Digital immigrants versus digital natives?

Regular use of Snapchat or Instagram doesn’t necessarily equate to digital literacy, says Richard Stephenson

Is there still a reluctance to embrace technology in schools from a teaching point of view, and what can we do to help promote the use of edtech in all schools?

We believe that the vast majority of schools are enthusiastic about technology. There’s an understanding that to prepare students for the future workplace and keep pace with the digital landscape, EdTech in some form is a necessity. In turn, children will have access to tablets, mobiles, desktops, as well as SmartTVs, consoles and even IoT devices at home. Schools have a role to play in shaping students’ relationship with these devices. 

This area is of real interest to us, as such we commissioned some independent research looking at tech adoption in state schools. Some users of EdTech were stung in the past by poorly designed software or problematic roll outs. Our findings showed that schools should look beyond lengthy feature sets and consider how technology could genuinely assist their teachers’ day-to-day lives, cater for each student’s needs and enable key areas such as parental engagement. If the tech is a good fit and it works, then it’s more likely to be adopted and provide real value.

Are budget restrictions a major factor as to why we are seeing a digital divide between teachers and their students? What can we do to improve this?

It was no surprise that our research showed budget cuts as a challenge to EdTech adoption. But, the right tech can help schools overcome some of these obstacles. For example, some schools have chosen to move towards a paperless classroom, saving money on printing or student planners. Also, tech can save teachers time doing repetitive tasks like admin, so they can spend more time focused on what matters most – teaching.

The idea of a digital divide between teachers and students is controversial – digital immigrants versus digital natives. It’s true that today’s students have grown up with technology, whereas most teachers have had to adapt. But, it’s also important to consider the way technology is used. Regular use of Snapchat or Instagram doesn’t necessarily equate to digital literacy. It is for teachers to nurture their students’ understanding of how technology should be used, and leverage it as a way to enhance their learning.

How often should schools look at training teaching staff to use the latest edtech, or is it more important that educators show initiative and take responsibility in keeping up with new developments?

What’s most important is demonstrating the benefits of EdTech, giving teachers a reason to get enthused about using it. This means it needs to offer real benefits, such as saving them time, facilitating workflows intuitively and helping them manage their workload. As such, EdTech needs to be part of a school’s strategy, not an incidental IT solution but a fundamental part of teaching and learning.

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Every teacher will approach technology in a different way, and there’s always more to learn. In order to share ideas and practice, training sessions are an ideal place to start. We’ve seen in schools where approaches in one department can spark inspiration in another. Most important is to demonstrate the value and returns that teachers can get from their EdTech. We want even the most hesitant teachers to leave training enthused about what tech could do for them.

Do you think tech suppliers should as standard supply teacher training on their technology products?

Short answer, yes. But, it depends how they want to build their relationship with schools and their company ethos. Our goal is to make teaching easier and bring teachers, students and parents closer together. Without training, we wouldn’t be able to maximise our efforts to achieve this goal. 

The key is to ensure that training is genuinely useful. This means working with schools to understand their challenges, day-to-day workings and address areas that can produce real benefits. If a supplier commits to training, it’s equally key to make it accessible. Such as running events regionally, going into partner schools or hosting digital training, such as webinars or podcasts. If tech suppliers can understand a school’s requirements, such as CPD certification, this creates further opportunities for effective development.

How important is it that teachers embrace social media rather than shy away from it? Do the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook to engage with students outweigh the potential risks?

Students will be on social media regardless of whether teachers’ are or not. Schools role is to train students how to use social media in a positive way, whether it’s online etiquette or how to deal with problems. Schools could, for example, use an EdTech platform to create student blogs, forums or communities, building a safe place for online interaction.

There is understandable concern from teachers about keeping their personal profiles out of sight of their students (and parents), to such an extent that the ATL have provided guidelines on how to ensure appropriate privacy. The onus here falls on the teachers and school policy, as it’s hard if not impossible to dissuade students from looking up their teachers. 

Schools have a responsibility to help shape students’ relationships with social channels. One such approach is through collaboration, letting students create e-safety guidelines, discuss or debate the value of social, and develop their own informed opinions with teacher guidance. Ultimately EdTech should be there to facilitate, but not dictate – each school will know how best to approach social media training for their students.

Richard Stephenson is Head of Client Experience at Firefly

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