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The Future of Technology in our Schools: What Next?

Added: (Fri Sep 09 2011)

Pressbox (Press Release) - “ICT is a fundamental tool that every modern state needs”, said The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General in the Government ICT Strategy Mar 2011, but is it being used to maximum effect to raise standards in our schools and in view of the significant transformational effect it can have, is there enough policy direction attributed to it? This was the question posed yesterday at The Future of Technology in our Schools: What Next? - a packed event chaired by Conservative Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall and co-hosted by Policy Exchange an independent think tank committed to an evidence-based approach to policy development and Naace, the voice of the UK education technology community whose members include teachers, school leaders, advisors and consultants working within and across all phases of UK education.

Speakers included Vanessa Pittard, Department for Education; Ollie Bray, National Adviser, Technologies for Learning at Education Scotland & Senior Technologies Policy Adviser to Scottish Government; Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Head of Educational Development, UniServity; Danny Arati, Education Manager, Intel; Dr Peter Twining, Senior Lecturer, Open University / Director, Vital CPD; Miles Berry, Senior Lecturer, Roehampton University; Karine George, Headteacher, Westfields Junior School; Stephen Fahey, Learning Technologies Director, Pearson; Bernadette Brooks, General Manager, Naace, Ray Barker, of BESA, James Groves of Policy Exchange, Roger Broadie and former Minister the Rt Hon Lord Jim Knight of Weymouth. The event was launched with an opening address from Shadow Education Minister, Kevin Brennan MP.

Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Head of Educational Development, UniServity, highlighted how the role of the teacher in relation to learning, particularly online learning, has become ever more critical: “Neuroscientific research has shown that London cab drivers’ brains adapt to reflect the patterns of their frequent behaviour, such as navigating around routes and traffic. As these synaptic transfers adapt, the structure of the brain changes; and changes how the brain works on a more permanent basis. In other words, the more London cab drivers whip round different routes the more effective and quicker they become at on-demand-cognitive-navigation; they’re building up a particular kind of muscle memory, sub-consciously, as a direct response to their daily practices. In Education, without a change in our current practice, we’re not just going to become static in our standards and contributions to the economic workforce, we’re actually becoming less likely to teach successfully using old and traditional methods of teaching. We can perhaps already see this in the various statistics that are published (eg: PISA). It’s something to think about…”, she said.

As students from Westfields Junior School, Hampshire in their presentation, put it succinctly: “We are ‘Digital Natives’. We speak the language of computers, video games and the internet. We do things differently!”

Commenting on this point, Headteacher Karine George, Westfields Junior School, said: “Our role is now shifting from leading and managing, to facilitating and supporting. This isn’t about us...it’s about THEM – the Learners.” Karine continued: “In all schools there will be children who find it difficult to learn, whether we label them as vulnerable because of their home context or special needs it is crucial that we understand how to bridge the gaps in their learning. Schools therefore need great teachers who push the boundaries in order to understand how each child learns best. We need to work out how best to give them the maximum opportunities for them to achieve and be a responsible member of our society”.

Dr Peter Twining, Senior Lecturer, Open University, explored the subject further: “Student engagement is strongly linked with student motivation, and there is strong research evidence that technology has a positive impact on student motivation and other related variables”, he said. There is also evidence that independent learning enhances motivation, at least in part because it provides learners with a sense of control and competency. Research evidence suggests that where ICT is used in classrooms by students there is more independent work and less whole class teaching. Greater use of ICT can make lessons more enjoyable, which is then reflected in increased attendance and punctuality rates”.

He continued: “One of the key elements that attendance, student engagement and independent learning all have in common is that they increase students’ effective learning time – and it seems logical to conclude that increased time spent learning will improve learning outcomes”. Peter went on to quote Lord Puttnam who talked about a teaching assistant and special needs teacher called Bev Evans at Pembroke Dock Community School in Wales. He said: “Bev Evans puts lesson plans up on the web using the TES Resources website. Over the past few years she has shared 276 teaching resources on the web with other teachers. As of last month, her work has been downloaded 1,345,330 times by 237,364 educators in 169 countries. Teachers save an average of 30 minutes per resource, the equivalent of 672,665 hours of teaching time, which is worth 431 teaching years. I cite that because it is a fantastic illustration of the way that technology has the ability to transform teaching and learning. These figures and indeed the whole concept would have been unimaginable a decade ago, so the role that technology now plays in education is fundamental.”

Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Head of Educational Development, UniServity argued that “Technology can be a driver in itself for educational reform through its ability to connect people, information, experiences and opportunities. Take the example of school learning platforms”, she said, “which according to OCR are now in 93 percent of Secondary and 69 percent of Primary Schools, and have been identified as the Highest School Improvement Priority for 2011/12 in 73 percent of Secondary / 66 percent of Primary Schools. In the 2009-10 academic year, in one study of 3,500 schools, there were over 4.5 million new learning resources with a rising 7.5+ million visits per week, and a consistent and significant positive correlation between higher usage and better Ofsted outcomes.

The important bit isn’t what you’ve got, whether that’s technology, people, access to a good school or even the resources. It’s not even about how you are using it. It’s about the connectedness of all the separate parts of learning, and using technology as a vehicle to make this long overdue aspiration into a reality. It’s about connecting data with supporting resources, connecting people who can help each other and connecting opportunities with relevance.”

Stephen Fahey, Learning Technologies Director, Pearson Education, commented: “There are many compelling and innovative examples from around the world and the UK where technology is being used to make a real difference to learning outcomes. What we must now focus on is tracking that impact and sharing our growing understanding of what works with teachers, learners and governments so everyone can benefit."

Concluding, Bernadette Brooks, General Manager, Naace, said: “At The Policy Exchange today we have witnessed some brilliant examples of how ICT has played a significant role in increasing student motivation and driving up standards. It’s our joint responsibility to ensure that the use of technology in our schools is world class, leading edge and a source of national pride and achievement. I genuinely believe this is possible, with purposeful collaboration, connecting of minds and ingenuity, hard work and determined spirit. Naace will do all it can to engage with partners to provide schools and professionals with the technological support they need to advance education in this regard. The rewards will be astounding!”

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