Technology is rapidly transforming the way students learn and teachers teach, a study found that Australia is one of the highest users of technology in schools in the OECD – so how can technology benefit Australian students and what are the costs? What can it do and what can’t it do?

Wootube is a prime example of an everyday teacher utilisng technology to improve student engagement. Now boasting more than 460,000 subscribers, the YouTube videos, which Eddie Woo began filming simply on a propped-up iPhone offers freely available mathematics lessons and other school-related content at a few clicks of a mouse. The videos quickly became a popular means for students around the world to develop their understanding of mathematics concepts.

The positive impact Wootube has had on students all over the globe highlights the potential ways in which technological advancements could improve student engagement and learning outcomes. In the lead up to The Sydney Morning Herald Schools Summit, we had the pleasure of interviewing Eddie Woo on this topic. He says, “we forget that the chalkboard was revolutionary just like what technology is doing today. Children now have access to a world of knowledge as close as the phone in their pocket, teachers are no longer the fount of all knowledge.”

This leaves an important question to be answered, how is technology going to revolutionise the education sector and how do we prepare teachers for this shift? Woo says, “Teachers are no longer there to just fill students heads with facts, we’re there to help them view the world in a different way. Calculators and computers used to be job descriptors, those jobs have now been replaced by technology. The emphasis is now how we will use the calculator, computers are for answers and humans are for questions.”

Developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have prompted a conversation on the potential for technology to transform the way students learn with some even suggesting that these advancements could eventually replace the teacher entirely.

There is a lot of hype surrounding technology in the classroom and the potential for it to improve the learning experience of Australian students, however when asked to provide some practical strategies for improving student engagement, Eddie highlights the importance of understanding the way students learn – something for which technology is no substitute. “Teachers don’t teach subjects, they teach students. The primary job of an educator is to learn what makes your students tick. I often have students come in saying ‘I’m just not a math’s person’. I accept their opinion but then I talk to them to work out what they love, what they hate, what’s important to them. Then I can find a way that mathematics connects to them and build that rapport with them on that… the prevailing attitude is that math is numbers and formulas, but I can show people that there’s actually a lot more to it than that. If you don’t like one part, let me show you a different part, expose students to the different aspects of mathematics, if it’s not chapter 10 maybe it’s chapter 23. There will be a point of contact between every student and a subject, you just have to find it.”

Eddie relates this concept to his own experience in English studies, “I didn’t like Shakespeare and that coloured my early experience of English, however one day my teacher said we’re going to study famous speeches and the subject came alive to me, which helped me to really fall in love with the subject. That’s why I think we must strive to give students a diverse experience of your subjects.”

While technology can create unique learning experiences and improve the accessibility of educational content, it seems that it can’t contest the value of a teacher’s deep understanding of his or her students. Currently, powerful communication skills are not programmable and nothing comparable is offered by any technology in the market today. It’s clear that while technology when used correctly could significantly improve student engagement, it’s the intangible and powerful communication skills of the teacher that has the greatest impact.

Eddie Woo will deliver a keynote address on Student engagement: igniting the fire in young learners at The Sydney Morning Herald Schools Summit on the 25th February 2019 at the ICC Sydney.

Book now to take a seat at the table and join the conversation.