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What is the future of technology in education?

This article was originally published by The Guardian on 19th June 2013

A couple of weeks ago I was asked what I thought the future of technology in education was. It is a really interesting question and one that I am required to think about all the time. By its very nature, technology changes at a fast pace and making it accessible to pupils, teachers and other stakeholders is an ongoing challenge.

So what is the future? Is it the iPad?

No, I don’t think it is. For me, the future is not about one specific device. Don’t get me wrong, I love the iPad. In fact, I have just finished a trial to see if using them really does support teaching and learning – and they have proved effective. I’ve written about the trial in more detail on my blog.

iPads and other mobile technology are the ‘now’. Although, they will play a part in the future, four years ago the iPad didn’t even exist. We don’t know what will be the current technology in another four. Perhaps it will be wearable devices such as Google Glass, although I suspect that tablets will still be used in education.

The future is about access, anywhere learning and collaboration, both locally and globally. Teaching and learning is going to be social. Schools of the future could have a traditional cohort of students, as well as online only students who live across the country or even the world. Things are already starting to move this way with the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

For me the future of technology in education is the cloud.

Technology can often be a barrier to teaching and learning. I think the cloud will go a long way to removing this barrier. Why? By removing the number of things that can go wrong.

Schools, will only need one major thing to be prepared for the future. They will not need software installed, servers or local file storage. Schools will need a fast robust internet connection. Infrastructure is paramount to the the future of technology in education.

We don’t know what the new ‘in’ device will be in the future. What we do know, is that it will need the cloud. Schools and other educational institutions will need to futureproof their infrastructure the best they can.

This should be happening now. If you want to start to use mobile technology in your school, whether it is an iPad program or a bring your own device (BYOD) program your connectivity must be fast and reliable. Student and teacher buy in, is so important. If the network is slow and things are not working properly students and teachers will not want to use the devices. Make the sure the infrastructure is there before the devices.

Teachers can use the cloud to set, collect and grade work online. Students will have instant access to grades, comments and work via a computer, smartphone or tablet. Many schools are already doing this. Plus, services such as the educational social network Edmodo offer this for free.

This is where devices come in. All devices, not matter which ones we will use in the future will need to access the cloud. Each student will have their own. Either a device specified by the school or one they have chosen to bring in themselves.

School classrooms are going to change. Thanks to the cloud and mobile devices, technology will be integrated into every part of school. In fact, it won’t just be the classrooms that will change. Games fields, gyms and school trips will all change. Whether offsite or on site the school, teachers, students and support staff will all be connected. In my ideal world, all classrooms will be paperless.

With the cloud, the world will be our classroom. E-learning will change teaching and learning. Students can learn from anywhere and teachers can teach from anywhere.

The cloud can also encourage independent learning. Teachers could adopt a flipped classroom approach more often. Students will take ownership of their own learning. Teachers can put resources for students online for students to use. These could be videos, documents, audio podcasts or interactive images. All of these resources can be accessed via a student’s computer, smartphone or tablet. As long as they have an internet connection either via Wifi, 3G or 4G they are good to go.

Rather than being ‘taught’ students can learn independently and in their own way. There is also a massive amount of resources online that students can find and use themselves, without the help of the teacher.

This of course means the role of the teacher will change.

Shared applications and documents on the cloud, such as Google Apps will allow for more social lessons. How often do students get an opportunity to collaborate productively using technology in the classroom? It isn’t always easy. However, students working on documents together using Google Apps is easy. They could be in the same room or in different countries. These are all good skills for students to have. Of course, these collaborative tools are also very useful for teachers. I for one have worked on several projects where these tools have lets me work with people across the country. Some of which I have never met.

What we must remember is that when schools adopt new technology and services, they must be evaluated. This way, as a school, you know if they are successful and what improvements are needed. Staff will also need training, you can’t expect staff to use new technology if it they are not confident users or creators. Any initiative is doomed to failure without well trained, confident staff who can see how technology can support and benefit teaching and learning.

