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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1 What could the future look like?

When you think about education, you probably think of a teacher standing at the front of a classroom imparting knowledge to pupils. However, the presence of personal mobile technologies, such as tablets, that provide personalised feedback to each pupil, might change the structure and dynamics of classrooms.

As you saw in Week 1, there has been a significant change in terms of digitisation of information and providing access to it among children worldwide. This includes homes and schools. With millions spent on computers and iPads rather than, for example, school libraries or teachers’ professional development, we need to ask critically: what drives the agenda behind educational technology? There are three possibilities. First, the provision of school technology follows public and political interests. In many politician’s eyes, investing in educational technology is a symbolic gesture of demonstrating a change in the educational system, investing in the future of the country and its economic competitiveness (Selwyn, 2010). Second, there could be private interests. Professor Neil Selwyn has been vocal about the dangers of allowing commercial corporations such as Microsoft, Google and Apple, to be closely involved in local decision making about how children learn, with their technology evangelists and advisers influencing headteachers’ investment decisions. The third, and hopefully the most important reason for why governments and schools invest in educational technology is because they want to improve children’s learning and wellbeing. To what extent is this aim supported by research evidence? An informed answer requires a summary of several research studies that have measured the impact of similar devices, programs or approaches to their use in classrooms. For example, interactive whiteboards have been in schools long enough for researchers to pull together several studies and to conclude that despite their popular adoption in schools, the presence of interactive whiteboards led to very little or no impact on students’ attainment or school achievement (Smith, Higgins, Wall and Miller, 2005). While technology can be engaging and motivating for pupils, this can only benefit learning if the technology used corresponds to the learning goals. In other words, it is not whether technology is used (or not) which makes the difference to children’s learning, but how well the technology is used in classrooms (Higgins, Xiao and Katsipataki, 2012).

A popular approach in many schools is the so-called ‘flipped classroom’, in which the teachers have changed roles to become classroom mentors.