Is engagement enough?

Earlier this week we had a presentation in my placement school from an ICT company trying to sell us a visualiser. Now I love visualisers, so much so that I bought my own from eBay to use on my PGCE placements! Mine is only an old analogue model, but by running it through the computer I can instantly display and annotate children’s work, allowing for some real extension of their learning by allowing them to assess and critique work clearly and immediately. We have e.ven used it to capture a live science experiment and annotate the forces involved¬† onto the video, bringing the abstract science concepts into context in a very immediate way.

Force Diagram

The presentation concluded with a demonstration of student response systems. Now although this was an ‘extra’, the staff were incredibly enthusiastic about using these for a game of ‘who wants to be a millionaire’, and this ended up making a far bigger impression.

Personally I am not a fan of such systems. To my mind they are a very expensive way to get pupil feedback, in a way that is really quite unnecessary, certainly at primary level. Of course, they allow people to produce impressive graphs of student responses instantly, and if the children respond like our staff did they are certainly engaging. However, I really question whether they actually enhance the learning going on, or rather are an expensive way of reproducing the age old method of ‘hands up’.

Having recently been discussing with colleagues the possibility of a paperless classroom, my thoughts were met with surprise. “Surely,” said a colleague, “this is fun, why wouldn’t you want these?”. Fun and engagement may be a necessity¬† in primary schools, and I.C.T. may often provide it, but when faced with a decision between something merely fun, and something which allows us to take the learning to a different level, I know which one I would choose.

The other problem I have with such systems is that by their very nature they promote multiple choice, closed questions, which have been shown to merely test recall and not provide the cognitive challenge required for the most important learning to take place (Alexander, Towards Dialogic Teaching, 2004). Whilst this kind of questioning undoubtedly has it’s place in moderation, I cannot help but feel a classroom which has just invested significant money in such a technology is going to be driven by a great deal of closed questioning.

Ultimately that leads to a question regarding educational technology- is the engagement, or ‘wow’ factor enough to justify the investment (both in money and time)? My answer would be ‘No’; when there are so many technologies with the potential to both engage and take children’s learning even further, why spend large amounts of time and money on merely providing a bit of excitement?

EDIT:¬† For more on how these issues are being dealt with in schools you can read Ofsted’s report: Beyond Engagement . (Thanks to @tricias for finding the link for me)

A visualiser on the cheap
Time for reflection

3 thoughts on “Is engagement enough?”

  1. Pingback: Blogging in the Primary Classroom « Oliver Quinlan's blog

  2. Pingback: Blogging in the Primary Classroom « Oliver Quinlan's blog

  3. Vygotsky wasn’t prescriptive about which kind of scaffold teachers should use, discussing both a rigid, instruction-based scaffold and a negotiated dialogic scaffold. There is certainly a place for multiple choice, but we have gone so far that way in recent years that I agree with you about this technology – it just reinforces what we are already doing well, but doesn’t develop what we are doing badly (and what we need to do more of), namely negotiated scaffolding.

    The problem is that government has been so framework-based in recent years, that the rigid scaffold has seemed to be the only way for teachers and schools to appear as successful – to the long term detriment of education. Social Media is the way forward – you can’t help but negotiate learning when you’re in a network of learners…

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