Plenty of schools have already embraced this, but there’s still a way to go to ensure all schools are ready for the future of technology. It is time for all schools to embrace the cloud.

Raspberry Pi

There is room for both Computing and ICT in the schools

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi

This article was originally published by The Guardian on 13th February 2013

After Michael Gove’s speech at BETT last year I wrote my first ever Guardian Teacher Network article, entitled Is Gove washing his hands of ICT. Just over a year later, it is clear that Gove has indeed washed his hands of the subject that myself and my students love. ICT has been rebranded as computing. Back in May, I asked the question ‘Is it time to rebrand ICT?’, changing it to computing was not what I had in mind. I was hoping for something more progressive. The change came as a surprise to me and many other ICT teachers. Especially, when you consider that the draft programme of study (POS) back in November was still called ICT.

So, why am I so upset about the announcement?

Firstly, I would like to say that I am completely in favour of teaching computing.

I have been actively adding more and more computing into my curriculum for several years. In my current curriculum I teach programming, internal computer components as well as computing history. This will be further developed next year. As is the case with all good teachers, my curriculum is evolving all the time. However, what you will notice is that it runs alongside ICT.

The current draft POS, is a real let down to ICT teachers and their students across the country. There needs to be room for both computing and ICT. In fact I firmly believe that we are robbing our students, if the current draft stays how it is. Obviously, computer scientists will most likely disagree with me. But isn’t it our job as educators to prepare all students for the digital world they are living in? I have taught students of all abilities in both comprehensive and independent schools. It is safe to say that I think it will help ‘some’ who eventually enter a career in computer science, but will hinder many more when they realise they are being taught things that are of little relevance to them. It is important to get the balance right. It is important not to restrict our student’s digital education. Let’s improve the ICT curriculum, but let’s think of the students and not pander to lobbying from outside interests.

There is also a worry that there will not be enough curriculum time to deliver the new KS3 POS. Will schools start taking time from maths, English and science? Of course not, how can they? Did those fighting for this change think of this? Did they even care about it? People who are not teachers or do not work in education rarely think about these things. Not when they have their own agenda to think about.

Perhaps the most potent and universally recognised issue with the change to computing is training. There are thousands of ICT teachers who will require CPD if they are to deliver the new programme of study. The government is going to have to supply free training to current teachers and schools will need to free up time to allow this to happen. Then there are our future ‘computing’ teachers. Will the government be able to recruit enough teachers to be able to actually teach this new curriculum? As the UK is currently facing a shortfall in computer science teachers, where will this leave the subject over the next few years? I suspect, in limbo. Maybe all those non-teachers, pushing for the change, should give up their jobs to become computing teachers.

I suspect, if the draft stays as it is, we will see a fallout in several years time. My prediction would be that the majority of students leaving schools will not be equipped for most workplaces. How many employers will care if their employees can:

“…explain how data of various types can be represented and manipulated in the form of binary digits including numbers, text, sounds and pictures, and be able to carry out such manipulation by hand.” – Extract from the new KS3 POS.

So what would I like to see?

I would like to see a new POS that gives students a rounded digital education.

At the moment there is only a tip of the hat to ICT. This is not right. It should include equal parts of digital literacy, digital citizenship, digital creativity and computing. Lets not forget who are the most important people in this educational conundrum. A curriculum at KS3 that is too heavily weighted to computing is doing our children a disservice and perhaps may even put them off pursuing it at KS4 and 5.

There are a lot of ICT teachers doing exciting and innovative things. I attended the RethinkingICT conference last year and it was inspiring for all who attended. So many ideas, so much to look forward to.

What has transpired recently is that students and teachers have been overlooked, in favour of what I believe, to be private interest. I feel personally betrayed by this change, remember this comes from someone who sees the value of computing and believes it is an important part of ICT. In my opinion the changes are myopic and done for the wrong reasons.

I hope that Mr Gove thinks again. I hope that the final version of the POS takes my article and the swathe of dissenting voices into account. I hope it does the right thing for the young people of this country.

