Book Review: Teachers vs Tech

Francesca Timms is a Science Lead Practitioner for a multi-academy trust on the South Coast with an interest in applying educational research in the classroom. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Given the current climate, it is more important than ever to be thinking critically about the place of educational technology (ed-tech) within science teaching. Christodoulou’s book ‘Teachers vs Tech’ was uncannily prescient in its publication earlier this year. The book begins with a thorough explanation of cognitive science including ideas of how direct instruction can help minimise the limitations of the working memory.

During this period of working from home, some have been lured down the path of projects as a possible solution to student’s learning with minimal access to teacher input. Christodoulou cautions against this, as our students are novices in the skills we are teaching them. And therefore it is likely that working memory will become overloaded if students are learning by trying to solve real world problems whilst learning new knowledge. The exception to this is projects with a narrowly defined focus which is likely to more closely align with applying previously taught knowledge in a new situation. For example learning to calculate surface area to volume ratio and then applying this knowledge to a range of different organisms.

Another area which is significant under the present circumstances is personalised learning. Most are now clear that students having different learning styles is a myth (if not read this) and that it is more important that the style that content is taught in is a more salient consideration. For example it is likely to be better to teach the structure of plant and animal cells using a picture instead of solely a paragraph of text. Further examples of how explaining concepts using the optimal mode can be found here on Pritesh Raichura’s excellent blog. Instead of personalising based on learning style or student choice, Christodoulou persuades that learning can be ‘personalised’ by adapting learning to what pupils do and do not know. Ed-tech can be useful here as software can ask students questions and then respond accordingly to help them progress. Many of these are free (Quizlet, Quizizz and SenecaLearning) and some are free whilst schools are closed (Tassomai, GCSEpod and TheEverlearner).

Teachers vs Tech ends by trying to answer how technology can help with assessment, a topic that is a clear link to Christodoulou’s previous book ‘Making good progress?’. This chapter is the least linked to science teaching due to its focus on essays, the assessment of choice for English and Humanities. The chapter does discuss that short answer questions and multiple choice questions (MCQs) could quite easily be marked using machines but does not provide any solutions for ensuring that these questions are of a high quality, as good MCQs are tricky to write.

Overall, Teachers vs Tech gives a superb introduction into the field of cognitive science and how this knowledge can be used to implement ed tech as a tool to help improve our teaching. But I wouldn’t worry, it seems unlikely that robots will be taking our jobs any time soon.

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