Maximising the benefits of technology in education

For all the hype and high expectations, we don’t yet fully understand how digital devices and instant connectivity are impacting teaching, learning and student outcomes.

Nor do we have the evidence base we urgently need to make fully informed decisions about which of the many devices, apps and online tools available can genuinely support student learning.

As digital technologies transform the way we all teach and learn, a wide-ranging research program is essential to tackle the many new questions arising. MQ’s Digital Technologies research group aims to navigate this rapidly evolving landscape to maximise the benefits that the use of digital technologies can offer.

By building a new knowledge base of what works well, why it works, and for whom – and by feeding new evidence back into teaching practices and educational decision-making – digital learning tools can be used to enhance students’ educational, social and personal development.

The group is also investigating the readiness and digital skills of the next generation of teachers as face-to-face teaching and technology-enhanced learning merge. Through its strong links to Macquarie University’s teacher education program and numerous partner institutions – from early childhood through to high school – the group aims to make a significant contribution to how we understand, and respond to, one of the most profound transformations in the history of education.

With so many apps labelled as 'educational' on the global market, how do we select those suitable for our purposes?

There is currently little information available beyond online popularity rankings – but what is popular because it entertains or engages is not necessarily educational. Macquarie’s Digital Technologies research group is investigating learning apps to identify those key design features and attributes that are of real educational value.

These insights will inform a new evaluation framework to help identify effective apps for educational purposes. By providing a new way of reporting on the educational value of apps, the group aims to help educators, parents and children make better-informed decisions in a market that is currently driven by quick turn-arounds and financial returns.

Researchers are also investigating digital technologies that use ‘learning challenges’ with feedback systems to overcome the reluctance of some students to engage in science discussions.

At one Sydney primary school we are working with teachers to integrate computational thinking and basic coding across subjects. Students in a unit about democracy are using code to create an animated election speech scene. While they do this, researchers focus on the thinking skills the children are using and how they solve computational problems. This project aims to contribute to our understanding of how teachers can plan and design learning tasks that integrate coding into other subject areas.

Future-focused education enabled by digital technologies will challenge much of what is taken for granted in teaching and learning today. Digital-enabled education will connect students and teachers across the classroom, the country and the world. We need to determine whether digital tools can improve learning outcomes and if so how, why, to what extent and in what curriculum areas. Additionally, we need to build a high quality Australian research base that reflects the pace, importance and breadth of this change.

Dr Anne Forbes: Science and STEM education pedagogies and learning; Communities of science practice; Knowledge transfer across the real-virtual divide.

Associate Professor Matt Bower: Contemporary technologies and the enhancement of learning outcomes, experiences and environments.

Dr Yeshe Colliver: Learning through play in early childhood and digital contexts; Incidental learning; Young children’s perspectives.

Professor Garry Falloon: Mobile devices in STEM learning, technology-support innovative and flexible learning spaces, and future-focused curriculum design.

Dr Hye-Eun Chu: affective factors affecting science learning, interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to science teaching and learning, assessment in inquiry-based pedagogies.