Online Teaching

5 EdTech tools to try in 2021

There is a well known saying that says a bad worker blames their tools, but maybe some tools are just a whole lot better at getting the job done than others. I’m not much of a handyman, but I sure find the job a whole lot easier when I have better tools. Recently we invested in a cordless drill – wow, what a game-changer. Besides the reduced sweat, there is the speed with which I can now get things done. So, while this won’t necessarily address my underlying lack of carpentry skill, it sure takes away a lot of the pain and makes me a lot more efficient.

I suppose the same can be said for the tools we use as educators. Trying to get the job done with PowerPoint and Zoom and Teams and Google Classroom…Yes, they’re great, but are there others that could shift our teaching into a whole new gear?

I would like to not only share five amazing tools with you, but also five digital-age pedagogies that will empower you to take any tools and become an edtech master teacher. You see, while learning about great tools will show you how to use the tools, learning about the ACT pedagogies will show you how to teach with these tools.

The ACT approach is a framework of digital-age pedagogies designed to encourage high levels of activity, plus increased engagement, recall, fun, etc. The ACT pedagogies are Curation, Conversation, Correction, Creation, and Chaos. 

Curation is about encouraging learning by finding, selecting, and arranging content. Conversation is about activating engagement through discussion, debate, and critique. Correction is about positively embracing mistakes and encouraging learning through failing forward. Creation is all about shifting from just consuming content to learning by creating content and learning artefacts. And finally, Chaos is about disrupting the boring by using pressure and perception to create higher levels of focus and understanding.

By intentionally using these pedagogies, what I call making pedagogy visible, you will dramatically transform your teaching. Below are five easy-to-use tools that you can use to apply each of these pedagogies in your teaching.

If you haven’t heard of Padlet you’re missing out. It’s like a whiteboard…although it can be any colour, pattern, or picture you like. But it’s more than this. It’s a collaborative space where you can allow students to curate (and have a conversation) around content. Come on over and experience Padlet – try this Padlet, where teachers are creating a curated list of apps that are great for curating. It’s like a meta-padlet 😉

One of my favourite apps to encourage conversation is the no-nonsense, easy-setup, disposable chat room, Conversation is a powerful way to keep students engaged. If you’re using Zoom or Teams it can often feel like they have vanished into the ether, often too shy to appear on camera or say something. Let them pop into and get them chatting around the topic and you will activate their learning. It’s as simple as choosing a unique URL and that becomes your private room. Join in with the conversation at and share how you could use conversation in your teaching.

Let’s stop seeing assessment as separate from teaching. Correction is about making assessment an intentional pedagogy. We are way past the boring style assessments that we had to have, we can now bring correction into our courses in a fun and gamified ways and get a vital insight into our students’ understanding. One of my favourite tools is mentimeter. It’s Powerpoint for the Connected Era. Imagine slides but with interactive questions, gamified and fun, between the slides. This is a great tool to encourage active learning – and it also supports curation, conversation, creation, and chaos! Check out this example!

We have never existed in a time where students have so many great tools that can encourage learning through creating. From their mobile phone which is a video camera and editing tool, to endless apps on the web that allow them to become creative. Flipgrid is an amazing tool that lets your students create short video responses to your prompt question. You can control the length and allow them to add extra effects too. And once they submit it, you can allow video responses to other students (conversation) and give them feedback (correction). Come on, grab your smartphone and create a video response here.

If there is one pedagogy that strikes fear into most educators, it is chaos. It seems like this is the opposite of the control and order we need in a classroom. However, planned chaos is a powerful way of forcing our students out of their comfort zones into the think zone. One way to do that is to create time pressure. Our ACT Quick tool does just that. Go here and give it a try. Set the timer to 3 minutes (more if you’re brave) and click Submit. Take a deep breath and start typing – Write about how you could use time pressure to encourage focused thinking. Oh, by the way, once you start typing, if you stop for more than a few seconds, you will lose everything! That’s pressure, but it’s also focus! Come on, give it a try if you’re brave enough!

There are many amazing tools we can use to transform how we teach in the new Connected era. While these “cordless drill” type tools will make you more efficient, learning about carpentry – or the pedagogies in our case – will make you more effective!

