Education technology: what's new?
When you go on school visits it's good to be primed on some of the cutting-edge developments in technology that you might encounter. In this article Matt Britland, Director of ICT at The Lady Eleanor Holles School, takes Winter's readers on a whistle-stop tour of some of the ways that schools are embracing the future...
Technology is an integral part of any school's teaching and learning strategy. It is continually developing and helping to support and improve the ways teachers and students work. It can sometimes be hard to keep on top of the ways technology is being integrated into schools so I have compiled a list of some of the latest tech developments.
Many schools are using class sets of iPads or other tablets to support, enhance and transform teaching and learning. Class iPads are fantastic and they are a very useful tool. However, to get the most out of tablets a one-to-one strategy is best. According to a recent survey from Tablets for Schools, in 9% of UK schools there was an individual tablet for every student.
More and more schools are taking advantage of the exciting opportunities that tablets and other devices offer. In Apple’s new iOS 9.3 release they have built in classroom tools for the teacher, making it even easier to manage the iPads their students are using. With a well thought-out digital strategy one-to-one devices can revolutionise teaching and learning in schools.
Many students are more than comfortable using technology, which is fantastic, but often pupils lack the underlying knowledge of how applications are created or how computers are programmed. Coding is now becoming popular in schools, as not only does it teach twenty-first century skills but it also teaches students problem solving skills, collaboration skills and critical thinking.
Websites like CodeAvengers and Codecademy are helping teachers and students to learn to code in a fun and engaging way. These websites are great to use in a classroom or at home, and enable students to work independently and to learn and progress at their own pace.
Cloud storage / online documents
Online services like Google Drive are giving schools the opportunity to take advantage of ‘the cloud’. Google Drive enables schools, teachers and students to not only store documents, video and other files online but to create documents online too. These documents are then available across devices and accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.
Documents created and stored in ‘the cloud’ allow users a greater degree of collaboration. For example, multiple students can work on a document together in real time from multiple locations. It is a very powerful tool! The best news for schools is that it is free and education institutions get unlimited storage. Microsoft have also released their own product called Office 365.
According to the BBC 35% of today’s jobs are at risk of being automated over the next 20 years. The increasing role of robots in the future is being recognised by schools and we are seeing robotics taught more and more.
Building robots using kits like Lego Mindstorms EV3 can be a rewarding as well as educational activity. Combine this with programming and students are able to create bespoke robots that can carry out a whole range of tasks autonomously using a variety of sensors. These robots can even be programmed using an app on a tablet device. The low-cost Sparki kit is based on the popular Arduino platform and is equipped with sensors, motors and outputs, enabling students to control the hardware with either graphical or command line software. Robotics can be used to teach students the important skills of problem-solving and programming.
Online marking/feedback and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)
Until recently the only way students could submit work for marking was to give hard copies to their teachers or perhaps email their work. With the advent of services like Edmodo, Showbie, Google Classroom and Firefly students can now hand in their work digitally. This means teachers can now set work and mark it as well as give feedback online, reducing the need for paper. Work can be submitted on multiple devices and then stored online by both students and teachers.
Another exciting advantage of this development is the variety of feedback that can be given to students. Work can be annotated and teachers can provide video or audio feedback. In this way digital services allow a dialogue to take place between teacher and student online. Students are also able to access this feedback and their marks online via a connected device.
Most schools now have a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), an online learning platform where teachers can place resources and materials for students to access via the internet. The most commonly used VLE platforms include Firefly, Moodle, ITS Learning and Frog. VLEs can also be used for uploading and storing assignments for teachers to provide feedback to their students and for creating online discussion forums.
Schools have become increasingly concerned about social media and it can often be looked upon in a negative light, particularly in the way it is sometimes used by young people. However, more and more schools across the world are using it, not only for marketing and communication purposes but also for teaching and learning.
Social networks like Twitter and Facebook can be used inside and outside the classroom to support learning. Some schools are using closed Facebook groups to share learning resources and encourage discussion and collaboration with their students.
Twitter is also a powerful tool that can be used for research and for online discussion set up by the teacher using school-approved hashtags. Tweets from students can be displayed in lessons and discussed during the class. One of the best ways to show students how to use social media in a productive and sensible way is to demonstrate how it can be used creatively to enhance the learning experience.