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Computers Do Not Improve Pupils’ Results – and what the OECD report actually said…

This post was originally published in the September edition of #TheFeedUK, a monthly online publication of blogs and stories about technology in education from schools.

And so another school year is underway, bringing an autumnal mix of both fresh and well-trodden challenges to schools.   Assessment. Curriculum. Technology. Behaviour. OFSTED. Safeguarding – just a few of the many challenges that will be occupying the thoughts of teachers and school leaders this September.   Another week, another headline around the use of technology in schools, this time not calling for more industry-ready skills or computing in the classroom, but announcing that ‘Computers do not improve Pupil Results’ – a loose interpretation of the recent OECD report, ‘Students, Computers and Learning’ which is well worth a read in its entirety at http://www.oecd.org/publications/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm

Well no, on their own and without the right approach, they don’t. And neither do pencils, uniforms, books, assemblies, paintbrushes, letters home, furniture and other vital threads of a school’s rich tapestry. Technology as a tool for learning, is only as effective as the quality of teaching that accompanies it (I’ve been banging this drum for a while now). So before we all gather up the devices and ask the digital leaders to list them on eBay to raise funds for textbooks or Latin teachers, it’s worth digging behind the headline a little further to understand the real messages.

WHAT DOES THE REPORT ACTUALLY SAY?

In short, the report highlights that education systems that have invested heavily in technology, have not yet seen a noticeable improvement in academic attainment as a result.  Whilst this may provide a concern for some, these findings are consistent with previous research such as that by the Sutton Trust and John Hattie which indicate only a ‘moderate effect size’ where technology is used. This comes as no surprise to those of us who see schools grappling with the implementation of technology in the classroom, still searching for the right route in this still relatively new labyrinth.

OECD findings were no surprise and reflected several other reports and research projects...
OECD findings were no surprise and reflected several other reports and projects…

A key message from the report is that teaching approaches (not devices and software) must change to make effective use of technology. I believe this is essential, but not just for the sake of leveraging the potential of technology; traditional instruction remains the default pedagogy in classes across the world and this is another indicator of how many miles there are still to tread on the march to develop more widespread contemporary practice in order to develop a generation of learners, fit for the modern world. As Andreas Schleicher (OECD Education Diectoriate and author of the report) says:   ‘We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Changing practice is the crux of the issue; for a variety of reasons, there still remains the misconception that the ‘magic bullet’ of technology can be dropped into a school and will solve problems and raise standards. The 2013 paper ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’ (Fullan & Langworthy) cuts eloquently to the heart of this issue:

“In much of the language and thinking on technology in education, there has been a quest for a “holy grail” that would transform education through technology. By now, it is clear that no holy grail exists; rather, technologies used to enable and accelerate specific processes can dramatically improve learning, but its impact depends on how it is used.”

HELP OR HINDRANCE?

In a sense, it’s reports (and headlines) like this that contribute to the slow evolution of schools and education systems by awarding success or failure on the basis of the PISA tests and their narrow academic focus. Never has the case for developing a wider set of skills and competencies been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all joining the clamour for 21st Century skills, competencies or habits to be the focus of children’s education. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning); the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools and the OECD’s own paper, ‘The Case for 21st Century Learning’ (authored by Andreas Schleicher), all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the academic ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But still governments and the world’s media dances to the tune of achievement in the 3Rs. This too, must change if the world is to move beyond rhetoric.

21CLD is a great resource which we are using across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust to develop key competencies including an academic focus.
21CLD is a great resource which we are using across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust to develop key competencies including an academic focus.

Helpfully though, the report also highlights some areas where the potential impact of technology is now clear. It also provides us with the following call to action:

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

WHAT DO WE DO?

Having been fortunate to work with many teachers and schools where technology IS making the difference to learning, I’ve pulled together some ideas and suggestions that might be useful when planning how to develop technology further in your school this year…

 

