July 2013


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    Changes to how teacher performance is rewarded present some complex challenges and appraisers will need to tread carefully. Ensuring objectives are linked to impact is essential, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Mobile generation
    Rather than banning mobiles, some schools are now designing lessons around the technology in young people’s pockets. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • Race to the top
    The reasons as to why so few black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers achieve promotion to headship are easy to understand yet difficult to solve, but a new study shows that targeted training programmes do have an impact. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Focus on change
    Change is a given in a turbulent world but not everyone will readily accept the need for it or will act on your plans for it. John Bennett offers some insights into how to overcome resistance and make change happen. More
  • Growth industry
    A professional development programme developed by teachers, has helped turn around the teaching and learning standards of one school, as Sharon Simpson and Louisa Gooch explain. More
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Rather than banning mobiles, some schools are now designing lessons around the technology in young people’s pockets. Liz Lightfoot reports.

Mobile generation

Mobile phones to the ready, let the lesson begin! It’s an unusual instruction but one that is increasingly familiar at The Ridgeway School and Sixth Form College in Swindon.

In May 2012, the school scrapped its ban on the use of mobile phones and replaced it with an acceptable use policy allowing student-owned devices to be used “solely for school based learning”.

The plan was to create a learning experience that fitted better with students’ lives outside of the school without the prohibitive cost of providing each one with an iPad or similar tablet device. Teachers were encouraged to design lessons, or parts of lessons, around the technology in the student's pocket rather than being reliant on what the school could afford to buy at a time of falling budgets. Because students knew how to use their own devices, they would concentrate on the learning rather than the technology.

It was hoped that the creative use of ICT would enhance the students’ learning experience and their exam results. It was also felt that students would find it easier to continue learning outside school when it was embedded on their devices.

The school was following the lead of companies that are increasingly using BYOD – bring your own device - says Grant Mitchell, the school's IT development manager. Instead of the expense of providing employees with technology, they are allowing them to access company information on their own phones and laptops.

The policy change would also tackle the limits put on the use of technology in class when it is confined to the teacher laptop and a whiteboard.

Concerns over misuse

Some teachers saw it as a risk, however. There were concerns that misuse of the phones would disrupt lessons and that the policy could embarrass students from families that could not afford the latest smartphones.

After years of seeing their children’s phones confiscated when used during the school day, parents were also taken aback by the policy change. Richard, a parent and governor, admits that surprise was his first reaction. “Was this further madness from education secretary Michael Gove or a temporary loss of sanity from the school leadership team?” Richard wondered.

“But then, as the idea and rationale was explained, it seemed only too sensible,” he says. “In times of the dreaded austerity why shouldn’t schools exploit access to IT that students already have and are familiar with – and in any event trying to hold back the inevitable synergy between the young and their mobiles for the whole school day must be considered the modern day equivalent of King Canute holding back the waves.”

A year on, the experiment seems to be going well, says Grant. “A step from no devices to use of devices under teacher direction is quite a big culture change for staff and it will take time for the changes to be embedded into schemes of work. It’s early days but we are further ahead with it than we thought we would be,” he says.

Would he have done anything differently, in hindsight? “The best advice is to make sure you meet other schools doing similar things early on in the process. We left it a bit late. It’s also very important to take along some non-IT specialists.”

It was left to individual teachers to decide if they wanted to build mobile internet use into their lessons. To encourage their use, school improvement group members were given an iPad to get them started. Some teachers quickly embraced the scheme, welcoming the ability to use the internet for part of a lesson without having to book an IT room for the whole of it. Others were more cautious, waiting to see how the students responded.

People tend to focus on mobile devices as a challenge for discipline when in fact it is the student behaviour that can be a problem, not the devices, says Grant. “We have a strong behaviour and learning code and the students know the consequences of breaking it. Of course, we find students going off task but it happens in any lesson and is pretty easy to spot.”

Encouraging students to share devices and to work in groups has tackled concern that making phone use part of lessons would disadvantage or embarrass students without smartphones. The school also has a number of iPads that can be handed out.

Self-imposed discipline

Enthusiast Matthew Webber, an English teacher, says that the students are so keen to use their phones in class that they impose discipline on themselves – and others they see going off task. “They want to show that they can use their phones responsibly because they know that it is an experiment and they want to make it work. They also know, of course, that if they break the rules their phones will be confiscated,” Matthew says.

The policy enables students to do research during lessons, such as finding instances of persuasive writing to analyse or descriptions of life in America during the Great Depression to provide context for John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

 “Sometimes I direct them to a particular site; sometimes they use Google to do their own research,” he says.

He also uses the school’s subscription to GCSEPod, a company providing 2,500 podcasts for GCSE learning and revision, written by teachers and built around exam board syllabuses. A reporting dashboard enables staff to monitor the podcasts viewed by students.

“I play one of the podcasts in class then ask questions about it so they can see how useful it can be. That way they are encouraged to use the podcasts themselves at home, or on the bus, learning to work independently,” says Matthew. 

Modern foreign language teacher Lauren Jackson uses an app called ‘Socrative’ to create quizzes. Students have different coloured rockets that are projected on to a whiteboard and that rise for right answers. “It has really motivated our students, especially the boys, and we can monitor their progress on Excel sheets,” she says.

It has also helped the staff to wean their students off internet translating sites as they can direct them instead to good online dictionaries, such as dict. leo.org, an English–German dictionary.

In drama, students can hand their phone to a friend to film their performance, with no danger of one student having footage of another. Apps such as ‘AirServer’ allow teachers to quickly stream material to a whiteboard.

Increased engagement

Science teacher Geoffrey Bowman has found students very comfortable working on smartphones and tablets and says it has increased their engagement in lessons. “It gives them confidence and is bringing out the children who are not usually forthcoming. They are more likely to contribute in class,” Geoffrey says.

The change in policy on mobile phones has also increased the use of online revision material at home or on the bus to school, he says. Three-quarters of the Year 9s logged into the school website to access the material in the run-up to internal Key Stage 3 SATs.

Fears that students would be spending their time on Facebook, texting one another, taking inappropriate photos or making inappropriate voice recordings have so far proved unfounded.

“Students feel they have been trusted and don’t want to abuse that trust. They don’t want to lose what they see as a privilege,” says Grant.

There are four key areas that schools and colleges need to think about prior to introducing new IT devices:

  • Ensure you have a long-term strategy by considering how you want learners and teachers to interact and use technology now and in the future.
  • Ensure that all teachers are trained in using new devices for learning and that they are clear about the expectations for how they will be used as part of lessons.
  • Ensure that your ICT usage policy is up to date and reflects the new technology.
  • Check that your wireless local area network (WLAN) is up to date and can cope with high demand, as wireless devices can slow your wireless network when multiple devices connect at once.

  • Liz Lightfoot is a freelance education writer.

GCSEPod is an ASCL preferred supplier and provides audio-visual podcasts to help students with their GCSE learning and revision. For more information, including exclusive member discounts, see www.gcsepod.co.uk or call 0191 2111 999.