Immersed in technology

Immersed in technology

Schools are acquiring more mobile technologies and using them to enhance learning experiences in all subjects, not solely computing. Steve Moss, chair of the board of management of Naace, explains further

The drive over the past few years for the development of computing as subject in schools in England has tended to obscure the fact that most capital expenditure on IT infrastructure or equipment by schools (and by the Department for Education through programmes such as the Priority Schools Building Programme, the Free Schools programme and the University Technical Colleges (UTC) programme) is intended to support the use of technology to support learning and teaching more generally.

Schools are acquiring more mobile technologies in the form of laptops and tablet PCs and these are increasingly being used by teachers and pupils to enhance learning experiences in subjects other than computing. However, the effectiveness of these new equipment purchases is not always maximised due to insufficient planning or focus on aspects such as leadership and management, teachers’ professional learning, and network infrastructure.

SHARING BEST PRACTICE

In my role as Chair of the judging panel for the annual ICT Excellence Awards in Northern Ireland, I am privileged to visit primary, secondary and special schools that are transforming learning and teaching using educational technology. Through the judging process over the past three years, it has become clear that there are certain common factors in the most successful schools. I hope that it is helpful to share some of these.

The leadership teams have established a strong vision and clear strategy for the use of technology. This vision is influenced by staff at various levels within the schools not simply documented and handed down. For this reason, the vision is inclusive, understood and shared by all stakeholders and a sense of ownership of the technology strategy is evident.

Technology is frequently used in teaching and in learning and to provide learning opportunities beyond the school buildings, the school day and the school year.

Schools see technology as a natural part of pedagogy rather than simply as a means to meeting the requirements of the computing curriculum. Seeing technology as a tool to deliver a specific learning outcome or benefit, or to solve a particular issue – rather than as means to achieve a ‘tick-box’ exercise of curriculum coverage.

This is not to say that the most successful schools have discontinued the process of mapping technology use across the curriculum to ensure coverage of the programme of study. The reverse is true. Increasingly this is being done to better equip learners with skills essential for the next step in the education and even for life/work. A clear step forward on the journey to real transformation is happening – in the sense that the educational need/issue/outcome is increasingly the driver to pursue technology to meet the challenge, rather than the other way around.

DRIVING INNOVATION

This does not imply that emerging technologies are not the driver of innovation also. There are many examples of projects being created to exploit exciting technologies like coding, the use of drones, 3D printing, Virtual Reality and so on; but again, what seems to lie behind the most successful schools’ decisions to adopt such an approach or technology is a desire to improve engagement, motivation, aspiration, performance or some other educational imperative. For example, as a means of shortening the feedback loop in respect of staff commenting on pupils’ work.

In the very best practice seen, significant, rigorous efforts have been made to ensure that when technology is used in teaching and learning, it is progressive, building on prior learning experience rather than ‘ad hoc’ in respect of the repetition and/or duplication of skills to be acquired or to be utilised.

Increasingly, schools are using feedback from peers and parents to drive up the standards of pupils’ work and to motivate and engage them more strongly. Pupils are being ‘trained’ in providing such feedback/critique; in the sense that they know what is and isn’t acceptable, and more importantly what is and isn’t helpful to their peers. Parents are far more engaged in supporting learning in these schools and the teacher-pupil-parent triangle is functioning exceptionally well.

There is clear evidence that technology is a key tool of independent, self-initiated learning – with pupils showing increasing confidence in taking more control of their own learning, and a group work/peer collaboration ethos bringing real rewards. It is also very clear that technology is an essential component of ensuring differentiation in many schools, and not just in meeting the needs of those with learning difficulties, but in meeting the additional needs of the gifted and talented and providing stretch targets for the many.

EVIDENCE OF IMPACT

The evidence of the impact of technology on outcomes, which is sometimes hard to pin down, is more obvious in the most successful schools. Staff are increasingly confident in their ability to show clear evidence of technology having a positive impact on a variety of pupil outcomes including attitude, motivation, engagement, behaviour, attendance and attainment.

Evidence for this impact includes both objective (data) and subjective (professional judgement) sources. Whilst some schools are able to produce evidence of causal links between improved outcomes and the use of technology in changed pedagogy; others are happy to express how, in their professional judgement, technology is an important factor in the school improvement they identified. In one school, a staff member asked by a member of the judging panel to ‘stand behind’ his assertion that ICT had helped improve attainment. He stated passionately that “the school’s results had been the best for 50 years, and that the most important contributor to that success was, without doubt, the way technology had changed teaching and learning”.

Technology has clearly changed the dynamic in respect of the parent-school-pupil relationship. Parents have become significantly more engaged in their children’s learning and are excited by a wealth of opportunities to collaborate with the school – though this may be more prominent in primary schools. Parents in almost every school we visit acknowledge how the variety of technological communication/collaboration channels made available to them by their schools is very welcome. The range of technologies through which parents can see what their children are doing at school has significantly increased.

In schools where these technologies are used well, parents identify how shortened feedback loops are making a huge difference and how they are much better able to engage in learning conversations with their children.

The issue here, if there is one, is that there is almost no sense of a system-wide approach or toolset, with parents with children at different schools potentially having to use multiple channels. Indeed, parents with children several years apart in the same school might face the same issue. Moreover, the pace of change in this context is frightening – so it is hard to predict what might emerge over the next three to five years.

What cannot be in doubt, however, is that whatever channel is chosen the effectiveness of interaction with parents is markedly improved; with all parties (parents, teachers and pupils) reporting great satisfaction that this is developing rapidly – and being prepared to testify to its benefits enthusiastically. The UK’s adoption of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the result of four years of work by the EU to bring data protection legislation into line with new, previously unforeseen ways that data is now used – will have an impact here as it gives people more say over what providers can do with their data. The GDPR comes into legal force on 25th May 2018.

TECHNOLOGY OUT OF SCHOOL

Many parents also feel their children’s passion for technology outside school is now being turned to educational advantage. They describe how the pupils’ experience of learning with technology inside school, has improved their willingness (and ability) to engage with learning through technology from home/other venues outside school.

They also feel that the visibility of pupils’ work via technology (as described above) and a general sense that learning is fun are, collectively, making their children far less likely to spend all their time at home gaming; with many reporting with great joy that technology use at home is now far more focused on learning. It is increasingly common to hear that children are more willing and able to reflect on the kinds of things they want technology to do at home – rather than default to entertainment uses exclusively.

In most schools we visit, e-safety is excellent, with staff, pupils and other partners involved in the development and adoption of e-safety policies and practice, and children confident and knowledgeable about how to stay safe and what to do if something on-line concerned/worried/shocked them.

In the most successful schools, however, we see far more emphasis on helping to make parents fully aware of the issues relating to the appropriate, safe, responsible use of technology outside the school – some using pupils to help family members configure safety setting on devices as well as receiving briefings in e-safety workshops. The use of outside agencies (NSPCC for example) and tools (such as SWGfL 360o Safe) continues to be a strong.

Technology related CPD is also excellent generally in the most successful schools, with comprehensive audits of staff skills/needs carried out routinely. Most of these schools systematically monitor and evaluate the impact of professional development activity and use the results to shape planning for future CPD. The best schools seem to have a balanced approach to CPD – taking advantage of the services of outside providers as well as becoming more focused on building internal capability and capacity to support, mentor and train colleagues. L

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