Does technology change what teaching is? Or have the fundamentals of teaching remained unchanged since ancient times?

How we answer these questions is important, because it has an impact on how we teach, and what experiences and opportunities we create for students.

Just last week a senior education manager suggested to me that technologies come and go but teaching remains the same. The implication was that technology provides new tools to do what we already do, at best more efficiently or in a more engaging way.

And at face value this is true. In medical education, textbooks were generally out of date by the time they were printed. CD ROMS were a huge improvement and now links to updated internet resources are taken for granted. But the role of a database of diseases hasn’t changed. The learning activities undertaken with these databases is perhaps unchanged.

But technology has also meant that nurses can work with sophisticated manikin patients that can be electronically monitored, can respond to pain and and even bleed. This certainly impacts on the type of learning activities that are being created by teachers.

New technologies come with new affordances and the potential to change both teaching and learning. Cope and Kalantzis ( provide an ‘Affordance framework’ as a checklist to analyse educational technologies and their associated pedagogical practices.

A current example: virtual reality has the potential to offer immersive experiences which activate spatial memory and offer high levels of retention. In virtual reality we are not looking at a scene. We are in the scene (as emphasised by Tom Furness on ABC’s Lateline 20/7/2016). We are participants. We can learn by doing.

And the activities that can be undertaken in virtual reality can mimic real world activities, providing practice in dangerous environments or with expensive equipment, or they can be imagined environments where activities undertaken are not possible in the world of atoms. We cannot yet understand what our role as teachers will be and how the student will experience and shape their learning.

So the questions remains: is there something essential about the nature of teaching – something that doesn’t change over time?