BYOD and Personalisation

phoneTechnology has become more and more personalised to the individual user, since the early days when personal computers were introduced.   Back then there was little in the way of personalisation.   Some years later we started seeing users accounts on personal computers, desktop wallpapers and the ability to change icons, however personalisation was still limited.   Now with so many people having their own mobile phone which is personal to them, and not used by others, devices have became personal, and this personalisation has reached out beyond just phones, into the world of the tablet computer and even the humble laptop.     Devices now are configured with the applications you want, laid out in the way you want and set up with your user account details already pre-entered.   But what does this mean for education and schools?

Consider the situation where a teacher shares a resource with students via a blog or a website, or via google drive or some other method.    The student accesses this resource using their browser of choice.    Should they find it useful they automatically bookmark it for later use, or if the relevance is to their studies is very clear they may instantly drop the resource into google drive.   Having done so the student realises that their friend is off ill, so they share the item via google drive with them, sending an email, using their mail client of choice, to their friend to let them know about the lesson and the shared file.   A thought then strikes the student about something similar they have recently read online so they look through their browser history to find the material, before tweeting the URL to the class group so that they too can consider this in their studies.

The above example shows personalisation at work.    The device is the students own device and therefore has the applications they use already setup with the appropriate account details already entered.   As such the student can seamlessly move between applications, sharing, collaborating, researching, creating and more.

As a teacher I find myself doing the same.    I find a useful tweet and I retweet it, and I might email myself the link for later reference.   If it is appropriate to what I am doing or to what my colleagues are doing, I may share it with others via google drive.    If it is an image I may make use of pinterest for sharing or I might include it in a prezi or share it via slideshare.   I move between my chosen applications quickly and easily.

So the question is can we as teachers in the current technological world continue to prevent students from bringing their own devices into the class or should we embrace personalisation and endeavour to reap the benefits which it may present?

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ICT in lessons across the school

roadHaving spent some time today in a school discussing various aspects of ICT use in lessons across the school, including school policies, software tools as well as hardware configuration, I found myself presented with a period of quiet thinking time; namely a 1 hour drive home.

As I drove the long, relatively straight and fairly unpopulated road, I sat thinking about my post from yesterday, the day I had spent discussing ICT in schools and also the whole issue of encouraging the use of ICT in lessons across a school. The word “school” in the phrase “ICT use in lessons across the school” stuck in my head and I couldn’t work out why. As such I gave some thought to what it meant I arrived at the fact that it referred to the use of ICT by all teachers in the school. The word “school” was being used as a general term to cover all those involved in teaching.

So all teachers should use ICT, but are teachers not each individual’s with individual skills and experience? Is the job of the teacher not to provide students with the best learning experiences possible, even if that may not involve ICT?

As a teacher said to me, some staff have very basic ICT skills and are not that motivated towards the use of ICT. If they provide high quality learning experiences, should this matter?

This brought me back to the term “school”. It was being used as a general term to mean all teachers as the school is the sum of all teachers efforts, among other things. But what if what “school” should mean, is that across the school there should be SOME evidence of ICT use in lessons? It would then be for school leaders to decide what “Some” means in terms of how often, how many teachers, etc, and this decision could be justified based on knowledge of the staff, equipment available, etc.

We often refer to the need to use ICT in lessons because our students live in a technological world and have been brought up with this level of technology however how often do we consider that some teachers were not brought up in this world, barely engage in the digital world in their daily lives and are not motivated towards it. We don’t consider it fair to drag students back, but have no concerns about pulling ALL teachers forward, despite the fact that there are those that neither have the skills, experience or the motivation.

Encouraging IT use in lessons: A complex task

lab_smallHave been in the process of developing some professional development programmes and resources to help in encouraging and supporting the use of technology in teaching and learning however I have came to realise quite how complex this area of education is.

Consider the factors that might impact of the use of technology within a school:

  • Availability of appropriate hardware and software including internet access and filtering
    • In IT labs or centralised areas
    • In classrooms
    • Student equipment
    • Mobile equipment
    • Availability of appropriate IT support staff
    • Teacher IT skills and IT confidence including motivation
    • Teacher pedagogy with regards using IT in teaching
    • School culture and in particular opportunities to share and discuss ideas for using ICT
    • School IT strategy
    • School vision for IT within teaching and learning
    • School budgets for equipment, time for sharing and professional development

Now I don’t believe these are the only issues.   In addition the issues are not fixed, and change with time plus they are interdependent.   Consider the availability of hardware and software;   The computer hardware ages with time and therefore becomes less usable in classrooms, which in turn leads to a reduction in teacher motivation towards the use of IT.    This reduction in motivation then gathers pace and results in a change in the school culture with regards sharing ideas and discussing IT usage in lessons.

So how do we make sure IT is used effectively in lessons?

I can’t help but think that it is up to every teacher to do the best they can with what they have; Not exactly a new perspective given we hope that teachers do this in respect of all resources at their disposal or not at their disposal as the case may be.

