The role of technology in the classroom

There has been a lot of sensationalist headlines in the UK press recently regarding the role of technology in the classroom, which has once again brought the topic of tablets back to the public’s attention.  Articles such as this, from the Sunday Times, have very sensationalist headlines:

Ban Tablets says ‘Tsar’

However, Tom Bennett, the government advisor on behaviour has clarified his position in his blog (Tom Bennett), which has a more balanced view where he recognises that technology can have a positive educational impact when used in the right way.   I don’t disagree with Tom, technology can be distracting, but so can many other things.  In the 20+ years that I have been teaching I have seen students distracted by paper (who doesn’t remember making paper aeroplanes?), pens (graffitti anyone?), open windows and most recently books being read under the table in another lesson.  We obviously don’t advocate banning all those things!  The truth is, students are easily distracted, but technology, used the right way can have the opposite effect.  When students are busy making film, or demonstrating learning via animation they are more focussed, more engaged and most importantly,  learning.

At Pleckgate we banned personal mobile devices in the classroom, but gave students an iPad that the school owned and controlled.  These devices were filtered, in and out of school; all social media was blocked and the app store removed so that students could not download games.  We also gave teachers the control needed to lock devices, control what websites they can go on, and monitored their use.  The MDM (mobile device management) profiles on devices gave us that control, and basically made it impossible for students to personalise the devices with their own apps.  A tough policy on use of devices also made it clear that any mis-use, or deleting profiles (not an issue now DEP is in UK) and they would lose their device.  However, the key for the success at Pleckgate was not about the devices at all.  We always said the device was there as a tool to aid teachers, we did not advocate everything had to be done on them.  The school embraced the TEEP model for improving teaching and learning, and the iPad development plan was matched into this to ensure the focus was on pedagogy not technology.  We always maintained that the technology was an enabler for improving/diversifying pedagogical practices proven to work (Meta-cognition, feedback, collaboration, homework etc.) all proven to improve outcomes by the EEF.

Here is an example of how the iPad programme was mapped into the plan to improve learning and teaching and the TEEP (which is now also being researched as a successful intervention by the EEF).  Ipad Development Plan.  An example of a lesson where technology really made a difference to learning was in geography.  In this lesson, students made stop motion animation videos to demonstrate how physical landforms were made.  Without the technology, students would have drawn some diagrams and added labels, but this is easy to copy and do without thinking. By re-creating the physical steps students  had to really understand the processes and they were therefore able to re-call this information much more clearly, as was evidenced by written exam answers ( and yes, the students did still answer an exam question, essay style, with a pen).

The introduction of iPads, combined with all the other interventions, helped our last year 11s achieve the highest results in the school’s history.  Did the iPads do that on their own, of course not.  So if you are planning a 1:1 roll out, do not do so without careful planning, and do not rush deployment.  You must make decisions on many things, including levels of control, but most importantly how the iPads fit into a wider plan to improve learning and teaching.

Ade Institute 2015: EMEIA Region highlights

A week ago ADE institute in the Netherlands finished, and I returned back to the UK, tired, but invigorated having had a productive week with fellow ADE’s from across the EMEIA region.  The top 5 highlights for me personally were:

1) The 3 minute ADE showcases that started each day.

The showcases were started off brilliantly by Catherine Jessey from Hove Park with her Animating and Narrating in Science, and the content varied from Lindsay Durell’s Rethinking PD pedagogy to the beautiful showcase from Marta Ruiz Benito.  Every single one, and I do mean all 45, were brilliant and made me reflect on my own, and my school’s practices.  So many ideas came out of these sessions and I really liked the 3 minute showcase format.  Where can I get some digital countdown timers?

2) The SEN showcases.

The institute dates coincided with the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Americans With Disabilities Act, so it was apt that there was a focus on SEN during many of the showcases and keynote sessions.  Stuart Hammersley showcased the progress one his students has made thanks to iPad, and on the final day we saw showcases from Poland and Czech Republic on how iPads are making a difference in SEN education.  The final showcase, ‘SEN means “dream” in Czech’ by Iva Jelinkova and Lenka Rihova was particularly moving.