      1. Create a Digital Strategy that is understood by everyone and sets out why and where technology is used in your school and what the plan is for further adoption (I’ve written about how we did this at Simon de Senlis earlier this year).
      2. Stay up to Date with school technology so that it is current and remains appealing for the school community to use. It costs money and time-heavy to implement and maintain but as soon as it becomes dated, usage stops in school. In too many situations, it just doesn’t compete with what’s at home (or in pockets).
      3. Think Learning not Tech. An infinite number of shiny possibilities present themselves as we start to use technology more in the classroom.       Continually asking ‘What makes Learning Better?’ is important to avoid waste time and energies into things which are cute or clever but don’t make learning richer or deeper. As John Hattie tells us, ‘Know Thy Impact’.
      4. 21st Century Learners need 21st Century pedagogies – This point is already made heavily above but researching this area or using approached such as Building Learning Power (by Guy Claxton) or 21st Century Learning Design provides a framework that helps develops the ‘stuff that matters’ in children
      5. Switch it Off and Put it Down – Whilst an essential and powerful learning tool, knowing when not to use technology is a critical 21st Century skill. The OECD report also tells us that a high percent of the school day spent in front of a screen is counter-productive.
      6. Empower leading teachers to champion the use of technology to make learning better.       It’s the best teachers (not techies) who will see where the impact on learning really is. Invest in developing expertise and make sure that things work and are effective in these classrooms before transforming these ‘islands of excellence’ into common practice across the school.
      7. Embed non-negotiables about the use of technology into daily routines. Many schools have this in place for administration such as online registers, email and logging behaviour; do the same for learning as long as it’s the stuff that makes a difference (see points 3 & 4).
      8. Manage expectations amongst staff around new hardware, systems or upgrades – it won’t change their life in the flick of a button; it will almost certainly require troubleshooting and snagging before it runs smoothly; it might make learning deeper, more relevant and more engaging.
      9. Nurture a growth mindset amongst staff around the introduction of new technologies in school. New hardware or systems are a great place for us to develop more of the resilience and problem solving that the Carol Dweck posters in our staffrooms promote.
      10. Share your successes and failures with others through platforms such as educational blogs, twitter or other social networks. Only a wider network of educators prepared to innovate and share in this way will help us gather momentum and establish the reformed and contemporary approach to learning that the 21st Century is so deeply in need of.

 

I’ll be using the column in #TheFeedUK column to write more about how schools I’m fortunate enough to work with in the UK are facing up to these challenges throughout the academic year. We’re also hosting a series of #RedefineLearn events at Simon de Senlis to continue the debate and create opportunities to support schools through this transformational time in education.

The next #RedefineLearn conference is free and will take place at Simon de Senlis Primary School on 9th December. You can sign up at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/redefining-learning-free-9th-december-2015-tickets-18989441932

Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

I’ve been going to the BETT show as a Headteacher for 7 years now. Each year there’s been a different focus and reason to go, as well as different themes that seem to run across the show as the technology and research develops.  I wrote before this year’s show about the lure of the ‘shiny things’ on offer there and my aim to look for the learning beyond the technology.

To start with (about 2008 for me) it was very much about learning platforms and websites; then mobile devices took hold and we all went looking at iPads or alternatives and apps and storage solutions etc.  There’s always the presence of online resources which are  updated depending on curriculum changes and a walk around the ‘fringe’ stands is always worthwhile to look at the new ideas from startups and smaller companies.  It’s worth planning what you are looking for, but plans can often go out of the window; two years ago, I went there looking for different laptops and notebooks for school and came back inspired by the different furniture on offer which led to us refitting classrooms in the school with ISIS concepts.

One question I often consider is whether I actually need to go down to London to update my thinking and knowledge of the market.  Couldn’t I just stay at home for a couple of days and research the world of ‘Ed-tech’ without the travel, expense and unfiltered noise that a trade show creates?  Looking back, this was may have been possible some years but the networking opportunities wouldn’t have been there and neither would there have been the chances to listen to some of the real stories from classrooms and schools across the UK which are always enlightening and sometimes inspiring.

2015 was really worthwhile and I found lots of inspiration both in and around the show from colleagues, speakers and technology.  The biggest shift in my thinking was around the role that ‘gamification‘ can play within schools; this was brought to my attention in Anthony Salcito’s keynote on Day 1 and I’m still pulling together my thoughts on this for a future post and thinking about the way we might explore the possibilities around gamification further in school.

Lots of people I met shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘there’s nothing new this year’.  I feel that this was a reflection on how the technology is now maturing, meaning that there are more conversations about teaching, learning and impact, and less excitement and prophetic talk of how holographic projectors or robots might transform the classroom.  As someone who is trying to see past the shiny things in order to get teachers to take small and sustainable steps forward with their use of technology in the classroom, this is helpful.

Is ‘Ed-Tech’ moving out of its troublesome teenage years that were so full of bold and brash decisions, false promises and expensive lessons learned, and into a more sensible (possibly less fun) adult existence where effectiveness, value for money and future-proofing are the way of life? Possibly.

