“Winter is Coming” —the Future of Digital Devices in the Classroom

“Winter is coming”

Jon Snow wasn’t referring to our children and the use of digital devices when he repeatedly declared that ‘winter is coming’ on our TV screens. What he is saying may be true for his world, but the end is surely nigh for us in the real world too—just have one quick look at the technological invasion! Children who already spend far too much time switched on with their devices at home are now being pushed to use computers in school as well—what’s wrong with pencil and paper! Where is the down time? In many schools the children get plenty of time in the computer room once a week to learn computers anyway, so why should devices encroach upon traditional learning methods? Children should be learning with books in class, and climbing trees and hitting a ball off the wall when they’re outside of class like we did when we were kids. You know, because we did what our parents did when they were kids…

Hmm, maybe not!

I obviously jest. Hopefully the phrase ‘learn computers’ above made you feel a little uncomfortable as well, we’ll come back to the concept of ‘learning’ or ‘knowing’ computers later in this article.

Embracing Change

For anyone who has read the amazing book Who Moved My Cheese? you will be familiar with the concept and the importance of embracing change. The great chess master Garry Kasparov similarly speaks about the folly of focusing on a move already made during a game of chess. According to Kasparov, every time a move has been made, by you or an opponent, there is immediately a new game to be played and that is what you need to focus on if you are to succeed. Both the mouse and the chess player must constantly adapt their strategy to the ongoing change in their environment if they are to succeed; living in the past means almost certain doom, embracing change is their only chance at success.

Balance

Who knows what the future classroom is going to look like! For most schools it simply isn’t practical to suddenly leap into technology-use only in all subjects; totally foregoing traditional methods. Technology is most definitely here to stay, it would be risky to think otherwise. It has already infiltrated nearly every part of and dramatically changed, most of our lives. It’s now time to realize the power of the educational opportunity that is, quite literally, at our fingertips.

For non-IT-literate teachers this can be a scary thought—I understand that. I work with them and train them all the time. We need to get the balance right and see where technology fits into teaching and learning at your school, and what a realistic timeline (including CPD) for introducing it looks like. It is vital that staff in schools are fully behind the school plan if it is going to succeed.

A Brief History of Time

Just because it is a scary thought does not mean we are justified in simply avoiding the matter. Where would be today if we had done that throughout history?

When comic books were first published they were denounced as the end of the family conversation. Children would have their heads buried in these confounded books at the neglect of traditional family time. Now, of course, we are terrified that children aren’t reading enough… we’re begging them to read comics!

When the bicycle first became widely available there were grave concerns—that’s right, grave concerns—about the morality of this new contraption. Surely with this much freedom young couples would simply cycle out to the woods, away from watchful parental eyes, and frolic in the long grass. Disgraceful behavior! Now, of course, we are worried about health, fitness, and obesity…we’re begging our children to use bikes.

There are a million more examples like these. The point is, every generation thinks the next one is dancing with the devil. Over time this perceived devil becomes as ingrained in the fabric of our society as comic books, bicycles and using technology to extend learning in classrooms—then that generation spots the devil in the next generation after them, who knows what that will be!

Where Does Technology Fit In?

Picture this, you are at home and organizing a trip for the weekend. You take out your massive AA map, your brochures from the travel agents with phone numbers for hotels, and you have your pencil and paper handy to send letters to the hotels to make booking inquiries. You can also use TripAdvisor, you know, the encyclopedia (plenty of facts in there!).

Hang on! You don’t do that, not many people do. You have a laptop or phone or tablet that you use to communicate instantly, plot your route, source reviews etc, and doing all that is just second nature—not being able to do it would be catastrophic!

Why do we think that these basic 21st-century skills and the obvious benefits they bring don’t belong in the classroom?

Just like you or I don’t separate technology from our own research and planning, a digitally proficient school won’t ask their students to do this either. After all, they are preparing for life in a world that will undoubtedly be far more advanced than the one we’re currently operating in. A world of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars. Digital tools are as necessary to their lives as learning to read and write. They can’t be omitted from teaching and learning—not unless we want to actively deprive the next generation of the best education available.

Consider also that these children have grown up in a Googlified world, these aren’t new and crazy tools for them, they are just a part of life. Why on earth would you not use them! It’s important to note that using relevant tools positively impacts upon motivation, behavior, engagement and achievement; the inverse is also true!

But My Students ‘Know’ Computers, I Don’t!