To find out more about the ACT approach to teaching check out our courses at

Online Teaching

Lights, Camera, Action – Effective Online Teaching

I am sure that you are familiar with the phrase “Lights, Camera, Action” that is used by Hollywood directors when they are filming. This phrase is as important to Hollywood directors as it needs to be for us when it comes to live online teaching. This does not mean you need to be a Hollywood actor with Hollywood equipment. 

We have already spoken about the need for authentic video-based teaching. However, this does not mean we shouldn’t strive for a minimum level of professionalism if we are going to teach using live video. When it comes to using live video-based teaching and tools like Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, etc. it is important to spend some time on the three aspects – Lights – Camera – Action.


The two aspects, Lights and Camera, are to do with your environment. Just like it is important to be aware of your environment when teaching in a classroom – lighting, the distance of students from the screen, sound, etc. so too it is important to get this right, or as close to right as possible when teaching online.

Often, when it comes to teaching with live video using a tool like Zoom, you are not in an ideal studio or workplace environment. This means you need to prepare a suitable place at home (or wherever you are) for conducting your lesson. The following are the key elements that you need to be aware of when setting up this space in terms of lighting. These also apply when you are creating videos for self-paced learning.

  • Light Direction – Lighting is really important. The single most important thing to consider in terms of lighting is the direction of your light source. As you can see in the image below, back-lighting (light coming from behind) makes it almost impossible for people to see you. This is not difficult to get right, as you can normally see what you look like in the video conferencing tool. Try and ensure that the light source is from in front of you or from the side and not from behind.
  • Natural or Not – While natural light is great, it is not consistent. Some days the sun is too harsh while other times it is cloudy. So, even if you have natural light streaming through your window, it is a good idea (if possible) to try and set up another light source. This could be as simple as a lamp or if you want to get slightly more professional a box-light (shown below), gives a more diffused and consistent lighting.


The second aspect of your environment is related to getting the camera right – as this is the only “eye” to see what you are going to be sharing. Your camera is either a webcam that is mounted atop your computer/laptop or as is often the case, it is a built-in camera within your computer/laptop. If you have a separate webcam, these often provide more features that can control lighting, zoom, angle, etc. Whether you have a separate webcam or not, the following are important to get right.

  • Angle – Unlike with face-to-face teaching, which has the teacher/lecturer standing, most online video teaching is done with the teacher/lecturer seated. This sometimes results in some rather strange and unflattering angles. After all, who really wants to look up their teacher’s nostrils during a lesson. Typically your computer is on your desk, which while the ideal height for working is not the ideal height for camera angle. A desk tends to course the camera to look up at you, which creates an unflattering view. Ideally, you should try and raise your computer so that the camera is in line with your face. Placing a laptop on a box is a simple but effective low-tech hack to get the camera angle right.
  • Background – Another detail to consider is your background. Unlike in a classroom or lecture room, there is not a lot for the students to look at – it’s just you and your background. If the background is distracting this can cause students to lose focus on what is being taught. Once again, it is often difficult to ensure you have a decent background when working from home or other places, but a little planning can go a long way. Try and position your computer so that the background avoids distracting elements, especially people walking behind you. I make use of a really affordable (and portable) green screen that simply attaches to my chair. This allows me to replace the background with a virtual background. If you are a member of Activated Academy you can access the ACT Toolbox to find out more about using Zoom and other tools for live teaching. If you are not an ACT member, go here to find out more about joining. Even if you don’t have a green screen, simply moving your computer around (remembering the lighting too) can enable you to have a better background.
  • Eyes – There is a saying that “The eyes are the window to the soul“. Eye contact is really important in teaching and even more so when it comes to online teaching. However, we can easily lose this connection when teaching using technology. Our natural inclination is to look at ourselves on our screen. While the camera may be just above the screen there is a noticeable difference (as shown below) in eye contact between looking at the screen and at the camera. Raising your computer as suggested above and trying to look more at the camera will improve your eye contact and make you come across a lot more engaging.
  • Ears – While this is not strictly about “camera” another key element to consider is your audio. Tools like Zoom give preference to audio over visuals. You may notice that sometimes during a live video streaming session the image freezes or becomes fuzzy while the audio continues. This is because without audio there is really little online teaching happening. Even if the visual lags or gets fuzzy, the connection remains as long as there is an audio feed. As such, it is important to be aware of how you are sounding to others. This means trying to avoid noisy environments and background sounds. These could be others talking, the washing machine running, or the dog barking. Also, large empty environments can cause you to sound hollow. It is not always possible to do a lot about where we teach from, however, you can invest in a simple headset that either links wirelessly to your computer or plugs into the audio connection. A quick Google search will show you many affordable options. Wearing a headset enables you to dramatically reduce background noise as the headset typically focuses on amplifying the sounds nearest the mic. 


