What is PedTech and why is everyone talking about it?

20 Feb 2023
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What is PedTech and why is everyone talking about it?

Every single decision in a classroom, school, or educational organisation is ultimately a pedagogical decision – because it opens up, or closes down, choices that learners and teachers are able to make as part of the process of learning.

PedTech is quite simply about putting pedagogy (rather than practice) in the driving seat of digital technology in education. We might think of it like this;  

  • Conversation about Tech keeps our focus on what we use.
  • Conversation about EdTech encourages us to think about how we use that tech to support teaching and learning and the immediate impact we expect that to have (i.e., pedagogical approaches or teaching methods).
  • Conversation about PedTech encourages us to think about why we use particular approaches to teaching and learning and the impact we expect that to have on our learners longer term (i.e., our pedagogical beliefs).

For example, why do we want learners to collaborate through cloud-based workspaces – how will it affect individual learning trajectories and confidence levels? Why do we use audio-note feedback,online marking, or digital inking – how does this affect when learners engage with feedback and the quality of future work? Why do we want our learners to use adaptive learning websites – how will it affect the depth of learner knowledge and application in other contexts?

These deeper questions invite us to consider the subtle messages that we are communicating to our learners and the impact of the decisions we make about using digital technology in our classrooms. In other words - what are we subconsciously telling our learners about what it means to be a learner and what we value about their learning? What are we inferring about who defines new knowledge? What are we suggesting to learners about the role of other students or adults in their learning? Views about these questions begin to surface embedded pedagogical beliefs.

So, what does pedagogy really refer to in 2023?

The word pedagogy has joyfully been embraced by an evidence-informed teaching profession - leading to far more purposeful conversations about classroom practice. However, pedagogy is often used as a generic term, variously referring to theories of pedagogy, pedagogical beliefs and stances, pedagogical intentions and strategies, pedagogical approaches and methods, pedagogical practices and politicised pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. As a result, conversations that use the word pedagogy can often be wide ranging and immersed in assumptions, leading to a lack of precision when identifying exactly what we, as educators, need to do next to improve teaching and learning.  

Being precise matters because it creates clarity in our understanding. That understanding leads to clear and tangible actions and clear intentions about the impact we expect our learners to experience.  

For example, if you believe that dialogue is a core component of effective learning, how might you use digital technology to make dialogue more inclusive and equitable for all learners - not just for the benefit of those who are confident at speaking and listening? What about learners with social anxiety or those who are neurodiverse? What about learners with speech and language difficulties or English as an additional language?

If you believe that scaffolding learning is fundamental to knowledge development : how might you use digital technology to provide individual learning pathways and increase teacher classroom capacity to action interventions? What about learners who are capable and autonomous? What about learners who are perhaps too confident or maybe not yet confident enough?

If you believe that addressing misconceptions is a core component of knowledge acquisition then how could you use digital technology to identify and automate corrections or to provide whole class real-time data to power-up responsive teaching? What about learners who have found unusually creative, non-traditional, or innovative solutions? What about learners who are missing foundational building blocks in their knowledge?  

Digital technology has a great deal to offer in removing barriers that are present in nearly every classroom – both in addressing deficits in learning and opening up new possibilities and opportunities. But meaningful impact that goes beyond short term ‘engagement’ narratives only happens if we are clear about what we want to achieve, how we want to achieve it, and why we want to achieve it.

As you visit Bett 2023, you are encouraged to engage with suppliers and practitioners to probe deeply into conversations about pedagogy and practice. In each conversation about digital technology, be a champion of the four domains of pedagogy:

  • Knowledge: What does this product or idea tell learners about where knowledge comes from? (and then consider how that aligns with your personal view about how knowledge is formed)
  • Learning: What does this product or idea suggest that ‘being a learner’ means? What does the product or idea suggest ‘learning’ means and looks like? (and then consider how that aligns with your personal view about what it means to be a learner and to learn)
  • Teaching: What does this product or idea suggest it means ‘to be a teacher’ and what ‘teaching’ means and looks like? (and then consider how that aligns with your personal view about what it means to be a teacher and to teach)
  • Schooling: How does this product or idea make meaningful links between ‘schooling’ and a learner’s experiences beyond school?

When you attend seminar sessions or engage in discussion on supplier stands, remember too that every device in your classroom and every programme or app that you subscribe to will have simple, yet powerful features which you may not yet be using - features that will help you to break down barriers to learning. Bett offers the perfect opportunity to ask suppliers what you already have access to and to hear practitioners talk about how they have used them in action. But keep your focus on how this digital technology can be used to support what you believe is important about learning. Where there are claims about the impact of a particular product or idea, probe deeply to understand the context – what else was going on, what did the teachers do and why, and what were the learners doing and why?  Make sure that you understand the embedded pedagogical beliefs – and consider how they align with your own context and values.

We probably all aim to encourage things like curiosity, creativity, innovation, metacognition, progress, and attainment, but let’s consider which of these we emphasise most through our current classroom interactions and choices. Furthermore, how does that emphasis affect the sense of inclusivity and equity experienced by our learners? Does every learner have an equitable opportunity to learn in every lesson? If not, what are the barriers, and which digital technologies might help us close the gap? For example, small-scale and simple ideas such as voice-note feedback for learners and automated subtitles in teacher presentations can reduce cognitive overload and keep learner attention on formative actions (and they are usually free or part of accessibility features on most devices!)

At Bett 2023, be a pedagogical champion. Be clear about what you believe is important within learning, and then keep asking questions until you have absolute clarity on how any digital technology will help you to achieve those aspirations.

To find out more, join the PedTech conversation on Wednesday 29 March 2023, from 12:20-13:05 in the Bett Academy Live Theatre for “PedTech: Putting Pedagogy First – A practical introduction” – hear the research, see the impact on learning across LEO Academy Trust, and find out about the free support and resources available through LGfL.

Biography – Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Founder of PedTech, One Life Learning

 Named by Education Business as one of the 50 most influential people in education (2022), Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is an award-winning teacher and leader with a passion for supporting those who work with children and young people. As Founder of PedTech and Director of One Life Learning, Fiona provides research consultancy and strategic education support to schools and trusts, professional learning providers and EdTech companies. She is also an Associate Lecturer and Consultant Researcher at The Open University and sits on the board of a number of multi academy and charitable trusts.

Bett 2023 takes place from 29-31 March at the ExCeL London. Get your ticket here!

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