How technology has revolutionised the way pupils are taught
PUBLISHED: 17:38 29 April 2014
The world has moved on a long way from blackboards, chalk and board rubbers, and the technological revolution in our school classrooms has been moving at a truly blink-and-you'll-miss-it pace. Matthew Williams brings us up to date
From the Spring 2014 A+ Education magazine
In barely a decade, commercially viable tablet computers have been transformed from a speculative vision to an integral part of many people’s days while online forums have flourished from slightly clunky, niche interest web communities to the all-consuming social media powers of Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest et al.
What is more, a recently published survey by education and training world leaders, the Pew Research Centre, identified that almost half of teenagers now own smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011, and that 95% of UK teens use the internet at least weekly.
Understandably, schools are constantly on the hunt for ways to harness this technological revolution, with some pretty impressive results.
Blue sky thinking
At Handcross Park near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, they have been quick to embrace new computer technology by using ‘The Cloud’ (a facility that enables access to documents and files from anywhere, rather than a fixed physical point) to enrich their curriculum.
“Throughout the school, pupils are able to use Chromebook laptops for research and academic work, which can then be shared with teachers and other pupils so that work can be continuously monitored and assessed,” says the school’s head of marketing, Jo Beard. “Pupils are able to work collaboratively, using the same documents simultaneously, or to print to school printers from anywhere in the world, just as long as they are logged into the Chrome browser via Google’s Cloud Print technology.”
A short whiz across the ether to Kent and another school with its finger on the technological pulse is Dulwich Prep in Cranbrook. Like many other schools over the course of the last year, they recently took the decision to issue a number of pupils with an iPad, in their case Years 7 and 8, for use both in lessons and at home.
“We see the personal ownership of the iPad as a critical element in increasing the children’s motivation, interest and engagement,” explains the school’s headmaster Paul David.
“Pupils are more autonomous and are taking more responsibility for their own learning.”
With so many students quite literally having the world at their fingertips, it does, however, create a whole new set of ‘digital playground’ rules for teachers and parents to consider.
“We knew that we had to be wholly honest with our students and promote the benefits of technology use on a daily basis, whilst at the same time raising awareness of the pitfalls,” says Michael Krause, the head of e-safety at Bede’s in Hailsham, East Sussex.
“We realised that whether we ourselves use the technology or not, these technologies are here to stay and will continue to play a major part in the wider lives of this generation of young people for years to come – hence why we take this forthright approach.”
That forthright approach took the shape of the school’s e-Safety review programme in 2009, which culminated in June 2013 when South West Grid for Learning awarded Bede’s the ‘360 degree safe’ E-Safety Mark, making it the country’s first independent school to be given this gold standard in e-safety provision.
This award has subsequently seen other leading schools, including Wellington College, looking at Bede’s model and using it as a basis for their own e-safety.
“Understanding the intricate ins and outs of Snapchat or Ask.fm can seem quite daunting for teachers,” continues Mr Krause. “However, a basic understanding of these technologies may be the key to starting a conversation with a student that might have proved difficult in the past, and can even provide substantial benefits to how a particular teacher plans lessons.”
Sourcing the code
It’s not just the access to technology that is improving education, however; some schools are now teaching computer science too. Where once there was a time when you were lucky to learn the various components of Microsoft Office to any competent degree, now schools are considering how best to mould the next generation of coders.
To this extent, students at Reigate Grammar School in Surrey recently took part in The Hour of Code, a coding event that saw over 10 million students participate worldwide.
“We live in a world surrounded by technology,” says Neil Stokes, head of computing at Reigate Grammar School. “We know that whatever field our young students choose to go into as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly hinge on understanding how technology works. But only a tiny fraction of schools provide the opportunity for learning computer science – just 10 per cent in fact.
“Currently, amongst the most available and highest paid jobs for graduates are those in computer science and nationally there is a push for those specialising in cyber security. It is an area of great potential and we are determined to equip the girls and boys here to make the most of those opportunities as they go into the world of work.”
In the right game
Another school with their eyes on future industries is Pennthorpe School in Rudgwick, West Sussex, where having specialist teachers with an interest in game development led to a realisation that simply learning programmes in the Microsoft Office suite was not enough.
“Learning these programmes was also becoming tedious with many students acquiring these skills themselves at home,” says head of ICT, Thomas Beglin.
“A new iMac suite of computers provided state-of-the-art resources allowing the use of a variety of industry standard programmes to be used. Students are now exposed to exciting new software like Mudbox, Google Sketchup, Scratch and iMovie, which allow them to be really creative and create stunning visual projects and animation.”
With wearable devices such as Google Glass just around the corner as well as who knows what other developments, classrooms may be starting to resemble Hollywood sci-fi movies more than the learning environments that most of us remember. But what is clear is that children have never had more power at their fingertips – and it’s never been more important for them to be able to harness that power, whether in their day-to-day schooling or future career.
High profile stories of whizz-kid app developers have become the norm these days, but the fact is, all students now have access to knowledge that many parents will be envious of – and, what is more, schools no longer need the shelf space of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries to make it happen.
A classroom for the 21st century
Some of the recent technology developments within the field of education, as referenced by the Department for Education, include:
Classroom assessment tools that enable teachers to know in real time what children can and can’t understand. Teachers can be immediately aware of gaps in understanding for specific pupils, tailoring their teaching accordingly.
Sophisticated data analysis and management tools that offer the potential for greater tailoring of learning and feedback, and better management information for school leaders.
Lesson videos and clips online (such as O2 Learn, TeacherTube and ItunesU) that enable teachers to learn more about the successful techniques and approaches of others, and offer pupils access to excellent teaching beyond the classroom.
A variety of rich media resources, and other ways of accessing knowledge such as online subject communities, experts and other educators.
Games and interactive software that can help pupils acquire skills and knowledge in an engaging and effective way. For example, proven maths software can help pupils develop understanding of complex mathematical problems.
Online learning and virtual schooling is beginning to play an important role alongside traditional approaches.
3D printers in the classroom could prove to be an innovative way of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and design subjects.