Speaking at this year’s BETT technology in education show, education minister Michael Gove said: ”Just at the time when technology is bursting with potential; teachers, professionals, employers, universities, parents and pupils are all telling us the same thing – ICT in schools is a mess.”
With technology changing almost minute by minute, nothing has a shorter shelf-life than the “cutting edge”, so it is imperative that we keep our eyes on the future. What are we doing in our schools that is innovative and effective? What has had maximum impact? And how can we share these ideas or help other educators who may have issues with funding or support for technological change – or who may just be in search of a fresh idea?
When I began my journey into 21st century learning 17 years ago, we had three BBC computers and no internet connectivity. A parent survey at that time showed that fewer than 20 per cent of our children had internet access at home. In our most recent survey, 95 per cent now have connectivity in the home. I am confident that this year every child in the school will be able to access e-learning whenever and wherever they want to.
We have embraced technology because we have understood – and loved – its power. It has allowed us to add pace and challenge to lessons, assess our pupils more rigorously and therefore intervene more effectively, increase our research field and gain global learning partners, to name just a few benefits.
Elsewhere, it has helped us to bring experts into our classes while also supporting and enhancing communication with parents.
Where did we start?
We began with basic training for all staff and a leap of faith on the part of the headteacher and leadership team. We still had to set yearly targets over a three-year period and analyse what we wanted to accomplish, both in terms of training and resources, but we also took no prisoners in our bid to make learning come alive through the use of technology. We moved at a pace, but we moved together.
Training was brought in for all, which meant there was mutual support and each shared their learning journey regularly in “show and tell” sessions.
We began by begging, borrowing and making deals in order to create a computer suite with connectivity. It was however a beginning from which we grew rapidly. We brought in interactive boards for all classes.
We saw that when used properly they gave us an increase in pace and challenge. We gradually added internet connectivity throughout the school and later wireless connectivity allowed us to reach out beyond the gates.
Video-conferencing helped to bring expertise into the classroom. This takes nothing away from the outstanding teacher; it merely enhances the offer. I have seen amazing lessons where children have become enthralled when studying the Egyptians; however, an Egyptologist using conferencing can conduct the children around artefacts in a museum and deliver a tailor-made lesson, with her expert responses taking learning to another level.
We continued to add resources which created an anywhere/anytime approach to the use of technology, such as visualisers, voting systems, cameras, microscope webcams, video cameras, green screens, MP3 players, laptops, and now iPads.
Progress and diversification is essential if technology is to be embedded and fit-for-purpose. It does not happen overnight but it can be planned for and then offered to all staff and pupils as resources which can be used to enhance learning. The only rule was that these resources should not be used simply for the sake of using them.
Here are just a few examples we discovered of technological creativity across the curriculum.
Interactive whiteboards: Give pace and challenge across the curriculum when used well. They allow teachers to extend and reinforce appropriately. Use of the correct methodology, such as split-screen techniques, can support a child’s learning very effectively. Hyperlinks to an internet site or the use of a film clip can excite learning still further.
Microscope webcam: Has helped to make science more dynamic and will also allow webcam conferencing to take place in the classroom.
Business enterprise: A range of IT programmes can support mind-mapping exercises, financial planning, marketing (advert/poster campaigns, animation in filmed adverts), research, presentation skills (a Dragons’ Den).
Photography and film: Cameras can create good home-school links (picture diaries are non-threatening for parents with poor literacy skills). Digital movie cameras can also support literacy by allowing children to create and animate their own stories, and extend speaking and listening skills with children as presenters. Speaking and listening are encouraged through creation of films, podcasts and animations. Creating scripts for video or animation brings fun to the learning process, while using Dance Mats can help children to spell, and also supports quick mental calculation.
Voting systems: These devices can support enjoyment in learning and helps children to revise. Classes can play Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with questions and answers directed specifically at the curriculum.
Video-conferencing: Speaking and listening are enhanced through video-conferencing which also allows us to cross the cultural divide, with pupils talking to pupils. Modern foreign language development is enhanced.
Virtual learning site: This gives remote access so that parents can support their child or learn with the child.
