Is technology transforming education?

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by Russell Standard

I am looking at the #EdTech tweet feed on my Twitter account as I write this article. The tweets are updating almost every second and most of them include words like transform, innovate and flip. The picture that emerges is one where teaching and learning is being transformed. I wonder to myself is that really happening?

The innovation is in the teaching

Technologies have the potential to be used in an innovative way but they have an equal potential to be used in a very traditional behaviouristic mode. In my experience of training teachers, both happen in about equal measure.  I often read about the ‘transformative’ nature of educational technology and how technology is changing our teaching and learning (Edtechreview 2013). This is simply not true. Teachers stand at the front of the class presenting their lessons from their IWB, students do exercise after exercise of gap fill and multiple choice activities on their computers, teachers record their lectures and put them on-line and call it the Flipped Classroom, students sit in silence writing up a blog that no one reads. None of this is innovative, it is pretty typical, behaviouristic form of teaching that is in no way transforming education. If technology is ever going to play a ‘transformative’ role in teaching and learning then it will be because the teachers have set up the activities that exploit the affordances of the technology. It is not the technology that is transformative, it is the way the teacher decides to use it (or perhaps even lets the students decide how to use it!).

We can see it in the SAMR model for example (a model popularised by Dr Ruben Puentedura). I often make the point with the teachers on my MA modules by showing them a technology and asking them where it fits within the SAMR model. Teachers will immediately begin to try and put the technology within the model and decide whether it is Substitution, Augmentation, Modification or Re-definition. I then begin to suggest different ways of using the same technology and the teachers find themselves changing their minds and re-positioning the technology. That is because it is the way the technology is exploited that determines where it falls within the model. It is not the technology that is transformative in nature, it is the way it is used.

I am making the point that way too much focus is put on the technology and its affordances and not on the way we exploit it. I can record a video of myself using my webcam explaining the present perfect and then put it on-line and allow my students to watch it at home. I could also use the same technology to get the students to re-enact part of the First Certificate oral exam and record themselves doing this. I could then provide them with the marking scheme for the oral exam and ask them to watch their own video and mark their own performance based on the criteria. I could even get the students to peer review each other’s work. That is transformative.

Of course I don’t want to exaggerate this point. Each technology has its potential affordances and some will have more affordances to exploit than others but essentially the exploitation of a technology comes from the way it is used. This has always been the case. I have seen a blackboard and chalk used to write up lists of vocabulary that the students copy down but I have also seen a blackboard used for group based games and activities where students are running up to the board and engaging in lively active classes. Same technology, different use.

I don’t want to claim any immunity from this. In 2006, I suggested the idea of using screen capture as a way of giving feedback to our students. I pointed out that we can open our student’s written work onto our screen, mark the areas we want to provide feedback on and then turn on the screen capture software and record ourselves correcting our students work (Times Higher, 2006). The resulting video can then be sent to the student who can play it back and listen and watch as the teacher corrects their work (Russell, 2006).

Now, that is not a bad innovation and a good use of screen capture technology but it is not really transformative. It still means the teacher is the ‘source’ of the feedback, it doesn’t necessarily encourage the students to get involved in the process or offer them the chance to decide what they want feedback on. It is not dialogic. What can really make this transformative is if we begin to use the technology in different ways. A few possible examples that I know people have experimented with include:

  1. Ask students to hand in a form along with their essay where they highlight things they want feedback on. This way the teacher can create a video that responds to the student’s concerns. This could be the beginning of a dialogue (Elbow and Sorcinelli, 2010)
  2. Get the students to peer review each other’s work using screen capture. This for example has been done in Canada (Seror, 2012 ). Students could even use screen capture to self-evaluate their work.
  3. Using screen capture to produce a model answer to a question. I did this on a teacher training course where the teachers had to write an essay on the advantages and disadvantages of using an IWB. Instead of marking their work, I sent them a screen capture video where I went through a model answer to the question and explained what I expected the essay to cover. I asked the teachers to watch the video and then use it to reflect on their own work and provide a mark and feedback to me.

These ideas and activities really begin to transform teaching and learning. They put more responsibility on the part of the students to evaluate and assess their own work. The types of activities that I have just outlined can help students become more independent, evaluate their own learning and build a better understanding of their progress. They are transformative because they shift the onus away from the teacher to always provide the ‘feedback’ and allow the students to reflect and develop their own opinions on their own work. Hopefully, doing these types of activities will also be more cognitively engaging and therefore more memorable. What is most revealing is that it is not the technology that has transformed the learning but rather the activities.

The challenge of making education transformative is a huge one. I listen to people like Tony Wagner, Cathay Davidson and Stephen Heppell and I realise the enormity of the task. I do honestly believe that the skills for a life in the 21st Century are different in some ways to those we needed in the 20th Century but I don’t really see that the syllabuses that underpin education really reflecting this. Employers are calling out for change but progress is slow (AACU, 2007). Some educationalists are making the point but the reality is that education is a political issue and involves many stakeholders. The heart of the problem lies with the goals and objectives that are set from above, from governments and educational bodies. If teachers have long lists of grammar structures to get through and vocabulary lists to complete then it is quite likely that the way they make use of technology will reflect what they need to achieve with their students. If, however, the curriculum focused more on developing students autonomy, on developing reflective skills, on developing discerning readers or on making use of social media to interact with other language learners  etc. then you might see that technology is used in a more transformative way.

The natural affordances of some technologies do mean that it is easier to get students collaborating and working together, especially when outside the class, but in main stream education it’s not changing that fast. It might be packaged differently through blended learning but since the syllabuses are the same and the assessments haven’t changed much, then, my feeling is that education hasn’t moved on as much as we think.

Russell Stanard

Bio: Russell Stannard is the founder of He is a part-time lecturer at the University of Warwick and an NILE associate trainer. He mainly works on Masters level courses in the use of ICT in language teaching and trains teachers all over the world. He writes regular columns in the English Teaching Professional and the Teacher Trainer.





AACU (2007)  Survey of skills employers are looking for. Available at 

Edtechreview (2013) Article on how technology is transforming education. Available at

Elbow, P., and M.D. Sorcinelli. (2010) How to enhance learning by using high-stakes and low-stakes writing. In McKeachie’s teachng tips, ed. W.J. McKeachie and M. Svinicki, 213–234. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

SAMR. Short explanation of model. Available at

Seror, J (2012) Recent ideas around screen capture feedback. Available at

Stannard, R (2006)  Example of video feedback. Available at

Times Higher (2006) First article I wrote about feedback with screen capture. Available at

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  1. Is technology transforming education? | | Affor... - 04/02/2016

    […] by Russell Standard I am looking at the #EdTech tweet feed on my Twitter account as I write this article. The tweets are updating almost every second and most of them include words like transform, innovate and flip.  […]

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