Moving to digital classrooms

Written by: Paul Norton | Published:
Image: iStock

Coming up with the perfect strategy for adopting and updating technology in your school is a constant challenge. Principal Paul Norton discusses using technology at school: what works, what doesn’t and how to get everyone involved

With technology advancing all the time, there is pressure on schools to adopt new and relevant technologies.

While introducing new software and gadgets can require some additional teacher-training and a sizable investment up-front, doing so can result in major benefits – not only in simplifying management processes and allowing classes to work smarter, but of course for pupils’ own development as well.

While a move towards digital classrooms can enhance learning environments, it is certainly not the case that any implementation of technology is a good one – technology for technology’s sake can become a hindrance. It is vital to think about what technology is right for your school, take into account all of the obstacles you might face, and put a stringent roll-out plan into place.

Finding out what tech works

There are ways in which you can roll-out technology throughout a school in a way that benefits staff and pupils but which doesn’t cost the earth. Cloud in particular has proven itself to be hugely advantageous in helping enhance productivity both inside and outside the classroom.

Essentially the Cloud can be used as a large-scale storage platform where teachers and pupils can save, view and edit their various documents online. Its shareable nature means that parents can also access the system and view live feedback from teachers – helping them to monitor their child’s progress in real-time.

The best part is that when it comes to user experience it really is very similar to many of the programmes we are used to using on computers already and so doesn’t need a huge amount of technical expertise from parents, staff and pupils.

Additionally, using a virtual learning environment (VLE) such as Google Classroom allows pupils to work collaboratively and remotely on tasks. Groups of pupils can work on joint homework tasks from the comfort of their own homes. Pupils finding themselves stuck on a particular piece of homework can post questions on the VLE, asking either a member of staff or their fellow pupils for guidance. In this way, Cloud technology empowers pupils to take responsibility for their own development.

Another advantage is the fact that pupils no longer need to be sat in a classroom to access their work. The prevalence of mobile devices enables “mobile learning” (m-learning), which opens up a world of possibilities.

For example, flipped learning – where the typical lesson-and-homework elements of teaching are reversed – means that ahead of a lesson, students can be tasked to use a mobile device to research certain topics. Useful links can be shared via the VLE and the whole class then has the opportunity to explore the subject prior to the lesson itself.

We have found that encouraging this kind of independent study allows pupils to start forming their own ideas and opinions ahead of lessons. Along with encouraging independent thinking, this method allows for classroom time to be devoted to more interactive, meaningful activities.

By using devices to gain knowledge on a subject before a lesson, pupils will get the opportunity to apply this thinking in the classroom and communicate it to their peers.

From a business perspective, allowing us to centralise documents and streamline our admin helps us work far more efficiently day-to-day and devote more time to areas that need it most – pastoral care, getting involved in our community, and showcasing our work to stakeholders and parents who are looking to place their children with us. Staff can also mark work centrally while still giving detailed structured feedback linked to national assessment standards.

Dealing with the drawbacks

There are a few barriers to bear in mind, not least that technology can be a distraction for pupils. Outside of school, children’s lives are saturated by technology and online access – so how do we strike a balance?

It is important to first make it clear that there are specific times and places when it’s acceptable to use mobiles and laptops at school. Creating expectations and guidelines – and sticking to them – will help staff maintain a level of control over how frequently gadgets are used and will ensure that technology is not relied upon as the sole tool for learning, but instead is used effectively as a tool to enhance learning.

Another concern is the effect that technology can have upon the social and verbal communication skills of young people. This can be dealt with by making sure we create projects that incorporate technology alongside exercises that rely on interpersonal relationships, such as group work and class presentations. This will help make sure that even when relying on technology, pupils don’t lose the all-important interactions and exchanges that make classes dynamic.

Something else to bear in mind is that not all students have equal access to technological resources. It is inevitable that there will be students who do not own mobile devices like phones, tablets, laptops or cameras so it is our responsibility to point them in the direction of the library or community resources, or to create assignments that allow the sharing of devices.

The roll-out

Like any new process and way of working, there is of course a job to be done in ensuring it gets implemented smoothly across each department. Getting an entire faculty on board quickly is key to making sure new processes are followed effectively at all levels. Crucially, it is important to quickly eradicate any fears of it being over-complicated or hard to use, and to reassure staff that the change is positive.

It is natural to resist change and there is a reason teachers in particular can sometimes appear resistant to adjusting the way they work. Teaching roles have been framed historically as fairly static – following tried-and-tested methods designed to get the best outcomes. Change can be seen as though the methods teachers are accustomed to using are being portrayed as outdated practices that need to be replaced.

As such one of the most important aspects of making a switch is to convince your staff of the key benefits of using tech to teach. By effectively communicating the benefits, you will bolster their confidence in and comfort levels with new ways of working. This will help avoid negative attitudes, passive resistance and ultimately low adoption rates.

It is inevitable that some individuals will view obstacles as an excuse to resist the change, but regardless you must make a conscious decision to listen to those who are on board and trying to implement change. Note the challenges and problems that staff members are facing and identify patterns or repeat barriers that may be preventing progress. Make sure you listen to the opinions of your staff and take their feedback on board. Offering them a level of autonomy will help ensure a smooth delivery and better results.

It is important to implement any changes during a set number of phases. By working in stages and rolling out change gradually you have the opportunity to steadily demonstrate the benefits to the wider school community – a tactic that can be critical to success.

Spend time with teachers, students and admin staff to determine how they are responding to the changes – it is important to remain agile and tweak your approach according to your findings. It’s almost inevitable that your original plan will require some degree of customisation. After all, no two schools, classrooms or teachers are the same and the process is an evolutionary one.

Once embedded however, technology really does play a powerful and simple role in the way we teach today. Not only are our pupils becoming more tech-literate, but departmental costs are down and our reputation as an eco-friendly school has been enhanced even further.


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