Advancing teaching with EdTech
The impact of digital technology cannot be underestimated. This is underlined by the very recently published UK Government strategy on ‘Realising the potential of technology in education’. While their focus is more on infrastructural changes and industry involvement and less on learning, the impetus is clear: improve practice, increase support and reap the benefits.
At Sydenham High, we do not have a single, fixed approach to the way in which we use technology in the classroom that is pre-defined and rigorously enforced. Our teachers and pupils are given the freedom to use software and online tools that they know will enhance learning. We are very pupil-focused. Unless the technology clearly and demonstrably assists high-quality teaching in enhancing the learning environment, it is not required or recommended.
The availability of technology has led to greater opportunities for teachers to both try out new ideas and enhance their teaching in new ways. For example, we have a Google Expeditions kit: virtual reality allows pupils to immerse themselves in myriad experiences, from the nervous system to WWII battlefields; but this only becomes valuable when our teachers employ it in a way that benefits pupils’ understanding and learning.
The range of tools we use is very varied. We have IT suites as well as bookable sets of Windows laptops, Chromebooks, iPads and Android devices. Our new Digital Learning space will allow teachers to leverage the flexibility it will offer and thus give pupils the opportunity to be masters of their own learning.
Pupils quickly become accustomed to all the different OSs available. We use Firefly to host all teaching content and act as a whole-school communication tool. However, greatest engagement is with G Suite for Education. All homework is set within Google Classroom and G Drive is used for all storage. G Suite makes it very easy for pupils to collaborate with each other and teachers, and Classroom has some simple but highly effective features, such as the ability to effectively produce e-handouts for each pupil to work on.
At the moment, we provide and control the hardware our pupils use. However, we are actively assessing the advantages of BYOD and 1-to-1 practices. All of our music-lab equipment is Mac-based, the school systems run in Windows, but our pupils have more and more access to Chrome OS devices.
The expectations of future employers continue to rise, and the digital-skills gap is well documented. Our approach is to focus on the ‘digital literacy’ and ‘digital competency’ of our pupils. An awareness of national and international frameworks and standards means we can design authentic learning experiences that enhance the skill-set of even our youngest pupils in the areas identified as most desirable: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence – all thought to be beyond the current capability of AI systems. In addition, a particular focus is placed on the importance of coding in Computing lessons as well as in Digital Leaders and the pupils’ own AI Club.
Our pupils are challenged to develop their skills and understanding not only in the classroom but also in additional experiences such as the Socrates Programme, the Childnet Digital Leaders Programme, Google Applied Digital Skills and even the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) at Sixth Form. We encourage them to research, evaluate and curate a variety of resources using digital tools. Moreover, teachers focus on pupils’ ability to communicate ideas in different formats and different platforms. The overriding intention is for our pupils to know how best to problem-solve, design ideas and collaborate effectively using technology as a tool.
We work with pupils and parents to remain consistently aware of the positive and negative impacts of social media and internet use. Oversharing, inappropriate content, cyberbullying and under-age commercial marketing are the major online risks, as identified by the Safer Internet Centre. We regularly invite inspirational speakers into school and address these issues and others in Computing, Aspire and PSHE sessions.
Instead of chasing the latest trends or creating an over-reliance on technological infrastructure, our guiding principle is the efficacy of pupil learning. Our teachers are always open to the idea of using new systems or new apps (with suggestions often coming from the pupils themselves) that will improve the classroom environment and enhance the teacher-pupil relationship. We aim to empower our pupils to become responsible digital citizens who understand how to utilise technology to achieve their own goals.
– Matthew Llewellin, Digital Strategy Lead & Physics Teacher