Monday, 14 May 2012

You'll Get What You've Always Got?

I’ve recently watched a couple of videos made by primary schools, demonstrating how they used iPads across their schools. I was particularly interested in seeing how the children were using them during a lesson. After watching for a little while, I noticed that many of the apps that were being used were basically digital versions of resources that the teacher would have traditionally used without the iPad or other technologies. For example, a 'whiteboard' that allowed the children to write down a sum and the answer and then to show to others; foundation phase children drawing letters on the screen; children playing matching games; drawing on the screen or reading books. This is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation. After watching, I started to reflect on how I've often seen technology being used by teachers. It reminded me of the experience of working on the 'interactive whiteboard initiative' some 10 years ago across our authority and the relatively rapid take-up by schools and teachers of this technology. Very rarely do I now come across a primary school that doesn't have IWBs across the whole school.

But why did this particular technology take hold in schools so quickly? My belief has been that teachers took to this technology because it basically allowed them to teach the way they had always done (teacher at the front of the class, children looking at the board). Yes, we can make our lesson introductions more 'whizzy' with images, video, web links, simple interactivity and sound, but basically I can still pick up a pen and write on a board as I traditionally did before IWBs. IWBs were not a disruptive technology in the classroom, in my opinion it allowed the status quo to continue, where one technology substituted for another. Technology changed, but the teaching approach didn't. Learning and teaching continued in the same way as previously, relatively unaffected or transformed by the new technology.

I realise that comparing iPads with IWBs is a little unfair as one could be seen as a 'teacher tool' whereas the other is technology placed directly into the hands of the learner, but the idea I feel holds true. Even when technology can be placed in the hands of the learner, in the primary school classroom it is still the case, that it is the teacher who generally directs the learning for the majority of the time and decides how and where the learning takes place and what resources are available for the learner.

Are iPads going to revolutionise learning and teaching as I've heard some people claim? Or perhaps this is the wrong question and we should be asking, are the apps used on the iPad going to help to revolutionise learning and teaching? This is the new technology for schools and the take-up is growing rapidly across our authority and across Wales. I recently talked to an Apple distributor who told me how difficult it is to keep up with the orders for iPads coming from schools. Which means there is a large demand, and like the IWBs, schools, teachers and learners don't seem to feel threatened by the iPad and are excited by the large catalogue of apps available to them. Teachers can plan learning activities utilising the resources (apps) available, hopefully enhancing the activity. The iPad doesn't appear to me to be a disruptive technology to education in the way that it's currently being used by most schools. Therefore like the IWB, the status quo continues in a class, we are substituting one technology for another. Learning and teaching carries on in a similar way as before, but now in a classroom that has bright, glossy 'things' instead of the older, heavier, black or grey 'things'.

It reminds me of the saying: "If you do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

Interestingly, Janet Wozniak from Apple recently spoke at the Learning Through Technology conference. According to this article in the TES she commented that schools should be wary of substitution - doing the things they have always done but channeled into technology such as the iPad - as this added nothing to teaching and cost more. 

With my local authority hat on I think it's time to find and highlight those examples of teachers and schools from around the world who are truly transforming educational with technology. Transformation which is based on sound educational research.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Mobile Phone and Games Console Filtering Links

Yesterday I blogged about the European internet safety report, and in particular how children might safely use mobile phones and games consoles to access the internet. So I made a trawl of the mobile phone and gaming console websites to see what each of the companies say about filtering internet access for young people and parental controls. I've listed below links to the relevant parts of their websites. A very useful task, for instance, perhaps naively I didn't realise that the various mobile phone networks have been unable to filter Blackberry handsets. Quite a potential problem considering the numbers of young people who use a Blackberry. However, the Orange website does say that by July 2012 something will be in place to filter these devices if needed.

Photo from Flickr user Pauly
This could be a useful list to share with parents?

Mobile phones:

O2 - Mobile phone and age verification  / Block or unblock 18+ content

T Mobile - Content Lock

Vodafone - Content Control

Orange - How can I block mobile content?

Tesco - Parental Controls

UK Safer Internet Centre - Smartphones

Gaming Consoles:

Xbox - Parental Controls

Sony - Playstation Knowledge Centre for Parents

Nintendo DSi and DSi XL - Parental Controls

Nintendo Wii - Parental Controls

Nintendo 3DS - Parental Controls

UK Safer Internet Centre - Games Devices

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Internet Safety Report

Internet safety report - Articles - Educational Technology - ICT in Education A quick summary by Terry Freedman of a new report entitled "European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children". Interesting that Terry picks up on part of the report that has started to concern me. That is the issue of how children safely access the web through mobile devices and through gaming consoles. What filters or controls are available for parents on these devices? If they are there are many parents aware they're there? Definitely something for me to look more closely at.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Using ICT Appropriately

I'm currently spending some time finding articles, publications and research on how ICT 'raises standards' and it's turning into quite a fascinating activity. This has sprung very much out of one of my last blogs about embedding ICT. In it I wrote about the need for a school to remember to ‘look back’ to evaluate what has been done in a school, what was successful or not, to learn from this before moving the whole school forward. Well I’m now doing the same thing. I’m looking for some clarity, reminding myself what benefits ICT does bring to the learner, the teacher and for the school. I’ve been doing this job for 10 years and I guess what I’m trying to do is de-construct what I believe I know about ICT and rebuild it on firmer foundations.

It really has been fascinating. The same benefits keep appearing and also the challenges, the main challenge being that it seems to be very difficult to prove that the use of ICT has a direct correlation to the raising of standards. Most of the benefits appear to be about motivation, enthusiasm, engagement, personal learning, parental engagement and organisation and management. One particular publication from Becta (Inspiring Learners: Discover how technology can inspire learners to achieve more, Jan. 2010) caught my attention. On pages 4 and 5 they listed how using technology in practical, active and creative ways will:

  • help improve their learning and achievement
  • engage them in their learning
  • make them likely to perform better in national tests
  • help them become more creative and independent in their learning
  • improve their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills
  • help them to gather and share information and experiences
  • help them grasp difficult concepts in curriculum subjects
  • make them more likely to stay in education after 16

The more I read this list, the clearer it becomes that you obviously don’t necessarily need to use ICT to develop any of these aspects. ICT can help, but so can other approaches. As an example, I watched my daughter over the Easter holidays carry out a geography Yr. 9 homework task. She had to come up with questions she wanted answering about Antarctica, carry out some research to find the answers and finally present this information back for her teacher. For about 6 days she worked for a couple of hours daily on this project. She sat the table with A3 sheets of paper, coloured pencils and paint, and put together an interesting and visually stunning presentation on Antarctica, with no sign of ICT. She was engaged, independent, highly motivated (no nagging from mum or dad!), extremely creative, and was gathering and sharing information in an appropriate way. 

Not a computer in sight!

The point I’m trying to make is that perhaps we (I’m) guilty of sometimes ‘over-egging’ the place of ICT in education. In my defence I have always talked about using ICT when it’s appropriate. For my daughter this was the most appropriate way for her to present her work. For her classmates it might have been completed on a leaflet, a poster, a video or on pieces of A4 paper in a folder. 

You can obviously be highly creative with ICT, however there are so many other ways in which some children will want to show their creativity. No matter what we would like to think, not all children will find ICT tools as the best way to demonstrate their creativity. It’s about us remembering to allow children the option to sometimes decide for themselves how they want to appropriately present their work. Painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, drama, playing an instrument or singing, writing stories and poetry are some ways in which children would like to demonstrate their creative talents. Dare I say....many of these are a lot cheaper to support and develop in a school than expensive ICT software or kit!!