What are Digital Leaders?

Written by: Sal McKeown | Published:
Engaged: Pupils from Recreation Road Infant School take part in a workshop on Digital Leaders at the Education Show in March (Photo: Sal McKeown))
I love the idea of digital leaders. I hope to introduce this to my school in Australia. Great ...

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What are Digital Leaders? And what benefits can this idea bring to your school's ICT strategy and to your pupils' technology and wider skills, such as literacy and leadership? Sal McKeown finds out

Recreation Road Infant School in Norwich has some of the youngest Digital Leaders in the UK. Twelve year 2 children took part in a session at the Education Show in March.

The school is very well resourced there is an ICT suite for dedicated whole-class ICT teaching as well as interactive whiteboards, PCs in the classroom, digital cameras, calculators, robotic toys and microphones, and two years ago they started to invest in iPads.

Unlike other schools, ICT is coordinated by a higher level teaching assistant, Louise Stone, rather than a member of the senior management team: "Teachers don't necessarily have the skills and time to take on this area," explained headteacher Serena Dixon.

Ms Stone came with excellent skills from previous jobs and gets support from the senior leadership team and the curriculum team. She was very keen to extend ICT skills in the school, especially with animation and iPads, and looked to see how she could involve the children.

Her research pulled up several different models of Digital Leader schemes but many of them were aimed at secondary schools or focused on children in year 6, so she created her own. She decided to advertise the Digital Leaders' role and asked pupils to apply, go through an interview and demonstrate their skills by completing a task.

This included changing text size, colour and font or adding a picture to a piece of work. Children who were successful at the interview stage had to sign a job description so there was a degree of seriousness and commitment from both parties.

Digital Leaders obviously have good ICT skills but also need to have reasonable literacy skills. While Ms Dixon agrees that ICT is important she says that teachers are always mindful of other aspects of life and so Digital Leaders for them is as much about developing children's leadership skills as their technical competence.

As such, staff will help and support those children who might struggle with writing an app but who have other qualities which would make them good Digital Leaders. For example, one of their key functions is to run a club for other children at lunchtime, so Ms Stone was looking for children who were confident and who would be responsible, reliable and good communicators.

Not all schools have key stage 1 Digital Leaders, but this is the third year of the scheme at Recreation Road. They are responsible for keeping the ICT suite clean and safe, reporting problems and help staff with printing. They have made a video which has been shown to governors, trialled apps, reviewed websites, and have also made their own Digital Leaders' logo and badge.

Many of the pupils have access to technology at home but parents often do not have the knowledge and skills to help them get the best from the computer. This is where Digital Leaders score. They are trained to offer practical help but also to remind children about e-safety. "Even children as young as four need to be aware," said Ms Stone, "because they may come across something nasty while they are playing on a computer at home."

Sheli Blackburn, meanwhile, is currently deputy head and SENCO at East Harling Primary School in Norfolk. She is also well known for the Digital Leaders project she ran at Roydon Primary School in Diss, Norfolk.
In the first year she appointed 16 year 6 pupils, predominantly girls. They applied, were interviewed and given a task using Kodu to test their aptitude. There was a great focus on apps and they taught teachers and pupils and ran parent workshops.

Two Digital Leaders also helped out with programs such as Daisy the Dinosaur, which introduces children to basic computer programming, Flobots and Nature Park. Some of the Digital Leaders became expert in particular areas, such as blogging, Kodu, Scratch or iPads.

The Digital Leaders have taken part in KidsMeets for children in Norfolk, have attended an ICT conference, and have gone into different schools and hosted events for visiting schools. The project was also extended to year 5 to maintain the expertise when the year 6s went up to secondary school.

The empowerment of children is obviously a key component of Digital Leaders schemes. "When you get to the stage where pupils are driving change and teachers don't have to badger children then you know that the project is secure," said Chris Mayoh, an educational technologist and independent consultant, who also works part time as computing leader at Fagley Primary School in Bradford.

In 2010 he went to a Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in Manchester and saw a presentation by two secondary teachers – Daniel Stucke and Kristian Still – who had received funding from Toshiba to develop Digital Leaders in their schools. It was a lightbulb moment. He went back to Bowling Park Primary in Bradford, where he was teaching at the time, and set up his own version: "If you are talking about financial value, Digital Leaders make total sense."

The school had just brought in 122 iPads so one of the first tasks for the 12 Digital Leaders chosen from years 4 and 5 was to bone up on apps. They hosted a staff meeting where they ran six stands on a carousel basis and presented apps which they felt were relevant to education ranging from Puppet Pals to a mental maths resource.

Currently, Mr Mayoh is employed three days a week at Fagley Primary with a brief to up-skill the staff for the new computing curriculum. It is a short-term post until the end of the summer term: "The second I make myself redundant, I will know I have been successful."

Digital Leaders: Ideas and advice

What can Digital Leaders do?

  • Keep technology spaces clean and tidy and serviced.
  • Report broken or malfunctioning equipment.
  • Audit how often different programs and apps are used.
  • Review apps and software and make recommendations.
  • Raise the profile of ICT in the school, especially if they have badges/t-shirts etc.
  • Offer homework help.
  • Run or help out at a lunch club.
  • Write instructions for different pieces of software or apps.
  • Make governors more aware of the importance of ICT in all areas of the school.
  • Offer in-class support to teachers.
  • Edit and improve the appearance of teachers' materials.
  • Make videos and presentations.
  • Talk at national events.
  • Participate in KidsMeets to keep up-to-date with trends.
  • Help to inform and enforce the school's e-safety policies.

Hints and tips

  • Encourage children and give them short-term goals.
  • Have a regular meeting schedule.
  • The meetings must have some meaty content.
  • Go to the local Apple or other computer store for a field trip.
  • Make sure the challenges are on-going to sustain interest between meetings.
  • Get Digital Leaders to interview, appoint and train the next batch.
  • Make sure they can use hardware such as interactive whiteboards, Beebots, visualisers.
  • Make sure they are competent in the main software used in school.
  • Provide them with training in new technology as it comes into the school.
  • Join the Twitter #edchat on Thursday evenings.

Useful sites

  • Sal McKeown is an education journalist, specialising in technology.

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I love the idea of digital leaders. I hope to introduce this to my school in Australia. Great article. Thankyou.
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