Tech in schools, it IS helping, so let’s help our teachers!

Week 2 of the new term and the debate about the usefulness of tech in schools has got louder. But is it focusing the right things?

By Mary Palmer, Director, Techkowledge for Schools

Not quite. This week’s debate was sparked by an international OECD study that looked at whether the use of technology helps maths, science and reading. This in turn sparked a curious debate about whether to ban mobile technology in the classroom altogether, despite the OECD itself admitting that its findings should not be used as an ‘excuse’ not to use technology, but as a spur to finding a more effective approach. 

At Techknowledge for Schools our priority is to help schools understand If, Why, When and How to use technology in school, and how to maximise its potential as a tool for learning. We’re clear on what is worth debating and what isn’t, as are the schools we work with – pioneers in this brave new (edtech) world. 

There is little point in pondering whether mobile devices are useful pedagogical tools in creating a rounded school-leaver. In a BBC Radio 4 debate two days ago, teachers reiterated that digital learning helps children immeasurably, enables us to break the outdated mould of passive learning and if used correctly, it helps children collaborate and share in a way that is crucial to their future working life. And our years of research back up these findings. 

What we should be concerned about is how to educate teachers to use (and advise students on use of) mobile learning devices to best effect, given that they permeate all of society. The real debate is not about devices, it’s about embracing (or not) an entirely new way of learning to the one we knew just seven years go.

There’s a huge difference between debating smartphone mis-use in lessons and a pedagogical debate about the serious difference technology can make to learning, pupil engagement and readiness for the demands of employers. Our independent research* shows that in schools using technology in their teaching, nearly all have a ‘responsible use’ policy in place. While 76% of the 6,565 secondary pupils interviewed this year regularly use a smartphone, only 29% use their phone regularly in school. 

Pockets of best practice

In Chiswick School, Headteacher Tony Ryan is against banning smartphones to counter mis-use: “It’s not about banning ‘distractions’ as they’ve been present throughout the ages in the form of paper aeroplanes and notes under the table. Now, as ever before, it’s about managing and controlling the classroom, good manners and fostering a culture where children understand why they should behave responsibly. I don’t want an ethos of mistrust in our school. The ‘distraction from learning’ cited in media articles isn’t an issue here because the culture of responsibility is largely respected, and where it isn’t, we take action. Phones are confiscated for a day/week/month if they’re seen in class (depending on frequency of ‘appearance’) and it works. A couple of years ago, 40-50 mobiles were confiscated per term. Now it’s 5 or 6 per term. 

“Of course, on their own, mobile devices are not a solution, but they have the potential in the right set of circumstances to assist differentiation, encourage extended learning and allow students to apply context to the knowledge that they are acquiring, whilst at the same time learning new skills. Allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning using mobile devices and watching them collaborate and share what they’ve learned is magical. Our students want to carry on their work at home, not avoid it. They barely realise they’re learning because they’re so engaged in technology they’re comfortable with.

‘Of course, on their own, mobile devices are not a solution, but they have the potential in the right set of circumstances to assist differentiation, encourage extended learning and allow students to apply context to the knowledge that they are acquiring, whilst at the same time learning new skills’ 

“The focus now should be on helping teachers embrace digital learning. Teacher confidence is key and good teaching etiquette is vital. We have to help teachers keep on top of all that technology can offer, because it’s making a huge difference on many levels. I choose to invest in this and for other schools weighing up the balance of where to invest, I’d say it’s about priorities. I choose to embrace digital technology because I genuinely believe it’s making a difference.” 

Tim Cross, head of Learning Technology at Leigh Academies Trust, said: “The problem with the OECD report is that is rather broad-brush, it covers multiple countries and it doesn’t look in any detail at how schools are using mobile technology. Our pupils are using mobile technology meaningfully: they’re collaborating and sharing their work with enthusiasm and progressing in leaps and bounds.

“The answer to many of the issues being debated lies in how the teacher handles the classroom, how sustainable the roll-out is and how the teachers themselves are educated. School leaders need to invest time and effort in getting the infrastructure right. Most of all, they need a really clear plan of what they want to achieve by investing in tablets and similar devices, and they should focus on doing a couple of things really well. The government should invest more in support for teachers and in helping schools understand how digital learning will equip pupils for the future.”

Digital learning is here to stay

Techknowledge for Schools devotes its energy to helping school leaders introduce and integrate a new way of teaching and learning so that their pupils have a fighting chance of emerging as tech-savvy and engaged with technology as they’ll need to be. We work with teachers in over 40 schools (using 1-to-1 devices). We monitor and measure the reactions, enlightened discoveries and stumbling blocks of teachers and pupils, the impact on pupil engagement and learning and increasingly, the impact on their achievements. And we use all those findings to create a blueprint of best practice to help schools on their journey into technology. These videos tell the story.

If teachers are simply using tablets as pacifiers or if pupils are misusing the tablets, then those schools need more help. We’re here to give it. Despite the media frenzy on banning and ditching mobile technology, one of the main OECD conclusions is one we entirely agree with and work closely with schools to address: 

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.”

Get in touch and find invaluable resources at Techknowledge for Schools

* ‘How Students use the Internet at School and at Home’, Techknowledge for Schools, August 2015 


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