Saturday, 10 May 2014

Technology is a tool to be used, not a learning outcome.

Do we buy technology in schools without questioning why?

How many times have you been amazed by a piece of technology? If you're like me, then quite often!  I love technology, I love the way it has changed the way I work, how it has inspired me and how it has enabled me to publish things I never thought possible 10 years ago.

Now, let's look at the children in my class, the digital natives.  The technology has always been there, they've never been in a classroom without an interactive whiteboard, laptops, iPads or a projector whirring away in the background.  But how much of this technology has been used to improve their learning outcomes?

Use Technology more effectively in the classroom.
Using technology in the classroom needs a complete change in mindset and rethink of your approach to children's learning.

Technology is a tool to be used, not a learning outcome.

I cannot stress this point enough to colleagues at school, on Twitter, parents and even the children themselves.  Why are you using the technology?

Why are you using technology in the classroom?

As I stated before, I am a huge fan of technology, but it doesn't mean I use it in every learning experience.  There needs to be a very valid reason to be using technology and an outcome that has benefitted from it at the end.  If I can use a pen and pencil to make notes, do I really need Evernote?  I've found it is hard to break old habits when you have not been surrounded by technology all your life.  Our children tend not to have this difficulty.

Whenever I sit down to plan, like anybody else, I start with the outcome. The children in our school are encouraged to work in a very cross-curricular way, working on projects until a final outcome is reached after self and peer assessing to improve. I'm currently trailing this online using Edmodo - you can read about it here Online Peer Assessment 

We have begun asking the children to choose what format they wish to publish their work in, a reaction to a topic or unit of work if you like. They can write a poem, a report, film something etc. Their choice.  I've seen something quite remarkable, the children will only choose technology when they feel the project needs it.  If a written report works, then they'll do that, if they want to present something they have filmed or just presented in front of the class.  Believe it or not, not ALL children prefer to use an iPad or a MacBook to publish their work.

Looking at the image on the right shows how we need to think more carefully about why we are using technology.  I still come across teachers who will say "I need to make a video, I haven't done any ICT for a while." My answer is always the same, "Why do you need technology? Can you reach the same outstanding outcome without it?"

The most common answer is that, "Well, I haven't done any for a while." Does this mean that we are giving the children a broad and balanced curriculum when we are finding holes in things we haven't taught them yet.  I'd like to think we are further on in our classrooms than ticking boxes on QCA documents. Maybe not?  Ticking boxes tends to lead to surface learning, not deep learning.

The internet is awash with people encouraging teachers to use QR Codes, Augmented Reality, eBooks, and how everybody must learn how to programme! It instills panic in some people and they react to it without thinking how this new technology can improve the learning experience in their classrooms.

What then happens is you try it for a week (or once) and then stop doing it because it became too much work or the children didn't respond well to it.  You haven't thought deep enough about the outcome and why you're doing this.  You've reacted - "oh this looks cool!"  Ok, at least you've tried something new, engaged the children for a moment, but have you really improved the outcomes in your class? 

Start with an outcome and then work backwards.

We must not lose site of the end product, force ourselves to use the technology because you feel that you must; when actually the technology is slowing the process and is detrimental to the outcome.  Technology is great for engaging children, but if they don't see a point in using it, the outcome will usually suffer. 

I use Padlet in my classroom, a really great way to collaborate online, share pictures, web links and much more. I was once told that this would have made a great lesson. Have I used it IN a lesson? No. I haven't used it because it wouldn't have been as effective IN the classroom. It needed the children to be AWAY from the classroom for it to be successful.

Padlet: A great way to collaborate online.
I used Padlet over the Easter break to gather information about William Shakespeare to aid my planning. The children followed a link and shared facts and information.

This could have been done with a sheet of paper IN the classroom and still have been as effective, but the children were not IN the classroom, they were  all at home.

I used the technology more effectively because I thought about why it would work better. I could have sent a sheet of paper home, then collated the information at a later date, but using Padlet enhanced the process and outcome.  

Using this technology helped me as well.  I didn't need to wait for the children to arrive back at school to plan their next learning adventure, I gained two weeks of planning and preparation time - great time management on my behalf.  And from a flipped learning point of view, the children were gathering knowledge and understanding outside the classroom so we didn't need to cover as much IN class.

Keeping up with the Joneses.

Schools tend to do this a lot.  They go and visit a school and then cherry pick the technology that they've seen. "Well they've got 1:1 iPads, maybe we should get them?" Try not to react like this, you need to consider these things before buying any sort of technology:

- How will the technology enhance the learning in our school?
- How will it slide seamlessly into your current curriculum? Do you need to think again?
- What will the impact be? (People will ask, especially if you've spent £20 000)
- Who will champion the technology? One person can't drive this change!
- Are you staff trained? Will they see it as just another thing to learn?

Tick all these boxes and you have a solid vision for it, then go for it!  Make sure you keep evaluating as you go, and then react to any problems or success stories.

Enjoy the technology in the classroom, it's not going away!  But, please, please think before you jump in!

Finally, I'm presenting via a Webinar on Tuesday 13th May at 4.00pm. You can register via this link - Flipped Learning Webinar

Follow me on Twitter @chriswaterworth