What is my pedagogical rationale for this choice?
  • Why is this better than the low-tech alternative?
  • Am I using this just for the sake of some fun/bells and whistles?
  • How am I checking that students are really getting the most out of this?

If we are asking ourselves these questions every time we plan to use tech in our classroom, I think we will be making more effective use of it.

The questions here that revolve around checking that the tool we are using is going to definitely going to achieve what we need are by far the most important. Let’s face it, every now and again it’s ok to do something because we (teachers and students) enjoy it, and the tech doesn’t always have to be better than the low tech option – but it does have to be at least as good. As long as you, the teacher, have clear pedagogical rationale for your choice of activity, go for it! But it is this pedagogical rationale that I worry we are sometimes lacking.

A key consideration as far as I’m concerned is whether the activity is going to help students long term retention or if it is going to give them a false confidence. It’s important that we are selecting activities that students need to think about, after all ‘memory is the residue of thought’ (D.T.Willingham, 2010). Also, we need to make sure we aren’t doing too much massed practice and instead that we are spacing the practice over time (for more information, see The Learning Scientists and I also wrote a blog on a conference of theirs that I attended. I’d only be rehashing the same information here if I went into more detail.

What are we doing as a follow up? Are we expecting students to do something immediately with this learning? Is it part of their homework? Students need to apply the knowledge afterwards and know that what they just did on their devices was for a purpose, not just for fun. Whilst on the topic of fun, we need to establish clear routines so that students know that these activities are just as important as any other and not just for the fun of it. Have you ever had a student decided they’re not going to login or quit part way through becuase ‘there’s no point, I’m not going to win’? Clearly we can’t be using tools like this if there are students who won’t benefit from it at all.

In this post I haven’t chosen to list each tool that I know of along with the advantages and disadvantages of using it. I haven’t chosen to give my judgement on any particular tools or the teachers that use them. However, what I have done is set out what I consider to be really important questions in using these tools. If you can answer those questions and be happy and confident in your responses, keep going. If not, maybe it’s time to consider some tweaks to how we use tech in our lessons to ensure it’s the best thing for all involved.

I’ll consider a future post where I walk through my responses to those questions related to different activities I might do in my lessons, good or bad.

I know there will be loads of thoughts on this, so please comment or get in touch on twitter.

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