Why you should ask ‘why’

(Last Updated On: April 28, 2015)

As the digital world continues to evolve it’s important to keep asking ‘why’ schools should use technology and to keep thinking deeply about the opportunities these tools give our teachers and students, writes Carolyn Stuart.

ftb_63When schools first began to consider using digital technologies to support learning, there was a lot of scepticism from all areas. Visionary educators found that to get traction with both teachers and parents, they had to be very clear about why it was a good idea. Whilst this was frustrating, the upside was that it continually sharpened the focus around the ‘why’ of technology.

Nowadays there’s little argument, which has made the introduction and use of digital tools much smoother. It’s also substantially changed the conversation from the ‘why’ of technology to the ‘what’: “What tool should we be buying/using?” The downside, however, is that the important ‘why’ conversations around the use of digital technology, take second place.

As technologies become easier to use and connectivity improves, there’s increasing potential for it to seriously improve educational outcomes. But to maximise the benefit, we still need a clear understanding of ‘why’ ICT has such an important place in today’s schools. Here’s my list of reasons – I’ve also created a question in Pond, where I’d love you to add your ideas.

Digital tools bring the outside world into the classroom enabling new ways to learn, connect, and collaborate

At the click of a search engine we can learn, connect and collaborate with almost any community in the world. This potentially makes learning more engaging and relevant, and also broadens the curriculum available to every learner. Online environments allow connections with others in new ways. We’re no longer restricted to just face-to-face learning relationships.

Using digital tools in classrooms allows students to live fractally

To live ‘fractally’ means to be able to operate in the same way irrespective of the environment in which you find yourself. Think about writing and how different the cognitive process is depending on whether you are writing on a computer or with pen and paper. Learning time is precious and we need to ensure that we maximise the time we have with students on achievement not on learning how to learn in the absence of technology.

Digital technology allows for greater personalisation of learning

Optimal learning occurs for a student when they’re able to learn at their pace and at the appropriate level, being neither held back nor left behind. There’s nothing new in this ideal, but prior to digital technology it was virtually impossible to customise learning down to an individual level. Now tools such as GAFE and 365 provide a platform in which teachers and/or students can create individualised learning plans and track individual progress.

Digital technology gives students greater agency over their learning

Many schools set up learning plans for their students that have built-in flexibility around teacher directed, group, and individual activity, with students being able to decide, within some limits, when and where they will learn. In practical terms, instructional sequences, whether delivered via a platform such as Khan Academy or from a teacher recording the instructional part of their lesson, is a way digital technology gives students agency over their learning.

Digital technology gives teachers greater agency over their teaching

Flipped classrooms, the ability to ‘flip’ the way content is delivered and practised has been enabled by digital technologies. Sometimes this might be giving the students a link to a video to watch as ‘homework’ the night before, or equally it might be to watch in class. However teachers choose to ‘flip’, it is certainly a powerful way to re-conceptualise the way learning occurs in schools.

Digital technology gives students more ways to express their individuality and creativity when showcasing their learning

From the very start of e-learning, teachers have supported students to use the tools to express their individuality and creativity. Digital technology takes creativity to a whole new level and is an opportunity which every child should be afforded.

For many years we have talked about digital divides in terms of rural and urban, and socio-economic status. The digital divide we don’t often talk about, though, is the one between schools making highly effective use of digital technology to drive learning outcomes and those who aren’t. We need to keep talking about why technology has such an important place in today’s education system. 

Carolyn Stuart is Education Sector Lead for N4L. Previously, she was Principal at Tawa Intermediate and Southbridge School. Read the full article on our website and be part of her ‘why’ conversation at

Categories: Article, Issue 63