The Guardian

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.

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.