As a new Head, having inherited a plan to roll-out tablets for Years 7–11, I did feel some trepidation. After all, the global report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that education systems that had heavily invested in computers had seen ‘no noticeable improvement’ in their PISA test results. Furthermore, a 2015 Guardian article reported how the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in the heart of Silicon Valley, was rejecting any use of digital media in the classroom; preferring (in the words of the journalist) a “hands-on, experiential approach to learning”. Other reports relating to the potential distraction caused by access to social media and the general negatives regarding screen time added to my concerns.
Indeed, as someone new to the school, it’s been interesting to evaluate the impact of this technology from an objective standpoint. Have there been issues? Well, yes, of course. Parents have been concerned about possible social media distractions and there are always going to be minor delays in ensuring that all girls have access to pre-purchased apps and that the filtering systems are fully installed before school access is permitted; filtering systems that are important if pupils are to avoid those social media distractions.
What has surprised me, though, is not only what I have seen in the classroom since tablets have been introduced, but the ways in which staff and pupils have become empowered. Our outstanding IT Development Manager, Neal, improved the computing infrastructure hugely and worked together with the Curriculum Team, Governors and a totally supportive Senior Leadership Team, to get the venture underway. Furthermore, IT Pioneers – those staff genuinely excited about using tablets in the classroom – have led the way on how technology and apps can be used, both in their departments and with those who were less confident. Providing staff with a year’s lead-in time enabled all staff, both those confident and those less so, with the time needed to really engage with the technology. Student ambassadors have also been introduced; who are fundamentally involved in setting up the rules for classroom engagement. The rules followed by the pupils are those set up by the pupils themselves and this committed group of ambassadors continue to be involved; monitoring use and raising potential issues with our Director of Technology Enhanced Learning.
Our Director of Technology Enhanced Learning, Jamie, is a passionate advocate of the benefits of the ‘enriched classroom’. He talks of tablets enabling teachers to be ‘agile task-setters’ and to flip learning in an effective way. Other institutions and their experience have been invaluable to him; particularly the Stephen Perse Foundation, and their passion for classroom technology continues to inform him and his team about future developments. Moving forward is an ongoing theme; the introduction of tablets to all pupils in Years 7–11 is only the start. Regular emails informing me of the benefits of Socrative, eChalk, Explain Everything, Book Creator and so forth, remind me that there will be no pause in this exciting educational venture.
We have a duty to ensure that our pupils leave school able to cope with the demands of jobs, some of which are not in existence yet
But, what about the educational value? Should I continue to feel trepidation? A resounding ‘No!’ is my response. My experience is that tablet use has enhanced and enriched learning. Seeing girls using iTunes U to broaden and extend their reading and the younger girls being able to Airdrop photographs of their own cheek cells onto the interactive screen brings Biology to life and out of the textbook. This might have completely transformed my attitude to science as a 13-year-old girl trying to engage with (for me) difficult subject content.
Jamie talks of ‘evolution not revolution’ when it comes to using tablets in the classroom, and he is right. We have a duty to ensure that our pupils leave school able to cope with the demands of jobs, some of which are not in existence yet. Our girls will be digitally literate and this is absolutely crucial to their future success. Will it give them improved PISA results? Only time will tell. But, will their educational experiences be enriched and more enjoyable? Absolutely! And isn’t this just as important?
Helen Jeys is Headmistress at Alderley Edge School for Girls