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STOP GETTING I.T. WRONG is a comprehensive collection of musings, whinges and strategies about the successful use of digital technology in any classroom at any level.
If you have any interest in doing modern teaching properly then this is for you.
This book is a work born out of frustration, and an almost insatiable passion for sharing best practice with the wider learning community.
It collects the best practice of over seven years in teaching with Computers and Digital technology day-to-day by a genuinely passionate teacher.
Click on the links below to read sample chapters from the book.
I teach ICT and Computing, in each case I tend to be either using the computers to teach or teaching students how to use the computers. Each have very distinct techniques and short-cuts that can lead to a fantastic outcome, but all too often teachers that don't specifically teach my subjects will use the Tech in the most horrible and absurd way to not-Teach in what looks like a Teacherly way.
You've seen this happen and I'll wager that, come the end of a term, approaching a holiday or on a Friday afternoon that any spaces in your IT suites are booked out long in advance by the teachers that really just fancy a bit of an easy ride up until the end. You've walked past these lessons with a teacher sat at the front of the room amazed that a room full of students can use the Internet. Wow. I mean, call me crazy but I've got a four-year-old nephew who, before he could read, could easily navigate the CBeebies website and play all the games he wanted. I think students can probably use the Internet by now. In any level of schooling an activity that involves students using so little of their skillset that they don't seem challenged by it is a waste of time. Watching groups of students use Google translate to complete a 'Things I like in Spanish' presentation is something that has genuinely given me cause for concern. Here are a few examples of what not to do.
Right. For a start, let's call a spade a spade. What you're doing is the 21st century equivalent of 'Copy off the board and attempt the questions' - there's nothing interesting or exciting about it. Be honest with yourself, when those same students that have spent the equivalent of five hours constant work start showing you their presentations by reading some copy-and-pasted text off the board, filled with in-jokes and weird memes you must know that you are failing as an educator.
'Do a PowerPoint' is, to me, the start of a lesson that the students know they can mess around in and spend more time honing their ability to move some images around in a vaguely humorous way than to spend the time creating content that is extending their learning in your subject.
I've seen every kind of 'do a PowerPoint' lesson, from Members of your family in Spanish (4 hours - an hour per family member in most cases), to the history of Germany (always predominantly about the Nazi's, even though they don't define the modern Germany in the least, but hey - they were in Raiders so that's cool right?) and even to the wondrous 'create a mood board for making your clock' - a fantastic ten lessons of students Googling the word 'clock' and seeing how accidentally they could miss the L out of the search. Honestly. These are pants. They waste the time of the students; they waste your time and, frankly - I'd rather sit in my classroom on my own than have to tech support your lazy lesson.
No siree. In fact I'd go a step further and say this; the kids are sick to the back teeth of PowerPoint, so let's mix it up a little bit and use the truer term of 'create a presentation', allowing the student to choose the medium of choice and constructing an innovative way of presenting the information. In the UK this is one of the key strands of the ICT National curriculum and makes a lot more sense educationally speaking, the students ability to present information in a variety of different and exciting ways means that they pick the best tool for the job at hand and don't bring a biro to a knife fight.
Second point: Students speak Google as if it was a native language. Don't let a single one of your students pretend that they can't find anything - they can and they have. Those clever chaps at the Googleplex (real place, fact fans!) have spent a lot of time and energy in creating a search algorithm that even the lowest common denominator can use to find the information they are looking for.
If anything, the students struggle with their ability to engage with the information presented and make sense of it. These are higher order skills, things that need to be taught and assessed - here's an idea, why not take the time to set these tasks, teach the skills of information synthesis and use that lesson to work on a learning skill that'll support the student for the rest of their lives rather than having a little break from teaching the week before Christmas?
The beauty of this is that this will freak them out enough to actually learn something new. You will feel like a real teacher again and not someone just recapping the same old same old.
Wait. I hear some protests, the sound of 'My Tech skills are limited' and 'frankly the students know more than me'.