Being an outstanding teacher relies on more than passing harder QTS tests

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 12th November 2012.

The government recently announced its latest change to the teacher training programme: in order to make entry into teaching more challenging they will make the QTS skills tests more difficult by raising the pass grade over the next three years.

In order to pass, candidates will need to score the equivalent of a B at GCSE to pass. The government is also hoping to attract high achieving computer scientists into teaching by offering £20,000 scholarships. Yes we need high flying graduates if they have the correct skills to teach. However, a degree from a Russell Group university or an outstanding academic record isn’t simply a passport to good teaching.

When I took my GCSEs (nearly 20 years ago) I ‘only’ achieved a C in English and maths. Does this mean someone who achieved an A* or an A would be a better teacher? Of course not. Raising the minimum requirement to pass the QTS skills test to the equivalent of a B will not improve the quality of teaching, but only prevents potentially outstanding teachers from entering the profession.

It seems like another misguided step from Michael Gove, the education secretary, and shows he understands little about what is required to teach. It is also very shortsighted to think that the standard of teaching will improve because these tests are harder to pass.

In all honesty, why do we have a system that includes skills tests in the first place? If the prerequisite for entry onto a PGCE course includes GCSEs in both English and maths (and science if in primary training) then surely that is a better indication of your ability? Why the need for both?

During my career I have worked and trained with people who, on paper, are far more qualified than me, including the academically gifted and experienced industry professionals. Many of these people have entered the profession under the impression that qualifications, and being considered a ‘high flyer’ in their industry, will mean they will be a great teacher. Inevitably it’s a shock when they start training.

I have also seen many people who, according to their qualifications, should be outstanding, but have dropped out during their training year, failed to complete their NQT year or struggled to get teaching jobs. Why? Because it turns out, there is more to teaching than having a list of qualifications as long as your arm or how successful you are in a chosen industry. More should be made of the other qualities teachers require, that dare I say, are more important.

What qualities make an outstanding teacher?

I tweeted the following question to my followers on Twitter: “What are the most important things to look for in those wanting to train as teachers?”
I really wanted to know what other teachers around the country thought. Was I being naive in thinking that Gove was taking the wrong approach, that raising standards is as easy as raising the minimum qualifications required to train?

Below are some of the qualities I took from the Twitter response:

• The ability to build relationships, passion, a desire for learning, flexibility and being able to adapt.

• The need to enjoy working with young people and have an idea of what a career in teaching entails.

• A sense of humour in trainee teachers and the ability to see past labels.

• The ability to inspire, treat learners like equals and see the potential in all students. Teachers need to be positive, optimistic and confident.

One person tweeted that adaptability was more important than qualifications, which I thought was a great point. Not one person mentioned that trainee teachers need to be highly qualified.

The hypocrisy of Gove’s mission to improve the standard of new teachers is that academies can employ people who do not even have a formal teaching qualification to teach. On one hand Gove is saying how important it is that we only allow people to teach who have the best qualifications, and on the other hand that actually, it doesn’t matter, employ who you like.

Raising the standards of teaching is very important and I am all for it. However, we cannot lose sight of the other qualities required to teach, over and above just teachers’ qualifications.

Is it time to rebrand ICT?

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 30th May 2012 and is an update of a previous post on this blog.

When I did my GTP several years ago I did next to no training in computing. As we all know the curriculum was very much ICT-based and that was fine with me. The skills I have very much fitted in with the curriculum I had to teach.

Things are now changing. Gove has told teachers that they don’t have to stick to the old curriculum. Over the past year and a half I have been able to teach my own curriculum anyway, as I have moved to an independent school. But it has been made very clear there is a need to teach computing in schools before KS4.

I agree this should happen, and it’s very exciting. However, it is also quite intimidating. I have spent almost seven years (including my training) teaching ICT with very little computing. Where do I go from here? Well, I have already started teaching visual programming usingKodu. I am also in the middle of writing a computer science scheme of work to be delivered next year. This will teach students how computers, smartphones and tablets work.

