Classroom practice - Take a closer look at high-tech teaching

14th November 2014 at 00:00
Pupils' use of technology for learning is increasing rapidly, but the digital revolution can also have a powerful impact on CPD

The common narrative around technology in education is that teachers have to embrace it if they are to stand any chance of engaging young people. That claim is looking ever more problematic. The Education Endowment Foundation, for example, states that digital technology has a "moderate impact [on students] for a high cost". But we should not write technology off just yet - there may be significant scope for its use in teacher training.

Technology has already surreptitiously made its way into CPD in all sorts of interesting ways. Some approaches have been driven by schools; others have been introduced by teachers. In either case, the initial responses are very positive.

So how is technology changing the way teachers are taught? Below are a number of technological innovations currently being used.

Video

In a nutshell: Classroom camera systems are rapidly making their way into schools across the country; it is likely that your school, or one nearby, is already using them. The idea is to enable retrospective, or even live, lesson analysis. The teacher and observer can either watch the video of the lesson together at a later date, or the teacher can receive real-time coaching from a colleague outside the room via an earpiece.

How to implement: The idea of a camera in the room is not universally popular, but you can allay fears about Big Brother-style monitoring with good leadership and collaboratively set rules.

First, teachers should always know when they are being filmed. They should also have ownership over the video - they must decide who sees it.

Senior leaders should always be the first to be observed using the new system and these videos and follow-up meetings should be open to other teachers to observe. This helps to build trust - if a leader is prepared to take the plunge, it will lessen the suspicion that this is a managerial or accountability tool.

Technical support, training plans, how to ensure high-quality audio and how the videos will be stored are also considerations.

All teachers should be trained to operate the cameras and software, and anyone who will be giving feedback should receive guidance. If teachers are recording and reviewing their own practice, they should have a framework to ensure that this is productive.

But some of the best uses of video equipment take place outside the traditional lesson observation. Teachers can work in pairs or larger groups to capture and discuss lessons. In addition, video systems can be particularly powerful when the focus is on observing students and not teachers. For example, the camera can be used to investigate why certain students may be struggling. Some schools use cameras to capture students working and then play the footage back to them later to help them reflect on their learning behaviours.

Judgement: Combined with a coaching and enquiry culture in a school, video can spark great discussions and create a starting point for refining practices.

Twitter

In a nutshell: Teachers often work in isolation, with little time and opportunity to interact with colleagues. Social media can solve this problem, with Twitter in particular offering a rich variety of teacher communities sharing ideas.

How to implement: If teachers use Twitter to follow the right people (fellow teachers, consultants, academics) and organisations (subject associations, school improvement bodies, training providers), they can stay abreast of the latest ideas, issues and changes by dipping in and out, even just once a week.

Relevant conversations can quickly be found by using hashtags - these are words or codes preceded by a # symbol, which denotes that a message is related to a certain topic. Examples include #SLTchat, #SciChat, #UKEdChat and more. Many of these discussions happen at the same time each week. For example, #UKEdChat takes place every Thursday evening from 8-9pm after a vote to decide the topic of conversation.

Judgement: Twitter is an unfiltered source of ideas and it is important to be constructively critical of anything posted there. These ideas are also only a starting point - they won't actually make much difference to your practice unless you make the time to experiment and fully embed them.

Online lesson sharing

In a nutshell: Although a lot of professional development improvements happen through collaboration, enormous benefits can be found in sharing resources created by individuals.

How to implement: Teachers have access to huge banks of resources through the TES website. The planning time this saves allows teachers to focus on differentiating in order to meet their learning objectives. The process of selecting resources can also provide professional development opportunities in itself, as teachers explore fresh approaches to content and concepts.

Judgement: This can be a powerful way of drawing on other teachers' expertise (and avoiding reinventing the wheel). The downside, however, is that you do not always understand the logic behind a resource if no context is included.

Blogging

In a nutshell: Hundreds of teachers regularly share their thinking about various aspects of education. Many of them use online blogs to summarise key ideas from their reading or to talk about debates they've had.

How to implement: Writing your own blog can help you to reflect on the way you teach and allow others to learn from your journey. Start by reading some popular blogs such as huntingenglish.com, headguruteacher.com, learningspy.co.uk and johntomsett.com.

Once you have decided what you want to write about, you can choose from a number of websites to host your blog. Try not to let posts get too long and always avoid references to students or colleagues. Some teachers prefer to blog anonymously to avoid accidentally identifying personal details.

Judgement: Reading blogs offers a great way to get in-depth reflections from specialists, but caution and constructive scepticism need to be exercised. Creating your own blog, meanwhile, can help you to record and reflect upon strategies as you implement them.

Virtual reality

In a nutshell: In the US, the University of Central Florida has been trialling virtual reality classrooms to train teachers, using realistic scenarios and computer-generated pupils.

How to implement: Teachers are able to practise classroom management skills in a safe, online environment before trying them out in real life. They stand in a special studio with a large screen showing five students. An operator in the room is able to modify the challenges from the virtual students, and an actor in an adjacent room deals with individual interactions.

Although expensive, this approach allows teachers to trial ideas without fear of letting anyone down. The simulations are fairly realistic and can be paused for the teacher to receive coaching.

Judgement: This is definitely an early-stage technology but one that could have great promise for teachers in the early stages of their careers.

Shared documents

In a nutshell: Another simple way for teachers to share lesson ideas and pedagogical reflections is by co-editing documents, updating as they go.

How to implement: Using sites such as Wikispaces, teachers can create documents on their web browsers. Multiple people can access the same file at the same time from their own browsers, which means that lessons can quickly be co-planned, updated and refined.

You could make this even more collaborative by setting up group voice or video calls using, for example, Google Hangouts or Skype.

With this approach, it is possible for teachers in several locations to work together and share ideas efficiently. Another way of using this technology is to share links to useful websites and to organise forthcoming events.

Judgement: This is a valuable (and inexpensive) addition to every teacher's toolkit. And by identifying potential collaborators through social media, this method can become even more powerful.

David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust charity. For more information, visit www.TDTrust.org or find it on Twitter @TeacherDevTrust

Digital downloads

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