World wide Hwb: the case for a nationwide digital strategy

Maria Morgan, Head of E-Learning at Bishop Vaughan School talks to ET about Hwb, the digital learning platform that is revolutionising Welsh schools

It was perhaps no surprise that the Donaldson Report, released in 2015, found that the Welsh curriculum was out of date when it came to digital technology, and that students and teachers alike were struggling with legacy equipment and ineffective software. The changing nature of the workforce, and new digital skills required by employers, has made a shift in the education system necessary – and most schools agree that it’s time policy caught up with these pressing demands, prioritising the implementation and use of tech in the classroom. 

The Donaldson Report has already led to some significant changes to ed tech policy, including the introduction of Hwb; a digital learning platform that can be accessed by every teacher at every school. This is clearly a move in the right direction for schools – and we’re beginning to see the benefits of a centralised approach – but for us, more is needed.

Teachers in Wales still need a more structured and coherent digital strategy to offer real guidance to teachers. We don’t need edicts or quotas – it should be said – but guidance and support as we make important steps towards a tech-powered education model. At present, this level of strategy is lacking, and this is why I worked with Canvas this summer on the Driving Digital Strategy report, which aims to persuade Government to develop exactly that, with guidance and support for all areas of digital learning in schools.

Prioritising training

One of the key requirements to emerge from the Canvas report is more training. In Welsh schools – and anecdotally, across the UK – I would certainly agree with this sentiment – that better training support is vital for successful technology implementations.

In my view, even when whole schools are willing to work towards the consistent use of the right education technology in the classroom, it can be hard to do without it being supported by an effective top-down approach or framework.

Often, staff find themselves in a position where there is pressure to teach certain digital skills with certain technology and software, but with little guidance or support available to them. I have often seen teachers spending their own time searching for the best tech for their schools, or training themselves in the classroom technology they do have to ensure that they can provide the best tech-enabled teaching and learning possible. This is clearly a time sink, and not necessarily the best approach to ensure the competence and comfort levels required to make a success of technology enabled learning. A first step would be simply to provide details of what training resources already exist, and connecting teachers with peers to offer support and help as they get to grips with new tech.

Ensuring advocacy through a framework approach

I have also found that even the savviest individual teachers can only go so far in advocating for new technology in schools. Our own headteacher at Bishops Vaughan is supportive, and is onboard with the drive to provide the best technology in our classrooms, but this is not always the case. School administrators too are often unwilling to take risks with technology, and some only have the capacity to provide enough ICT teaching and equipment to reach the required performance standards. 
In my view, even when whole schools are willing to work towards the consistent use of the right education technology in the classroom, it can be hard to do without it being supported by an effective top-down approach or framework. Using Hwb, we are able to access shared resources, become part of discussion groups and share best practice across the whole country, and this is a significant step forward. I believe that Hwb has helped us to develop a level of consistency with our digital learning that would not have been possible if we were working by ourselves.

However Hwb is not without its setbacks, and it does not offer support for teachers on the new key digital competencies. Neither is the system designed to tackle broader issues around developing digital skills, such as help with procuring the best tech or guidance on where best to spend the budget available for ICT.  

So, as someone who has been a ‘technological evangelist’ for a number of years I have seen first hand the progress that is being made in classroom technology, and the willingness of my colleagues to embrace it in their own teaching. But I also recognise that guidance is necessary to support them and harness that will to innovate and so now is the time to call for more guidance on incorporating digital skills and technology into teaching and learning nationwide. We’ve moved forward in recent years but I believe that we have the potential, and the opportunity, to achieve so much more. And that’s why initiatives like Driving Digital Strategy are so important.

You can read more about Canvas’ initiative here and find out more about our school here.

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