By now…with the remote teaching of the pandemic very firmly in the rear view mirror for pretty much everyone, the statement that ‘going digital truly makes our world smaller’ should not come as a surprise to many. From our desks (be it at home or in school) we can be transported to distant places on a Google Street tour; connect with friends and family via Zoom (do you remember remote pub quizzes?); we can share thoughts and ideas through bogs or experience historic sites like never before through virtual reality. We can code new and more sophisticated apps or design new prototypes using a 3D printer. The digital tools we have access to for both teaching and learning will have far reaching and exciting effects on both.
There is also a shift in professional learning also. We are no longer limited to the learning prescribed by our schools, LEAs or Districts. Teachers can use the freedom of the internet to move in directions that they are interested in. This makes learning so much more meaningful and enjoyable for the teacher. This new freedom allows new expertise to be developed, as well as connecting teachers with new experts, learning new skills, sharing best practice, and growing as professionals, all within the expansive world of learning online anytime, any place.
Going digital however, is more than just the devices. Going digital, rolling out new digital devices, or digital makerspaces should never be about what’s new or flashy. Technology and digital devices should be investment in allowing us to bring about transformational teaching – something that is less about the technology and more about the relationships, attitudes and skills that can be developed through the use of technology.
Going Digital Should Never Isolate Us
Learning is social. Interacting together is how we learn. Many people use social media to make connections and learn with so many different people from around the world. My own social media use is around a 50% split for personal use and learning more about teaching and learning.
Comparing the classes I taught in lockdown to those either before or after, there is no competition when considering how much students learned from each other. It was a mark of interest and pride to watch them help each other. Initially I was sorely tempted to step in, but then quickly realised that if they wanted my help, they would ask for it. It was these informal social interactions that helped them to learn.
And this type interaction is extremely important for students to develop interpersonal, emotional and collaborative skills as well. We have to get out from behind the screen as often as possible and learn together. I’ve said it many times, but not every aspect of education has to be completed by using technology. Sometimes it can be a hindrance rather than a benefit. It enables us to interact easier or across great distances, but there is still room for students (and teachers) to work without screens.
Going Digital Should Unlock Passion
Teachers often get sucked into thinking their subject is the first and last word in school. There is no other interest but their subject and no other relevant knowledge or information that exists outside of their subject.
OK, I might be laying it on a little thick, but there are teachers a bit like that…
We need to remember that school isn’t preparation for real life. It IS real life. This is something I’ve been guilty of saying the opposite as recent as the past academic year! I’ve talked about senior classes to junior classes about what they will study in their future academic career – but what they learn with me now is just as important! This year will be different where this point is concerned. We’ve got to do better as educational leaders (teachers and school management) to help our students (and adults) find and unleash their passion. By creating space in the day to allow students to tinker, break, fix, explore, reflect, learn and grow helps us all discover who we are inside, what drives us and what our interests are. Technology can be a transformational force for good in our society and should allow us all to do things not possible before. Technology isn’t just to help us in the rote memorisation of facts, having students take hours or meaningless assessments or judge whether or not they read a book with some low-level recall questions. Our learners will do incredible things, if we enable them and get out of their way. Our schools should be safe and caring places for our students to discover and explore their passions.
This year I will be looking again at Genius Hour in our Coding Club. I came across it in my last job, but I didn’t have the time commitment to make a good attempt at it. This year I am planning to use it to help students plan and develop something that really interests them. There are lots of resources I have collected online and students can access for free to explore something that can unlock their interests in a real and passionate way.
Quite simply, I want to find and unlock the next big contributor to IT. It starts now when they are young and free enough to explore without restriction. That might be an ambitious aim, but we always hear about the teachers who made difference to students by beleiving in them and giving them the confidence to achieve their goals. I want to be that teacher for my students.
Going Digital Should Enable Collaboration
Ideas are made better when they are shared. This is another aspect of our schools that doesn’t happen nearly enough, even though technology-enabled collaboration has made it so much easier. We still have a culture of keeping our work to ourselves. That idea that, “I’ve worked hard on this and I’m not going to share it, so that other people/schools can benefit from me without doing any of the hard work!” When I was learning web design, I came across an idea that has changed my outlook on teaching. In web design, they run on the following ideal:
When you start out, you are learning and don’t know anything, so you will borrow heavily from the experts. As you grow in ability, your ‘borrowing’ will lessen and you will being creating your own web frameworks and code, which you will then share for others to learn from, as this is how you learned. And the cycle repeats itself for the next learners who come along.
So share the good stuff. Please. We are all experts and can benefit from each other.
When we let kids build, discover, and problem solve, together they will learn. (We should do that more as adults, too.) They will then share what happens. If we publish work under a creative commons license, others can use what you’ve done and build upon it in a way that is meaningful for them and add new improvements so that your work can be shared with even more people. Your story is important and deserves to be shared but more importantly, others deserve to learn from your success and failures too. We deserve to hear what you have to say and have the opportunity to learn from your experiences.
Going Digital Should Mean We Talk Less and Listen More
This is looking at our tendency to speak continually in online social spaces. very often we will want to be heard online – be it through Twitter, or Facebook. Regardless of how many people we have following us, or are connected to, we want them to listen to what we are saying. So online spaces can often become quite silo-shaped. We listen to those who are like us and think like us. However, it really is more about listening than it is talking. Hearing rather than being heard. As educational leaders (teachers and administrators alike) we have to be willing to listen to ideas, suggestions, or complaints and use them to grow ourselves, each other and our organisations. As teachers this can be really tough. How often (if ever) have you asked your classes about ways to improve? Objective, genuine criticism is scary because we don’t want to have our weaknesses exposed. And I get it – no one wants to feel exposed or have a weakness highlighted. Last academic year, I put out a Google Form to my Year 13 BTEC IT students that was based on a student review I used with degree students. It was just as scary as putting out the review because it was aimed at the areas that that could expose weakness. To their credit, my students all acted responsibly and engaged with the review in the manner I requested. The points they raised were genuine and helpful – there were some that th
Really, listening should happen much more often than talking, especially when it comes to education leadership. As educational leaders we have to be willing to listen and hear ideas, even if they make us uncomfortable or that we might disagree with. The same is true for students. We have to take the time to listen to what they want to do. What do they want to create? How can a digital classroom or technology-enabled learning environment help them meet their goals?
Going Digital Means We 'Care For' More Than We 'Care About'
The importance of quality educational leadership cannot be understated. A small but noticeable change in our language can have a huge impact and outcome. Saying “I teach maths” and “I teach kids maths” has two differences in meaning. And it so true! We have to care not about our jobs or what we do. We have to care about who we are doing it for. Our pupils! Just because we may have some amount of digital technology at our disposal doesn’t mean its always in everyone’s best interests to use it. No matter what we do we always have to keep our learners in mind and make sure we are doing what is best for their interests. But most of all, we have to care about our learners. That is one of the biggest factors that will contribute to their achievement-knowing that we believe in them to realise their goals and dreams.
It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny appeal of new technology. As a teacher it’s easy to get caught up in activities that slightly change in a digital format, but don’t really result in new or deeper learning for the pupil (designing a front cover on Canva for example isn’t that different from designing a front cover by being hand-drawn). Technology is important to enhance learning – but the point I frequently return to is: the use of technology in education needs to be deliberate, planned and genuinely enhance student learning.