Let's address these fallacies as the same point: so what if the student seems better able to use the Tech than you. They will! They will definitely seem to be able to use it better than you because they have grown up knowing nothing else.
Watching my nephew navigate YouTube on my iPad - without ever having used one before - led me to understand this. The metaphors of modern technology are embedded in their understanding of the world so, yes, they will be able to do fancier things with the software than you can but, ask yourself this, are you aiming to teach these student how to use the software or are you asking them to use the software in a way to support the learning of a concept you are trying to engage them in?
The equivalent of moaning that you can't help the students because your computer skills are not great would be akin to someone complaining that they can't help little Cuthbert with his Latin homework as his penmanship is just so much better than yours.
Stop being freaked out about the medium in which they are learning, they understand the medium better than you do so they can sort out their own problems (or at least your class nerd will - find them and adopt them as your own instant tech support) - you are assessing, facilitating and teaching them the concept of your subject in a new-fangled way.
You can dictate new terms, make sure you're clear that the point of the exercise is to take the wealth of information from the Internet and produce a workable summary. Make sure you address the concept of a 'presentation' that involves you talking about style - show something by Steve Jobs and demonstrate how a great presentation can lead to a killer understanding of what the bloody thing is. No one has ever sold things in the numbers Apple do by reading the bullet points off the screen.
Make sure they know that teachers are the worst examples of the use of PowerPoint ever seen in the known world! We make slides that are far too verbose because we know half of them are not paying total attention, we know we need to cover every part of the syllabus and we've got the security blanket of every bit of the syllabus being available to us on the board and finally, yes, we're lazy! Who want's to be practicing for hours every night from a script when I just stick all my content on the board?
Maybe we need to rethink the way we teach with PowerPoint as well.
So lets never see a 'make a PowerPoint' lesson again.
Filtering your Internet connection at your school is a bit like the boy with his finger in the dam, you only have so many appendages to stick in those holes before the entire system collapses around you.
Okay, so maybe that's a poor analogy. I'm a Computer teacher not an English teacher, come on! But the point is there; If you start down the road of blocking content then at some point you'll be spending more time blocking, trying to get around blocks and unblocking content that it will become tiresome to even use the Internet. Your classroom will begin to resemble East Berlin during the Eighties.
So you start of with great intentions, you don't want your students to be able to access Porn, fair enough, we have legal obligations in this area, yada yada yada. But it doesn't end there, because next you're talking about racism, you block that, sexism, that too, and all these things that seem like a good idea to block start building up.
Pretty soon you're having conversations like, "Why do the students even need access to shopping websites?" and "Facebook needs to be blocked, my students are posting comments about me in my lessons!" This grows exponentially out of control until you find that, actually, most of the Internet has been blocked. It no longer reflects the real world that you are trying to teach them about because their online experience is utter pants. Trying to set a lesson up around morality comes a cropper because you've banned the searching for anything that might cause debate. Lessons start falling apart because in order to use the Internet you have to apply to get things unfiltered months in advance.
It stops you being able to turn the lesson around in a heartbeat, to go with the flow and lead the learning down an unplanned avenue, because you cannot guarantee that what you want to find out about it available to you.
It limits the potential of the students who are not able to use the same tools they would use at any other point. Learning how to use software, for example, is fantastically easy thanks to the plethora of walkthroughs on YouTube… if that's blocked for students then they're not experiencing the thrill of learning as you would in the real world and therefore the skills they are attaining are really just not relevant. It's also worth noting that the noble intention of filtering cannot ever be met by software alone because it's fallible. They do not block everything and in most cases block perfectly innocent content 'just in case'.
Every school I've ever worked in feels like it's under siege from the student body as they try their best to get around a draconian filtering policy, no matter how that policy is enforced or how 'hands off' it is. The truth is this: if you filter your students Internet connection for any reason you are blocking them for experiencing the real world. From learning in real terms, from using all the tools at their disposal. Frankly it's ludicrous that we'd do this.
