There is more computing power in the average smartphone than the spacecraft that sent the first man to the moon, Gareth Ritter, head of creative arts at Willows high school, is fond of pointing out.
“That’s an incredible educational resource, and every student has one, but schools often try to ban them. It’s absolutely crazy,” says Ritter, who won the 2013 Pearson award for outstanding use of technology in the classroom.
Technology is now playing a greater role in young peoples’ lives than ever before and the opportunities this provides for new teachers to enliven their lessons and engage with students are incredible. Yet it also poses a challenge that trainee teachers need to be ready for.
“You’ll be preparing young people to live, work and generally exist in a world that’s increasingly dominated by digital technologies, so it’s essential that they’re meaningfully inducted into their use,” says Angela Mcfarlane, CEO and registrar of the College of Teachers and previously head of the University of Bristol’s graduate school of education. “That’s impossible if you don’t have a good understanding of those technologies yourself.”
Here’s our overview of the key trends in educational tech that trainee teachers should be aware of.
Universities all over the world now upload videos of their lectures, reading plans and assessments as massive open online courses (Moocs) to sites like Udacity, Coursera and EdX, creating an incredibly rich knowledge bank on everything from app development to ancient Greek history. “I recommend Moocs to older students,” says Emma Lamb, a teacher trainer and head of religious education and year seven at King Edward VI Camp Hill school for boys.
“The Coursera ones are great because they’re free, make for fantastic extension work for more gifted students, and stand out on personal statements and CVs,” she adds.
School teachers can even create their own online courses for free on iTunesU, or carry out online assessment with tools like Socrative and NearPod.
“Explain Everything is my number one recommendation,” says Mark Anderson, assistant head teacher and director of digital pedagogy at Sir Bernard Lovell school. “It’s like a portable interactive whiteboard that you can write on whilst recording your voice, then save that as a video and share it with the class. You can even get the kids to do it themselves.”
The use of sites like Twitter and Facebook in class has been a tricky area in education, suggests Lamb. “I use Twitter to set homework and tweet reminders or extra reading, TED talks and YouTube videos,” she says. “But we have to be careful about keeping teachers and students personal accounts separate.”
Whilst many teachers might be even more horrified at the idea of their students actually using Twitter in class, Rachel Jones, e-learning co-ordinator at King Edward VI school actively encourages it: “I’ll get students to live tweet what they’re learning with a set hashtag, and project that on the wall so they can all see it during the lesson,” she says. “Then you can use Storify to convert all their tweets into PDF and put it up on the school website for class notes.”
Blogging and Vlogging
It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you tell your students that their homework is going to be seen by more people than just you and their parents, claims Simon Pridham, who set up a multi-award winning mobile device learning program while headteacher of Casllwchwr primary school.
“I use WordPress to post student’s work and it’s fantastic because it gives them an audience and a purpose for writing,” he says. “Kids always want to know why they are doing a particular task, and I can say we’re going to post it online, share it with a school in South Africa and they’re going to reply.”
When Ritter got his students to make a series of instructional videos on using a recording studio and upload them to YouTube, they gained 185,000 views. “It’s amazing for my kids from this small, deprived area of Cardiff to have this massive internet following,” he says.
Pupils at Casllwchwr primary school explain how classroom technology is transforming the way they learn.
One of the most exciting education-based tech ideas of recent years has been the gamification of education, taking concepts that students are used to, such as levels, badges and competition with others, and harnessing these to encourage the achievement of educational goals – whether that’s learning to code or reading The Iliad.
“I use an app called Credly to make digital badges,” explains Anderson. “When kids have achieved a certain thing, say created their first computer program, they get a novice programmer badge. It’s giving them the kind of rewards in their space, rewards that they’re used to.”
Ritter takes it even further by running educational games, called Xgames, on an Xbox in his classroom. “These kids can be on Call of Duty until four in the morning, and they keep going till they pass that next level. It’s that determination that we need to bring in the classroom,” he says.