It is up to schools to try and provide everything else to help teachers do the best they can.   Now the key here is how do we know what teachers need.   The answer is, schools need to ask.    Schools need to enter into dialogue with teachers as to what they need and what they want.    This then needs to be aligned with whole school needs, curriculum needs and needs of external bodies including school inspectors, but it should start with the teachers.

Do all teachers in a school need the same thing?   Do the same IT tools work in all subjects, at all times for all teachers?    I would suggest not, plus would suggest that for some teachers, ICT may be an area of weakness, however their teaching may be outstanding.    Now this is not to suggest we shouldn’t use ICT in lessons, but maybe we should look more carefully at those who we wish to use it and what they want and need, as the professionals who are responsible in the classroom for the learning that takes place.    We should also look more at a varied rather than standardised ICT provision across schools, as this is more likely to meet the needs of individual or groups of teachers.

Does anyone work in such a school where a diverse range of ICT resources are provided across different groups and individuals with the school?     Or are we all working with the “schools” ICT equipment?

 

21st Century Skills Development and IT

21stcenturyI am due to present at a conference during 2014 and will be presenting under the theme of how educators can help develop 21st Century Skills with the aid of technology.     This seems to fit with a lot of discussion occurring in schools around how teachers can develop 21st century skills in their students and how ICT can be used to enhance learning.    As such it seemed like a good topic for discussion here ahead of at the conference.

So where to begin:  Well I think the best place to start is to look at what the 21 century skills are.   The Partnership for 21st Century skills identified 6 key areas:

  1. Thinking critically and making judgements
  2. Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open ended problems
  3. Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
  4. Communicating and collaborating
  5. Making innovative use knowledge, information and opportunities
  6. Taking charge of financial, civic and health responsibilities

The question then becomes how can IT help in develop these skills required for the 21st century, or is that the right question?    Consider the world we now live in and the 6 areas listed above; which of the areas could or maybe more accurately, would be, done without IT?

Points 2, 4 and 5, I would argue, would not normally be undertaken without IT.   To solve complex, multidisciplinary problems requires collaboration, communication, research and analysis.   Communication and collaboration in the current world involves the likes of skype, twitter, google drive, pinterest and a whole manner of other software and apps, to bring people together such that geography is no longer an issue, and sharing ideas, thoughts and questions is easy.    As to knowledge and information, and also research I do not think we can discuss these areas, in the current world we live in without the word “Google” popping to mind.   Now that covers 50% of the points, so 50% of the 21st century skills would normally involve IT so why isn’t  IT more embedded in education?   Why are we still looking to use IT as an “aid” to develop skills which actually necessitate the use of IT?

Now I could also argue that IT has its part to play in critical thinking and in creativity however I am not going to do so, as I think another problem lies here.      In what way do we teach students to be critical and creative thinkers, to question to norms, to be innovative?      I don’t think we do quite enough of this, mainly because we are busy teaching students the “right” answers, so they can pass the tests, get good marks, improve league tables and help to make the country look better in the all important standardised tests.   As such students’ critical judgements are only valid as long as they are in the domain of the teaching they have received, but outside this domain who is to say they will fare as well?   As to their ability to be creative thinkers, I think almost no time is set aside in schools to help develop this area.   Please note I am talking creative thinking here, and not Art, Music or Drama, as I am sure I can hear some people reading this, in the far corners of the web, muttering regarding the fact students receive lessons in these subject areas to provide them an opportunity to be creative.

All in all education has a way to go in terms of helping students develop the skills required of the 21st century.   Let’s just hope we get it right before the 22nd century is upon us!


References


21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008),The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Technology In The Hands Of Businessmen” by KROMKRATHOG

 

Bring Your Own Device/Technology (BYOD/BYOT)

ipadSchools have traditionally spent significant parts of their budgets on IT equipment, software and infrastructure, however does the use of Bring Your Own Device/Technology represent a solution to this, and an opportunity for schools to redeploy funding?

Traditionally IT within schools has taken the form of IT labs filled with computers.   In some schools these may be in use all of the time, however in other schools these are often empty and underutilised.   Recent years and the reduction in the costs of mobile technology and wireless infrastructure have allowed some schools to exploit technologies which can be redeployed easily within schools, in ways the traditional IT lab hardware could not be.   Moving a little further forward to today we find large numbers of students with access to personal devices they can use in learning.   These may be mobile phones, tablet PCs or various types of laptop, however they belong to students and therefore could support students in their learning across all subjects as they carry it with them.   Isn’t this want integrating IT into learning is all about?   My son already uses my phone to use apps when we are out and about, he uses an Android and a Blackberry tablet at home, and he is only 7.

At this point I normally hear people comment about what a simplistic view I am taking.  Some of the arguments against this approach are:

  • What if the equipment is lost or damaged at school?
  • How do we keep control of student school data?
  • How do we keep students safe when using their own equipment in school?
  • How do I create lessons for use across different platforms in school?
  • What about students who don’t have devices to bring to school?

