Schools need to be convinced about educational value of technology

Risk averse schools must share their experiences of IT if the education sector is to benefit from the opportunities it offers

Risk averse schools must share their experiences of IT if the education sector is to benefit from the opportunities it offers.

While higher education organisations are harnessing technology to support teaching, student support and the back office, schools are more cautious when it comes to investing in IT equipment.

At a roundtable discussion held by IT industry body Intellect, the panel was unanimous in its agreement that IT should be harnessed by teachers of all subjects to support learning in schools. 

The panel also agreed that there are major challenges ahead to reduce the fear within schools of investing in the unknown, and highlighted the importance of inspirational teachers to drive the use of technology.

Peter Twining, programme director at the Open University’s Vital programme, said schools are risk averse when it comes to spending their limited budgets and fear the unknown.

He said schools need to embed technology across the curriculum to support teaching in all subjects, but they lack the evidence that will convince them to invest in IT equipment. 

“They need good evidence of what works and examples of where it has worked. We need to educate them with really good solid examples of schools like them that have done it,” he said.

Schools need good evidence of what works and examples of where it has worked

Peter Twining, Open University

Students succeed with technology

The panel, which comprised experts from the technology and education, provided examples of schools that have successfully embedded the use of technology across all subjects.

Stephen Fahey, learning technologies director at education publisher Pearson, cited Essa Academy in Bolton, which was converted to academy status three years ago.

He said the academy's head of IT implemented a policy of one iPod Touch per student and one iPad per teacher across the school. “The iPod Touch has benefits for helping to personalise student learning – something they can take ownership of, always available, on-demand, etc,” said Fahey

He said the school has become a top performer, with 100% students achieving an A* to C grade in GCSE ICT. He said the use of iPods has had a direct impact on student achievement.

“Students found free GCSE revision podcasts through iTunes and have been downloading and listening to them in their spare time. This appeared to be a reason for boys outperforming girls in ICT GCSE, because they could revise without drawing attention to it,” said Fahey.

Michelle Selinger, director of education practice at Cisco, used Silverton Primary School in Australia as an example. She said it is a multicultural school, where English is a second language for many students, but they get best results in the state of Victoria.

She said technology is embedded for use by students. “Interactive whiteboards have been installed at child height. Students make choices about what technology they use and have a TV and radio studio available to them,” she said.

These schools have not only invested in technology equipment; they have changed their approach to teaching.

Peter Twining, head of the department of education at the Open University, said that while technology is important, schools must change their approaches to teaching if they are to fully benefit from it. 

“These schools are not succeeding purely because of technology. While this is a facilitator, change within schools and results come from an attitude and a vision for education,” he said.

Proving the case for IT investment

Twining pointed out that more examples like these need to be brought to light to encourage schools to embrace technology to support their teaching. 

“Schools are typically risk averse in terms of safety and damaging their results. Schools lack evidence that investing in cloud is worth it. Instead they view students having their own device as dangerous and may encourage stealing or bad behaviour,” he said.

Cloud computing is a good example. It offers schools the opportunity to cut costs and unite into groups to pool resources.

“Cloud computing helps schools to reduce the cost to school of providing services that they need," said Selinger at Cisco. "It allows students to work across a network of schools – cloud allows freedom and collaborative learning.”

But Twining said schools need to be shown evidence of what cloud computing has done to benefit other schools – how it helped them to achieve better results and save money.

Photo: Thinkstock

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