Is this enough? Like many ICT teachers I do not have a lot of curriculum time compared to other subjects. It would be a shame if state schools were forced to drop ICT and only deliver computing because of a lack of time. In fact, we would be doing our students a disservice.

Like many others I need guidance.

My biggest worry is programming. The reason I didn’t choose programming at university was because I find it very difficult. For me it is like learning a new language. I am very much of the opinion programming is not for everyone. Although, I understand it is very important.

I am sure there are other teachers like me who do not program. If the government want programming in schools they are going to need to stump up some money for training courses.

There is a danger that if teachers need retraining, courses will be supplied by large corporations like Microsoft or Google. Can we trust them to give teachers the training they need or will they simply take the money and create training that directly benefits them?

However, over the last few weeks I have been using Codecademy to learn Java Script and to become more proficient in HTML and CSS. This is free and has been fantastic. Hopefully, this will allow me to deliver more programming next year. Perhaps we do not need to pay for training and we can train ourselves?

If all students were taught to be programmers throughout their school lives would we find masses of them out of work? There are only so many jobs available. The people who will benefit the most will be those paid to write computing courses.

There has to be room for both ICT and computer science.

Students should able to choose between the two, certainly at KS4 or 5. After all students are able to choose which languages they learn or sciences they study.

We need both to be exciting and engaging. Teachers in different schools need to be sharing resources and schemes of work. Many are already, certainly the teachers I know. If we are to change the way ICT is perceived we need to be constantly evolving. If we want to incorporate computer science into schools we need innovative ways to teach it communicated to all.

Conferences like the Guardian Teacher Network’s Teaching Computer Science in Schools are important ways for people in education to get together and discuss what the future holds. These are great as long as teachers are allowed to get time out of school. I fear many may not.

I would also very much like to rebrand ICT, for me it is old fashioned. Perhaps “digital literacy” would be more appropriate?

There are several teachers who I follow on Twitter working on Digital Studies. Is that the rebrand we need? I don’t think there is one answer but I would certainly like to rebrand ICT at my school.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to including computer science into my curriculum. It is intimidating but a great opportunity for personal development. Now I must find the time to teach myself what I now must deliver. Finding the time in an already incredibly busy job may be toughest task of all.

The Power of Twitter in Education

TwitterThis blog was originally published by The Guardian on 31st March 2012.

I signed up for Twitter several years ago but struggled to understand the point. What is it? What is it for? What information can I share in 140 characters? I did what millions of other people do: followed famous people, sportsmen, rappers, comedians and actors. Much of the time, it turned out, they didn’t have anything that interesting to say and, after a few weeks, I gave up on it.

Then, as the site grew in popularity, I decided to give it another chance. I had about 30 followers, mostly my friends. Every few days I would tweet about what I was doing and share songs, music videos and news articles and now and again I would tweet one of the many musicians I followed. Good fun but not particularly productive.

As time went on I began to take tweeting more seriously, posting more about technology and educational issues. If I saw an interesting news article, I would tweet it. I followed people more relevant to my profession, mainly users tweeting about politics, education and technology. The more I read, the more I retweeted. I started to gain more followers, which encouraged me to tweet more.

I began to understand what Twitter was about and what a fantastic resource it was for a teacher.

In fact, Twitter is the reason I am writing this blog. Back in January, when the education secretary was, it seemed, washing his hands of ICTat BETT, I lost it on Twitter. I have never been a fan of Michael Gove – after all, he seems to be doing everything in his power to destroy the teaching profession as we know it with his badly-thought-through policies and ill-informed rhetoric.

But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. An hour or so after I tweeted my disapproval, though, some good news: @GuardianTeachgot in touch and asked me to write a blog based on my tweets. I was hugely excited and spent that evening channelling my fury into a post on the subject. Then, the day after it was published, I received another message on Twitter, this time from Sky News. They wanted me to do a live interview.

All this from a few tweets? Yes – Twitter really is that powerful.

