Full breathing apparatus on? Right Mrs Jones, which tree is Tiddles in?

My latest blog has been prompted by a series of coincidental encounters this week – not involving cats, but information technology in schools.

As a Trust, we’re looking at our over-arching strategic plan for the next three years and, as you may anticipate, technological change and the opportunities and challenges it brings to our work in schools will feature.  We’re looking carefully at what cutting edge organisations are doing using information and communications technologies and trying to ascertain how we develop our infrastructure and approach to dovetail with our teaching and learning philosophy.

We’ve also been looking closely at the Education Endowment Foundation research on meta-cognition and deliberating how we teach children how to learn more effectively, and clearly information technology can have a part to play in this.

Also this week, I saw a school proudly claim in the media that they’re continuing to issue all their many hundreds of students with tablet devices for use in “all their lessons”.

I’m not particularly ‘tech savvy’, but this school’s approach for me carries risk. Not the logistical issues (lost, damaged or stolen tablets, misuse during lessons, upgrades and recharging etc.) as these can arguably be overcome, or at least mitigated – but the educational risks. At a time when funding is tight, I can envisage the strong encouragement of use of such devices – even when they may not be the best resource to deliver the learning objectives the teacher intends.  The effectiveness of such an approach must be demonstrated in what additionality such technology brings: can it result in children knowing more, being able to do more, understanding more and engaging in learning more?  The answer to all these questions is, sometimes, a resounding “yes”. But sometimes it isn’t.

CEO-Blog-May2018-2It’s no more logical to suggest that pupils – of any age or ability – should use a specific piece of technology as a matter of routine than it is to argue that a firefighter should wear all their rescue gear to get to a marooned cat.  Indeed, as with the firefighter’s breathing apparatus, oxygen tank, mask, visor and axe when scaling a tree, inappropriate use of technology is worse than useless – it’s an encumbrance that makes the process of learning more difficult.  Justification that the firefighter equipment has been bought so must be used would, rightly, be viewed as ridiculous. And yet we still witness schools pursue such a strategy when, crucially, the impact on the achievements of their pupils isn’t at all visible.

Of course, there are superb examples of schools where technology is used creatively and intelligently to drive forward learning, engagement, and – topically – metacognition. It is to these schools we should all look when shaping our own future.  My experience of such schools is that their ‘magic bullet’ is not the technology, but the teaching, learning and leadership culture within which it is deployed.

So, within our Strategic Plan we will be giving due consideration to the appropriate use of technologies to help our children learn, but framed within our approach to teaching, learning and leadership.  That’s the way it should be.

Thanks for reading.

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Mike