BETT seems to be bigger and more diverse every year. To my mind, looking at it as a teacher, it's getting too difficult to find the resources for teaching and learning among all the other stuff. There are some fantastic digital resources, but at BETT, they're all muddled up among routers and filtering services etc, which are all useful to someone, but maybe the show should divided into two sections.
Anyway, we spent much of last term asking schools about digital resource use, via surveys, focus groups, interviews and school visits and one of our themes was: what needs to happen to grow the market?
Here's just a flavour of our 32,000 words of report, which can purchased now: please contact email@example.com if you'd like details.
Pupil engagement is the main motivator for using digital learning resources amongst both primary and secondary staff - as well as international teachers - and about a third of teachers from both UK phases use technology as they believe it promotes deeper learning.
Small proportions of teachers in both phases were motivated to use digital technology as an avenue to improve results – this is interesting as academic research supporting this view is not consistent and respondents in other phases of Schoolzone’s digital research project felt it was extremely difficult to measure impact on pupil outcomes.
Interestingly, a greater proportion of secondary teachers than primary teachers thought digital saved time or money. This could be explained by secondary teachers’ greater use of textbooks (a digital resource is likely to be cheaper than purchasing a class set of these), and the automatic nature of digital assessment systems, such as Google forms, which secondary teachers use more frequently than primary, or simply a reflection of the fact that teachers edit printable materials more frequently at secondary level, owing to having a greater need for differentiated sets of materials, as grouping by ability is more common.
Teachers expressed concern at the growing disparity between the technology children can access at home and at school, even going as far as saying that digital did not necessarily lead to greater engagement anymore, when the graphics in school were poor compared to those used at home on children’s games consoles. Despite this concern, using digital to present the same information but in a different way to prevent pupils’ boredom was valued by the teachers.
When teachers were asked to anticipate any changes that might influence their use of digital in the future, there was a fairly lengthy silence and none of the teachers identified any changes - such as new government or school policies, or becoming an academy - that would affect their use. However, the pace of change of digital technologies outside schools is a worry for teachers and could drive their use rather than specific policy changes within education.
“Everything is just changing and moving on so quickly and you think, you would love to see businesses support the schools and a lot more by providing and monitoring and keeping schools up to date with the technology. Because at the end of the day, the children we are teaching and educating are going to go out into the workforce and if they don’t have experience in using the up to date resources we are going to be behind other countries across the world.” (Paula)
In order to increase the use of digital resources in schools, teachers suggested subject-specific training; greater industry involvement; and time to allow resources to become embedded. The less ‘tech savvy’ teachers also mentioned a lack of awareness of what is available and how to use each resource in lessons. Larger class sizes and the use of more inexperienced teachers (due to staff shortages) are two new drivers that were mentioned.
“We have English departments for example that have to go to what euphemistically call Master classes so they are teaching fifty students at a time with one teacher and LSAs. And if they could use more digital resources in those kinds of situations then I am sure it would help. I can envisage us going that way as well with languages. We have already had teachers go out to China for maths to investigate how they manage to do that.” (Valerie, MFL)
Provision of a statutory framework would definitely help speed things along. Wales has a national digital learning platform (hwb.wales.gov.uk) as part of their ICT strategy to underpin learning and teaching, which enables all schools to access and share online resources from any device. The website acts as a medium for the sharing of good practice and is supported by the Welsh Government. Teachers expressed an interest in the Department for Education in England making a similar commitment to the development of digital teaching and learning on a national level.
“A self-supporting network is something that our academy has introduced in the last two years, but it has been voluntary unfortunately and it would be nice to see that as part of actual in-house CPD across the academy and that would get I think a little bit more sharing going on.” (Emma, maths)
Above all else in their resources, teachers value choice. They want to use a range of activities and types within any lesson. Digital is one of the elements – a particularly flexible one, if it allows the resource to be editable or more accessible, but schools are very long way off moving wholly digital, or even reaching a tipping point to become mostly digital. Most teachers would balk at the idea of being mostly anything – variety, flexibility, adaptability, ease of use, accessibility, easing workflow, interactivity… these are the kinds of words they use to describe preferred resources, whether digital or otherwise.