When I first began teaching, all mobile phones were banned and the idea of a pupil bringing into school their own device for learning was a million light-years away. Slowly, the tables are beginning to turn.
Over the last few years, schools have either steered towards or sped away from the idea that technological devices can be useful in the classroom. For Repton pupils, using a device to facilitate learning is not only normal but in fact, enhances and supports their mastery of subjects. Furthermore, the use of technology in this context effectively supports the enhancement of pupils’ personal digital literacy skills.
Over the past few months, I have been researching the different methods available of how to effectively implement “best practice” throughout both the primary and secondary sector. The general consensus appears to be that what needs to be recognised is how to use devices meaningfully in two respects. First, to fully appreciate how powerful the tool that they have in their hands is and second, to be able to communicate with it properly. Teaching pupils and teachers about how to model positive behaviours online. I then read something quite compelling- How can we get things right, if none of us knows the rules?
We use devices daily. Indeed, there are now four billion internet users across the globe and three billion of these are using social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. With an increase in availability of ‘Smart’ and more cost-effective devices, the whole world is really getting online.
So, it is perhaps naive and shortsighted of us to believe that whilst we live in an increasingly digitally responsive world, we should discourage the use of technological devices in schools. Over the past year, I have been an integral part of a school that is taking digital competency and communications very seriously. My experience at this school has allowed me as a practitioner to see all the benefits and have real theory’s behind why the negative views on devices and social media in schools is such an important pedagogical tool.
All pupils in my classes have an iPad. Recent changes made with Apple devices have begun to allow our educators to use collaborative learning tools, sharing and developing work on their documents together on their separate devices. The potential is unlimited; the technology available allows for the very real enhancement of dialogue within the school community and even engages the most lacklustre of a student to be part of projects. However, as with all things, progress does come with some potential dangers. When pupils are able to send one another messages on their documents, these pop up instantly. The immediacy of communications without proper monitoring and adherence to embedded accepted practice could lead to inappropriate interactions with the potential to cause unwanted attention or even emotional harm. This would need to be addressed by the school at the outset.
So, what should we do? Bury our heads in the sand? Tell them it’s mean and to stop? Or teach them the rules?
In our school, we chose the latter approach. We have found the perfect platform which allows for teachers to receive work from pupils as a ‘submission’ as well as allow for them to interact with their teacher. Incidentally, we are given to understand from student feedback that this aspect is this option is particularly exciting. It also highlights a lot about them. How much they do not know about being online. Year four specifically seems to be a school “pinch point”.
In the first instance, we began simply by discussing the “Dos and Don’ts” of using an online platform. A range of different questions was posed such as who could see? Who couldn’t? What is appropriate? What does appropriate even mean? Finally, we pose the question to students; would you say this to someone’s face?
Of course, at the start, we encountered a range of different issues, such as pupils forgetting that a teacher could see what they were writing at all times or pupils not realising that arguing on the platform would not necessarily end with a resolution but might in fact due to the nature of written text, make matters worse.
It might seem trivial; however, these are the scenarios which place young people and adults into potential danger online. No one taught us how to be safe or how to pose questions online. We were never given guidance as to what a good and ‘appropriate’ image should be and how discussing issues ‘face to face ‘is always the preferred method of resolution, even if it is scary to do so.
Finally, a year of a wide range of different learning experiences, we are beginning to witness successes in our pupils’ behaviour. Pupils are starting to speak up and independently police the conversations and offer suggestions as to how to ask questions and report students who are making mistakes.
I hope to be able to push the boundaries even further each year with all of our pupils. Supporting and developing their understanding of how to use digital media to their benefit is of paramount importance. It is only when the ‘rules of the game’ are clearly set out and explicitly taught as part of a school curriculum the risks of potential emotional harm is reduced. If a student comes into contact with someone who is not ‘digitally courteous’, I know that I can rely on my pupils to report them. I am confident that they understand that not everything we read online is true or intended and is open to interpretation. Most of all, our pupils know that they can always to ask for help.
Philippa Wraithmell @MrsWraithmell is a mother of two boys living and teaching in Abu Dhabi. An Apple Professional Learning Specialist. Head of IT, Computing at Repton School AD. Leading the Digital vision, teaching the Computing curriculum and Leading Digital Training for Teachers.