The potential for technology to change lives was highlighted by the story of Christopher Hills, who really demonstrates that anything is possible:

3) Bill Frakes

A Pulitzer prize winning photographer who took all our professional portraits gave an excellent masterclass on photography.  His work is awe inspiring and he’s such a humble, nice guy it is impossible not to listen and want to go out and take photos.

4) The educational leadership learning community ‘Time for a Change’ that I am now part of.

It was great to listen to the stories from different countries and how their 1:1 visions have gone or are planning to go.  This community has members from 3 continents, ranging from Delhi to Cape Town, Holland and the Arctic Circle in Finland.  We all have so much experience as leaders and we really learnt well from each other.  I am sure the support from this group is going to make a really big difference to my Institute projects.

5) The UK ADE team

With 50 members, the UK team were the largest of the countries at Institute, and we all worked well as a team.  I am looking forward to continuing to collaborate and work with my fellow ADEs, especially the team from the North West.

My final reflection of the week is that Institute was not about the technology, but about the people.  A great week collaborating, hopefully i’ll get the chance to do it again.

ADE Class of 2015

Quite some time ago I applied to join the Apple Distinguished Educator programme, a scheme where international teachers who are innovative with Apple technology, and secure good outcomes in their classrooms, join together to share good practice.  The application process was quite tough and included a long written section that identifies how you are using technology to transform and innovate learning, and a video that shows this in action. I never really considered myself ‘creative’, so the video aspect was daunting, especially as I am a busy deputy headteacher with numerous responsibilities and little time.  In the end, I was pleased with the final product, despite the inconsistency with sound levels and music, as it got across what we have achieved at Pleckgate.  This is my video:

I feel extremely lucky to be selected as an Apple Distinguished educator for the class of 2015, and I am now looking forward to the Institute where I can develop my skills further, grow my network of innovative teachers, and get the best CPD possible.  However, for me, the most important thing I have gained from this process so far is the ability to reflect on the journey we have undertaken, as well as build a really good PLN of fellow ADE hopefuls.

So, to celebrate this reflection, I thought I’d share 5 key things to consider when planning a 1:1 roll out.

1) Start with a clear vision, and make that vision about the pedagogy.  The technology has to be second.  I would look at the vision for planning, teaching and assessment and then plan how the technology will enhance, modify and re-define those processes.

2) Work closely with your ICT network team.  You have to plan for concurrency as well as coverage, and time spent getting the infrastructure needed to support 1:1 right will lead to a smoother roll out and greater staff confidence in the classroom.

3) Get the staff ready first.  Ensure they understand the vision and then give them time to plan.  This is something I wish we had done more at Pleckgate.  So for example, if you want iTunes U as the planning part of learning, ensure staff have the time to sit together and actually set that up before the students get their iPads.  It will ensure a smoother roll out and higher engagement from the staff and students.

4) Have a plan for Apple IDs.  The Apple ID is essential for students as it allows them to enrol on courses, receive apps etc.   Originally we asked students to set their own, but this created problems as they could download games, which isn’t a major problem so long as you manage the behaviour. The bigger problem was when they forgot their passwords, as it could take over a day for them to re-set, than go home and check their personal e-mail etc.  We therefore decided we would manage the appleIDs, which student devices are locked to.  This means we can update apps over the air, restrict the downloading of games etc. and also ensure each student can enrol on courses quickly, with no extra fuss.  This approach isn’t for every school, but we found this has helped us gain better confidence from our staff and our parents.

5) Identify your digital champions (staff) and your digital leaders (students).  These groups can identify the innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and if it is done well, this is easy as staff are free to experiment and innovate.  I wish we’d used the digital leaders more at Pleckgate, as they are a great resource that can really help transform learning.

There are lots of other important steps, including getting parents fully on board, but I feel that these 5 steps are something to consider first.  The most important being that 1:1 is about pedagogy and learning; make sure that stays at the heart of your vision.