ICT plays a crucial role in many aspects of daily life both in and out of the workplace. We must ensure our pupils, and workforce of the future, embrace the latest technology to prepare them for life outside of and post-school.
In five years, what type of learning environment would you like to see within your school? How will pedagogy have changed and how will technology support this change? What role will students play in the fabric of learning?
More than just coding...
The new computing curriculum has shifted the focus of this subject towards programming and coding and other aspects of computer science.
Although programming had been part of the previous ICT national curriculum for some time, it had been frequently overlooked as a creative opportunity or treated superficially. However, there is more to the new subject than just coding.
To be able to tackle the whole subject and its widened emphasis on distinct IT, digital literacy and computer science components, we need a significantly increased commitment to staff CPD, effective connected-world learning and smart procurement of technology to support learning. Failure to deliver in these three key areas will lead to the UK falling behind other countries in terms of creativity and innovation.
The government has responded to this challenge and set up the Education Technology Action Group last year. This group recently published its report focusing on a few concrete conclusions. These ambitions will be vital and the key messages cannot be lost to the vagaries of politics as we lead up to the confusion of election time.
Two of the fundamental ideas in the report are that there is a need for truly independent advice for schools and there is a need to focus on effective connectivity, in particularly connectivity at an end-user level and not just “into the school”.
In my experience, almost all of the politicians we speak to are passionate about improving the computing subject, often incorrectly referring to the subject as computer science, and decrying the experience of their own children’s exposure to the old subject ICT.
We also have an effective lobby from the professors of computer science in higher education and from industrialists, both of which have been key to developing the new computing subject in schools.
However, this new-found enthusiasm has focused exclusively on one aspect of computer science – coding (not even the full breadth of computer science) – let alone the subject computing.
We need to support our schools in improving how they teach the information technology and digital literacy components of computing in addition to coding. It is essential to look at where we are now and how we can improve on that by providing effective staff development, access to connected-world learning and smart procurement advice.
Technology in 2015
Technologists and educationalists are passionate about the empowering nature of technology to make learning relevant and to accelerate learning for young people. However, schools are facing very serious challenges in grasping this and taking education to the next level.
Many of these challenges are being forced on schools due to the way society and technology is developing around them. Leading schools are successfully managing the changes. However, many schools are struggling to cope with these challenges.
Students today are using their own SmartPhones and other technologies, which can help them to learn for themselves, outside of the classroom, but schools now need to become more responsible for monitoring the safe usage of these devices and ensuring that youngsters are prepared to use them effectively to support their learning.
Leading schools are showing how this can be achieved, through policies on acceptable use, Bring Your Own Device, changes in pedagogy such as flipping learning, flattening classrooms, and empowering student digital leadership, but also by providing greater opportunities for classmates to collaborate on real-world problems, creating solutions for specific audiences and solving problems of increasing complexity through feedback and product development.
We should support our teachers with access to high-quality appropriate CPD that is not limited by narrow horizons or limited inter-school experience.
In this subject, above all others, there is an imperative to be hyper-connected and always learning, such that lessons can be assimilated in an agile manner and implemented quickly to maximum impact.
It is tough, but not impossible, to achieve and demonstrate these characteristics in an individual classroom teacher. Far more effective in terms of system change, is to work with these teachers but not deny the capability of those who work across schools modelling teaching and coaching teachers (some of these used to work for local authorities, however they have never been consultants or advisors but “teachers first” and capable of sustainably demonstrating their expertise).
The right advice
Some schools are possibly still reluctant or are unprepared as customers to embrace the enabling power of technology, so we need to support them in it.
We are currently being advised to look to countries like Singapore and China for innovation, yet 15 years ago the UK was leading the way. It is not just about ensuring students achieve A grades, but also about preparing them for life outside school and making sure they are well equipped for the workplace.
It is essential for schools to invest in technology, but they must get the right advice. Many schools are already wrestling with the issue of sustainable investment and the challenge of keeping their learning technology relevant – it is essential to buy the products that are right for your school and your needs and to include individual ownership in your planning.
Looking to the future
Schools are beginning to understand the need to empower students with the use of their own technology to support their own learning.
It is also going to become very important for schools to foster a good parent and carer relationship to help support the development and effective contribution of technology to learning in schools.
Wearable technology, or at least personal technology, has the potential to become a key trend in education, with the introduction of smart wrist watches, smart glasses and smart ear pieces. We are seeing more and more small devices being created that schools and pupils can engage with.
The Raspberry Pi is the outstanding UK example of on “appropriate scale” device to support learning but there are also many other devices, recently created and coming on to the scene that allow young people to do creative things.
The evidence from the Naace community of schools is that we should encourage our young people a lot more to take on practical technology problems; they have the devices and with this portable and accessible technology, given guidance and direction, they can solve problems and share lessons learned in not just local but global teams.
I believe this has the potential to create circumstances in which our schools are developing useful apps and pieces of effective technology that could have a positive impact on the wellbeing of those in their local communities and further afield, much like we see in many successful UK universities with their associated commercial/start-up activities.
We have seen this already in some secondary schools where students have already developed popular apps and I think we will start to see more schools having that kind of local impact.
A great revolution can take place once we see our learners each using their own devices constructively to innovate and create. These “Third Millennium learners” will be sharing topics they learned for themselves, they will be forming ad hoc development teams in areas that interest them, they will be solving real-world problems and working at speeds former generations struggle to comprehend, and they will be doing this in a super-connected world. Many more schools need to gain an understanding of how this rise in engagement in technology is achieved.
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- Mark Chambers is CEO of Naace, a professional association for those concerned with advancing education using the connected world and technology.