Great practice is often hidden away. John Galloway enjoys finding it and sharing
Sharing is at the very heart of education. It is ingrained in the process of learning and a fundamental aspect of what schools and teachers do, as we found when researching our book, Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies, which has just won the Best Book award from Teach Secondary.
No matter who we spoke to, teachers, academics, researchers, experts or learners, everyone was only too willing to help. Perhaps it was the thought of being included in a book, but I think it was much more about it being something that everyone in education just does, naturally.
Certainly the children at Flitch Green Academy, in Essex, enjoyed the opportunity to show off what they knew, how well they could use the technology in their hands, and what they could do with it, the books, animations, and videos they had made. But they also wanted to be sure that we properly appreciated what they did in school, and how much computers, particularly tablets, were part of that.
'This culture of sharing extends to other schools'
They clearly enjoyed learning and were very adept with technology, zipping through apps – Puppet Pals, Story Kit, Sketch, Pages, Book Creator, 123dsculpt – and giving us examples of their work, and their friends’: animations of how a smile works, or a scene from James and the Giant Peach, designs for shoe soles, or a fact book about the heart. In the early years the scenes for a cookery show filmed on their iPads were shared across the classroom then put together to demonstrate how to make tomato soup and posted on the school blog, for parents and family to appreciate, too.
This culture of sharing extends to other schools, too. Nathan Lowe, Flitch Green headteacher, acknowledges the support he has had from other pioneering schools, such as Essa Academy in Bolton, and that they in turn are now offering to others, like Felsted School nearby.
As can be seen, these devices are enabling pupils to engage with learning in new ways and to demonstrate what it is they now know. “We are going away from the position of having one knowledgeable person in the room lecturing to the children. Now it is about us all learning together. The teacher is almost a facilitator.” In turn this means the children are “content creators rather than content consumers – sharing their learning in different ways,” Nathan Lowe believes.
The development of tablet technology helps students share in other ways too, sometimes with their digital skills on the devices themselves. At the International School in Stavanger, Norway, teacher Andrew Rhodes has organised sixth formers to act as tech support for new arrivals, both young people and adults. An element of the IB course they all follow is to do some sort of community service.
Making students the first line of intervention and giving them the duty of setting up new users and training them on common apps has released both Andrew and his technicians to help colleagues in more fruitful ways such as changing classroom practice. “The support requests we are now getting a lot of at school are, ‘I want to do this on iPads – how would I do it and what apps would I use?’ They are often conversations about teaching, or they can become conversations about teaching. They might start off as conversations about apps, but we can kind of mould them into conversations about teaching.”
'It brings those tools back into the hands of kids in special schools'
Staff are also supporting each other in finding out ways to use this technology more effectively with their charges at Frank Wise School, a special school in Banbury. Here they have established a system for introducing new technologies whereby one or two machines are bought, a couple of staff pioneer their use, then what they know is shared with colleagues. Headteacher Sean O’Sullivan explains about when iPads first came into the school. “We are following the same pattern of piloting ideas, sharing good practice and trying to encourage cross-fertilisation between people, asking, ‘How did you do that?’ or ‘Could I do that on mine?’”
Sean O’Sullivan also believes that the development of tablet technology has meant a ‘sharing’ of the technology that drives the devices, too. In the field of special educational needs and disabilities the use of touchscreens and devices that talk to users, or that users talk to, have been long established. Now these functions are in commonplace devices available to all. This has meant that prices for what were once specialist interfaces have plummeted and made them more available. As he explains, “The spin-off has been that it now brings those tools back into the hands of kids in special schools in a way that we couldn’t have pushed forwards with when it was our own technology designed for people with special needs.”
Not only is the technology underpinning these devices now ubiquitous, but the machines themselves are too. They are carried around and between classrooms, they are given to students wherever they are, whether that is at a desk, in a sensory room, lying flat on a bed, or supported in a standing frame. They also travel between home and school, and indeed any other place a student could benefit from using them.
It seems somewhat ironic that a technology intended to be a very personal device lends itself so well to sharing, not just within classrooms and between teachers and learners, but also in supporting and promoting such an ethos in education. Educators everywhere have seen the benefits tablets and mobiles can bring to learning, and have subverted them to collective, collegiate ends. And they are very happy to share all that they know with others. And I believe our book provides one more channel for them to do it through.
John Galloway, co-author of Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies, is an adviser, writer and consultant who specialises in ICT for SEN and inclusion. He works with local authorities, a range of schools and provides training for educators at every level.