Francisco José Montiel Ruiz: “If we want to improve the educational system, we must reduce the ratio”

What do we mean when we talk about educational technologies? Because digital screens or computers come to mind; But it’s not just about that. According to Francisco José Montiel Ruiz, a researcher at the Educational Technology Group (GITE) at the University of Murcia, «educational technologies, by themselves, do not exist. There is technology, or technological tools, that can be used for educational purposes or as teaching resources. This is the case of digital screens and computers. On the other hand, there is what we call Educational Technology, which is the discipline that helps us guide the use of technological tools towards learning objectives. Thus, from the outset, it must be clear that technology in education is a means and not an end».

–What role do educational technologies play in teaching?

–Currently they have a fundamental role, mainly in the management and organization of the educational center or the classroom. The variety of existing tools and their features offer endless opportunities for both students and teachers. We speak, for example, of the possibilities of accessibility from any place and time or of the immediacy and interactivity of communications in virtual collaboration processes.

-It is something, therefore, that varies with the progress of the educational cycles, right? It is not the same in Early Childhood or Primary Education as in university education.

–It should be like this, but as it should happen with any other resource, because the greater the development of student skills, the easier it is to take advantage of all the potentialities and characteristics of said resource, whether technological or not. On the other hand, if it refers to the technical complexity of the technologies that teachers integrate or the amount of technological resources that they use in their teaching-learning process, this is not directly proportional to the progress of educational stages.

Perhaps, if you enter a class at any university faculty, you will find what students know as ‘death by Power Point’ in which the teacher limits himself to reading what appears on his slides, compared to the possibility of observing in a Early Childhood Education classroom how students start in computational thinking through robotics. But be careful, because using a robot in an infant classroom as a simple toy, in which the teacher does not understand very well the didactic purpose of its use, is not useful either. As there are also university professors who offer great master classes, they achieve their educational objective and technology is useful as a support to guide and enrich their speech.

-In recent years, ICTs have fully entered the classroom. Are there enough studies to support its benefits?

-If they exist. They speak of increased motivation, increased productivity in completing tasks, and overall improvement in academic performance. As there are also studies that warn of the addiction to this type of technological resources outside the classroom and conclude that it should not be, therefore, an educational resource that increases its time of use.

In Secondary is where this problem is mainly found. Personally, I’m not quite sure if mobile banning is beneficial as a preventative measure. I believe that it is necessary to be very didactic in its use, in its possibilities, in its risks, in the management of digital identity and in data protection. It is a teaching that must be addressed from school and not ignore the reality that the majority frequently use these devices outside of it. There must be a balance between prohibition and free use. Different levels of restriction can be set depending on the context. Some institutes already do it, in addition, with a negotiated process with the students that improves coexistence in the educational center.

–In your opinion, how does the use of new technologies affect learning processes?

–There are so many technological resources and so many possibilities that there are many different circumstances. Speaking generically, I believe that they currently have a motivating effect on students, as opposed to previous approaches, which takes students out of a possible routine and is fundamentally due to the novelty effect of the media. Thus, this effect on motivation will have to be analyzed when the use of these digital resources becomes routine and not anecdotal, if it happens.

-Some experts point out that promoting the use of new technologies is leading to abandon reflection and the development of critical thinking, how do you see it?

–Again, it would be necessary to see both the context and the methodological approach and the use made of each technological resource. But, a priori, I would not agree with that statement. Technology is a tool, a resource, one more medium, such as a book or a traditional blackboard that we can integrate more or less successfully in the planning of content development so that students achieve learning objectives. We cannot reduce the debate to technology yes or technology no, the key is how technological resources are integrated.

–And what about security in terms of the use of new technologies? That they know how to use it does not imply that their risks are known. Are students also trained in that?

-Totally. More than once I have heard that ‘if the children of Infant already manage the tablet better than the teacher’. The fact that a student knows how a technology works technically does not mean that they are digitally competent in its use. The European Commission defines five areas that make up the digital competence of any citizen and in which our students should be trained. One of them is security, in which you learn to protect your devices, your content and your personal data by managing your privacy in digital environments.

–In relation to new practices that are increasingly consolidated in the classroom, such as the use of virtual platforms, do you consider that we are facing a digitization of the same system as always or is something different really being done?

–Virtual platforms offer many possibilities to enrich the teaching-learning process. We must carry out a critical search for the platform that best suits our objectives, our context and that protects the privacy of students.

But it is true that afterwards you have to take advantage of the potential of the tool in a useful way for learning. It is clear that implementing a virtual environment to limit ourselves to uploading PDF files is not too far from physically offering this documentation in the copy shop.

-How do you imagine classrooms in 10 or 15 years?

-The reality is that I do not imagine important changes that imply an improvement of the teaching-learning process. Perhaps various teaching strategies associated with technological resources will become fashionable and will continue to advance. This will offer us new opportunities, which in turn will require us to continue adapting to them and training ourselves to optimize their integration in the classroom.

In any case, let me imagine the future of education in a utopian way. If we want to improve the educational system, and a substantial improvement in all aspects, there is a variable to modify that will always work. There is no debate on this and it will not depend on whether a methodology, a program or a project works in a given context. I’m talking about reducing the ratio of student to teacher. In other words, instead of working with 30 students, a teacher works with 15. Obviously, it involves a high investment in hiring teaching staff, but personally, I would always direct economic efforts to having a few fewer students per group than to filling the classes with tablets. or computers. Recent experiences show that when this has happened, spending plans on technological tools were mainly attended to without being properly accompanied by investment in adequate teacher training. Not to mention the obsolescence of said tools and the associated maintenance costs.

In short, whether today or in 15 years, I believe that the fundamental idea around this will continue to be that technology in education is a resource, a means like any other, which is only useful when it helps us achieve the objectives proposed didactics.