Technology in Education, the new Industrial Revolution

From guest writer Judy Bloxham.

We are now at a point two years on from Feltag, so has anything changed?

The Feltag panel discussion at Jisc Digifest, whilst it revealed some examples of good practice, returned to many of the pre-Feltag issues we have long observed. There are three main areas that need to come together to help improve the uptake of technology on learning and teaching in the FE and Skills sector.

•Management
•The infrastructure
•Staff confidence

Management need to drive the digital agenda and provide a culture which will support it. Without the drive and support at the top the best that can happen are pockets of good practice. Organisational thinking will not be joined up to help move the agenda forwards with a sound business case. The collection and dissemination of data to support effective decision making will not be in place without a sound understanding of requirements. Data needs to be timely and on-demand for all staff not just management.  “Our workforce is in a period of extraordinary change; I would liken it to the Industrial Revolution. Leaders have a huge responsibility to empower their staff to become outstanding in delivery in this new environment.” (Fintan Donahue CEO Gazelle Group)

notebook-40699_640There is an expectation of ubiquitous wifi. As I’ve heard so many times recently, the best way to get the family into one room is switch the wifi off and they’ll come running. The provision of fast, robust wifi in education is as important as adequate toilet facilities. It’s now regarded as a utility in the same way as water and electricity. Alongside this is a need for systems to be secure but still ensure all the necessary functions are accessible – both on and off site. Now that mobile access has exceeded desktop access there needs to be a rethinking of services to ensure user friendliness on multiple platforms.

Getting both management and infrastructure right will go a long way to helping staff develop confidence. In a survey by Teachers Know Best 67% of teachers said they were not satisfied with the effectiveness of tools and data they needed to access on a regular basis. This backs up observations over several years where staff frequently commented that a barrier they faced was reliability of technology. They lack confidence in it.

Not having the time to learn how to use tools is another problem frequently cited by teaching staff. But do we all need to know how to do everything? At home I’m the only one who knows how to set up the central heating controls, but I don’t know how to get iPlayer on the Xbox, I rely on my son or daughter for that. Within the family our skills compliment, rather than undermine each other. We don’t all need to know everything, it’s time to start thinking that way in the classroom too. You are the ‘expert’ in your curriculum area it’s OK for your learners to be the experts with the digital tools.

Alongside time other reasons educators give for struggling with digital tools are:

• They are complicated to use
• Are slow and outdated
• Don’t quite do what they need
• Don’t appeal to learners

My personal philosophy is – if it takes an hour to prep something that will only be used for ten minutes it’s an unacceptable overhead. High development time is fine if you are developing high capacity, high cost resources which can be used many times by a mass audience, but not for one off use. So we need to look for tools that are easy to use, allow rapid development and appeal to our learners.

That big barking Feltag dog that was unleashed two years ago may have been somewhat muzzled, but we still need to improve the way we integrate technology into the learning process. In a recent test of adult, digital literacy where participants were asked to do a simple sort of emails, the UK ranked lower than average. Now I know email may be regarded as ‘old hat’ technology but is shows simple, transferable technology skills aren’t understood. We need to know how to interface effectively with the digital world – for employment, for our personal lives and for lifelong learning. Education needs to support this, and foster an ability to use digital tools and transfer principles to new ones.

cover225x225A year ago I began to pull ideas together to support easier integration of digital tools for teaching and learning. This evolved into an interactive iBook. The book looks at the pedagogy that underlies teaching with digital tools. This is then linked to contextualised examples of how to use tools practically. It is designed to be an interactive, practical, social resource for teachers to gain the confidence to allow learners to make use of a wide range of digital tools.

Rethinking IT: Doing more with technology in education

“You can buy all the devices or software in the world. Until you actually crack CPD, it won’t fundamentally change.”
(Chris McLean, Deputy Principle Milton Keynes College)

Judy Bloxham
Learning Technology Consultant at eComScotland
Twitter: @gingerblox

See also: Tools to enhance learning resources
FELTAG a directive, an aspiration or just common sense?

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