And so with everything in place you deliver your lesson. Maybe you just speak to the class, or maybe you share your PowerPoint slideshow – but either way, you quickly find that there is more Zzzzoom than Action! 

The problem is not the amazing technology that we now have available, its HOW we are teaching with it. It’s quite simply not knowing how to activate these technologies for maximum engagement and learning. To discover how to do this, signup with Activated Academy for one of our courses and you will soon be on your way towards engaging, effective 21st-century teaching. 

Lights – Camera – ACTion!


How Maslow’s Hierarchy Can Help Us Teach with Tech

Our School of Education is savouring the possibilities that virtual and augmented reality… may still bring to ‘learning to teach’”. “Leveraging AI-powered learning platforms will spur an increased usage of personalisation approaches”. Every time a new year arrives we witness a flurry of excitement and attention around education’s new directions.

With increased pressure on educators to improve student performance combined with increasingly disconnected students, schools are desperate for solutions. If technology has enabled business and industry to evolve so radically, why not education?

And so once more, as 2020 gets underway, we see predictions that “we will see schools buying a higher share of school software in 2020”. More money, time and energy will once again be invested into education. However, despite the continued euphoria, there have been numerous report that teaching with technology is not bringing about the learning gains that were expected (FalckBulmanRobinson). However, it seems, once again schools and universities are preparing to spend more money on software solutions to education problems.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Surely before we spend billions of Rands, as South Africa’s government has committed to do (State of the Nation), we should take a careful look at what teachers really need when it comes to teaching with technology. 

A Correcting Approach

​Several years ago, arising out of years of research, I developed the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model. This model is a cohesive set of teaching approaches (pedagogies) that resonate with how modern students learn as well as leveraging the affordances of technology. One of the core pedagogies of the ACT model is the pedagogy of Correction. This is pedagogy looks at how to use technology to encourage learning through correction.

To this end I constantly seek out tools that both support this pedagogy and leverage the affordances of technology. One such tool is AllOurIdeas ( While the tool is designed to be used to run surveys, it powerfully illustrates how technology can adopt the correction pedagogy effectively.

Over the years, surveys have been conducted in much the same way. In the “old days” a survey was paper based. You would be asked to complete a survey on paper. Then the invention of the telephone ushered in a new type of survey – the telephonic survey. However, nothing had really changed. The only difference was that your answers were gathered over the telephone and not with you physically filling in the survey. It was still the same type of survey. And then along came the computer. Surely now this amazing technology would transform how surveys took place? And it did. Now you can send the survey via email to the respondent who fills it out online. However, once again nothing’s changed. It’s still the same survey, it’s just delivered and completed in a different way.

This is exactly the same problem we have seen taking place in education. Teachers take technology, use it in the classroom, but at the end of the day nothing has changed. The smart board is the chalkboard. The e-book is the textbook, and so on.

Traditional surveys have two problems. The first is they require a set amount of time. So if you don’t have time to answer the 20 questions the chances are you won’t do the survey. Or if for some reason you are super eager, that makes no difference. There are only 20 questions. Another problem surveys have is that there is often no place for your input into the survey. What if none of the options being offered are one you want to choose? Too bad. blended the concept of wikis and their correcting approach with surveys, and created a novel way of completing surveys. The survey presents the respondent with a pair of responses that they can choose between. In addition to being able to choose one of the pair or responses, respondents can also choose to add their own options – thus creating new answer pairs generated by users. They are then presented with another pair of responses. This continues for as long or short as they respondent wishes to continue. This means the survey responds both to the new ideas of people, and hence is correcting, and also allows anyone to participate no matter how little or much time they have. 

