In the first of a two-part article, Tom Crump looks at the benefits of embracing technology in the classroom – including access for all and effective assessment
This year we may see national tech companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and Google, working together with the UK’s education system to ensure our graduates are future-proofed against the rapidly changing demands of the modern workforce.
It’s not just the tech giants who should be offering these skills to education centres, though; the government recently challenged the technology sector to use their expertise to revolutionise learning in schools, colleges and universities. Education centres also need to be more open to embracing the use of technology in the classroom.
Education secretary Damian Hinds has highlighted five challenges facing the education sector that tech companies can support – including fostering greater access and inclusivity – by developing more effective assessment methods and reducing administration. While innovation is always needed, there are many ways that schools can work with tech companies to deploy the technology currently available to them to meet these challenges.
Access for all
Technology is brilliant in its ability to break down barriers. This happens in many ways.
One of the schools I currently work with had four computer suites which proved very expensive to maintain and access to the tech was limited – not every class in a year group could be in the rooms at the same time. In order to free-up space and improve access, the school has since switched to a scheme where every pupil can have access to their own device. This ensures that all pupils get equal access to technology, all the time; gone are the days when they would only have weekly opportunities to utilise technology! This move has not only saved the school the cost of having technicians to maintain school equipment, but has also allowed the computer suites to be freed-up to be used as alternative spaces.
What’s more, technology is hugely beneficial for pupils who face challenges in their learning; it enables the playing field to be levelled for those with SEN. For example, blind or partially-sighted pupils can utilise tech which has inbuilt voice recognition, controls and screen descriptive tools, as well as being able to instantly adjust the size of text to suit.
Tech can also help pupils who may struggle to engage with physical textbooks. Lessons can be tailored based on each pupil’s learning style and ability – and pupils can be taken through the learning process step-by-step, working at their own level.
While this might seem like a ready-made opportunity for some pupils to go ‘off topic’, online apps allow teachers to monitor students’ activity, locking devices when a pupil’s full attention is required.
Schools across the UK are already deploying devices to effectively meet the different educational needs of pupils and it is only with greater take-up, and increased access to technology, that a level playing field can be achieved.
Much has been said in the media in recent years about the increasing assessment of children and young people. Successive governments have reformed the assessment and exam process, all with the goal of trying to create a system that effectively measures performance.
There are two types of assessment that are often implemented in schools in order to measure learning performance. These are summative assessments – where pupils are assessed at the both the start and the end of a topic to evaluate what they have learned – and formative assessments, where students receive ongoing feedback throughout the topic, constantly checking their progress. Although these types of assessments are both vital, they can create added pressure for teachers.
However, technology can enable the process to be much smoother, alleviating much of this stress. Teachers can use technology to easily send projects and worksheets to students digitally. Using their own technology, teachers can take work home to mark and assess. They can also create a system that assesses on an individual basis – being able to give more direct, immediate and personalised feedback, which can be speeded up with the likes of audio feedback.
Furthermore, online assessments can, automatically and quickly, produce data and patterns to help teachers identify where students may be struggling, allowing them to intervene with targeted support immediately, before the student’s education suffers. This type of information can also be used to ensure that lessons can be specifically tailored to the abilities and learning requirements of each pupil.
Working with technology can help build up the connection between teachers and parents. Parents no longer have to solely rely on parents’ evening in order to see their child’s work and learning progress; they can log in and see their child’s progress at any stage throughout the year. This helps to ensure pupils, parents and teachers are all ‘on the same page’ throughout the academic year – and allows parents to assist with their children’s learning on an ongoing basis.
While technology is absolutely not a replacement for physical or written feedback – research shows that verbal feedback is more impactful than written feedback – it is a great option for teachers to use as and when they feel most appropriate. This technology is widely available and already in place in many schools and moving to this form of assessment is not only impactful for students, it can also speed up – and enhance – the process for teachers.