Just as I pointed out my error for using the phrase ‘learn’ computers it is also important that we consider what the students actually ‘know’ about computers. One doesn’t ‘learn’ or ‘know’ computers, the same way one doesn’t ‘learn’ or ‘know’ pencils. They are tools that offer many options and with the right guidance can help us achieve great things. While some students are undoubtedly going to be quite skilled at specific learning areas such as writing code or making films, this does not mean that they will know more than you as a teacher. This is why.

  • Technology is a learning tool

It’s just like pencil and paper, you will use it to achieve traditional learning objectives. It is not the focus of the learning, rather it is a vehicle for learning. It should be phased into your whole school plan accordingly including the appropriate CPD.

  • Pedagogy

Using technology effectively isn’t about creating groundbreaking digital productions, it’s about how you as a teacher can use digital tools to achieve learning objectives. Some teachers and students will extend learning and go on to make groundbreaking productions—don’t allow this to deter you.

  • The fear of expert students

I have trained teachers and taught about 500 different classes and have come across all types of student. The ‘experts’ that many teachers are anxious about being shown up by don’t exist for two reasons:

  • They are now using it to achieve specific learning objectives: it’s a new challenge in a structured lesson with focused criteria
  • They are also, generally, superb teaching assistants who will learn a lot of other skills by helping you or other groups at key stages of the work.

Embedding Technology in All Subjects

When I talk about embedding technology in all subjects I am not suggesting that schools should abandon ship on traditional learning tools and only use technology. I am yet to teach a class using technology as the primary learning tool where the students weren’t also using pencil and paper to support their planning, brainstorming and note taking. Often the technology aspect of a lesson or scheme of work is the result of, or catalyst for, work that doesn’t involve technology. For example, students could watch a video or explore a 3D world to use as inspiration for a piece of art or writing. Maybe the video/3D world represents the start of a story and they have to use their imagination to complete it. Or the complete opposite, the students could write a script or draw a picture on the premise of using them to build a 3D world or make a film. It’s all about balance.

Each school is totally different as well, with many different technologies available to them, with different wants and needs and staff with different skill sets. The first thing schools need to do is develop a developmental eLearning plan and a leadership team to spearhead the plan.

Developing Your eLearning Plan

Firstly, exhale. This is not something to be worried about. A good eLearning plan should address the skills and confidence of your staff and students—it should be SMART.

  • Specific

You should know what tools or devices you want to introduce and why. It doesn’t need to be inflexible and comprehensive but you should have a clear vision of the direction you would like to go in. Do you want to go for projectors in the classroom? A whiteboard? Undoubtedly there will be changes.

  • Measured

The plan should be reviewed regularly and it should contain clear goals and milestones to help you measure your success.

  • Agreed Upon

You should set up an eLearning team in the school to begin assessing the wants and needs of staff. They should present findings at a staff meeting and present possible options. This process should be ongoing as long as needed until the staff has agreed upon an outline for a plan.

  • Realistic

Consider the skills and confidence of your staff and students. Consider your budget. There is no point in aiming for the sky if you’re going to terrify your staff or you can’t afford to buy anything you have planned on using.

  • Time-related

There should be phases to the plan (e.g. termly or yearly) where you can formally review progress and develop your plan.

Some Practical Suggestions:

  • Have a professional assess your hardware, network, and devices and for feedback on how fit for purpose and future proof they are.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! You don’t need to spend hours, days or weeks researching the best apps and programs out there and you will get lost in an abyss of different blogs. Speak with your local IT teaching expert/consultancy. Talk to other schools and see what has worked for them and what hasn’t worked.
  • Invest in your teachers as much as you invest in technology—CPD is essential. Educational screencasting software is worthless without the teacher behind it.
  • Positive accountability—have half termly staff meetings about the plan or regular five-minute slots in staff meetings for teachers to show work being done by students. You could set teachers similar targets for a half term – e.g. every class will make an eBook about a class topic – at the end of the half term you can have an assembly for the students to present their work or the staff can present work and discuss progress in a staff meeting. It is essential to keep the conversation going.
  • Check out www.educ8.world an online tool that provides everything you need for embedding ICT across all subjects. It includes a six year development plan, step by step lesson plans, demo videos for every lesson, presentations, differentiation and assessment tools, training resources, online dashboards for teachers and students, an online safety program and much more—it’s also very affordable and offers a 30-day free trial.

Here’s to the Future!

The anxiety about introducing technology into the classroom is understandable. We need to ensure we do it at the right pace with a clear vision in mind of where you want your school to be next year and in five years time and how you’re going to get there. If we don’t then, unfortunately, winter may actually come to learning and progress at your school! The learning opportunities of properly integrated technology are simply too powerful to ignore.

 

Feature image courtesy of Unsplash, Денис Евстратов.

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