The teaching and education community on Twitter is truly inspirational. I have learnt so much from reading tweets posted by all kinds of people working across the sector. Many of the resources, ideas and technologies I have read about I have been able to use in my classroom and school. In turn, I share my ideas and resources.

Twitter is a fantastic collaborative tool. As teachers, how often do we get to visit other schools? In my experience, very rarely. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with teachers in schools across the country. Combine this with cloud services such as DropBox and Google Docs and you can create and share resources and ideas quickly and easily.

The site is also a great place for discussion. It is amazing how creative you can be in 140 characters. Teachers, academics, technologists and other experts come together on Twitter to chat and discuss a whole range of topics – you can follow and contribute to these discussions by using hash tags.

When used responsibly Twitter can be incredibly useful to students, too. I held a senior assembly last month focusing on how students could benefit from using the site. It will be interesting to find out how many have started to do so.

There are some downsides. Twitter does have a problem with spam, which won’t ruin your enjoyment or detract from the site’s usefulness but can be a tad annoying. And every now and again you can be followed by a fake account. These are easy to spot most of the time as they will have posted very few tweets and won’t have many followers, if any at all. Generally these accounts are accompanied by a photo of a scantily clad woman and are easily blocked – although they often disappear after a few days if you ignore them. The biggest downside for me, and this is very much a personal opinion, is how addictive I find the site.

If you are on Twitter already, I am sure you can think of many more ways the site could be used as an education resource. And if you haven’t signed up yet, give it a go. You won’t regret it.

How much will digital textbooks shake up education?

iBooks AuthorThis blog was originally published by The Guardian on 18th February 2012.

I am going to admit something right now: I am a bit of a fan of Apple products. I have a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPad 2 and always look forward to the next announcement to come out of Cupertino. When I heard that the keynote speech last month would involve an education-based announcement, I was particularly excited – there was a lot of talk on the web around the idea of digital textbooks and I was intrigued as to what the company had come up with.

For once, the internet buzz had got it right. Apple announced iBooks 2, digital textbooks and iBooks Author. I tracked down the keynote video onYou Tube and it was a typical Apple promotional video: cheesy and packed with the usual spin but undoubtedly exciting and well made. My initial thought was that this could change everything. I immediately downloaded Life on Earth so I could see for myself.

So what does a digital textbook look like? Well, fantastic, on the evidence of LoE. Opening with an inspiring, attention-grabbing video, it is incredibly immersive. The content is excellent with plenty of text and images. There are more videos to watch, imbedded interactive Keynote presentations and a quiz at the end of the second chapter. It was certainly a very satisfying experience and I would have loved to have had one of these when I was at school many moons ago. Could digital textbooks be the future?

Many students dislike having to carry around piles of heavy books – in fact sometimes they dislike doing it so much they purposely leave them at home! Digital textbooks would make this a problem of the past. Students would only need to bring an iPad to school, something that many are doing anyway in some educational institutions.

Another big problem with textbooks, as we all know, is that they are often out of date as soon as they are printed but going digital would negate the need to constantly purchase the most up-to-date physical version of a text. With Apple’s latest technology, textbooks can be revised via an update in iBooks. This has got to be a good thing.

For me, though, the most exciting part of this announcement was the release of iBooks Author. This is available for free via the Mac App store. It allows Mac users to create their own interactive books and submit them to the iBookstore or share them with other iPad users. This could afford teachers the ability to build interactive schemes of work for students to download, I thought; to create immersive training resources or personalised school textbooks in a quick and easy way.

Unfortunately, it is not all good news and there are some obvious drawbacks.

Digital textbooks and books created using iBooks Author can only be viewed on the iPad. This could be a bit shortsighted by Apple, mainly because the tablet is an unarguably expensive bit of kit and many students and schools will not be able to afford them. Schools are already struggling with their budgets and iPads will not be top of the list of things to buy. This may lead to a technological gap between schools.