What do teachers need?

​Just over five years ago I began using AllOurIdeas ( to ask teachers to answer the key question we are still struggling to answer – “What do you think is most important for successful technology-based teaching?” To answer this, the respondent is presented with a pair of options and can select the one they feel is most correct, or they can add additional items.

Teachers’ Hierarchy of Needs

​The top 10 items provide an important insight into what teachers consider to be important when moving towards technology-based teaching. The score column is the estimated chance that it will win against a randomly chosen idea. For example, a score of 75 means the idea is predicted to be chosen 75% of the time.

Considering these items shows that a range of issues are raised as critical to success. They range from having the basic platform in place, to training, to support, and social aspects. What is particularly interesting is that the top 10 factors align closely with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a model to explain human motivations. Needs lower in the pyramid, such as food, sleep, clothing (Physiological Needs) must be satisfied before higher needs such as respect, self-esteem, and freedom (Esteem Needs). However, when considering the top 10 “needs” for effective teaching with technology, it becomes apparent that a similar hierarchy of needs exists, as depicted below.

The hierarchy of Teachers Top 10 Needs for effective technology-based teaching spans the same five layers. At the most fundamental (physiological) level we find three key needs – Access to working technology, Training on how to apply pedagogies, and Training on how to apply technology. Without meeting these basic needs, none of the others can be met.

The second layer are the “safety” needs and here are two needs – committed and supportive school leadership and access to expert support on pedagogy and applications.

The third layer are the “love and belonging” needs and much like our needs as humans, teachers require a keen sense of community to be effective at new teaching approaches. As such two key needs identified were buy-in from everyone and opportunities to network with teachers.

The fourth layer are the “esteem” needs and in particular this relates to freedoms to try and do things. Two key needs identified in this layer are teachers having the time and space to experiment with new teaching approaches, and learners also being given time and space to experiment with new ways of learning.

The fifth and highest layer of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualisation. This is the pinnacle need where we strive to be the best we can be. In terms of teachers needs for technology-based teaching this need is reflected in the desire to have a seamless integration of content and digital-age pedagogies.

Seeing ahead clearly

​2020 is about vision, when we talk about eye-tests, but nowhere is the need to see clearly more imperative than it is in our schools and universities. The pressure to educate increasingly more disconnected students is going to increase. However, simply throwing eye-watering technologies like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence at the problem is not going help us see our way clearly. In fact, when the top 10 needs are looked at – software, AI, tablets, VR, etc. are not even mentioned.

If we are going to see clearly in 2020 to address the modern challenges of education, we need to address the 5 key needs of teachers who are passionate about change and new approaches. 

Firstly, the basic substratum (physiological) needs must be addressed. Nothing else matters without working technology, which government has begun to address (ref), and appropriate training in technology and more importantly, pedagogy – which is woefully lacking.
Secondly structures must be put in place to provide support to the teachers both from school leadership and experts in technology and pedagogy.
Thirdly, a positive social space needs to be created that encourages school buy-in and spaces for teachers to network.
Fourthly, teachers and students need space – space to make mistakes, to experiment, to try new approaches. Is safe spaces are not created for this take place, just like with all other learning, progress is not going to be made.
Finally, the goal of seamless integration of technology and pedagogy needs to be established whereby all content is supported by underpinning pedagogies and associated, appropriate technologies.
Sawubona (I see you) 2020 – Let’s see clearly!


Seeing in a whole new way

It is not enough to simply use technology into our classrooms, we need to teach with technology. The difference between “using” and “teaching” is important, and will make the difference between whether tech is an expensive version of what we have had for years, or an empowering tool to reactivate our students learning. The difference comes down to one thing – no pedagogy or pedagogy. Having an easy-to-apply set of digital-age pedagogies in place enables us to see our use of technology in the classroom in a whole new way. The fun, short video below illustrates the power of seeing things in a different way. Enjoy!


Why the worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology

Summary:  In this article, I will discuss how our attempt to fix our education crisis has staggered from one approach to another. First, we threw lots of tech at the problem, and this resulted in billion-dollar failures. Then we threw lots of money at training teachers to use tech, and still, we are seeing failures. It is only when we realise what is really wrong that we can effectively change how we teach.

