How to make sure your staff are digitally up to date

The shifting nature of school life in 2020 calls for teaching staff who are confident to teach and support students using edtech platforms and available technology, writes Helen Carpenter
Digital Learning

At the height of the lockdown, when 1.6 billion children were out of school globally, it became apparent that pedagogy would have to shift to accommodate learning. Technology became critical in ensuring that students and teachers could stay connected.

Now that students are back in school, but with increasing numbers self-isolating, the need to ensure teachers and students are digitally up to date has never been more pressing. 

And with challenge comes opportunity. Toby Holman, the deputy head of my school (Kingdown School in Wiltshire) and previous SSAT Learning Community national award winner, has long been an advocate of edtech as a tool for effective learning.

"Remote learning has given edtech its second wind," he says. "However, the big change this time is that those who were sceptical before now appear to be on board.

"I fully believe that students have always had the interest to learn in this way, but this hadn't been matched by teachers' skills or having the time to train and adapt. Post-lockdown, continuing such investment in edtech has the potential for considerable benefits for students and learning."

Neil Sawyer, HP's channel and education director, says the call for increased tech capability has been widespread. "There has been a heightened demand for one-to-one learning and flexible schooling solutions right across the education sector," he says.

"Whether it be ensuring all students have equitable access to technology or university students needing to adapt to 100 per cent remote learning for the first time, the great news is that teaching staff, education management and students have done a brilliant job."

Blended learning

At Kingdown, lockdown started a professional dialogue around how to develop edtech use, in order to capitalise on the steps forward made during remote learning periods at home.

Our plan for further remote teaching brings a carefully structured blend of live class teaching and online assessment, combined with live small-group tuition and support for individuals struggling with content.

We have cherry-picked the best online assessment tools to continue with, including online low-stakes quizzing to check on learning. The great advantage for teachers is the reduction in marking (and knock-on improvement in workload).

The Education Endowment Foundation's research paper on remote learning flags up the need for teachers to use the technology available to support students while they are working independently on their own devices. The blended approach that we've taken, with both lessons and smaller tutorials, offers this to students.

Anthony Jordan-Mayhew is curriculum leader of science at Kingdown. He and his team quickly adapted to new ways of assessing feeding back to students using edtech, through a collaborative approach that has since become an embedded part of the team's practice. 

"We wanted a system that was easy for teachers and students to use so that we could assess regularly," he says. "This helped us to see what students were achieving weekly without overloading teachers, and it helped us work out how much work to set.

"The team is IT-proficient and I sent a training document taking it one step at a time, then shared examples of online assessments I had created. We started with encouragement rather than a mandate.

"We integrated this practice into our schemes of work after lockdown and now require weekly online assessment. Teachers in the team are on board because it is such a useful tool. Making resources sharable was key to encouraging teachers to adopt the new systems."

Ensuring staff are up to date

So how can all schools ensure their teaching staff, with a range of different IT skills and experiences and different levels of confidence, are up to date with what is needed for effective learning and working with edtech as effectively as possible?

Starting with an electronic survey of all teachers is a good starting point, asking for their honest reflection on how confident they feel with all the ICT systems and tech needed to teach, set work and assess remotely.

It's worth checking at this point that teachers feel confident with safeguarding protocols for ICT use, especially around live teaching. The Keeping Children Safe in Education framework has been updated to include live teaching guidelines.

From the results of the survey, small groups were formed with the most confident edtech user as the lead facilitator. Training videos on all aspects of ICT use needed were produced in house and shared before the training day in a flipped learning approach.

It was important that this training took place in school during the day rather than being shoehorned in at the end of a long day of teaching.

Groups were given the time and facilities to develop their skills in an informal setting and without any pressure. ICT technicians were on-hand to offer technical support during the sessions. A follow-up email after the training identified where gaps in skills were still apparent, for further support and training.

Dave Richardson, assistant head and RE teacher, was a group leader for such training in our school.

"It was particularly useful to have a consistent whole-school approach to the training and the small group situation meant we had a safe space and teachers had the opportunity to ask questions they needed to.

"Linking similar subjects meant teachers could talk about how to tweak and modify for their own subject areas. Teachers brought their own positive experiences with edtech to the session to share."

What has become clear is that edtech now has more relevance than ever to teaching, and that school leaders have a renewed responsibility to ensure their teachers feel confident in integrating it into their pedagogy to support high-quality learning.

Helen Carpenter is deputy head of Kingdown School in Warminster