The second problem is the amount of hard drive space these books use. Life on Earth is a near-1GB download and that’s just for two chapters. The complete volume could take up most of a 16GB iPad: not a lot of good when you want to buy several textbooks.

Finally, there is the issue with the iBooks Author end-user license agreement. It’s quite a hefty topic to discuss fully here and in itself is probably another blog for another day but I would certainly advise you to read this article on 9to5mac.com. I am not sure how I feel about this aspect of Apple’s announcement but it is certainly causing some controversy.

Is this really the digital revolution that Apple would lead us to believe? Or is simply an update of CD-ROM textbooks on an expensive mobile device? Is this something students will buy into or am I looking at it from the perspective of someone who grew up without mobile proliferation and Google?

What do you think? Please share your opinions and thoughts on digital textbooks and iBooks Author in the comment field on this blog.

Is Gove washing his hands of ICT?

Michael Gove

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 13th January 2012.

Like many ICT teachers across the country I waited with some trepidation to hear Michael Gove’s speech. Many questions were running through my head. What will he say? What will he do? Am I qualified to continue teaching the subject I love? Will I still have a job? The press had put thousands of ICT teachers into a panic. They had labelled ICT teaching as boring. We were told that we were failing our students. This upset many of us and painted us in a bad light to students, parents and schools. There were some seriously angry tweets the morning before Michael Gove’s announcement at Wednesdays BETT conference. But did I jump the gun?

Before Gove’s speech, he had spoken on how the current ICT curriculum in state schools was simply not good enough. We were told that we should drop ICT and all students should be studying computer science and learning to code. Whilst I agree that more computer science and coding should be taught, I don’t see it as something that should take precedence over the more creative aspects of ICT. Surely there is room for both in the curriculum?

This is why Gove’s speech took me by surprise.

His speech started well, it was well researched and informative. Then he hit us with it. As of September state schools will no longer have to stick to the ICT curriculum. This was great news. The current curriculum is tired, restricting and out of date. Finally teachers can be free to innovate and move forward. Then I read between the lines. Michael Gove and the government are simply washing their hands of ICT. By taking away control and government influence he is simply saying “get on with it”.

This opinion is echoed by Mike Matthews (@mikematthewsCDN) who is a Head of ICT at a state school on the south coast in his blog.

“There are some positives in this speech and some good will come out of it, it always does. However, I would say that Michael Gove, under the pretence of setting ICT free, has in fact, simply cut the subject loose. Abandoning it to fend for itself against private industry and interest who only see pound signs not exam results”.

The majority of us have been “getting on with it” for years. Independent and state schools are full of innovative and inspiring teachers that continue to push the boundaries and have done so for a long time. I rewrite or amend schemes of work at the beginning of every academic year. At my school we are teaching students to blog, design apps for mobile devices in groups and creating screen mock-ups. We are teaching students how smart phones, tablets and many more technologies work. We are using students to help teach HTML coding to their peers. This is just a small selection of what we deliver to our students. Schools across the country are doing the same, it just seems to go unrecognised.

As much as ICT teachers appreciate their newfound “freedom” it does come with some problems. Problems I thought Gove was going to address. Those innovative teachers will continue to innovate; those uninspiring teachers will continue to deliver substandard lessons. In fact there is now even less motivation for them to improve their teaching. Why? Because it will not longer be monitored, technically they will no longer have to meet the minimum requirements of the national curriculum.

In my opinion this will also encourage schools to use even more non-specialist teachers. Some non-specialist are fantastic, they are enthusiastic and keen to learn. However, some find having to teach ICT as a bore and therefore deliver uninspiring lessons. Why spend the money to pay for specialist to deliver a subject that no one will be accountable for?

The most worrying problem is that not all students will learn the same thing. Some students, in some schools will have an outstanding, varied, exciting digital education. Some unfortunately will not.

In conclusion we should thank Gove for letting teachers free of the constraints of the national curriculum. However, we would all benefit from reading between the lines.

Let’s continue being the best that we can be and work together to share the resources that we create in order to ensure that all students are prepared for the future.