in Education

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)


  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?

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  1. An interesting post Doug and one that resonates with me. I am actually very wary when it comes to new technologies and services. I do not adopt these instantly and certainly do not try to force them into my classroom. I spend time using them myself with an eye on potential use in the classroom and how it can be of benefit. If I find potential I harness it. For example I used Twitter for six months before introducing it into my classroom and now it plays a major part in how my children learn to read, as well as reflect on their learning. I’ve used Foursquare for a year, and never intend to use it in my classroom.

    I do worry that sometimes shiny new technologies are shoved into classrooms with an ethos of ‘hoping for the best’, without an eye on the potential transformative pedagogy. We’re getting 10 new iPads at school soon – but that’s only because I know exactly how they can add value to what we are going to do.

  2. I like the SAMR model…

    “If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution”

    Part of the trouble, of course, is that using tech this way is the norm; it doesn’t require any pressure. Lack of inclination, time or thinking leads to blinkered adoption, because the underlying thinking doesn’t change. Maybe one way to reduce this risk might be to raise awareness of how important it is, even at pressured times like these, not to stop thinking?

  3. A few years ago, I ran a workshop on wikis for teachers in my building. The response from the group was largely positive, but I noticed one teacher kept rolling her eyes, sighing, and pretty much naysaying at every opportunity. She eventually indicated that the only reason she was there at the workshop was because her supervisor instructed her to use a wiki. No thought at all to purpose or function, just “do a wiki”. The teacher didn’t see the value, so I’d be willing to bet most of her students never did, either.

    We’ve got to be critical thinkers in all aspects of our practice, just as we require of our students. I always followed a similar approach as Martin describes; I love playing with all the new web apps and gadgets that come out, but only a fraction of all the tools I tried ever made their way into my classroom.

  4. Agree and disagree! As a senior leader, it takes time to create a context where tools are used for transformation and people need to feel comfortable with the tool first (which means getting them to use it). Sometimes, senior leaders are not aware and rely on the expertise of staff around them and when they are into the ‘shiny shiny’ that can cause major problems. I also wouldn’t be too hard on your younger self – the journey you made created the conditions where you could make the decision above and truly believe in it!

  5. Very relevant Doug and something all SLT and budget holders in education should be looking to adopt in their working environments. As already commented on, I too usually like to bite my tongue and hold off on the brand spanking new and wait til a little bit of the “tried and tested” has happened. But then again I suppose some has to b the first and as you rightly point out the new shiny toy is sometimes a powerful classroom force even if not obviously “considered and sustainable”. I also think that market forces are a factor here in especially in the web 2.0 market where a plethora of new tools floods into view regularly tempting mortal souls to try the latest fad.

    • Indeed, but there’s an incentive to be ‘first’ with things, isn’t there? Check out the clamour over institutions and teachers being the first to replace (i.e. substitute) textbooks with iPads.

      And everyone (including me) is susceptible to it. :-(

  6. I use shiny a lot but never lose sight of why I’m using it.

    1.Learning & what will the kids get out of it.

    2.Provocation & what will the kids be stimulated to do because of it.

    3.Purpose & why am I using it.

    If my shinytec doesn’t meet the above criteria,I’ll not use it until I can come up with the right reasons.

    It’s a dangerous thing to use new tech for new tech’s sake-what the kids learn because of it should be the reason to use it in classrooms.

  7. True, but it might not be overt pressure. I’ve seen plenty of situations where shiny shiny educational technology is used to liven-up the constraints teachers and students find themselves in!

  8. Absolutely. I wasn’t arguing against educators spending time with
    technologies – the opposite in fact. What I’m concerned with is the race to
    use shiny shiny technology as a crutch. That’s wrong.

  9. I think your penultimate paragraph Doug raises a significant problem in schools. And that is how to get members of senior leadership teams to value and understand technologies actively themselves rather than simply jumping on a bandwagon or ignoring tech all together, as I believe to be the case in some schools.

    It more than often feels to me that the technologies that are embraced are those that have been well touted by someone who hold sway or those that as you suggest act as a direct substitute. Perhaps part of this comes from the fact that it is easier to get the majority of staff on board with something that is tangible and they can quickly understand than with something that involves learning something new.

    I think with the 21st century being more than a decade old it is time for us to find a way to make school leaders appreciate that the technology is not going away and in fact is more than likely to become an even more integral part of people’s lives. Therefore, it is actually to a schools detriment to ignore it. With that in mind then it needs far more than a cursory glance or the adoption of the most popular tool to use (e.g. interactive whiteboards). What is needed is time and consideration given to the plethora of educational technologies that are out there with a clear focus on the learning. How can these tools improve learning?

    However, I think we are some way from this happening as I believe that educational technologies is not at the forefront of most senior leaders minds (perhaps, rightly so) but without more a more considered approach nothing will change. The adoption of educational technologies in schools will continue to be fad driven or not happen at all.

    I still firmly believe that an organic (from the roots) approach, while often slow and more than a bit frustrating remains the most effective method in both investigating the potential for tech to transform learning and to get SLT on board. The problem is are the teachers advocating the use of tech doing so for all the right reasons. If all schools took a more considered (whole school) approach to educational technologies and asked the question: “where is the learning?” then perhaps new “shiny, shiny” technologies would be put to more effective use?

    • Indeed, and I think the way to do that is to focus on what the technology
      can facilitate in the way of pedagogically-sound experiences (rather than
      mandating tool use).