We're not mainland China people, we're schools, where we're meant to set the students up for the real world. Where your connection is completely unfiltered.
The first of these concepts that has an impact is that of 'bring your own device' or BYOD. It pretty much does what it says on the tin, allowing anyone to bring any device they want to use into the school network environment and, well, use it.
I'm sure you're already imagining the power and potential of such a concept: Students generally have hundreds of pounds worth of computing equipment about their person, computing equipment that they use regularly and for long periods of time, computing equipment that they are experts at using to achieve end results.
Letting them bring that into the school means that there are no overheads with teaching new technology; you say jump and the students say how high. In many ways this is true, you get the students with tech in their hands where before there was none, you get an immediate buy in from the students because as well as using their devices for work they can do a little bit of sneaky web browsing.
Genuinely the BYOD movement benefits the institution in a myriad of ways, adding thousand of pounds of tech to the useable list in a school for free is a no brainer, it also massively reduces support for our techies as they have no commitment to supporting external devices other than getting it onto the Wi-Fi. We're doing all our safeguarding and due diligence by running that Internet connection through our servers to clean out most of the really dodgy stuff and hey presto - students can learn digitally.
What do they have to learn with?
Ah, well this is where it starts to fall down a little bit because the only thing we can be sure of is that they have a device with some electrics in it. We can take a pretty good punt on the fact that they may have a web browser of some kind and a way of entering and saving text, but that's as far as it goes. You can't even assume they have a camera, let alone a video camera and a way of editing and preparing video. What this means is that whilst you can rely on this to improve your classroom allocation from nil to some, it is not a sustainable model that you can use to try all the things in this book and is certainly not something you can rely on for day-to-day teaching and learning.
It's certainly better than nothing and it does mean that research skills should be at the fingertips of every student, making it very easy to take a learning detour and start unprepared research and learning on any number of subjects.
You cannot plan because there is no consistency. You cannot just ‘use an app’ or even expect the students to be able to install or use apps.
There is also a somewhat distasteful undertone to this entire endeavour, and its something that most left-leaning teachers feel strongly, that the socio-economic inequality we see from families in our schools is then reflected in the quality and ability of their devices. I've made some kind of peace with this having worked in schools where this practice is encouraged as well as where they are 'banned', and honestly these students will bring their devices with them regardless.
In not working with this tech you can lose out on a valuable resource that can bring the power of Google to even the poorest, most ill equipped classroom, don't let the perceived social injustice blind you to that fact.
Do make sure that your policies are clear when instituting BYOD, the learners and stakeholders need to be one-hundred-percent confident that they know why they are being used, where and when they are acceptable and what in blazes your institution is responsible for in regards to the devices. Running BYOD without these policies worked out in advance can lead to your techies being mugged to support every smart phone under the sun and can lead to unrealistic concepts being bandied by stakeholders such as the responsibility for the staff of the data on the device.
Again, this is a problem, students using devices on our network could introduce a virus at worse or accidentally reveal their stash of dodgy images, in all of these cases there needs to be a policy decision made about who is responsible for that and what the sanctions are. In all cases with BYOD I would strongly recommend that you work on developing your students as resilient, independent learners and make sure they have some responsibility in this, making them the party responsible for content they introduce to your networking setup and ensuring your techies have some way to track this back would go some way to enforcing this.
In most cases I would advice a BYOD policy as an added extra to any current initiatives that are in place to get this digital tech into the hands of the learners, because if we leave it as the sole method of tech usage then us teachers cannot plan a single thing with them. Consistency means a lot in the world of planning for education.
David Morgan is a moderately internet-famous teacher who excels at pedagogy and everything digital. With seven years experience of teaching with digital technology day-in day-out he is uniquely placed to talk about the frustrations of teaching with technology in a world that doesn’t fully understand its potential.
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