Moving Education Technology Forward into the Digital Era

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Moving Education Technology Forward into the Digital Era

Category: Before Class
Moving Education Technology Forward into the Digital Era
by Abdul Chohan

I believe that we in education we have become very good at doing the wrong things really well. One of the impacts that this has had is that it has created a belief that impacts on teacher behaviour. I firmly believe that if you are able to change belief then this will automatically change behaviour. Traditional use of technology in education is a great example of how we have done the wrong things really well.

Over the last decade we saw a huge investment in interactive whiteboards in schools across the world. Thousands of pounds were spent on this technology by school leaders with little or no impact on learning outcomes. It was a good example of ‘translation’. 100 years ago a teacher wrote on a chalkboard, 20 years ago the whiteboard/markers were introduced and then we translated that into an ‘interactive’ whiteboard with digital board markers. For most teachers this required special training for setup and use. In reality this was an experience that had two key ‘ingredients’ that were missing. The ingredients I refer to are; simplicity and reliability. The world has seen an explosion in the use of technology in our daily lives. The two key ingredients of ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Reliability’ are now seen in most successful technology products.

I believe that the use of consumer technology by teachers in classrooms has greater impact on pedagogy than technology that has been ‘made for education’. In the UK I lead one of the first large scale deployments of mobile technology across a state school. Within days of deployment teachers and students were able to access the new developed app economy to do things that were simply not possible in the past. Simple things, like making a video could be done by tapping an app and tapping the record button – we had been struggling in the past with portable cameras and USB sockets and syncing with computers.

Effective use of technology for me is defined by ‘technology allowing us to do things that were not possible before. Take the practice of assessment for learning. Typically, a state school with 25 students in a class, the teacher is not able to gauge the level of understanding from each and every student, so the age old practice of ‘put your hands up’ or ‘green card/red card’ is used. With our new found app economy teachers were able to discover apps that allowed students to respond to questions immediately with an instant (this being key) graphical feedback to the teacher of which students have answered correctly, incorrectly or not answered at all. This would allow a good teacher to take measure the impact of their learning more accurately.

Students still write with pen and paper as the final exams are done with pen and paper, however, students now take a photo of their work and upload it to their teacher who uses their mobile device to annotate and give feedback with voice. The impact of this is extremely significant, in that students can hear their teachers voice as annotations on their work, improving relationships and increasing transparency between students, teachers and parents. Again, this is an example of technology allowing us to do things that were simply not possible in the past.

Recently, we have begun to redesign the idea of textbooks. Moving away from a static experience with text and images to something that allows for better cognitive development through the use of animations and interactivity with 3D models to give a simplified understanding of complicated abstract processes that otherwise students would have had to imagine. It goes without saying that the redevelopment of ‘textbooks’ in this fashion allows for the integration of translation tools, dictionaries, text to speech and pronunciation to be built in. Access to this information is rapid, unfettered and more importantly students can access this independently.

The investment in the right type of technology is key. I say that ‘iPads are like taps’ – very shiny and we switch them on and they work. However, the fundamental question that we need to ask is what does the ‘plumbing’ look like? Without the plumbing a tap is useless. So in an educational sense, I define the plumbing as learning design. The way we design learning for a technology enhanced mobile learning environment is different to where we design learning for an environment with the occasional use of a lap top trolley. Additionally, the correct design of tasks can move students from simply having secretarial skills to developing ‘CEO’ type skills.

Strategic change needs to happen through professional development in schools. Unfortunately the model of ‘training days’ is one that is not working. Most schools that use this methodology for training find it ineffective and the gap between the training is far too wide. Professional development needs to regular, relevant and needs ‘facetime’ with colleagues to discuss and debate and share. For me, these are essential qualities that must be timetabled into a weekly schedule. This allows for a number of things to happen. Firstly, teachers feel invested in. Time is a commodity in education. If something is important we must devote time to it. If school leaders want change, time must be devoted to it. Investment does not have to be financial, time is a currency that many teachers will gladly accept. Secondly, the development must be led by teachers who are doing great things in the classroom. Professional development does not have to be an expensive process lead by external people. All schools have some great teachers, being able to showcase good practice ensures that we amplify the good things that are happening and give opportunities for others to adopt that practice. it also provides an opportunity for teachers to continue with professional development through the week. This could done through arranging observation or team teaching opportunities.

To move from the traditional model to something that is weekly is a real possibility. It would mean that all the time from training days is shared on a weekly basis. In two of the schools that I have worked with we have achieved exactly that. We were able to get a minimum of a 2 hour session every week. This has been key in making all the necessary changes in the organisation.

The regular organisation of professional development means that we have the opportunity to ‘make mistakes’ and to test new approaches without the fear of ‘getting it wrong’. School leaders can check progress and the degree of success of any new initiative on a weekly basis and provide course corrections or simply stop doing something if it is wrong.

Professional development is a key aspect of any change process. It provides us the opportunity to change the beliefs of our people. If we can change belief then we will be able to create a critical mass of people who represent the organisation to create change.

– Abdul Chohan
Co-Founder of The Olive Tree Primary School, UK
Former Principal of Essa Academy

Follow Abdul on Twitter @Abdulchohan