Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

6th March 2015 at 00:00

The first time I used a collaborative virtual wall in class, I felt extremely chuffed. I was a tech-savvy 21st-century teacher, I thought, firmly ensconced at the cutting edge of the glittering world of education.

So imagine my horror when, halfway through the session, one of my little lovelies remotely switched the 6ft by 5ft projected image from a blue sky with fluffy clouds to a photo of himself giving the finger to the rest of the class. This led to much hilarity and an embarrassingly flustered race to change the until-now-forgotten moderation settings before the students plastered the board with various memes, scantily clad soap actors and further obscene gestures. It was a race I lost. By a long way.

Some people would describe this as a hilarious example of student creativity. But then some people think TED talks are the height of original thinking. Others would say it was a wilful hijacking of learning, but that ignores the fact that it was quite funny. I'd advise responding to an incident like this with an hour's detention. But afterwards perhaps take the comedian aside for a chat about how they did it, because there should be a big emphasis on hacking, circumventing and reinventing in the ed tech world.

Taking something and bending it to your own use in a creative way is an important skill that can lead to real innovation. The Raspberry Pi is a great example of this: from media player to robot controller, this cheap and deceptively simple bit of kit has been put to a thousand uses, encouraging students to code in the process. And this extra motivation can only be a good thing - learning to code is possibly the most infuriating undertaking that anyone can embark on.

Breaking things apart, seeing what makes them tick, changing them, using them for different purposes and building them up again is an essential part of the learning process. And it can sometimes be lost because we stick to the letter of the lesson plan or fear that a bit of tinkering or meddling might break something expensive. It can be good to let the mad professor within us roam free a little. This flexibility within the classroom is difficult to achieve, but it can have major benefits for the children - and not just in terms of nebulous concepts such as "creativity".

Giving students permission to do things differently, to take chances when using technology, allows them to shape their own tools instead of slavishly adhering to the set perimeters that can often restrict the use of technology in the classroom. Interesting things might come out of this. Things that are surprising, useful, fun, daft or even just a bit rubbish. But you should at least try. Unless the students start taking the mick, that is - then they can attempt to hack their way out of detention.

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212

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