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Learning tech: Putting technology first

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Funds may be tight in education, but it’s important that educators use technology imaginatively and always broaden their horizons, says Chris Lloyd.

ChrisWith tightened budgets, pressures are stronger than ever when it comes to educators improving their use of learning tech.

Technology has the potential to put the UK’s education and training system on a par with leading nations, including those in the Far East.  And yet, the next generation is being held back in transforming the way the UK sector engages with students, staff and parents. 

The Government has ploughed millions of pounds into upgrading broadband networks and introducing cloud sharing technologies as part of the UK’s digital strategy. However, with technology in schools costing an estimated £619 million, with £95 million spent on software and digital content, there are still huge obstacles in place when it comes to schools, further education and training taking full advantage of the technology that is available.

Using video as learning tool

I regularly work with schools as part of a government-funded programme run by STEMNET (the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network). As a STEM ambassador, I believe there are a combination of reasons why the education sector is put off from embracing new platforms. These could range from the complexity and reliability of technology, to issues over accessibility and language translation.

I also note that teachers don’t appear to be catching on to the benefits of video as part of the overall learning experience – they’re using text books and educational materials of all shapes and sizes, but not necessarily seeing video as another part of the toolkit.

At the same time, I see a lot of video content created on mobile phones or handycams that only end up being used once or twice. There is plenty of educational collateral available in video form, but they usually end up on DVDs that get scratched or lost, rather than creating a central online place for them to live.

Problem-solving, creative thinking and collaboration

It shouldn’t be about what sorts of technology we use or how often we use it, but how it’s used and implemented as a whole. This isn’t about using glitzy technology, in fact many of the leaders in educational technology are using digital devices as a way of encouraging students to collaborate and learn at their own pace. This is also referred to as the ‘flipped’ classroom where students use technology to support self-learning. Technology within the education sector should reflect what we use in our personal lives every day, but it does have to be e-safe, controlled and monitored.

It also isn’t about asking for anything that doesn’t already exist, instead educators should find ways for technology to fit within the education system as it currently operates. This could be something as simple as using Skype to communicate with staff for parents’ evenings or other meetings.

Around 90 per cent of all jobs in the UK over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills. It isn’t just about investing money – it’s about empowering managers, teachers and staff to improve their knowledge and understanding of technology, but most of all, to feel comfortable using the tools in their classrooms.

Whether it’s using apps, videos or social media platforms, there are many ways to communicate across a community, share news and deliver messages, but this will only happen if we improve the way schools, further education and employers work together to transform the way they use digital.

Innovation and digital wisdom

There’s a will to improve the way technology is used in education, but it’s taking time. One of the biggest challenges comes with the older generation of teachers who don’t necessarily understand what the latest trends are and who may not be fully comfortable using the latest hardware and software.

This means that more recently established schools and colleges will naturally be more tech-savvy, but others go on tried and tested methods and find change hard; so even though they may have amazing ICT rooms or iPads, it takes time for them to make the transition across all areas of education.

With tightened budgets, pressures are stronger than ever when it comes to educators improving their use of learning tech. There is nothing wrong with technology; rather the challenge is to improve the way we deployed it across education, and to focus on how that technology can be used to support and improve teaching and learning.

How to use technology more effectively in further education

  1. Promote a seamless collaboration between students and staff by using browser-based technologies, such as Google apps and Google+ communities.

  2. Improve communication with staff and students through apps and platforms that successfully engage and interact with different communities.

  3. Invest in digital marketing by developing a website that has strong branding, easy navigation and is accessible via any device in order to attract potential new student and staff recruits.

  4. Encourage staff to understand how technology is evolving in the workplace by giving them time to experiment with technology and take ownership of their own training and development – essentially, encouraging staff to view technology as something that can make their job easier.

  5. Consider how the use of technology can enable students to access virtual learning environments and lead to more in-depth and personalised teaching, as well as saving time, resources and reducing admin costs.

  6. View technology purchasing as an ongoing investment with vast potential benefits to learning by involving teachers and students in the process to establish whether they have the tools they needed to support their teaching.

  7. Recognise the benefits (and cost savings) of the bring-your-own-device policy (BYOD), which allows staff and students to use their own smartphones, tablets and other devices when working, at home, on campus or while travelling.

  8. Engage with a teacher network by sharing lesson plans and ideas to create engaging and interesting lessons and transform the learning experience. 

Chris Lloyd is technical director at 27partners, a company helping organisations to engage with their clients and communities using accessible video technology. Chris is a STEM ambassador. Visit 27partners’ website.