The benefits of using technology in the classroom

Tom Crump, Education Programme Manager at Apple Solution Expert for Education, GBM and Sync, looks at the benefits of embracing technology in the classroom.

This year we may see national tech companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and Google, working together with the UK’s education system to ensure our graduates are future proofed against the rapidly changing demands of the modern workforce.

It’s not just the tech giants who should be offering these skills to education centres, with the government recently challenging the technology sector to use their expertise to revolutionise learning in schools, colleges and universities. Schools, colleges, universities and any other education centres, also need to be more open to embracing the use of technology in the classroom.

The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, highlighted five challenges facing the education sector that tech companies can support, including fostering greater access and inclusivity, by developing more effective assessment methods and reducing administration.

While innovation is always needed, there are many ways that schools can work with tech companies to deploy the technology currently available to them to meet these challenges.

Access for all

Technology is brilliant in its ability to break down barriers. This happens in many ways.

One of the schools GBM currently work with approached us as they had four computer suites which they found to be very expensive to maintain and access to the tech was limited. Not every class in a year group could be in the rooms at the same time.

In order to free up space and improve access, they have since switched to a scheme where every pupil can have access to their own iPad. This ensures that all pupils get equal access to technology all the time. Gone are the days that they would have weekly opportunities to utilise technology.

This not only saved the school the cost of having technicians to maintain the equipment, but also allowed these computer suites to be freed to be used as alternative spaces.

What’s more, technology is hugely beneficial for pupils who face challenges in their learning and enables the playing field to be levelled for those with SEN. For example, blind or partially sighted pupils can utilise tech which has inbuilt voice recognition, controls and screen descriptive tools, as well as being able to instantly adjust the size of text to suit.

It can also help pupils who may struggle to engage with physical textbooks. Lessons can be tailored based on each pupil’s learning style and ability, and pupils can be taken through the learning process step by step working at their own level.

While it might seem like a ready made opportunity for some pupils to go ‘off topic’, apps like Apple Classroom allow teachers to monitor students activity, locking iPad devices when a pupil’s’ full attention is required.

Schools across the UK are already deploying iPad devices to meet the different educational needs of pupils effectively and it is only with greater take up and increased access to technology that a level playing field can be achieved.

Effective assessment

Much has been said in the media in recent years about the increasing assessment of children and young people. Successive governments have reformed with the assessment and exam process, all with the goal of trying to create a system that effectively measures performance.

There are two types of assessment that are often implemented in schools in order to measure learning performance.

These are summative assessments, where pupils are assessed at the both the start and the end of a topic to evaluate what they have learned, and formative assessment, where students receive ongoing feedback throughout the topic, constantly checking their progress.

Although these types of assessments are both vital, they can cause added pressure for teachers. However, technology can enable the process to be much smoother and alleviate much of this stress.

Teachers can use technology to easily send projects and worksheets to students digitally. With their own technology, such as an iPad, teachers can take it home to mark and assess. They can also create a system that assesses on an individual basis, being able to give more direct, immediate and personalised feedback which can be speeded up with the likes of audio feedback.

Furthermore, online assessments can automatically and quickly produce data and patterns to help teachers identify where students may be struggling, allowing them to intervene with targeted support immediately, before the student’s education suffers. This type of information can also be used to ensure that lessons can be specifically tailored to the abilities and learning requirements of each pupil.

Working with technology can help build up the connection between teachers and parents, with parents not having to solely rely on parents evening in order to see their child’s work and learning progress. Parents can log in and see their child’s progress at any stage throughout the year. This helps to ensure pupils, parents and teachers are all on the same page throughout the academic year, and allows parents to assist with their children’s learning on an ongoing basis.

While technology is absolutely not a replacement for physical or written feedback, it is a great option for teachers to use as and when they feel most appropriate, with research showing that verbal feedback is more impactful than written feedback. This technology is widely available and already in place in many schools. However, moving to this form of assessment is not only impactful for students but can speed up and enhance the process for teachers.

Reducing administration

It goes without saying that any reduction in time spent on administration is beneficial for teachers and their pupils.

With greater availability of technology like the iPad, comes a reduction in the requirement for teachers to take home stacks of books to mark each evening. For some tasks, apps and programmes can automatically monitor student progress and send updates, without the need for manual review by a teacher. For more complex projects, work can easily be reviewed, annotated and feedback automatically sent to a student, all from an easy-to-transport device like a Mac or iPad, or even an iPhone.

Technology can also help greatly with the safeguarding of pupils. Whether it’s using an app to take the register, which makes the process of a potential fire drill much easier to control, to ensuring widespread awareness of someone’s food allergies. Other factors in relation to a pupil’s wellbeing can be documented and continuously monitored and checked over time without teachers having to go through all their paperwork to cross-check.

What’s more, with greater use of technology in classrooms, teachers can avoid the time spent in front of photocopiers and printers getting worksheets ready for class. This all frees up time for teachers to dedicate to pupil’s learning – allowing them to provide additional one-on-one support or develop more innovative and creative learning experiences.

Ongoing skills

While there may be some naysayers, it’s worth reiterating that introducing technology, like an iPad, into the classroom doesn’t just enable pupils to be skilled on using an iPad. With this system of learning comes plenty of transferable skills and lifelong learnings, and is essential that we prepare students with these skills early on. Learning through technology leads to individuals who are able to be independent, creative, inquisitive and able to present back and voice ideas themselves.

Schools need to allow students to learn in a way that reflects the modern world of work. Technology is the solution. Teaching students with technology is a much more effective way to ensure young people enter the world of work with the right skills and ready for the challenges they will face.

Schools that already embrace technology in classrooms have attested to a transformative impact on students. It’s hard to see why this approach shouldn’t be rolled out in more schools.

Meeting the challenges cost-effectively

If you want to start to use technology, whether it is an iPad subscription or a parental contribution, connectivity must be fast and reliable to ensure student and teacher buy in. If the network is slow and things are not working properly, students and teachers will not want to use the devices. So as well as the devices, it’s vital to make the sure the wider infrastructure is there.

While IT budgets can be a concern, as technology advances at pace, there are a host of cost-effective solutions to introduce devices like the iPad and the framework needed to support them into schools. This includes subscription and buy back options that allow schools to trade in their old tech and pay for new devices on a monthly basis, avoiding a one-off payment and providing ongoing support if any issues arise. What’s more these solutions allow schools to regularly trade in their devices for newer models, ensuring that students are always keeping pace with the latest developments.

Schools are also offering parents the opportunity to pay a nominal fee (£10 a month) over a period of years to buy their child’s device when they leave. This makes the devices sustainable and allows schools to reinvest the funds into infrastructure, other technologies and training.

Many schools are also using their pupil premium to fund the deployment of new technology into their classrooms. The premium is designed to facilitate extra support for pupils from low income or disadvantaged backgrounds. What better way to ensure the premium is used effectively to support as many pupils as possible than to give these students access to technology, something that’s proven to raise attainment across the board.