ICT also encourages parental engagement because they can access the information they need in a non-threatening environment – their own home. Through our websites we can offer information on anything from admissions procedures, policy documents and the curriculum to the PTA, blogs and photo galleries.
There will still be some parents, who do not have access to the internet, but they can be assisted and even encouraged to participate by opening up the school’s own internet facilities to them regularly. Sometimes this can also help them to work with their child. We opened up our computer suite to parents but they had to come in accompanied by their child. This meant they were sharing an experience with their children.
Changes in regulation
The Department for Education is helping to raise the profile of technology in schools. From this month schools will no longer have to publish an annual prospectus, instead the following must be published online (it is not an expectation – it is a regulation):
- The school’s Pupil Premium allocation.
- Use and impact on attainment.
- Curriculum by year and subject.
- Admission arrangements.
- Policies on behaviour, charging, and SEN and disability.
- Links to Ofsted reports.
- Details of, and links to, performance data.
In addition to a website, schools can offer even more through a learning platform which can cost nothing but staff time. The Learning Portal should be password protected to safeguard pupils. It can then provide material which is pertinent to the needs of the individual child, including:
- Individual portfolios and targets.
- “Real time” reporting for parents to ascertain their child’s level of performance, attendance, application etc.
- Individually tailored pupil materials.
- Homework offered online a couple of times a week.
- Quizzes created by teaching assistants can give value to their work and be a draw for pupils.
- Advice to parents on standards or how to support their child is always warmly welcomed and reduces teachers’ workloads.
- Chatrooms for the headteacher to seek children’s opinions in addition to school council meetings.
- A safe forum or chatroom for year 6 pupils. Online discussion forums for Healthy School or Sustainable School groups and dialogue.
- Online questionnaires for pupils/parents.
- Even adult learning can be offered through links into courses.
We introduced two particularly popular ideas. First, challenges in each subject area that whole families take up. If the child/family accept a challenge in a subject and present their materials they could earn a Family Learning Certificate (three certificates gives them a gold award). This meant that parents who may be uncertain about their own skills can allow their child to be the lead learner and still support and learn with their children.
Second, “never-ending stories” are a particular draw for children with learning difficulties. The teacher starts a story online at the beginning of each half-term. Any student can then add the next line, and so on. At the end of half-term the story is read to the class and they may conclude it together.
Texting and email
Of course we still have texting and emails to communicate with parents and, if you look, you will find texting services which give translations into a number of other languages which will then support a multi-lingual approach to communication and make sure that all are included.
Where to start?
Ask yourself and your team – where are we now?
- What good practice could we look at and where would we find this? Do we look to the business world to ensure effective and efficient support?
- Have we considered the impact and potential of technology in teaching and learning?
- How far can we go to ensure that our pupils manage and exploit technology effectively when they leave us?
- How do we exploit technology to improve engagement beyond the environs of the school?
- Are our learners and their parents e-safe and e-aware?
- Can we be more effective in our use of technology to use data to support assessment and learning?
- How do we know we are getting best value, understand costs and are efficient?
- Do we have a three-year and a five-year plan for ensuring continuity and progression in ICT?
- Is there a support system in our area or do we need to research locally and nationally to find that next great idea?
- Talk to other schools about where they get their technical support?
- Should we be using cloud technology and which cloud storage should we use (Dropbox, SkyDrive, GoogleDrive)?
It is up to individual schools to decide whether the level of security is sufficient but it is worth talking to each other and using your liaison/cluster groups to investigate this and share experiences. Information security is the responsibility of the school.There is guidance and documentation available from the Information Commissioner’s Office.
If I can do it, anyone can. Enjoy the journey, keep watching the horizon to seek the new and exciting, but beware – do not go there simply because it is something new. Ask instead what it offers, how, what training comes with the package, and what impact you are seeking?
• Brenda Bigland has been a headteacher for more than 20 years in both the independent and state sector. Her last headship was of Lent Rise School in Buckinghamshire. She now runs an educational consultancy called Ask Brenda, which offers confidential advice, mentoring, training and CPD. Visit www.askbrenda.co.uk.
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