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.

‘Creativity is about liberating human energy’ Howard Gardner

When I was younger I thought creativity was only for certain types of people; the eccentrics, the mavericks and the talented.  In fact my secondary school exaggerated this view by putting all the musicians in their own tutor group, and only a select few were ever allowed in.  I was never allowed in, despite my flirtations with music in a punk band called Death by Yoghurt.  And I do use the term music loosely in this context.

In fact, I went through my early adult years thinking of myself as a rational scientist, and lacking the skills to be creative. That is, until I became a teacher.  Faced with students who didn’t really seem to care that much about glaciation or maps, I had to find creative ways of getting them to learn, often without them realising.  In fact, my lessons are devoted to the creative process of ‘developing ideas that are original and of value’ (Robinson 2001). I want students to make videos, I want them making songs about their work, I want them to question everything and therefore engage with the learning process in a dynamic way that enables them to learn effectively.  I like students to have choice in the classroom, or at least the opportunity to express their thoughts in different ways, whether that is up to them or decided by the teacher. I think Ken Robinson has some great ideas about education and creativity, and his TED talks are worth a look if you’ve not seen them before.  This is also a nice summary.

Recently, I was lucky to be invited into a classroom by Mrs Sholicar, an English teacher at Pleckgate.  Her year 8 class was completing some display work on Gothic literature, a tried and tested approach to inspiring creativity in students.  However, in this lesson, the students were using their iPads to completely redefine  what display work is. Firstly students were writing biographical details about selected authors (an important literacy skill), then using a green screen app (Do Ink Green screen) to record this biographical detail in front of key images relating to the author’s life and work.  These videos were than edited together in iMovie.  Students designed posters and used these as trigger images to create augmented reality displays using Aurasma.  The end result is displays that literally come to life with students talking eloquently about the subject matter when scanned with the iPads.

The lesson was a joy to be part of, even as an outsider, as students were independent, showing enjoyment for discovering things for themselves, problem solving, working well as teams, trying to be unique and owning their learning.  An excellent way of using creativity to engage students in writing, and an innovative way of using and displaying student work.

Starting with the why…

The central message that we tried to get across at Pleckgate was that the 1:1 scheme was about pedagogy and not technology.  It was always about the learning and teaching process and helping students to become better, more independent learners.  The starting point for training was centred around Dr Puentadura’s SAMR model, which is neatly summed up here:

samr

The Redefinition of learning is part of a bigger 5 year plan, but whenever I work with teachers, I try to pull them back to why…why are you using the iPads, is there any functional improvement by using the technology?  If not, how can you gain that functional improvement?  Some teachers are straight in with task redesign, other need convincing that the iPads will do anything to improve the learning process.  Thats the challenge of leadership though, getting people to buy into that vision. For us, one of the easiest ways in was through an App called Showbie:

showbie

Showbie, at its most basic is the workflow app.  The one that enables students to submit work, and for the teacher to set work to the students.  The majority of our teachers are confident in using this app, and like to do so.  At it’s most basic, Showbie is used by our teachers as a substitute for existing resources.  Teachers can see the advantage of sharing a file to all their students as it saves them the trip to the photocopier, it saves lesson time giving out resources, and students get the resource even if they are absent.  It also saves money too.  Some of our teachers are also now combing apps, so using keynote to produce ‘cards’ for card sorts.  Students open the resource from Showbie into keynote, and than sort the cards on the iPads rather than on the table.  The teacher is sold as it saves him/her the time cutting out the cards.  The task can also than hit the augmentation phase of SAMR as the students can colour code the cards in Keynote, add images from the web, or anything else to enhance their understanding in relation to those ‘cards’.  The redefinition of learning than comes with what happens next… if students than take their finished card sort and open in Explain Everything, they can than record not only what the answers might be, but also how they have completed the task.  This allows the development of metacognition, which EEF research suggests is the most effective way of enhancing learning (progress gains of 8 months-EEF Toolkit).  Furthermore, teachers than collect the finished work, and  Showbie allows verbal feedback to be recorded and shared with the students, which in turn gives students the next steps to improve their work, which is completed in lessons or for homework.  The quality of verbal feedback is much better, richer and more detailed and the student doesn’t skip ahead to the grade and ignore the ‘how to do better’ guidance.  All in, Showbie is the gateway app into hitting the modification and redesign areas of SAMR, and also for accessing higher order thinking skills.  It comes highly recommended from us, even as a time and money saver.  For more ideas on apps, and the SAMR model, the model below gives some good ideas to start with.

the-padogogy-wheel