Getting Technology Right in Schools – A Word with José Picardo

An interview with José Picardo, Assistant Principal, exploring technology implementation at Surbiton High School


ALT: What was the strategic technological framework adopted by your institution?

JP: In too many schools the strategy is “we need to use more ICT” — often responding to a critical inspection. It always seems logical to pass the technology baton to ICT “experts”. This appears to be the wrong way to go: those making technology decisions need to understand pedagogy. A growing number of schools appoint specialist teaching staff to oversee digital strategy. This seems the right way and is exactly what my institution did. You can then think about what strategies and interventions best improve outcomes and support teaching and learning in your context.


ALT: What relationship needs to be adopted by developers with schools?

JP: Even a marginal improvement in teachers’ understanding of the application of technology in an educational context can result in more informed choices. Developers need to work closely with schools. The one-size-fits-all approach to educational technology never worked particularly well. The effective use of technology is highly contextualized: good developers understand this and work with schools and teachers in developing and adapting their products to fit local requirements.

“Truly illuminating uses of technology are those where the technology is there, but invisible.”

ALT: How might you apply a cost benefit analysis of using technology in your school?

JP: Using microeconomic concepts such as opportunity cost in education can only go so far, because this concept is often used to justify normative stances, e.g., if you suggest that money spent on mobile devices should be spent on textbooks instead, you are making a normative statement, as you are expressing a value judgment describing what you think ought to have happened.

This approach is flawed because you are not comparing like for like. Mobile devices and textbooks both have a cost, and the financial cost of one is higher than the other. However, leaving to one side the fact that not even in economics is cost restricted to the financial, the opportunities books offer in contrast to mobile devices are very different. Textbooks offer advantages: they never run out of battery, for example. On the other hand, they are not very good at accessing the internet or recording science experiments in high definition.  The opportunities lost (extra textbooks) need to be balanced against opportunities gained, which is why, when investing on educational technologies, it’s important to invest in staff development, so everyone understands the opportunities.

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ALT: Are we over-thinking the role of technology in education?

JP: The use of digital technology is already deeply woven into the fabric of our schools and it’s there to stay, whether you personally approve of it or not. From this perspective, it makes sense to move beyond the technology changes everything vs technology changes nothing binary paradigm and debate and look at how best to use available technology to support teaching and learning, not whether we should use technology at all, as it is still often the case. My inkling is that digital technology will eventually redefine teaching and learning.

ALT: How can assessment bodies help schools to innovate?

JP: We need to re-evaluate the way we assess and award qualifications, not necessarily in detriment of established and effective practices, but in addition to them. Exam boards are already looking at how assessment can take place effectively beyond the traditional exams. Once these methods of assessment become established, we may see a virtuous circle forming where teaching, learning and assessing practices are more aligned to what technology is available.

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ALT: Should technology only be used where it makes something possible that isn’t without it?

JP: The million dollar question. When looking into how best to use technology, it is indeed important to focus on how it can have a positive impact on existing practices, but also to investigate how technology can be a catalyst to conceive new ways and which may result in more valuable educational outcomes.
Models like SAMR  or TPACK illustrate how technology enables tasks and activities otherwise impossible. They are often misinterpreted as an hierarchy in which technology use is “best practice”. This is unhelpful because it’s perfectly possible to teach and learn effectively without recourse to any digital technology of any kind, as it is to use lots of technology ineffectively.Truly illuminating uses of technology are those where the technology is there, but invisible. At Surbiton High School, all our students have a tablet which they use during the day for different purposes (self regulation and organisation; seamless access to teacher-approved content; recording and annotating on a variety of media; researching and experimenting, etc. Visit here for examples). Yes, there are tablets, but also textbooks, exercise books, etc. because, sometimes, the best tool is actually a piece of paper.

ALT: What’s next in learning technologies?

JP: An evidence-informed teacher who understands how and when to leverage all the resources at their disposal – including digital resources – appropriately and effectively, with students as the ultimate beneficiaries. As you can see, I’m still sticking with the people, not the technology!


José Picardo @josepicardoshs


If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

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