Our school director, Oliver, is pretty tech savvy. He even has qualifications in computers and stuff. Of the two directors, his responsibilities are academic direction and ICT (as well as being the director). We share an office and together sit for hours figuring stuff out that will help the teachers and students. We either start with no goal and figure out ways of using tech to meet our needs , or we start will a wish list and find tech to fit that.
Way back when I was a lecturer in Innsbruck, I started preparing my first lectures. I noticed the room I would be teaching in was a PC lab with a projector. Seemed very logical to prepare my lesson as a PowerPoint presentation and the upload it to Blackboard
for the students to view and interact with afterwards. It just seemed obvious, but I was one of only 2 or 3 lecturers in the department to do this. It wasn’t even about using the technology for me – it was about lesson content and making it accessible for students, simple as that.
Years later and we were debating what ICT stuff to use in our school here. I thought about it and despite being one of the only ones in my team back then to use the IWB approach, I was against buying 15 (at great cost) for Swan. I had observed people getting it very wrong, and had an inkling there was something smarter we could be doing.
The history was this – we used to have a huge PC lab for teachers to book as a classroom, and which used to have students queuing around the corridors during the break. We had one IWB, and tried to keep that classroom free for teachers to book if they needed it. They didn’t. Well, one or two used it just for the internet (to show YouTube clips, or newspaper headlines, for example). We got high profile trainers in, and still teachers just taught. Without using any tech back-up other than a CD player. At the other end of the scale, one or two (no longer with us) teachers really used the ICT available. To the extent they were hiding poor lesson content behind it. It looked flash, but were the students really learning anything?
So, we listened to what this was telling us. And watched. Because something big was about to happen. Students stopped queuing at our PC lab during their breaks as smartphones and wireless slowly at first then quite quickly took over the world.
Oliver and I created a mental wish-list of what we wanted that technology to do and how we could make that work in the classroom. We wanted all of our audio CDs accessible wirelessly (no more CDs going missing – they cost a fortune!). We wanted wi-fi used by teachers and students to support what they were learning. We wanted our students to feel connected once class was over, or if they missed a class, or when they finished at the school. We asked around and tried a few things out, but here’s the thing; everyone had an opinion and systems which look and sound flashy and impressive, but we knew they just would not work in the classroom. The technology would take over, replacing the teacher and even the student (we place a high emphasis on student input here at Swan). Or the systems would be prohibitively expensive. Or require teachers to take a year off to train (teachers, for those of you who don’t know, are incredibly busy – each 4 hour class can take up to 4 hours prep and correcting).
I put the word out to the Twitter crowd, people like Nicky and Gavin
are great with this line of thinking (I particularly liked Nicky’s article in English Teaching Progessional from January), and Nik Peachey
offers some incredible insights (look at this!
). In discussions with the Twitter crowd, there was a consensus that classrooms can be interactive and take advantage of technology using tablets and wi-fi – meaning minimal training, approachable technology and an affordable investment. I liked this, and used this as the foundation of our tech approach. With this sound advice in mind, here’s what we did:
- We made all of our audio files and DVDs available to our teachers and student via Plex – looks very impressive, more easily searchable and you can easily bring in listening tasks from other language levels.
- We bought a class set of tablets – teachers can take one or the whole set. Some students prefer just to use their phone, which is ok too.
- We bought Smartboards – basically just a big TV with a touch screen, so you can write on it just like a whiteboard, then save what you have done and send it to students. Very very easy and requires about 5 minutes of training (I know coz that’s what I had!).
And that’s just the start. There is a lot more we can do with the technology we have invested in, but that’s not the point. We have decided to take the approach so succinctly stated here by Nik:
We have created a tech friendly environment which has pathways in place enabling teachers and students to use technology. If they want. If they feel comfortable, for now, just using the technology as a whiteboard, then that’s fine by us. If they want to use some of the nifty apps we have installed, that’s great too. If the teacher isn’t great with ICT but the students are, and they want to take over every now and again doing a full-scale web project and fancy presentation, fantastic.
We have lesson swap sessions using the Smartboard, where the teachers can show off what they have figured out without having been told to. We have a shared server where teachers can save their lessons and share with the rest of the team.
But it’s the lesson content and the students’ learner autonomy which are still at the centre of the Swan classroom. Everything else is there to support that, and not be at the forefront of the classroom. That’s where the students are.