The Truth About Technology and SEL

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Dec 05, 2018
by Louise Hallman
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The Truth About Technology and SEL

Fellows discuss how technology can be used as a force for good in social and emotional learning Illustration by Wolfgang Irber

As technology has become ubiquitous in our lives, concerns have been raised about its negative impact. Despite this, tech can still be a positive enhancement for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) development.

Across all areas, technology can helps work across distances and at scales not otherwise possible. When considering how technology can be used to enhanced learning of any kind, but especially SEL, the initial question should not simply be “what can tech do?” but rather “what do teachers and learners need?” Fellows at Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis were warned that simply “bringing in innovative tools doesn’t lead to innovative practice.”

Video conferencing, for example, is already being used to good effect in classrooms for purposes such as language learning. In social and emotional learning, key skills to be developed are communication, collaboration, cultural and understanding. Video conferencing can help here too. Microsoft’s annual
Skype-a-Thon” connects students in classrooms across the world to share their learning experiences and daily lives with each other. Further enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI)-driven live translation tools, these exchanges can transcend linguistic barriers.

In diverse school communities, especially those serving large numbers of refugee and migrant children, live translation tools – either using text or audio – can greatly improve parental engagement, such as at parent-teacher conferences, reducing the costly need for human interpreters.

Gamification is also being used to great effect in other areas of education, and now too in SEL. Edutech company Immersive Minds are using the popular online game Minecraft to address students’ understanding of the refugee crisis. By playing through different scenarios and collaborating with students around the world (again aided by live translation tools), students explore what it is like to be forced to leave home, to have power and have it taken away from them, to need to trust people, and ultimately to have empathy.

Even in schools without access to the latest devices and easy connectivity, tech can help open up philosophical debates that are important for students to develop their SEL skills. “Is it OK to kill people in World of Warcraft?”, “Can I be rude to Siri/Alexa?” and “Who’s responsible for self-driving cars?” can all prompt interesting ethical debates.


The program Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. This year’s program was held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft and Qatar Foundation International, together with additional partners, the British Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank.