Posted on behalf of James Massey – Educational Consultant, Discovery Education.
I was asked recently to define my role as an Educational Consultant for Discovery Education. After a moment’s pause, I explained the facets of the role and life went on. Afterwards, I thought about all the other elements I could have mentioned and considered the number of ways I could have answered the same question.
I then thought back to when I was a full-time class teacher? The Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is a person who ‘Imparts knowledge to or instructs (someone) as to how to do something’. The first thing that surprised me was that the definition didn’t fill a whole page!
The fact is, the role of a teacher is a never ending to-do list which involves many different guises:
- Teacher (AKA ‘imparter of knowledge’)
- Project manager
- First aider
- Riot police
- Behaviour analyst
- Crime Scene Investigator
We don’t do these jobs full time of course. However, we’ve all dabbled in most.
I then got to thinking about Computing Coordinators. I was an ICT coordinator in a past life and quickly realised that I needed to add to the above list:
- Tech support
- Photocopier repair specialist
- Cable untangling technician
- Login and password enabler
- Technophobe councillor
- Digital camera search and rescue team
It was certainly a big job. Not to mention all the curriculum planning across the school.
In what ways are digital technologies being used in the classroom and how does this affect the role of the Computing coordinator?
It’s fair to say that digital technologies are becoming less and less exclusive to discreet teaching practices. Just like the written word is not exclusive to literacy lessons. We now, more than ever, have pupils using digital devices and software in a number of subject areas for a number of different reasons. Quite right I’m sure you’ll agree.
This starts to splinter the coordination of this area into two distinct elements though. Teaching the skills needed to use digital technology successfully and using digital technology to facilitate learning. The latter can certainly become less about the tools and more about the relevant subject knowledge, which is where a good coordinator can really come into their own; or others come a little unstuck. Either way, these are two mammoth tasks in themselves.
The job of coordinating this digital movement across subject areas tends to be bigger than any one person now and the responsibility needs to be distributed. I speak to a large number of coordinators who feel quite overwhelmed by the implementation of the new computing curriculum, particularly the elements of coding which have cross-curricular themes. For this reason, coordinators are even having an identity crisis around what to call themselves. I’ve heard the title of ICT or Computing coordinator, Digital Director and Technology administrator amongst other more creative attempts!
What are the main challenges when implementing digital technology?
The main stumbling block when implementing digital technology and/or the new computing curriculum generally revolves around the different levels of ability within the school. It’s as much about winning hearts and minds as it is up-skilling teaching colleagues. Take coding as a large example. Teachers are being flung into an educational wilderness which is filled with great possibilities, but just as many pitfalls. Some teachers have never written a line of code before and previously thought debugging was something you did with a nit comb. Others have been programming computers for fun from an early age. With such a large efficacy gap, any hope of properly implementing this important aspect of the curriculum will drag its heals for too many terms.
A survey carried out by Computing at School and Microsoft (Published on Jan 13, 2015) revealed that almost three quarters (73%) of teachers feel confident delivering the new computing curriculum, although many still lack confidence in certain areas such as creating and debugging computer programmes along with computer coding. Pupils also thought along the same lines, with nearly half (47%) of young people aged 9-16 years claiming that their teachers needed more training. 41% actually admitted to regularly helping their teachers use technology. The positive aspect is that after that first Autumn term of teaching the computing curriculum, 69% surveyed said they enjoyed teaching computing. However, 81% called for more training, development and learning materials. Changes in the curriculum since Sept 2014 are making pupils not just consumers, but creators. Where it was enough for them to just be in the driving seat with ICT, they now need to be the mechanic and engineer with computing. This is a real shift in approach and so teachers need to think differently.
How can schools overcome these stumbling blocks?
Any successful and sustained solution has to involve all the stakeholders pushing in the same direction. This messaging has to come, not just from the coordinator, but from different levels within the school, including student groups. The most successful implementations I have seen have always been collaboratively driven, not just directed from a lone person’s enthusiasm for change.
As with any digital technology implementation strategy, the infrastructure has to first be in place. If we are wanting 30+ pupils on tablets at any one time, we need to have the broadband width and devices set up to make sure this is seamless. Teachers will not appreciate the extra behaviour management that comes with unreliable tools in class. Access to devices and services needs to be as hassle free as possible. Otherwise you face an up swell of naysayers.
There will always be lost passwords and usernames so having a reporting system which addresses this quickly is imperative. The sooner teachers can flag this and have it dealt with the better. If you’re locked out of your bank account and can’t get money, you won’t wait a few days to let the bank know. It should be the same with anything that is successfully supporting teaching and learning on a daily basis.
Teachers need to then see the value of change. This is about observations that demonstrate this approach and how engaging and relevant it is to pupils in class. Whether this is done in house or externally is dependent on the level of current practice. What is important is that everyone is invested in the journey of teaching coding or using digital technology and can see what is truly possible within their school.
What are the next steps?
The next step has to be a continual cycle of professional development. This gives a great opportunity to not only provide the pedagogical knowledge required for everyone involved, it also gives a moment for teachers to network and discuss successes and challenges they have encountered. This is about growing a cohesive environment of shared good practice. If it is a non-starter to get everyone together for PD on a regular basis, a lot of schools go down the route of appointing a number of digital leaders who support the curriculum at different stages. The best PD can even involve technicians so they can see what teachers are trying to achieve and offer real support through understanding.
The point is that we need to consider what we are now asking of our coordinators and think about how we can move forward strategically with the new computing curriculum and digital technology implementation. In order for this to be a real success, we need to look at avenues that will support the school over a long term. The odd Inset training session will not have a lasting impact. It would be a massive shame if we did not grab this opportunity and run with it for the sake of our pupils now; not for pupils in a year or two.
James Massey- Educational Consultant for Discovery Education
With a Masters degree in Educational Studies, and a passion for 21st century learning, James has worked in a range of teaching establishments in the UK, and also taught for a short period in France, learning different cultural approaches to classroom practices. James held the position of Head of Year 6 at a large school in London, and was successful in driving up the overall exam results. His senior management experience has allowed for the development and sound understanding of the rigours of school improvement and an insight into the interconnected roles of staff, pupils, parents and the wider school community. James has 14 years’ experience working closely with schools on a 1:1 basis to improve the use of digital technology in classrooms and delivering effective and relevant professional development.