All too often ICT in schools means gathering students together in a stuffy suite with outdated equipment, running outdated operating systems, with outdated software, sitting them down and saying ‘we’re now going to teach you how to do x,y,z’.
But in actual fact children are more inspired and more creative on their own mobile devices, which ironically they are frequently told to put away. In reality ICT is no longer restricted to a segment of learning, but present in almost every subject, it is quite simply a regular part of everyday life.
The Broadclyst model Broadclyst Community Primary School has decided to embrace technology as part of their everyday teaching and has taken a new approach to the traditional take on ICT. “We’ve never particularly taught IT,” says Head-Teacher Jonathan Bishop. “We have very much said that the technology is simply a tool to support the kids’ teaching and learning.”
The result of this ethos can be seen in some impressive facilities and systems – all to ensure that teachers have all the help they need. One of the most stunning additions to the school is the revamped-lecture hall seating 70 children, each with their own computer, voting buttons, webcams and cameras. The space is also equipped with plasma screens and high quality projectors that give teachers the opportunity to get creative.
“Students can look up into the ceiling where we project images. For example, like a planetarium we can look up into the night sky and down on the front wall are a series of screens so you can sit anywhere and see the board,” says Bishop.
“Although, we have no interactive whiteboards, we do have forward facing interactive screens which I think is much more logical than having your back to a class of children. If you’re stood facing them, then you can write on it and what you have written appears down the front. You can then snapshot that and send it to them.”
Back to basics
Although the gadgets and gizmos do come in handy, Broadclyst’s Head says they have yet to abandon simple teaching techniques. “Teachers can control the lighting and therefore control ambience and mood and then using those tools, sometimes teach in a very traditional way,” he explains.
“They still write with pencil and paper, they still use a ruler and calculator, but we then immerse them in a very technologically-rich environment. If you’re going use technology as a tool for both teaching and learning, then the curriculum actually still remains the pivotal part. A lot of people may walk in and see the ‘snazzy’ environment and be wowed by computers, but at the end of the day we bought some computers – it’s not rocket science.”
“The key is actually high-quality teaching with high expectations to get outstanding results, and therefore you need a curriculum that is fit to give children the skills that they require to be adults.”
Alongside their amazing facilities Broadclyst was also one of the first UK schools to adopt a connected learning gateway (CLG) system, which allows, teachers, pupils and parents to communicate with each other all on one social and learning network platform.
Through this system parents can communicate with the school and keep up to date with their children online, teachers can use the tool for everything from planning and resources at the beginning of the year to assigning work and feeding back to students – and pupils can do their work, source research, communicate with friends and teachers and keep track of their own progress.
“What flows out of this is that fact that you can extend learning. It’s no longer 9am-3.30pm,” says Bishop. “We don’t set homework, we create hopefully great educational opportunities and if the children are really inspired and engaged by it they want to go home and do more on it.”
Social media for learning
The learning platform enables children to log in at home and access the work that they were doing, the files that they were working on the assignments and even potentially to re-watch the lesson input, the board that was written on and find out when the assignments are due. Children can then carry on with it and send it back in for a teacher to look at and also work collaboratively with other students by posting and sharing ideas and documents through blogs, discussion forums and through document sharing.
However, Jonathan Bishop is keen to ensure that the platform doesn’t become another social networking site to gossip with friends. “It’s taking the social context of something like Facebook and applying it into a more educationally focused approach, with e-safety,” he explains.
“They’re not within in a closed wall so they can sign in at home or at school, but you can’t be add just anybody. They’re within the environment of their business, which is the school for them and they have video tools such as Microsoft link so they can chat with friends or teachers, they can share desktops, they can share work they can ask for help, they can video call and they can use the platform as a vehicle both in school and at home. Within that clearly isn’t a social chat context. It may be using social media within a work purpose – posting relevant things about what they’re doing is useful, but posting ‘my puppy was sick last night’ is not.”
The school is also very focused on video chat, and they enjoy communicating with other schools around the world. The school has worked with Holland and America and they are currently getting online with students in India, not just to compare cultures, but also to collaborate on activities.
They have also run an enterprise project where the children are put into company groups, and together create a product, do a prototype, do some market research, market it, produce it, keep accounts, all as a team, sharing all their ideas on the sharepoint site collaborating together doing group video calling, but with their friends in Holland.
“Video creation and sharing, thoughts, ideas and viewpoints is very important,” believes Bishop. “We have a television studio, we’ve just upgraded with a virtualised environment so you sit behind a studio desk and in front of a green screen. They write the scripts, man the cameras, I’ve employed drama people to help with ad-libbing, confidence and articulation. I think communication in that sort of form is really powerful and a useful skill.” They headteacher acknowledges that the actions may been seen as progressive, but believes the children themselves accept this way of learning as the norm.
Brave new world
“I think the truth is this is their world. For them it’s not ‘wow’,” he says. “The kids come in, log in, check some emails, go and run around the football pitch, comeback in have a chat with some schools in Holland in India or whoever we’re working with via video and go back outside and put an easel up and paint a picture. For them it’s as part and parcel of everyday life as is a telephone.” However, Bishop admits education still has a long way to go if they want continue to improve learning. Embracing technology and using rather than teaching it is just the beginning.
“When I began 14 years ago there was all the worries of what a negative impact all this technology will have. Will it kill talk? Are there health and safety issues?”
“But in fact all that happens is workloads change,” Bishop concludes. “If you want to drive forward and improve productivity it can facilitate that. What it doesn’t say is ‘We’ll all start at 10 and finish at 2’.
“As technology evolves and moves forward email is now snail mail, people want more instant help and that will have an impact in schools. Schools traditionally are very poor at this for years we’ve just stood with our backs to the kids and that written on a chalkboard and that’s what we do. The thought that someone may be halfway around the world and you could help you instantaneously – very few people are thinking that might be a good idea yet. We’re a bit stuck in the dark ages in education.”