Hi Craig, I wonder if you could come and talk to our teachers about using technology for teaching?” reads the email I’ve just opened. I receive many emails like this and so I’m fairly sure what I will find when I get to this school.  

I arrive and am soon set up in the school auditorium. Typically, the session is scheduled after school – often on a Friday afternoon. As the room slowly fills with teachers I can already read their expressions – “Why do they force us to attend these sessions?” – “Not another presentation on using computers”. 

As I stand up I can see most people are looking at their devices. I suppose that’s what I’d be doing at an after school session like this. I lean forward and speak into the microphone. “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology.” I pause. Heads pop up. I can see them replaying what I just said in their minds, wondering if they heard correctly. I can see the questions forming. “Wasn’t this guy meant to be telling us how to use computers?” I wait for the confusion to take hold and then I continue.

The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology…
​The second worst thing is doing nothing.

That hasn’t helped. If anything they are now even more confused. Excellent! Now that I have everyone’s attention I have a precious moment – a teachable moment. That moment that every teacher desires – when our students are attentive, enquiring, wanting to hear more

​Who’s to blame?

I keep coming across articles that attempt to explain how we can fix the modern education crisis. Yes, there is a crisis. It doesn’t take studies to tell us that our world has changed dramatically and our teaching hasn’t kept up. 

Our students have a daily digital diet of approx. 9 hours of tech consumption. The impact is attention spans are reported to have dropped to 8 seconds – apparently below that of a goldfish. Whether this is true or not, what is true is that most teachers are struggling to keep students engaged.

So how do we reconnect with our students? How do we make our teaching relevant in the digital age? The solution seems obvious. If technology is what engages the modern generation outside the classroom, then let’s use it in the classroom. After all technology has revolutionized all other aspects of life – business, entertainment, communication, sports. It only makes sense that education needs the same revolution. 

And so our first attempt to fix our classrooms saw us investing billions in technology – iPads, Chrome Books, smartboards flooded into schools. And the result? At the best, we could call it a mixed success. However, many would call it a failure. Headlines telling the costly story of the failed Los Angles iPad program or research proclaiming that technology in the classroom is reducing students’ grades.

Something’s just not right. Surely technology should have solved our education issues, not exacerbated them. What’s going wrong? Is it the technology to blame or is it the teachers? It seems unlikely it’s the tech – it has proven itself in so many other areas – so maybe it is the teachers. And so now we are seeing headlines like:

That makes sense. Edtech is failing because teachers haven’t been trained to use the technology. And that’s why I find myself standing before this audience. This is our second attempt at addressing our modern education issues – throw money at training teachers to use technology. And once again vendors have been quick to respond to this by eagerly offering courses on how to use the plethora of tools that exist. 

But we have lost sight of something fundamental in our headlong rush to modernise education. 

It’s not training teachers to use technology that we need, it’s training teachers to teach with technology.

The difference between “use” and “teach” has profound implications. The best way to understand what’s going wrong, and why I began my presentation by saying “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology” is to think about cakes. ​

​A lesson from Master Chef

Imagine some children enthused to bake their own cake after watching endless seasons of Master Chef. They’re in the kitchen surrounded by everything they need – ingredients, equipment, and dollops of enthusiasm. 

After hours of mixing and beating, laughing and chatting, delicious smells are wafting from the kitchen. Finally, the moment arrives. The cake is ready. The oven is opened. You reach in to extract the delicious smelling masterpiece as the children look on fibrillating in anticipation. The cake is perf….flat! It is splayed across the baking tray inelegantly like a beginner skier on a ski slope. How could all their passion, ingredients, and tools result in this disaster? Quite simple – there was no recipe.  And the same applies to education.

Even the best technology mixed with enthused teachers and sprinkled liberally with the latest tech won’t ensure success.

​My Epic Fail

I look back at my countless forays into using technology for teaching and how often it fell flat – despite my passion and belief that it would work. 
I recall one ambitious attempt in particular. I was so excited about the potential of 3D virtual worlds that I got my students to build a replica of our university – everything from the library to the lecture theatres. The detail was amazing. And so it was with great excitement that I stood at the front of a virtual lecture theatre prepared to deliver my first lesson. It took a while to settle them down as a flood of text streamed across my screen as the students “talked”. Finally, I managed to instil some order by SHOUTING (typing in uppercase) to make myself “heard”.

