Lord Knight: 'Let technology take care of the boring stuff so teachers can teach'

23rd February 2016 at 16:33
help sign with piles of paperwork
Lord Jim Knight discusses how teachers should flip the way they work to increase their teaching time.

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Just occasionally digital media throws something back at you. Facebook revives old posts or someone retweets something you posted weeks ago.

Last week, I wrote about flipped learning; a couple of days later, Twitter reminded me of an interesting article about the flipped school.

The author, Joe Hirsch, talks about flipping other aspects of his work as a teacher. He starts with sending videos to parents to watch before a “back to school” night, so that individual issues can be captured separately and the time can be spent with more meaningful discussion. He uses the same techniques for parents evenings and staff meetings.

This is normal. I sit on various boards and committees and wouldn’t dream of attending without having read the papers in advance. I wouldn’t contribute in Parliament without proper preparation. 

What is interesting is getting to the core of what Joe is doing. He is using new technology tools to make it easier to flip his work and he is doing so to use precious face-to-face time more effectively. 

Fewer and better meetings

I have thought about this in my work. If I took out all the information exchange from my working day and used collaborative technology instead, I would have fewer – and much higher-quality – meetings. I would need to set aside more preparation and online time, but I could do that at times and locations that serve me better than the office.

I would also have to decide how best to deliver quality in that way. Some of the free productivity tools are great – I regularly use Google Docs, iCloud, Office 365 and Wikispaces. If I want to create a lovely eBook, I would use Ourboox.  

The opportunity is clearly there to use technology to flip the relationship between home and work, and to use time at work more effectively. But it does mean changing the way that I work, and colleagues would need to adapt. 

Could teachers do the same, to save time and use human contact time better?

Flipping workload

I am not a teacher, but I would love to know the answer. Joe Hirsch points to a few examples, but what are others doing? Teachers only spend about a third of their working time teaching, leaving huge swathes for flipping outside the classroom.

The last teacher workload survey reported that the top five “unnecessary and unproductive tasks” are recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data; excessive marking; lesson/weekly planning; basic administrative and support tasks and staff meetings. Could we now innovate around these and allow much more effective use of time?

Technology now enables sharing. Machines can read and analyse for us. We can work on documents together over distance simultaneously. Peer-to-peer work is now possible in ways that were previously inconceivable. Artificial intelligence is here and I have seen my first robots in school. 

The tools are there, just waiting for the innovative teachers to come and develop new working practices.

We shouldn’t disrupt everything. Not everything could or should be flipped, but we now have the tools to empower us to change so much of how we do things. 

We should grasp those opportunities to use technology to take care of the dull stuff, with less human input. The prize is then more time for those precious human moments – like teaching.

Jim Knight is chief education adviser to TES Global, parent company of TES, a member of the House of Lords and a former schools minister @jimpknight.


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