NDLF – Opinion Piece – Judy Robertson

Opinion Piece

In this opinion piece, Judy Robertson – Professor of Digital Learning at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh, shares with us her thoughts on the role of technology within education, the importance of computational thinking and using technology effectively


I’m Professor of Digital Learning at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. Before I started in this post, two years ago, I lectured in computer science departments in Heriot-Watt and Glasgow Caledonian Universities for a decade. My research areas include developing educational technology for and with children, and also computer science education. In my work, I have seen various benefits of using technology to support learning, but I am also interested in making sure that we gather evidence fairly and objectively. We can’t just assume that sticking a class set of iPads into schools will be useful, and we can’t rely on anecdotes from happy pupils either. I have realised over the years that technology itself will not improve children’s learning but that the combination of good teaching with technology can be very powerful.

In my view, the new strategy for digital learning in Scotland is very much needed. The current provision is out of date and focuses on technology, rather than the learning which technology can support. I also firmly believe (with my colleagues in Computing at Schools Scotland and the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance) that learners need to learn about computational thinking. That is, they should have an opportunity to learn how to solve problems in such a way that they can design innovative new technologies for the future. Other countries in the world – Israel, New Zealand, The US and our neighbours to the South – have already changed their curricula to focus on computational thinking. Scotland is lagging behind, which is why it is so important that we are ambitious and rigorous in the current development of the new Expectations and Outcomes for technology.

Moray House has an important role to play in supporting the new strategy, in terms of providing high quality initial teacher education and continued professional learning. At the Digital Education Research Centre, we have internationally recognised expertise in digital education pedagogy and policy, open education, children and technology, learning analytics and museum learning. We have offered our expertise in these areas to the Scottish Government to assist in developing CPL to help support the strategy. We are also committed to helping primary school teachers learn how to teach computational thinking in their classes: we are running a course for Edinburgh City Council teachers (kindly sponsored by CGI) and hope to scale this up in the coming year.

In terms of initial teacher education. we are working on educating our student teachers about pedagogical approaches to using technology effectively. For example, I recently taught a class for third year primary students where the students critically reflected on the theoretical underpinnings of class behaviour systems such as Class Dojo and what the strengths and weaknesses might be. We are looking forward to the pilot year of our new MSc in Transformative Learning and Teaching(http://www.ed.ac.uk/education/graduate-school/taught-degrees/transformative-learning) which has digital literacy as a key element. Students on this degree may choose to specialise as computer science teachers.

We look forward to a productive collaboration with partners in Education Scotland and the GTCS to take the strategy forwards.

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