For those without IT equipment, surely schools can provide for these students at cheaper cost and greater impact than they can when installing traditional IT labs which result in very variable student:computer ratios, which do not even taken into consideration actual machine utilisation.     Looking at the other arguments I could present an answer to each of the above issues however I am choosing not to right now.   Instead let us consider a common factor of the above: school.     In schools we assume students have to be perfectly safe, data mustn’t be lost and all equipment must work.   We also provide a set of software which we decide is appropriate.    In other words we create a separate IT world in which to teach.    Schools, their teachers and leaders assume responsibility for all aspects of IT usage however due to the predominance of technology and in particular Wifi and cloud based apps is this reflective of the real world?    Should students not be taught and required to take responsibility for equipment and data as they will need to in life beyond school?   Should they not be taught to deal with issues with technology as they arise?

We aim to use IT in a little safe bubble, where we can use IT without concern and as such we limit ourselves.   Now this is not to say that some things, such as certain websites, don’t need to be blocked, controlled or limited, however surely educating students to the dangers and also harvesting student ideas as to technology, especially given they have grown up with it, would yield greater long term benefits.

Now some schools are using BYOD/BYOT and embracing the opportunities it presents, and also the restrictions and difficulties it brings, as surely any new approach will, however why is it that so many, if not the majority, of schools persist with traditional IT Labs?    This is more surprising still when you consider the potential budgetary advantages as well as learning opportunities which the use of BYOD/BYOT may bring to schools.

Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net, Contributed by adamr

 

SEN and Inclusion

For years we have looked at Inclusion when we are referring to students with Special Educational Needs however, in preparation for the conference in Kuwait, I have just got to thinking about this in a little more detail.

The term inclusion is often used when discussing student with special education needs.   The focus of inclusion is to identify and address a student’s individual needs in order to allow them to be integrated into lessons and to access the learning.

Now the term inclusion implies that those students without special needs are already included.   So, in other words, the majority already have access to the learning so don’t need specialist inclusion measures to be taken with them.   We are accepting that the learning opportunities presented will be sufficient for the majority and that either no or little modification is needed for these students to access learning.

This cannot possibly be the case as all students are different, with different experiences, backgrounds, cognitive abilities, skills, talents, fears and interests.     The fact that we need to focus on inclusion for SEN students highlights the fact that we may not be valuing the individual nature of ALL students within our classrooms.

Now maybe there is some learning to be gained from special needs support as it, for years, has been focussed on meeting individual student needs.   In addition SEN support has often involved a variety of technologies, each utilised in different ways, and maybe this is something else that can be learned from, in terms of technologies place in supporting students as individuals.     Whichever way we look at it, the important fact is we need to look more at how we support all students as individuals as if we truly manage this, why would there be a need for inclusion?

 

Leadership Discussions

The other day I was lucky enough to have time to sit and discuss the important issues of school improvement with Vice Principals of a number of schools.

A number of issues were discussed however 3 key points came out of the discussions:

  • School Culture and Climate
  • School Communication Systems
  • Vision

Now the issues are written down in the order them arose in the discussion so no priority should be read into the order above.   Let’s take each of the issues in turn:

School Culture and Climate

We discussed the need to improve the quality of teaching and learning and how those teachers currently delivering high quality learning experiences could be utilised to encourage this however this doesn’t happen unless a culture exists where staff feel safe in sharing ideas and where ideas are openly discussed and questioned.     Ideas and thoughts regarding how to improve a school often already exist within the school itself although unless a safe, sharing culture exists, these often go without being verbalized.

In addition to this a sharing, safe culture, encourages and supports staff in peer observation, collaboration and team working.    It also serves to support distributed leadership, where teachers are encouraged to take on leadership roles.

School Communication Systems

Now we are not just talking about a weekly briefing here; we are considering the communication system of the school in its most holistic terms.   How do staff and students within the school find out what is going on in the school, its priorities, its mission and its progress towards realising this mission?    Equally how does the school find out about how students and staff feel about the school, its systems and, in general terms, how things are going?     Consideration needs to be given to processes and systems but also to more humanistic issues like how do managers find out about their staff as people with lives outside school.    Communication is about ensuring that the right messages are heard and that all staff feel as if they too are heard, and that their contributions are valued.

Vision

How is the schools vision arrived at and who is involved in this process?    How do we turn the written vision into an espoused vision acted and believed by all staff within the school, independent of role or position?   Some discussion was had regarding whether or not all school vision statements were essentially the same, however I do not believe that this is the case as even although the words used may be similar and the general aim may be education, what this actually means within a given staff body in a specific school in a specific area, at a specific time may differ significantly.

Now overall the discussions were very interesting and identified three important strategic areas in need of consideration however one very important question remained:

How do we go about building on these 3 areas within your school?