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Computers won't revolutionise teaching, but....


A few months ago, I wrote this Staffrm story about the use of technology in education.  The final paragraph read:

Great teachers who are articulate, passionate and use whatever means needed to inspire and promote the acquisition of new knowledge and skills? Teachers making hundreds of professional decisions every day?

In order to provide a little background, over the years I have used technology widely and successfully both in my teaching practice and in school leadership roles.  I've been lucky enough to become a Google Certified Educator and Microsoft Innovative Educator and have guided a number of technology projects through, including BYOD and those designed and implemented by children.  However I wouldn't consider myself to be innovative or even cutting edge. The world of technology often moves on too quickly for ideas to be fully embedded.  I simply use what works.  Having said that, technology has undoubtedly been an essential ingredient that has help drive successful transformation and improvement over the years.  

I would also argue that it is the role of parents to manage the device usage of their children, not a schools.  Of course, we don't want to be slamming anything unhealthy, but it's education that is required, not banning.  As mentioned previously on this blog, I a privileged to be able to see many many lessons and the majority will use technology effectively because we have great teachers that use their subject and pedagogical knowledge to ensure that learning comes first. 

What we do have to accept though, is that there is a role for technology in the classroom and in our schools.  I occupy the middle ground on a continuum.  I've never worked in a 1:1 school and I baulk at the big technology firms when they claim that the latest shiny will transform teaching and learning. Nothing will apart from teachers as they are the drivers and agents of change. On the other hand, I think that it is ridiculous to be anti technology, especially when using said technology for their benefit.  Those that have benefitted from blogging for example fail to see the potential of the medium for improving children's writing.

But I'm not here to convince the outliers, merely to present some ideas from a classroom practitioners point of view.  Technology is ubiquitous and I advocate developing a large toolbox.  I guess that one should define 'technology.'  To me, technology implies a problem based approach to improve an existing solution or provide a better solution to a problem.  The term has been attached to high end gadgets and Web 2.0, but we should look beyond this.  I may be simply bonkers, but I don't see the link between looking after personal wellbeing and being addicted to social media. 

Technology can decrease workload and improve wellbeing.

It seems that marking is an issue and yet there are already existing technologies that would reduce teacher workload and improve feedback.  In other words, make routine tasks easier whilst improving an effective way to improve learning. Of course, if these aren't well thought through, we end up with a mess.  Just look at email. Email is an effective communication tool when used correctly. We have recently removed the ability of staff to email everyone easily.  At the end of the day, most emails just need a conversation.  For example, many of the emails I receive  I deal with by.  I won't send or respond to a work email once I've left the building.  Also, set up auto-replies:

'Greetings, thank you for your email.  I am teaching all day today but will do my best to reply when I check them between 3pm and 3:30pm'

I've got a whole list saved on a Google Doc and I simply copy and paste them over each day.  I also have a standard reply for parents and external mail.  The tricky thing is being self disciplined enough to stick to the timings. If it's really that urgent, some body will find me but it rarely is.

Email and tools such as OneNote allow students to send work and receive feedback quickly.  I'm not advocating being available to students any time anywhere as that is ludicrous. Students know that I deal with emails at set times. Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to see it or respond to it.  However, a tablet plus OneNote allows me to record audio feedback.  The student can see and hear the feedback straight away. This means that I spend less time marking.  There are also apps that can provide instant feedback such as Plickers and Socrative.  These save time when used sparingly

Similarly, cloud systems such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and Sway can be used to avoid repetitiveness and improve workload:
  • Share schemes of work on Google Docs. This makes them living documents where all can access the resources.  Add in Dropbox links to the learning resources, allowing other teachers and students to access them.
  • Scan in past work and make available to improve modelling and support teachers.  Make them available to students also.
  • Homework tasks can be created, stored and shared many times.
  • Use Sway to curate reading lists for students, include real books and links to Amazon or the school library number as well as websites. Create a list of these resources by generating a QR code snd bit.ly short code for the activities.  
I could go on, but the point is to ensure that planning isn't repetitive and that a bank of resources are created.  Teachers shouldn't be creating lessons and homework activities for every lesson. 

And, as we are creating a culture of redrafting and feedback, use Word and turn on 'Track Changes.' Do you know what? There's nothing wrong with booking a computer suite and getting students to type.  It's an 'easy' lesson where verbal feedback can be captured as the students draft and redraft.  There is no need for triple marking.  In a project for the BBC at the moment, the same document has multiple authors and all of the comments, changes and updates are captured.  With a bit of training students get this too. And anyway, typing accurately and quickly seems to be an important part of life these days.....

Another idea is to speak to the students.  Controversial I know, but using social media can be good. For example:
  • Create a class blog where resources are put. It only really needs to be done once.
  • Use Facebook and Twitter (within your institutions guidelines and policies) to set up reminders and push resources to students.  
I've found that the quality of work goes up and former colleagues have used these very effectively. 

And phones?  I don't care if you allow them or not, that not really the issue.  However, setting up a calendar and getting students to subscribe to it using their phone's calendar has improved homework completion. This has reduced my workload.

Anyway, I hope that you get the picture.  Many of the advantages that we have can be used in the classroom.  Technology can reduce workload and improve wellbeing.  The key to technology is not to allow it to dominate teaching and learning decisions. In addition, moving around too quickly doesn't allow anything to become embedded: it's just like Ofsted changing its criteria a few times a year. (speaking of which, they seem very anti handheld at the moment, but if the outcomes are as good as they can be, they'll go away). Technology is a servant of learning.  In terms of whole school improvement, I'd advocate speaking to heads of department first to find out what is needed.




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