The Digital Revolution in the Classroom?
Much has been written about the many exciting projects which schools have embarked on in recent years as new technologies have been embraced and brought into the classroom. It is not uncommon for news articles in broad sheets and on the web to herald these kinds of ventures.
No-one can doubt the significant impact of tablets in the teaching and learning of pupils across a wide range of ages. From the use of apps aiding initial literacy and numeracy acquisition in Early Years, to the sophisticated presentations which older pupils have created in History, Science, RS and Geography, the benefit of tablet technology has been brought to classrooms at Swanbourne House in the last three years since the school first acquired a set of iPads.
Anyone who has used a tablet is aware of the speed of access to information (provided the Internet connection is good and the broadband width sufficient for all that is going on in school at the time - a serious issue for those of us in rural locations). The ability to collaborate on work, to share ideas in a brain-storming session, to combine media in presentations - all of these are enhanced by the use of a tablet. The intuitive interface of tablets and their apps engages children's brains swiftly and leads to different ways of thinking. Children's experiences with devices out of school mean that very many of them are already advanced in their use and the school's job becomes one of both piggy-backing on the skills the children already have and teaching wisdom, safety and direction in their use.
Some people have worried about the wow factor involved in using new devices. Is this a distraction from the purpose for which they are being used? What happens when the initial excitement of a device wears off and it is just one more part of the classroom scenery that children are accustomed to? There may be some truth in these concerns, but part of the teacher's responsibility at all times is to keep learning engaging and this challenge is far from insurmountable. The key is in the use of the tool in interesting and effective ways and is a challenge for the modern teacher no less than keeping the interest of children in learning algebra and Latin participles has been for generations of teachers.
And here is surely the key. Technology is continuing to present us with new and exciting tools to enhance children's learning, but technology itself is not the promise of a better educational world. Critical pedagogy based on the school's choices about curriculum and the teachers' choices about how best to deliver it is what engages technology in achieving the successful outcomes for children which we are all working towards. The conduit of the teacher and the planned support of the school curriculum remain essential for ensuring that technology is used to the best advantage. Without a teacher to guide the way in which tablets are being used, or without a curriculum which is incorporating new devices in a planned manner, the technology lacks the power to deliver educational growth.
Moreover, many schools are seeking to use these tools in the most effective way while recognising that the old tools are still the best for many tasks. There are times when it remains right for the teacher to talk and children to listen and engage in a discussion, when the written task in the exercise book is the best way to allow a child to show and to develop their understanding. The ICT suites remain a good place for children to develop their essay writing skills and to practise their word processing. With an ICT curriculum that embraces e-safety, touch typing and programming, and a broad curriculum in which key software as well as the capabilities of the tablets are used, a range of technology can be engaged to complement traditional teaching methods.
I am excited by this mixed economy where the range of tools available for teachers and children is so broad. A well-resourced school will ensure that all of the tools are available, and a well-planned school will aim to guarantee that the right tools are being used at the right times.
- Simon Hitchings, Headmaster, Swanbourne House, Buckinghamshire