Daniel Edwards is director of digital strategy at the Stephen Perse Foundation; here he discusses establishing the right technology in your school and how it can be effectively embedded in the school’s learning culture
Leadership by example; this is the approach taken at the Stephen Perse Foundation. It is exemplified in how technology is across the foundation’s schools and, importantly, in how it has been embedded each school’s culture. This was not an overnight development but a continuous progression. “The Foundation grew with the technology to understand how to enhance the learning process. Content curation and creation became a real focus for us and we found that technology facilitates this,” Daniel explains.
The right IT platform
When embarking on an IT project, Daniel breaks it down into a three-part process:
- “The first thing you need to consider is desired learning outcomes – what do you want for your students?
- Secondly, you must look at your infrastructure – do you have the infrastructure – wifi and internet – to support what you’re planning?
- The third part is assessing and procuring the hardware and software that will deliver the learning outcomes you have initially outlined…If you don’t get these elements right there will be a failure point.”
“The purpose of the hardware you deploy is to provide the appropriate access to learning resources; the key is selecting the right, readily available platform and software,” Daniel continues.
But how do you decide what the right program is? Google’s education software might trump Microsoft’s in your school, for example.
The three elements
At the Stephen Perse Foundation there are three elements that the technology must drive to qualify; it must:
- enable seamless access to content;
- remove barriers to learning and;
- supplement what teachers do best – teach.
Mobile technology, in conjunction with your selected platform, is particularly effective when linked to education. Together, they enable educators to teach in a way they’ve always wanted to, but which was, before, logistically impossible.
Whole-school change management
Introducing technology across the school – from staff to students – is always a challenge. Staff need to be fully aware of how to operate it and, especially, how to apply it in the classroom. More importantly, staff are responsible for modelling how to use it – after all, the misuse of technology has consequences.
The process of instilling appropriate digital etiquette in the school community involves large-scale change management, Daniel points out. “Change management can be difficult; sometimes people try and achieve outcomes too quickly and any shift in how education is delivered can be tricky.”
“As with any whole-school change, you’re looking for what we call the ‘chosen knights’ – people who understand what’s trying to be achieved, understand the platforms and can, therefore, lead by example in their own areas.”
- Set out what your learning expectations are – why are you doing it – and understand this clearly before you do anything else.
- Visit schools that have adopted a one-to-one programme. Use this as an opportunity to learn how they deployed the technology and to try and ascertain their learning outcomes and whether they were able to meet these.
- Finally, don’t focus on grades because there are so many different factors that lead to such quantified educational outcomes. To say that the technology you introduce has a direct impact would almost be negating all the other positive impacts that your teachers and school have had.
Modelling digital etiquette
“It seems we’re at an important crossroads because, even though we have a number of elements of control over the technology we provide to students, it’s impossible to monitor every piece of software they have access to, particularly if they have access to the internet,” Daniel says. It’s important not to rely on a one-off lesson on cyber-bullying or sexting but rather to focus on modelling digital etiquette, continually referring to what is correct or appropriate use and to ingrain this in students over time.
Again, the right platform can aid this; for example, at the Foundation communication platforms are used for learning, a domain where students can communicate about homework – but students know that the messages are monitored and can be seen.
Technology is ever-changing, becoming more complicated, a little more under the radar; fostering a culture in which there is open use means that you can be more aware of the technology that the students are using.
Technology and you
“Technology is just another tool that you’ll use; don’t expect the academic grade to be the outcome, an enhanced learning/teaching experience is the outcome you’re seeking,” Daniel advises. Technology is a facilitator – another resource in the teacher’s repertoire – it can enhance and support but it’s part of the process rather than the process itself.
There’s a process of implementation to be followed. “Schools sometimes fail to factor in the additional cost of training for staff and the leadership of that,” Daniel says. “There’s a lot of investment in the support of the implementation and deployment.” It may be a winding road, and there may be a great deal to consider, but introducing technology to your school – in a smart way – will be reflected in teaching and learning outcomes.