A full on day at Blackhorse Primary, large primary school in Emersons Green, Bristol, South Gloucestershire followed by a twilight session with all of the staff, and their Teachmeet.
This is a a school with an incredibly open, and “up for it” approach to technology across the curriculum. Our day was a shared between the analog learning that flows from virtual worlds, and taking a fast paced glimpse at some of the digital delights that are available to bring learning even more alive.
A fun filled day, starting with the upper Key Stage 2 pupils and their teachers in the morning…
… the Year 2 pupils and their teachers in the afternoon, …
… followed by a twilight after school with all the teachers.
Thank you to Headteacher Simon Botten, for these thoughts:
Fighting through the ‘flim-flam’
In a recent research paper by Wayne Holmes from University of London’s Institute of Education, reported in the TES concluded that technology in schools often had little impact on learning, despite massive investment because ‘one of the biggest problems was policymakers, academy chains and school leaders getting excited about innovations but failing to adequately consider how they could be integrated into classrooms.‘ Furthermore, at the resent ResearchEd conference, speaker Nick Rose, when discussing innovation in the classroom declared “These pseudoscientific ideas, the ones with no scientific founding and quite often disconfirming evidence, have rattled their way through a school, having been ousted out of other disciplinary areas, and have nested and taken root.” And therein lies both digital learning’s biggest problem and, I believe, its coming of age.
At Blackhorse, we believe that technology offers huge potential for new and more effective ways of learning. However, we also understand that the latest shiny piece of hardware is simply a tool which can be used well or badly. In the same way as owning a pencil won’t make you Shakespeare, we understand that owning 200 IPads won’t automatically lead to outstanding learning outcomes – and in the worst cases can actually distract from and hamper learning. .
This has led us to ask one simple question when considering new technology: ‘why bother?’ This may seem like the mantra of the the lazy, the conservative or the Luddite. But our children we never get that ill-conceived or ill thought out lesson/ unit/ year again and we therefore have only one chance it get it right so must justify all our innovations.
An example of this was our adoption of IPads as learning tools. Four years ago a number of academics in the US began noticing that children with Autism responded unexpectedly when asked to work on IPads and other touch screen tablets, demonstrating the ability to communicate via these devices in more complex ways than their teachers had previously thought possible. Social Media and blogs also provided an emerging ecosystem of families and educators sharing their anecdotal evidence which correlated with more official findings.
As a school with a Resource Base for Autistic children, most of whom find aspects of communication difficult, we felt that this research justified an investment in 10 IPads for exclusive use within the Resource Base. Importantly it was the research that drove the deployment of technology – not the other way around.
Having established a clear need for the technology and evidence to indicate its effectiveness we then turned our thoughts as to which teachers should be given these shiny new gadgets. All too often new technology is given to the techno-zealots, the teachers who will love their new technology unconditionally and who will perform wonderfully dramatic feats with their new gadget… which may or may not have a meaningful impact on learning.
We didn’t do this. We gave them to a team of outstanding teachers (all specialists in teaching autistic children) who greeted the news with an unimpressed silence. These were teachers who had a proven track record for improving the outcomes of autistic children, as well as a healthy scepticism of technology promising a magic cure.
Next we presented them with the research and introduced them to the vast international online community sharing their findings and suggesting apps (many written by specialist educators).
And then we (as a leadership team) got out of the way.
To start with nothing happened. The IPads sat on the shelf while the Resource Base teachers eyed them suspiciously. However, over the weeks that followed, activities presented themselves which the teachers felt would be enhanced by the IPads. Again, the learning imperative created the technological imperative, not the other way around.
Within six months the teachers had sought out highly effective Apps and uses of the IPads and the effect on learning in the Resource Base became unexpectedly significant. A child whose pencil control was so poor he could only draw a rough circle on a piece of paper was writing legibly within lines as a result of the daily use of an OT App; a child who rarely spoke narrated a story into a multi-media book App; and the KS2 class was able to perform and share a Christmas play via a video app for the first time.
We believe that these gains were achieved because we first looked at the evidence, then looked for the most appropriate technology, then gave it to people who were talented enough to discern the best ways to deploy it and then encouraged these professionals to engage with an online community of professionals with whom to collectively develop a pedagogy.
Compared to many schools our adoption of IPads for learning could be considered cautiously slow. However, by taking time to develop a clear pedagogy, we believe that we have improved learning in a clear and evidence-based way.
And if we are to avoid the technological tail wagging the dog of learning this care, reflection and caution must surely be the only way to ensure that technology truly impacts on learning.