This years’ BETT show (British Education and Training Technology - the UK equivalent of ISTE or TCEA) presented a dizzying range speakers and exhibitors, and it was set against some interesting changes in UK education…
To name a few, the national curriculum now includes coding, schools should now be teaching character, or ‘grit’ alongside subjects, and we still have have an achievement gap to narrow despite an ever-widening income gap.
However, there is also more scope for innovation than ever before. Increased availability of online mobile devices, and more autonomy for staff in free schools and academies (state funded but free from local government control) mean that we have more freedom to come up with ways to face these challenges.
Edtech trends at the Bett show this year included the increasing use of smartphones and tablets in schools, teaching code and social learning - the use of peer review through social-media like sites where students can learn from and help each other through peer-review.
Travis Allen from ischool initiative presented a campaign to promote the use of digital technologies in lessons – not to tell students to turn their smartphones off but how to use them to learn. He has a new pedagogy for the digital age: Find, Filter, Apply – Students no longer need to know everything, just how to find it, how to filter to get the most relevant info, and to apply it.
Much has been made of the new coding curriculum for schools – a problem with a lack of qualified teachers means that many classes will have to rely on ‘coding apps’ etc to teach it. However, a different approach came from an East London Computer Science teacher, Carrie Anne Philbin. She was at Bett to demonstrate the Sonic Pi project, a programming environment for the Raspberry Pi. Devised with software architect, Dr Sam Aaron, the Sonic Pi teaches coding through music. Students basically build a synthesiser, thus accidentally learn concepts such as logic, sequencing, iteration and conditionals while doing something creative and imaginative.
Philbin is also the author of Geek Gurl Diaries, a YouTube series with over 1000 viewers – created when she realised there were so few girls taking Computer Science. Not only does the content encourage student access to the subject – but the comments provide a platform for teachers and students to ask questions and share ideas.
The social learning element of video sharing has also been used elsewhere. One UK college has collaboration projects with colleges in New Zealand, Columbia and Ireland. The students use YouTube to submit a video about their work on the project. The videos are evaluated as part of their assessment, but what the students really like is getting video feedback (1-5 minutes) from say 4-6 students in other countries. Once collated provides say 30 minutes of feedback. They take a real pride in creating something to be seen by others, not just the teacher – and they are eager to hear the feedback.
David Mitchell has also been using published web content to engage students. When he got pupils aged 10-11 to write an online blog, English results for that group soared from 9% getting into the top-tier of scores in national tests to 60%. One pupil explained that “You’re not real sir, you are just a teacher” – writing something online that anyone could see made their work part of the real world, not just something for the teacher to look at. And when they found other people commenting on the blogs, they were even more engaged.
These social learning activities do not just aid learning through student motivation, they can also help to build the social skills or ‘grit’ that UK schools are now compelled to teach. When interacting online students learn that it is important to emphasise positives, celebrate success, to be constructive and also learn how to take criticism thus they learn conscientiousness, teamwork and resilience.