Narrow and traditional use of technology in the classroom

QUINT study finds that the use of digital technology in classroom instruction is still quite traditional. 

teacher with a tablet

Teachers may use apps and social media themselves, but in everyday teaching their use of digital technology is often limited. Photo: Illustration photo, Colourbox.

QUINT-SERIES: New Insights from The Nordic Classrooms

Drawing on 178 video-recorded lessons from 47 lower-secondary classrooms with high technological infrastructure in Norway, a study published April 30th 2020 in Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy sheds light on how and for what purposes teachers use technology in their everyday instruction. The article, written by QUINT researchers Marte Blikstad-Balas and Kirsti Klette based on data from the LISA-study provides important insights into what kind of digital literacy practices students in the eight grade experience in a classroom context.

The key findings are that teachers’ implementation and uptake of technology in everyday instruction was narrow and limited. Teachers mainly used technology to show pre-made presentations (e.g PowerPoints) and students used technology mostly for individual writing.

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Despite good access and high national ambitions for the development of students’ digital competence, teachers’ uptake of the available digital technology was very often limited to supporting traditional teacher-centered practices, with low student participation, suggesting that information and communications technology (ICT) was used for traditional transmissive pedagogy. The study also finds that teachers’ discourse around ICT in class was practical and technical, rather than conceptual.

These findings show that the implementation of digital technology and the development of digital competence in schools require far more than an ambitious curriculum and a basic digital infrastructure. Structures at a national level are not enough, and the authors point to an urgent need for professional development at the local level to increase the instructional repertoire and the didactical motivation of teachers in relation to digital technology.

Marte Blikstad-Balas, were you surprised by any of these findings?

One thing that did surprise me  is the absence of social media, games and non-curricular activities. The classroom management in these 47 classrooms was very good, and students were not using the web as an escape from what happens in the classroom – which I have seen a lot of in the higher grades and also in other studies done by colleagues.

- I was also somewhat surprised that we found almost no innovative use of ICT. At the same times these findings overlap with previous research done in the Nordic countries where we see that the use of technology in schools is often quite traditional.

Teachers use PowerPoints and students write individually. What is in fact striking, is the stark contrast between what the technology industry, and to some extent also research on technology, shows is possible – and what we see in actual classrooms. 

What does that mean?

Well, it simply means that those who assume that access to technology itself will transform and improve schools should think again. That sounds obvious, but both in Norway and internationally, there has been a tremendous optimism around the devices themselves, especially on a political level and the school leadership level – often without a concrete didactical discourse at the teacher level. This is yet another study showing the lack of the promising pedagogical practices associated with ICT. The data in this study stems from 2015, when teachers already had good technology access, but when not all students had their own devices provided by the school. It will be very interesting to see if we find more innovative practices in the LISA Nordic study, where we are analyzing data as we speak.

Comparing the results to Swedish studies

Marie Nilsberth (formerly Tanner) is one of the Principal Investigators of QUINT's Connected Classroom study and based at Karlstad University. 

Marie Nilsberth, what do you think of the findings presented in the article? How does it relate to the Swedish material from the Connected Classrooms study?

Photo of Marie Nilsberth (Forlerly Tanner)

These are interesting and important results that give us an overview of what digitalisation looks like in the Nordic context. I am not surprised by the general picture of teachers using ICT for instruction and that students mostly use ICT as writing tools. This is in line with what we see also in the Swedish classrooms. However,  I would have expected more examples of sharing content digitally, for example games or video clips, and also more examples of students’ information seeking practices.

In our Swedish studies we also see more use of Learning Management Systems for communicative purposes, where teachers give feedback on students’ work digitally. This might be something that has developed during the five years since the data in this study was collected. Digitalization is a process in rapid change, and ICT could no longer be seen as one unitary technology.

- We need more nuanced knowledge about how different digital devices and programs interplay with both digital and non-digital resources for different purposes.

This is important in order to deepen our understanding of how digitalisation changes the classroom as a space for learning. In the Connected Classroom Study, where we follow teachers and students in digitally rich classrooms in all Nordic countries during three years, this is something we want to contribute further to.

By Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Published May 5, 2020 5:53 PM - Last modified Aug. 2, 2021 10:09 AM