By Ian Kay, Head of Digital Learning at Edge Grove School
The presence of technology in the classroom is nothing new; from the humble BBC Micro in the 1980s through to the current touch screen interactive classroom display boards and tablet devices today – technology is always around us. But with each wave of progression, schools must carefully consider the impact of new technologies and the value this adds to pupil attainment, against the financial outlay, training and adoption time.
Finding the best solutions for the individual schools’ needs can also be quite daunting; some schools are trailblazers and early adopters, whilst others are more cautious and will buy into what becomes the industry standard. When making these decisions, we must try to avoid adopting a ‘me too’ attitude, and buying something which is not really fit for purpose. It makes sense to recognise that the main objective of introducing new technologies into school must be the improvement of teaching and learning, and the raising of pupil attainment.
A learning transformation
The recent inclusion of personal devices into classroom has transformed the learning experience for pupils and has changed the structure of lessons from being traditionally teacher-led with worksheets, textbooks and workbooks, to pupils designing their own learning, working at their own pace and using their individual skills and talents. Many children are used to using these devices at home and the assumption is it could be a technological leap backwards if we don’t bring them into the classroom environment.
Pupils can now be much more proactive in their independent learning with the class teacher acting as a learning manager, providing supervision and guidance. Greater scope for differentiated learning also exists with one to one devices as the range of tablet apps and web-based solutions cater for a wide range of abilities. The net result of this individualised learning is the raising of the individual performance and attainment.
A typical scenario of learning as a digital native would be to use a personal device connected to cloud based resources. Google has developed its “Classroom” suite, which is provided free to educational establishments. Teachers can set assignments and provide resources which the pupils can access using any web-enabled device, working with any operating system. Gone are the days where you were either a PC person or a Mac person. The real benefits of this system come from the fact that the teacher can see the students work in real time and give feedback as they work.
Scope for independent working
One of the main principles of Assessment for Learning (AFL) is Formative Assessment, whereby work is refined whilst in process, rather than being summatively assessed upon completion. In a purely book-based “handing in the homework” scenario, the pupil does not receive feedback until the marked work is returned. The scope for independent working is also greater, as pupils are not limited to the resources provided by the teacher. I advise my pupils that when they are stuck on a particular problem, they should search the Internet for the answers and that I don’t consider this cheating. That said pupils do need discernment skills to weigh up the information they find online.
It makes sense to recognise that the main objective of introducing new technologies into school must be the improvement of teaching and learning, and the raising of pupil attainment
We have discovered through experience that one to one tablets work very well with younger pupils; they are intuitive to use and allow pupils to design their own learning. Children with a range of literacy levels and those with learning difficulties find it much easier to access the curriculum and indeed to demonstrate understanding of the learning topics if they are able to express themselves via media other than the written word. Tablets allow the pupil to create narrated drawings as well as audio and video recordings. Older pupils (Year 7 and up) generally benefit from using Chromebooks or laptops, as the full size keyboard is more convenient for working on the essay-based subjects leading up to national examinations.
The ‘Gamification’ of learning
The use of personal devices has also spawned the “Gamification” of learning, whereby students learn through play. These game learning websites provide a range of subject opportunities from mathematics to science, languages and e-safety. Many of the sites also operate on an international basis and hold regular multi-national competitions for the pupils. This really provides a stimulus to advance their skills.
The way the curriculum is delivered is constantly evolving as new resources are made available online and it can be daunting as a class teacher to try to keep up. It is therefore essential that the curriculum plans be regularly reviewed to make sure the resources used are the most relevant and suitable for the purpose. Teachers need to be dynamic in this regard and to not be afraid of dumping something tried and tested if newer and more suitable options become available. Teachers do require support in this regard and cross-curricular working is a very good tool.
There are many animated clips available on the web showing that we are teaching yesterday’s curriculum to tomorrow’s workforce in an environment with ever-accelerating technologies. The idea here is to teach the skills to deal with new technologies, rather than rote learning facts, which may become irrelevant. Whilst I agree that these skills are essential, teaching the facts gives those skills context and allows further comprehension and understanding.
I am a firm believer in using technology to improve the teaching and learning experience; the introduction of systems should not create extra time or increase the amount of time spent to complete tasks. Any system that is implemented must undergo rigorous feasibility and suitability testing before going live; staff and pupils alike must have access to adequate training so that the system is implemented and used in a consistent manner.
The results we get from using technology in the classroom are quite clear when the class teacher works in partnership with the pupils: we can individualise learning, allowing them to work in the ways that best suit them and at their own pace, provide support to the learners with good quality feedback, provide targeted intervention where needed, monitor their progress more closely, and above all raise the attainment of pupils through the combination of all of these so in that regard, technology plays a vital role in raising attainment.