Earlier this year, the Department for Education unveiled a new strategy for education technology, to the tune of £10m, in a bid to give all schools across the UK the opportunity to benefit from edtech.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “We are living in a digital world with technology transforming the way we live our lives – both at home and in the workplace. This strategy is just the first step in making sure the education sector is able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available through edtech.
“We now call on schools, businesses and technology developers to realise the huge potential of technology to transform our schools so that teachers have the time to focus on teaching, their own professional development, and – crucially – are able to cater to the needs of every single one of their pupils.”
The implementation of such a scheme demonstrates not just the opportunities for improved efficiency, but the need for education to keep adapting. Technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives, and particularly the lives of school age children who won’t remember a time without it.
From this perspective, it’s essential that technology is seamlessly woven into education in order to reflect the way we interact with the world at large.
However, there is bound to be some trial and error in this process; it’s difficult to ascertain what will be an enhancement to learning and what may be a hindrance.
We are living in a digital world with technology transforming the way we live our lives – both at home and in the workplace
Apples for teacher – and students
For independent schools in the UK, there is one technology that seems to be leading the charge in classrooms – iPads. Alderley Edge School for Girls works on a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) system, in which pupils are required to own an iPad and have it with them during lessons. Jamie Chadwick, director of technology-enhanced learning at the school, explains: “The biggest reason for choosing iPads is the ease of use. iPads are great tools for accessing learning materials and resources in a format that suits the students.
“If it’s their own iPad, they have already set up their iPad to work for them; they’re familiar with their particular model, and they look after it! Apple are putting a lot of money into the software side of it. There is a lot of work going into developing apps and resources for teachers, so it was too good an opportunity to miss.”
With a track record of targeting the education market spanning back decades, Apple has certainly positioned itself as a leader in the edtech space; the tech giant has a full suite of apps that are designed for use in classrooms including the Apple Classroom app itself and the Apple Teacher programme supporting teachers and education staff that incorporate Apple products – and will likely be involved in working with other tech leaders within the government initiative mentioned earlier in this article.
It’s not just a boost to learning methods; David Futcher, director of IT at Cranleigh School in Surrey, explains how their iPads provide the teachers with more freedom: “Teachers don’t have to stand up in front of the class and write on the board, because we can have what’s on our iPads beamed up in the classroom. It allows us to be more involved with the kids, either from a classroom management point of view, or not being this sort of focal point in the room.
“Teachers can take pictures of the kids’ work quickly and beam that up onto the board so that they can provide feedback, celebrate good work or start discussions – coming up with responses in real time in a classroom is very powerful.”
Tech for good
Students’ wellbeing is a key part of a school’s responsibility, therefore, as technology continues to permeate all aspects of our lives, it’s important for educators to see its utilisation as not just a learning tool but an instrument to promote contentment and good mental health. At Putney High School, director of IT and digital learning James Mutton describes how they are achieving this: “We recently pioneered the Positive Schools Programme app as part of our PSHE programme, giving girls a ‘digital toolkit’ with which to check in with their emotional wellbeing, and encourage greater awareness of mental health. This is a key way to engage with the app generation and help them to navigate the turbulent teenage years.”
Using tech for pupil wellbeing is important and a fantastic initiative, but equally it is crucial to recognise that it can often be a factor in worries and stress faced by young people. Rachel Evans, director of digital learning and innovation at Wimbledon High School, points out the need to safeguard students by implementing technology mindfully: “Digital safety is paramount and we ensure that our school wifi and internet filtering are robust. Our pastoral programme, GROW, covers digital safety topics. We are also keen to educate girls around the way that social media and other online content is designed to capture their attention and how they might resist this.
Evans also explains how they strike the balance between traditional learning practices and the use of technological innovation: “On a practical level we are concerned to maintain the skill of handwriting, and thinking and working in that way, in a world where public examinations are still done on paper. As with all things, moderation is key – we would not want a school that was wholly immersed in technology; nor one without it entirely. The most important thing in a school is the interaction between the humans in the room and we guard against technology breaking those relationships, instead ensuring it’s a supportive tool for the teachers and pupils.”
Fun and games in learning
As well as boosting efficiency for pupils and teachers, the use of tablets can help introduce an element of fun to learning, particularly through gamification. Video and online games are a part of many young people’s leisure time anyway, so using that familiar activity as an educational tool can be hugely effective, and the use of online quizzes can help make learning a collaborative, interactive and entertaining experience.
David Futcher extols the virtues of introducing gaming in the classroom, but notes that it’s important to adapt the method to the individual pupil: “It’s not necessarily something to do all the time, but it has its place – it can make the case to practise a bit harder or for longer. Some kids respond really well to the competitive elements of it, with a leader board showing achievements and so on.
“But for those kids that don’t respond very well to the competitive element, they can also do all of these quizzes on their device for their homework, or out of lesson time, and take their time reading the questions. We make sure they know it’s not about speed but about quality of answer.”
It’s clear there is a plethora of opportunities to enhance the learning experience for students, driving efficient and accurate marking, and measuring performance as far as edtech is concerned. Teachers are making use of some great features, for example using voice recordings to provide feedback for students, meaning they can listen and take the comments on board rather than just turn over to see a percentage.
It’s being cited as particularly useful for language orals, so teachers and students can watch them back and improve, and students are also creating their own apps for language vocabulary quizzes. Teachers now have improved visibility over how long was spent on a task, and step in if a student isn’t putting in the required effort.
However, as the adoption of technology in classrooms becomes more widespread, there will inevitably be some examples of an increasing problem within the rapid evolution of tech – industry bodies failing to keep up. We have seen it with social media giant Facebook and governmental regulation, and we are likely to see it with edtech and assessment processes.
As James Mutton puts it: “One of the biggest issues is the increased adoption of technology in the classroom which is not reflected by the exam boards. At the end of KS4 and 5, students sit exams that are primarily designed to be answered using pen and paper, as their parents and grandparents would have done. It is vital they are prepared for this, but I also think more needs to be done to bring the assessment process of our students up to date, to reflect the world in which they are learning.”
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