Forget edtech – we need to talk about ‘pedtech’

Written by: Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Most research papers, roundtable discussions and industry experts agree that effective pedagogy is at the heart of good edtech use. But whose pedagogy we are referring to? Fiona Aubrey-Smith argues that the narrative around technology in education must change


In 2007, my school won a national award for extending learning opportunities through the use of technology (Becta, 2007). One of the things that we did was to use online learning spaces to enable five to seven-year-olds to learn with and from all kinds of other people – sometimes locally and often all around the world.

Through those online spaces children were able to bring their home experiences into the classroom and extend our classroom activities and discussion out beyond school. It was not so much that “it takes a village to educate a child”, as bringing the village closer to the child – and on their terms.

We saw technology as the servant to our vision for what learning should look like – a tool for shifting the narrative about who children can learn with, when they can learn, and where they can learn.

All of this formed the heart of a Master’s that I was writing at the time: “How the implementation of a virtual learning environment can affect the strategic development of a whole school”. In short – technology, to us, had been a catalyst that prompted us to think about non-technology priorities. What should the learning experience for our children look like, both within and beyond their time with us in the classroom? What could that mean for assessment, relationships, curriculum, equity, inclusion and so much more?

At the time, we did not think that what we were doing was particularly innovative. But in the years since, I have had the privilege of visiting and working with thousands of schools across the country (and beyond), and I have found two things particularly striking.

  • First, innovative teachers and leaders usually assume that what they are doing is obvious to anyone else and believe that others are probably doing something similar (spoiler – quite often they are not!).
  • Second, uses of technology which make a real difference to children’s lived experiences of learning are still the preserve of the enthusiast.


Until now…

In the last few months, there has been an abundance of research papers published around the world which have reflected on the role of technology during pandemic lockdown periods. Add to this the flurry of conferences, panels and roundtables and it is clear that we are being challenged to think about what we can learn from the pandemic and what the future of edtech should look like.

I have been working with many schools and trusts who are rethinking their edtech or IT strategies – putting big picture strategic thinking and action plans back on the table for discussion.

Here’s the interesting part. The research papers and roundtable reports (old and new) usually conclude something along the lines of:

  • “It is the pedagogy of use of technology which is important: the how rather than the what.” (Higgins et al, 2012)
  • “Technology must be used in a way that is informed by effective pedagogy.” (Stringer et al, 2020)
  • We should “embrace the pedagogic advances that edtech allows” (APPG, 2021).
  • We need to “reduce the reliance on attendance as a proxy for learning” (Educate, 2021).

In other words – let’s move on from talking about the technology and think about the pedagogy that informs what we do. But hang on – this is not news! Why are so many discussions and documents still stuck on this same point? If we know that technology-use should be informed by pedagogy, then where is the discussion moving this specific point forwards?


There is one key problem

I am going to nail my colours to the mast here – I think the problem is that no-one really knows whose pedagogy we are referring to. Do we have a national pedagogy? An agreed academic or research-based pedagogy? A trust or school-wide pedagogy? No. We can’t. Because pedagogy is values-based.

So here’s the thing. Our pedagogical beliefs are a combination of many different influences and are rooted far back in our own childhood experiences (Aubrey-Smith, 2020). When we talk about pedagogy in staff meetings, on training courses or when planning school and trust activities, we are talking about socially accepted pedagogical practices, not individual pedagogical beliefs.

Yours will not be the same as mine even if we work in the same school, with the same children, under the same ethos and strategy. And that’s okay – it does not make one of us right and the other wrong. But it does mean that both of us will have different beliefs about what the role of a teacher should be, what makes a learner, what good learning looks like, what good teaching looks like, how knowledge is built, and what role the school plays in a child’s education. All of that affects what we do through our practices.

So when we recognise that pedagogy needs to come before technology, I do not think we mean the national, trust-wide or even departmental conversations about what effective pedagogy looks like. Those are important conversations, but they will always be subjective debates. What we need to be talking about is what effective pedagogy means to you – personally.


Can you see where I’m going here?

If we each – individually – have subtly different pedagogical beliefs, then we are each going to apply those in our teaching and leadership work differently, resulting in different experiences for the children that we work with (I wrote a whole doctoral thesis on this if you are interested – Aubrey-Smith, 2020).

It is naïve to think those can be streamlined or made consistent – human beings do not work like that. So if we want to see positive change in how, when and where technology is used within teaching and learning, then we need to shift the narrative.

We need to move from thinking about edtech – with its inferences that “What Works” can somehow be parachuted into different contexts and have the same impact.

We need to move to “pedtech” – where the conversation, the focus and the action is rooted around pedagogical beliefs – and importantly, personal pedagogical beliefs. Those beliefs shape what we say, what we intend to do, what we actually do and, most importantly, what our students’ lived experiences are.


So my call to action for you is this…

Education focuses on the system. Pedagogy focuses on the person. That person is you and what you do and believe – not just what you say or what your intentions are. It is what you do for the learners in front of you – and what their lived experiences become as a result. So shift from edtech to pedtech – change your narrative from education to pedagogy.


And here’s how (in just two steps)

First, take time to think about your own pedagogical beliefs. The easiest way to start this conversation is to use a tool like The Pedagogy Framework – see further information – and explore aspects of pedagogical beliefs to see which you most instinctively align with. You may ask big questions like:

  • What do you really believe the role of the teacher is?
  • What does it mean to be a learner?
  • How does knowledge come to exist?
  • Where does motivation come from?
  • What affects what is possible for a learner?
  • What is the relationship between school and education?

You may say one thing at work – through your teaching or leadership role – but you need to be more aware of your own deeper personal beliefs – as those are what will shape your practice.

There is a quote attributed to educational psychologist Don Hamachek: “Consciously we teach what we know, while subconsciously we teach who we are.” You need to understand who you are. Then you can choose the right tool to support the pedagogy that is shaping your practice and, most importantly, your students’ lived experiences.

Second, once you are clear on what your pedagogical beliefs are you simply focus your technology priorities around how those beliefs can be realised through practice. It may help you to think of this in three strands:

  • New relationships: How we are changing who and what we interact with, how and why – and what this means for teaching and learning.
  • New efficacies: How we can simplify, automate, make accessible and make more impactful actions which directly affect learning.
  • New possibilities: How we can mobilise and democratise learning, provide capacity for both teachers and learners, transform accessibility and, vitally, make possible more learner-oriented ways of thinking about education.

These ideas will be different for different members of staff – even within the same school or department – and that is okay! If teachers and leaders are able to choose tools that help them to be the teacher or leader that they want to be, then both the tool and the person become more effective, and lead us towards greater collective efficacy.

My key message to you is this. Education focuses on the system. Pedagogy focuses on the person. So, as we move forwards together, let us shift the narrative – from edtech to pedtech.

  • Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning, supporting schools and trusts with professional learning, education research and strategic planning. She is also an associate lecturer at The Open University, a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, and sits on the board of a number of multi-academy and charitable trusts. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-aubrey-smith and email fionaaubreysmith@googlemail.com


Want to find out more?

Fiona Aubrey-Smith will be leading From EdTech to PedTech: Changing the narrative around technology in education – a practical workshop for school and trust leaders on June 22 as part of the Festival of EdTech (June 22-23), which is part of the DfE EdTech Demonstrator Hub programme. Fully online and free to attend. Visit https://ed-tech.education/edtech-festival-2021-register

Further information & resources


This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Comments
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update

Newsletter

Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.