It’s not the quantity of edtech in classrooms that matters. It’s how you use it.
Today’s classrooms boast more technology than ever before. In fact, a 2017 report from the Education Week Research Center notes that the number of laptops, tablets, netbooks, and other devices shipped annually to U.S. K-12 schools grew by 363 percent between 2010 and 2017, to nearly 14 million.
Not surprisingly, student use of technology in the classroom is also increasing steadily, with 58 percent of eighth graders and 41 percent of fourth graders saying that they use a computer in class at least once every few weeks. (These numbers are up from 32 and 22 percent, respectively, in 2005.)
While this data should be encouraging, the same analysis indicates that students who report using technology also say that they use it most often for rote tasks, such as drilling on math facts, rather than for activities that require critical thinking. As Richard Culatta, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), told Education Week, “One of my big concerns is that we are simply digitizing what we have always done. That’s not collaborative or empowering students.”
Research from John Hattie, professor of education and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, supports this belief. For nearly two decades, Hattie has published annual lists of the factors influencing student achievement. In 2017, Hattie ranked technology—including one-to-one laptops, mobile devices, online digital tools, interactive video, and gaming simulations (across academic subjects, student age groups, in person and at distance)—as having a slightly less-than-average effect on student achievement. This average impact was similar to that achieved with head start programs, creative thinking or collaborative learning initiatives, and even chess.
Hattie has noted that almost everything an educator does in the classroom helps students learn; the key is to focus on “what works best rather than on what simply works.”
How can we build classrooms rich in technology—and in innovation?
Helping schools move toward with what works best is the focus of a new paper by Dr. Sonny Magana, the founder of Magana Education.
In Achieving Transcendent Learning with Cisco Collaboration Solutions, Magana expresses optimism about the impact educational technology can have on student achievement. “Compounding evidence now suggests that large to very large gains in student achievement are possible when digital tools are leveraged to enhance highly reliable instructional and learning strategies,” he writes. “This new evidence strongly suggests a significant acceleration in students’ learning can be realized when learners wield digital tools to enhance the ways in which they apply or transfer their newly acquired knowledge into relevant and authentic contexts.”
Sonny Magana’s T3 framework
Magana offers a framework for innovation in education, T3, which organizes an evolution of educational technology adoption. Each of the three “Ts” in the framework—Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent—represents an area that, in turn, is divided into concrete, measurable strategies.
Translational use of technology is the starting point, that place described by students surveyed above where technology is automating some educational tasks and changing the way information is accessed and consumed: automation and consumption are the two elements that make up the Translational domain. Limiting use of technology to this domain, Magana argues, “may contribute to the low impact digital tools have had on student achievement.”
What does it take for technology to affect student achievement in a meaningful way?
The use of technology in a Transformational way enables students to reach goals they wouldn’t be able to attain without it. Here, Magana cites production and contribution, the creation of digital representations of knowledge and the use of these digital representations to share this knowledge with others. According to Magana, Transformational use of technology can have “an exceedingly large impact on student learning,” which, to use Hattie’s rankings “is equivalent to quadrupling student academic achievement.”
Or, more meaningfully, how can we help students use technology to change the world?
Transcendent technology use expands a learner’s understanding of what is possible. At the beginning of the paper, Achieving Transcendent Learning with Cisco Collaboration Solutions, Magana shares a quote from education researcher Dr. Robert J. Marzano:
The starting point for [Transcendent use of technology] is student passion, and the ending point involves moving students from focusing solely on their own concerns to concerns about the greater good of their local and extended communities. Such a focus has the power to shift one’s consciousness outside current circumstances. Indeed, this is at the heart of the meaning of transcendence—shifting one’s perspective from idiosyncratic and myopic to communal and inclusive.
The pinnacle of Magana’s T3 Framework, the use of Transcendent technology empowers students to strive to answer the questions that are important to them through unique inquiry design, and then apply their knowledge in social entrepreneurship strategies. By doing so, “students stretch the range of their collaboration well beyond the traditional classroom walls, engaging teams of global student partners, faculty, and parents, and extending their learning networks to more effectively identify sustainable resolutions to wicked problems that matter to them,” Magana writes.
Through Transcendent technology use, Magana says, students can come to view learning as a vehicle for innovation and can discover that by collaborating with students globally, they can “realize that their collective agency—the belief in a group’s ability to positively change the world—increases exponentially when they are connected through global networks to achieve common goals…It is at the Transcendent level that the entire education system changes.”