Behind me, the first slide of my presentation was displayed. “GOOD MORNING CLASS,” I typed. “TODAY WE WILL…” and so I began explaining what was on the slide. While the talking had eased off, students were still morphing into animals, flying, walking…I pushed on. I clicked “Next” to move to the next slide. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Nothing. Again. Suddenly the presentation jumped three slides. “Oh no,” I groaned hunched over my computer. 

Finally, I got to the right slide. “IN THIS SLIDE WE SEE,” I slowly typed as I explained the slide. Half my time was up and we had only completed two slides. It’s then that it hit me – “What am I doing? This is a poor substitute for a real lecture. In fact, I would have been better off emailing the slides to the students than doing this. This just hasn’t worked. Is it the tech, or is it me?

​Using or Teaching

It’s not the tech. It’s not the teachers. It’s the missing recipe. In teacher talk the recipe is called pedagogy, but somehow we seem to have forgotten all about pedagogy.

Somewhere in our enthusiasm to fix our education challenges technology has become a proxy for pedagogy .

Herein lies our problem – where training teachers to use technology is assumed to be the same as training teachers to teach with technology. It’s akin to assuming that because you know how to use a drill and nail gun you know how to build a house. 

Just because a teacher has been trained to use Google Docs, or YouTube, or Edmodo, does not mean they know how to teach with these tools. This begs the question. Why have we ignored pedagogy – something all student teachers learn about, something all teachers know is vital? Could it be that our digital education agenda is now driven by technology companies? In fact, why are technology companies telling teachers how to teach? Or maybe pedagogy has been forgotten because we are mesmerised by all the tools, or maybe it’s our lack of understanding of how modern students learn. 

​Education’s Missing Recipe

What we need, if we are going to realize the opportunities that technology can bring to education, is an easy-to-apply, effective, and appropriate set of digital-age pedagogies.  

  • Easy-to-apply – One of the most widely applied tools in education, because of its powerful simplicity, is Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. This ordered arrangement helps teachers easily align teaching and assessment. The same is required for modern teaching – an easy-to-apply taxonomy of digital-age pedagogies. 
  • Effective – We can’t simply copy our old pedagogies and paste them into the digital age. My failed virtual world foray is one example of why this does not work. In fact, there is a mounting body of research that points to the need for approaches that encourage active learning rather than passive consumption. We need effective approaches that encourage active teaching and learning. 
  • Appropriate – Our issues have arisen because our students are engaging, connecting, and learning in new ways. Appropriate pedagogies need to resonate with how our modern students learn and at the same time leverage the affordances that technology offers.

​What is required is not just digital age pedagogies but a Taxonomy Of Teaching And Learning (TOTAL) digital-age pedagogies.

​#ACT_ Approach

Designing a TOTAL digital-age approach requires an understanding of how modern students use technology, as well as the intentional and unintentional affordances provided by technology. It was extensive research into this that gave rise to the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model – the first cohesive taxonomy of digital-age pedagogies. 

The ACT model provides educators with an arrangement of five active learning pedagogies for teaching in the digital age. These pedagogies allow teachers to focus on teaching then technology.

The best thing we can do

So, why is training teachers to use technology the worst thing we can do? Quite simply because as our education issues continue and it’s not the teachers to blame – as they have now been trained – it must be the technology to blame. And this is exactly what we are seeing in a new wave of reports proclaiming the failure of technology in the classroom. However, the issue lies not with the technology or with our teachers, but with our training.

The auditorium is quiet. Everyone is waiting to hear what I say next. A moment of attention, so rare in our modern world. I grasp this teachable moment and say,

“The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology…The best thing we can do is train teachers to teach with technology.”


Technology with Teaching or Teaching with Technology?

Perspectives make all the difference in life, and this is also true when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. A simple change in perspective can cause a radical change in outlook. See it in action below!


The big mistake your school is making with technology

I have four questions for you. Your answers to these questions could determine if you’re wasting a lot of money and resources, or not.

