School technology overspend

Released 19/11/2012

Schools spend 1.4bn on technology hype in three years - with little tangible impact according to a report exposing the risk of an all the gear, but no idea' approach to use of technology in education

UK schools are buying in to hype and lure of digital education, spending in excess of £450m a year with little or no evidence about the impact on learning says the report, Decoding Learning, from Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation.

It claims that technologies have often been imported into classrooms without the necessary changes to teacher practice and school organisation to support them.

The report also asserts that School budgets are increasingly assigned to technology, without a strong understanding about how to use it or its potential benefits. As a result, millions of pounds worth of kit is languishing unused or underused in school cupboards.

Decoding Learning argues that education technology should be designed around how students learn; saying that technology is currently being used to support existing teaching practices, rather than transforming teaching and learning.

Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta, explains, "A tablet replacing an exercise book is not innovation - it's just a different way to make notes. There's incredible potential for digital technology in and beyond the classroom: but as in other fields, from healthcare to retail, it is vital to rethink how learning is organised if we're to reap the rewards.

"The danger is that the technology of the 21st century is being applied using teaching methods of the 20th. The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware - rather than how it's to be used."
From learning through making to assessment and inquiry, the report shows the learning practices where digital technologies are starting to have an impact, and where there is still vast potential.

"It shows that there is great scope for independent learning, with huge growth in the amount of information available to learners. But, when it comes to ‘learning with others', good ideas and methods developed through academic research and commerce are not filtering through to the classroom."

Decoding Learning identifies the following areas and opportunities for digital education, through the innovation of products, processes and delivery:

• Assessment tools: There is currently too little truly innovative technology-supported practice in this area. Although not unnoticed, there is significant opportunity here;
• Learn through making: Build on the current enthusiasm for ‘making' and ‘doing' by supporting students with the right tools and thinking about application beyond the classroom environment;
• Techniques for practising: Not much is currently being done to know which tools are helpful; innovation in this area would be greatly welcomed;
• Turn the world into a learning place: Stop thinking about learning taking place purely in schools;
• Social learning: Consider technologies that support a dialogue between teachers and learners - in and outside of school - so that information can be swapped

Mulgan concludes: "As we continue to develop the understanding of technology's proof, promise and potential for education, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond."

Decoding Learning will help shape Nesta's on-going digital education programme. The current programme of activities includes:

• Digital Makers: A £225,000 fund and a network for organisations to come together to stimulate and promote digital skills across the UK. The fund is open for expressions of interest from individuals and organisations that have ideas to significantly increase the number of young people who participate in digital making activities.
• Fail Fest: On 22 November, brave panellists will reflect on what they've tried in the classroom, what hasn't worked and what we all might learn from the experience.
• Bring on whole system education reform: On 5 December, Pearson's chief education advisor, Sir Michael Barber will look at the imperative to unlock systemic education innovation - to inspire a generation and produce global leaders able to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. 

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