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T & L

Low access, high challenge

By May 13, 20154 Comments

The thing is, in education, for both students and teachers, using technology can be quite a complicated thing. Evangelists (where has that term come from?) can go on about the amazing features of devices and how you can create amazing things with them. Yes, you can… but actually – is the time spent making that amazing piece of work worth the time and the effort when we are all as busy as we are, with so much content to cover and so little time within which to do it? Teachers are simply time poor. Many teachers simply don’t have the time to research the latest #edtech for learning, play with the different apps, embed them in to their practice and the classroom. And yes, in my experience, young people do pick things up quite quickly but they’re not natives; not by a long shot!

So how can we start to make a dent? How can we start to make a difference with technology?

Nesta hit the nail on the head a while back in their ‘Decoding Learning‘ report which highlighted the need to invest in supporting teachers. This is the case for everything though, isn’t it? Whether it’s developing differentiation techniques, learning about how to close the attainment gap, so forth and so on…. learning about how to effectively use technology is just the same.

The summary of the report says:

Key findings:

  • Schools spent £487 million on ICT equipment and services in 2009-2010. But this investment has not yet resulted in radical improvements to learning experiences or attainment.
  • No technology has an impact on learning on its own right; impact depends on how it is used. 
  • Rather than categorising innovations by the type of technology used (eg, do games help learning?), it’s more useful to think about the types of learning activities we know to be effective, such as practising key skills, and exploring how tech can support these activities.

This sings to the idea of using technology to enhance the learning experience; to scaffold it so that further learning can take place when technology is linked to the analogue world of learning.

One great way in to scaffold great learning experiences with children is to design learning sequences which have engaging and easy access points but with high challenge associated with the activities. Using taxonomies such as SOLO can really help children to demonstrate connectivity with their learning and move themselves forward. And so, whilst there are similarities between traditional pedagogical techniques there are similarities here with technology too. Let’s not spend our time being super creative where it requires an inordinate amount of time to produce something amazing. When it comes to learning technologies, let’s have a low threshold entry point for access to the technology but with exponential opportunities to really showcase the learning that goes on.

I’m not saying that on occasion we shouldn’t use the tools available to create amazing things. I recently had a conversation with the somewhat brilliant @greghodgson about this very topic. He was very much of the opinion that students should create beautiful things. I agreed but only in the space where that amount of work, when doing it from scratch, is something linked to the subject; for example in a Graphic Design course or such like. In Computing for example or Art, attention to detail and skill are massively important, as is refining and improving your work through different iterations. When it comes to using technology to enhance learning, easy wins with the opportunity to support high challenge gives us the most impactful opportunities.


A good example of this would the be app ThingLink. Available on every platform and free, it is super simple to use. As discussed in this post, the premise is simple. ThingLink enables you to add a simple image which can then be made interactive with a variety of interactions that you can add to the image.

You can tap on to the image and add:

  • a hyperlink
  • text
  • a Twitter ID
  • a video from YouTube
  • a video you have recorded yourself (within the mobile version of the app)

This by itself is pretty cool but by itself, it is a really simple thing. The power here though is that the effort and opportunities are completely scalable. This is what I mean by low access, high challenge. Imagine this (albeit simply) differentiated task.

Task 1 – find a picture of the earth’s crust, add it to ThingLink and label the different layers.

Task 2 – develop your ThingLink by finding relevant websites, research materials and videos on YouTube to explain more about the make-up of the different layers.

Task 3 – record your own ‘to screen’ recording of you explaining as much as you can about the different layers.

Within this simple app you have an activity which has a low entry point in terms of skill but a fab opportunity in terms of scaling up the challenge and learning opportunities. This is where ‘low access, high challenge’ and its relationship to teaching, and of course learning, can really sing.

Here are two examples:

Low access, low outcome:


Low access, high outcome:

I can think of lots more applications that have similar potential but I wonder what your thoughts are? Certainly we can apply this to any kind of learning in the classroom, but as I’ve shown here – you can with technology too. Do you have any tech enhanced examples? Do you have any low access, high challenge workflows or apps that can facilitate low entry points like this? I’d love to hear more if you have!


Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson, @ICTEvangelist. Click here to learn more.