Spending most of the week on and around the Microsoft stand, it certainly felt like the technology is growing up. Tools such as OneNote and Yammer now allow teachers and classes to easily achieve what many of us have laboured painfully towards in terms of student collaboration and online engagement in the past. The reality of Office 365’s long-anticipated potential has certainly arrived which finally allows schools to get into the cloud in an inexpensive, straightforward, safe and effective way.  For me, O365 has now graduated from ‘possibility’ to ‘no brainer’, offering schools free storage, email and online Microsoft tools which are accessible across all devices.  Wymondham High’s story is a great example and case study to follow. Continue reading Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

What I Think About: Shiny Things, The BETT Show and Buying Devices for Schools…

One of the most common questions I often get asked by colleagues in other schools is which devices should a school buy.  Laptops or Notebooks? iPads, Chromebooks or Windows 8?

My answer:  I’ll tell you what we’ve chosen at Simon de Senlis and why but I’ll also tell you why in almost all cases, I think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

The only example I can think where the choice of kit defines success is in Formula One, where the manufacturers seem to influence the eventual winners of the championship more so than the drivers.  In every other example I can think of, it’s the vision, commitment, mind set, execution and resilience of the individuals/team that makes the difference.  Cristiano Ronaldo would still be one of the word’s best ever footballers whether clad in Nike or Adidas, Ian Botham would still have taken the Australians apart in 1981 whether he was wielding a Duncan Fearnley, Gray Nicholls or Slazenger Bat and I’m willing to bet that outside of the sporting world, today’s most successful individuals and companies would have achieved equally highly, regardless of which car manufacturer, brand of clothing, deodorant, laptop or mailbox provider they chose to use. You get my point.

Moving this back into the educational world, my view is the same around a choice of phonics scheme, curriculum resource or data tracking package.  It’s never about what you choose; it’s always about how well you use it, how this supports the overall vision for learning and the leadership that follows.  With technology and in particular devices, this is critical as the stakes are high, both from a cost and time perspective with any new implementation.

I’ve written recently about the process that we have undertaken to create our vision for learners and digital strategy at Simon de Senlis and this has been crucial in supporting our implementation of Windows 8 devices and combination of Yammer/Office 365/LP+ SharePoint learning environment.

We have chosen Windows 8 ahead of other technologies because it offers us a combination of hardware and infrastructure, at a price that we can afford to implement with low ratios of student to device.  I believe that Microsoft offers the most manageable, cost effective solution to a school with  a (growing) range of quality educational tools that support our vision for learning.  Creating the environment for classes to be able to work 1:1 with mobile tablets and also the full functionality of office and an online/app environment gives us the platform and flexibility (we think) to support our vision of creating curious, industrious agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe.

Moving on to the BETT Show, this week thousands of teachers will descend on the Excel centre in London for the biggest educational technology show in the world.  Going to BETT always reminds me of this scene from Red Dwarf.  For those who didn’t watch it, the Cat is a humanoid who has mutated from the ship’s cat over several million years.  In this clip, he gets completely besotted by ‘shiny things’, like kittens do with balls of string.  Similar uncontrollable excitement will be available at BETT – but will we be able to articulate what it is that the shiny things will do to make better learning and teaching?  Or will our kitten-like enthusiasm forget to watch out for the vision, strategy and pedagogy that will inevitably sit behind any genuine school success story?

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My goal this year is to look for the learning not the technology; look for questions not answers and enjoy the shiny things!

TR

PS – One of the markers of aging in a school is when the NQTs start and declare their Dates of Birth.  Mr Prosser’s admission that he was born in 1991 was a cat amongst the pigeons last year and brought both hilarity and sheer panic to the staffroom.  The other arbitrary measure is how many people remember the comedy programmes that are referred to within conversation.  It used to be me who smugly shook my head and made jokes about UK Gold when well-respected staffroom elders talked about Monty Python; now it’s me that gets a bewildered smile and nod when quoting Blackadder, Ferris Bueller or The Fast Show.

Last week when we were planning our visit to the BETT show this year and I showed this video of ‘Cat’ from Red Dwarf, several teachers revealed that they were far too young to have ever seen it.

#gettingold

 

 

Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…

Recently, I’ve spent some time revisiting our school’s vision statement, looking in particular at the digital vision and strategy for Simon de Senlis.  Around 18 months ago, in my first year as Headteacher, we engaged in a process with all stakeholders called ‘Simon de Senlis Reimagined’ where we redefined the vision for the school, setting our sights on developing ‘curious, industrious, agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe’.  This helped give our school a real sense of character and belonging and has been the cornerstone of the improvements that the staff, children and parents have worked so hard to achieve in this time.  Now, with many good things embedded and the useful stamp of approval from OFSTED under our belt, it’s time to set our sights on how we make the jump from ‘really good’, to ‘really special’.