Why do businesses use technology?

I have asked audiences this question many times during my seminars, and mostly get the same answers: It helps them cut costs. It makes them more efficient. It helps differentiate them. It enables them to reach a wider market. The answers can basically be summarised in a single word – efficiency. By using technology businesses are able to make more money with lower costs.

Why do schools/universities use technology?

Once again the answers I receive are much the same. It saves time. It makes it easier to distribute content. It allows for easier scaling of content and wider reach of students. It saves costs. It makes registration and admin processes easier. So, the reasons businesses and education institutes use technology are essentially the same – efficiency.

To see why the answers above are an issue we need to answer two more important questions.

What is the primary goal of a business? 

It’s to make profit.

What is the primary goal of an education institute? 

It’s to educate students. Yes, some may have profit goals, but the primary measure of success is not profit but the performance of the students. And this is where the issues arise.

Using technology to improve efficiencies is aligned with the business goal of maximising profit. Using technology to improve efficiencies is not aligned with the education goal of maximising student performance. Student performance is not improved by efficient use of technology but by effective use of technology. It’s here that we are witnessing a major problem when we consider the role of technology in education.

To further complicate the situation, education institutions often do have two goals. On the one hand they have a financial goal – even schools that are not for profit are focused on minimising costs. It is important to save money on printing by going digital. It is important to save time on student registration but moving this online. It is important to enable teachers to manage marks digitally to save time. As such schools do have an efficiency imperative. However, having an I.T. system that achieves this does nothing more than set the school up to focus on its main goal – education. However, achieving the first goal is often seen as the only and primary goal, and herein lies the problem.

Using technology for learning management is not that same as using technology for learning. It is not using technology that is key to the success of schools, it is teaching with technology that is important. It is only when we realise this difference that we will begin to see why our implementations of technology are yielding such disappointing results.

As long as we allow our education agenda to be driven by IT departments we will not see the gains we were hoping for. It’s not the IT departments that are to blame. Their skillset and objective is using technology to improve processes – efficiency. Their skillset is not education.

I recently received an email from a company offering their IT services to universities:

Hi Team, Hope this mail finds you well. I am <name>, Head Client Engagement at <Company>. <Company> is a leading EdTech consultant and Moodle Partner. We specialize in enabling Universities / Corporates in effective adoption of Education Technology.”

Sounds promising. They have used the word “effective”. So I read on…in hope.

<Company> has 360 degree experience in implementing and optimizing Learning Management Systems, leading to efficient as well as scalable learning delivery. In the process our clients have seen shift from traditional methods to automated workflows for curriculum management, enrollments, scheduling and assessments” (emphasis added).

And there we have it. They are offering to help education institutes use technology so they can be optimized, efficient, scalable, and automated. They may well do a great job at this, however, this is not the primary goal of education institutes, and as such should not be the primary goal of our use of technology. Yet, increasingly this is how technology is being used in schools and universities.

There are two reasons education institutes are using technology just like businesses. The first is that technology companies are simply transferring their same offerings from business (one client) to schools (another client). The second is that the decision makers in education institutes are normally either management or the IT department. If it is management, then their measure is efficiency. If it is the IT department, then the email above resonates with them too, because their mandate is also around efficiencies and improved service delivery.

So, what do we need to do?

Firstly, educators need to step forward. We can’t outsource the decisions as to how technology will be used at our schools to anyone who is not an educator. Secondly, we need a fundamental mind shift. We need to shift from thinking about how we will use technology to how we will teach with technology. Only when we do this will we start asking the right questions, and identifying the correct approaches. Only once we focus on teaching with technology will be shift from efficiency to effectiveness, from management to learning, from systems to students. Only once we focus on pedagogy before technology will we begin to see what technology can do for education.

So, the next time you receive an offer from a technology vendor, ask yourself (and them) the question – will this make us more efficient or more effective at teaching? And if it will make us more effective, how will it do this? How will it change how I teach?


Is your teaching a modern form of “Bloodletting”?

