It is hard to envisage a future in which children do not have a device with them to support their learning. Tablets are now a common sight in schools and with the rise of wearable technology in other aspects of life, it surely can’t be long before we have a viable, hands-free solution that can be carried and accessed easily at all times. But, regardless of form or function, the perennial question remains:
“How does mobile technology improve learning outcomes?”
I was asked this question recently by a Headteacher who is in the process of considering their strategy for technology. She had a sense that her students should have access to a device anytime, anywhere, but knew she needed a clear justification to fall back on in the face of the added cost, disruption and change she was asking everyone to accept. She was looking for a clear and definitive rationale that works in all contexts, regardless of who was asking the question. Without it, she could not win people over. Without winning them over, they would not go on the journey with her.
Educating the whole child
Successful schools educate the whole child. In the days before handheld devices were prevalent, schools would have had an equivalent practice or answer that would provide guidance for children as they felt their way in the world beyond the classroom. They provided a microcosm of life in which the development of relationships, communication and inquiry could be supported and developed in a safe and constructive environment. But today, almost every child is connected and influenced by a world of digital use that mostly happens beyond their school and is disassociated from their concept of learning. Access to a device may vary with age, affluence and parental influence, but for the vast majority of children, they will hang up their ‘digital hat’ when they enter the school building and put it back on when they leave. They are therefore developing habits, language, judgement and skills without the structure, teaching and influence provided by the professionals responsible for guiding them. There is a new, yawning gap in the development of a child that the school is unable to fill. Without embedding mobile technology into their formal learning environment, schools are no longer able to provide a credible microcosm in which to develop their children as lifelong learners.
What does this look like in practice?
The good news is that you don’t have to be a technology expert in order to make devices useful for learning. The key is to make it simple. Decide on a standard platform for the whole school and train people in only what they absolutely need to know in order to replicate their current offline and online tasks. Divide this training up so that it is led, planned, monitored and refined to maximise its relevance and impact. Office 365 is now a brilliant choice for this - not only because of the recent, massive surge in its education technology applications, but because everyone knows how to use Office and are less scared of it than other solutions. Once you’ve decided on this, forget about the apps, the videos, the subscriptions and the gizmos. Focus instead on what you do well: evaluating your own practice. Having taught for over 10 years, I know full well that teachers always have a particular class or strategy that they just can’t seem to nail down. This is the place to start. With your systems simplified, focus on doing one thing well. The device and the platform (eg Office 365) provides the base for your teachers and students to work from and explore. Your school behaviour and safeguarding policies provide the ‘walled garden’ in which students receive the structure and boundaries for developing their habits and skills. Starting with the smallest task and supported by leadership in the incremental, iterative development of practice, teachers can now begin to adopt their own set of free tools and apps, or paid-for gizmos and subscriptions. They can focus on finding, discussing and sharing what works for them. But, crucially, the professionals will be firmly back in the driving seat of preparing children for their life ahead.
Ok, sounds good, but where can I easily learn how to make all this happen in my school?
Look out for 9ine's upcoming blogs. We are already working with schools to help embed technology in precisely this simple, but effective manner. Specifically, we're helping them to design a technology platform that is non-proprietary, works for their specific needs and that is both financially viable and sustainable. The design we will be using is cloud based, supports the school's preferred technologies and fits together easily. By using tools such as O365, InTune for Education and a new suite of lower cost devices, the end result will give teachers control over their digital resources and improve the workflow used by students. The easy to use, ready-out-of-the-box architecture developed by Microsoft will, we believe, prove to be a game changer.
Over the coming months we will be sharing the progress of these schools, demoing what they are doing and talking about the lessons learnt, tips, tricks and practical advice that you can take away. If there’s sufficient interest, we will also do some webinars showcasing what can be achieved and how to do it.
9ine acts as an independent, trusted partner to support the technology vision, strategy and planning for schools. Contact us for a discussion on what we're up to and how to move your ideas foward.