The image which our vision is built around is 'Dent' by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.
The image which our vision is built around is ‘Dent’ by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.

A key driver in our school vision is technology  and we have enjoyed some great projects such as the ‘Our World; My Future’ presentations at Northampton and work using Windows 8 and cloud technology which have resulted in our participation in the Microsoft Global Showcase Schools Project in 2015.  I reference these achivements not as bragging rights or to create an impression of us being the finished article with regards to the use of technology; more because I want to illustrate that however well developed a digital vision may be in a school, it is always the time to keep renewing our sense of purpose around WHY and HOW we use technology.  In a ferociously busy school world of conflicting priorities, implementing any new initiative, process or technology must be thought through carefully with a clear rationale and continually pitched well to staff in order for it to become part of common practice.

In November, I was privileged to sit round a table with Headteachers from the five other UK Microsoft Showcase Schools and get a taste for what goes in their organisations.  Their commitment to technology and high achievement was outstanding and  obvious but more powerful, was their sense of moral purpose: a commitment to sharing their journeys and ideas with other schools for the benefit of schools and teachers in the UK and further afield.   I came back from this meeting inspired to be a better Headteacher and to give children at Simon de Senlis even better opportunities to become digitally fluent – an essential competency for their future success.

In order to help this process, I called upon my friend and mentor, Peter Ford, who had worked with us (alongside his Notosh colleagues) through the reimagined process and has an incredible craft for transforming  these painful ‘can’t quite see the wood for the trees’ moments into (no less painful)  creative processes which help us to generate meaning into the inevitable actions that follow.  Peter has been instrumental in the Design Thinking influences which now run through our school, both in the curriculum model and as specific practices and tools which have made our creative processes more disciplined and effective.  Returning back to the vision statement was in order to unpick what it was about technology that would enable us to develop curious, industrious and agile learners and empower them to make a dent in the universe.

Below is a SlideShare of the Digital Vision which will develop further in the next few months as we talk, test and prototype our thinking .  I share this in the spirit of co-operation or collaboration so that others can have an insight into the process and ask that, should you choose to do something similar, you borrow the process but make the words specific to your school’s unique challenges, vision and community.

  Continue reading Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…

Press Release: Microsoft Global Showcase School Announcement

Simon de Senlis Primary School has been selected by Microsoft as a 2015 Microsoft Global Showcase School for its excellence in transforming its learning environment to deliver more personalised education to students, using mobile and cloud technology to better prepare students for success in the workplace.

Simon de Senlis joins an exclusive community of over 150 leading schools from around the world and just six in the UK who are recognised to celebrate their pioneering efforts and innovation in rethinking teaching, learning and assessment in order to equip the children with 21st century competencies.

Microsoft Showcase Award Small
The Team from Simon de Senlis receiving their plaque as a Global Showcase School at Microsoft’s ‘Classroom of the Future’ in London.

Examples of the school’s work include innovative use of Surface devices to capture learning across the curriculum and the use of cloud computing to allow children to give and receive feedback to each other on their learning. The work in the school is driven by Headteacher, Tom Rees and teachers, Charlotte Coade and Tom Prosser, both who were given Innovative Expert Educator status before Christmas at a prestigious ceremony at Microsoft Headquarters in London.

“Being selected as a Microsoft Showcase School is a great thing for Simon de Senlis and I am delighted that the passion our teachers and staff have for creating the best learning environments possible has been recognised in this way”, said Tom Rees, Headteacher at the school. “We look forward to sharing our experiences with other schools in our community and the world to continue finding innovative ways to equip our students with the proper tools needed for success inside and outside of the classroom.”

As a Showcase School, Simon de Senlis Primary School will work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education and communicate a vision for education enabled by technology through the hosting and mentoring of other schools in the community on transformational educational practices.  The school will be announcing details of how it will be able to support other local schools in the near future.

“Microsoft Showcase Schools are inspiring examples of how schools are using mobile-first, cloud-first technology to increase students’ productivity and develop the skills needed in the workplace,” said Anthony Salcito, vice president, Worldwide Education, Microsoft Corp. “With an innovative use of technology, these schools are transforming learning environments and delivering more personalised education to students, allowing them to do more and achieve more.”