Bloodletting is an ancient practice where doctors would cut people to let blood out of them in the hope that this would lead to some type of cure. We may now laugh at this archaic treatment, but for centuries it was the approach that “modern” doctors thought worked. Imagine having a sore throat and the doctor says, “Don’t worry, I will fix you in no time,” as he reaches for the scalpel or a bowl of leaches! This is exactly what happened to George Washington…yes, THE George Washington, America’s first president. On December 13, 1799 George woke up with a sore throat and was treated with bloodletting where doctors drained an estimated 5-7 pints (3-4 litres) of blood in less that 16 hours. Unsurprisingly he died a few days later!

What does this crazy approach to health care have to do with how you are teaching? 
Well, according to Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Carl Wieman, how we teach today is the educational equivalent of this archaic, painful, and useless treatment. In an interview with NPR, Wieman discusses how the approach we are currently using for teaching is not only ineffective, it is detrimental to learning.

“You give people lectures, and [some students] go away and learn the stuff. But it wasn’t that they learned it from lecture — they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture, it’s just really small.” (Carl Wieman)

Only 10% remember what is taughtFor years Carl Wieman has been unsatisfied with the traditional “talk-and-chalk” or “sage-on-the-stage” approach, and has experimented with using active learning in his classroom.  Prof. Wieman would give a lecture then a few minutes later he would test the students knowledge with a multiple choice test. The result?

Most of the time “only 10 percent would actually remember the answer. A lot of them are asleep, or lost, and I don’t know whether they’re getting anything out of it. If I’m standing up there talking at them, I have no clue what they’re absorbing and not absorbing.”

Active learning – The SolutionSeeing such poor results, Prof. Wieman dumped this ineffective, “bloodletting” and switched to using active learning approaches in his classroom. His students are now often found in small groups actively discussing the course content while he walks around the classroom helping guide their learning.

​Now that his students are actively involved in the learning process, as opposed to being passive consumers, not only are they more engaged, but he is better able to see what they understand and what is causing them problems. 

“I’m doing my best to understand what’s going on in every one of those students’ minds and challenge them and monitor how they’re learning, If I’m just lecturing the whole time, what a terrible waste that would be. Half the material would be over their head, and half the material would be completely trivial to them.” (Carl Wieman)

Research proven results

As a scientist and experimentalist, his work as a professor in both Stanford’s physics department and its graduate school of education is driven by data. As such Prof Wieman was determined to measure what impact his teaching approaches are having on his classes. The results, which have been published in several journals and science publications, are astounding.

Failure rates have dropped by as much as 12% on courses that involve active learning and test performance increased by 50%.

These results are so astounding that Prof Wieman argues that it is “almost unethical to teach undergraduates any other way”.

​”I know you can double how much a student learns depending on what method the instructor is using.” (Carl Wieman)

Why is everyone not using Active Learning?With such compelling evidence, it seems strange that everyone is not using active learning techniques in their classrooms. Why is this?

​Well, beyond the obvious, that some teachers might not want to change – because change is uncomfortable and invariably requires effort, there is another important reason. Dan Schwartz, who is the dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education puts the problem of poor adoption of this effective approach down to a “mountain of goo”.

​ “The literature on how to do this stuff is a giant mountain of goo…I can tell people they need to teach better. But if I don’t give them things that are easy for them to implement, they won’t do it.” (Dan Schwartz)

From Goo to GoodThere is no doubt that the research points to the fact that as teachers we should be using active learning approaches in our classrooms. Add to this the exciting opportunities that technology brings, and we should be seeing huge innovations in how we teach. The era of bloodletting is far behind us, yet somehow while medicine has advanced it seems in many ways teaching has not. However, without an “easy way…to implement” this as Dan Schwartz points out, moving from our old approach to a new more effective approach is going to be difficult for all but the very brave.

The Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach is an “easy way…to implement” active learning approaches with technology in the classroom. This research-backed approach focuses on pedagogy before technology and guides teachers in how to effectively use technology in the classroom in a new and innovative ways. Rather than simply tell teachers that active learning is powerful, or tell teachers that we should be using technology in new ways, the ACT approach SHOWS teachers how they can do this.

Based on 5 layers of increasing activity the ACT model is a digital pedagogy for the modern age that is transforming how schools are teaching around the world. To find out more about this amazing approach watch the video below or read more here