Life in a digital classroom

Since 2014, Bede Community Primary School in Gateshead has been working with Samsung’s Digital Classroom programme, receiving a full suite of classroom technology and training support. As the programme comes to an end, Key Stage 2 teacher Andrew Riley assesses whether a digital classroom really does have a major positive impact on teaching and learning.

Who would have thought, just ten years ago, that the nurses you see in hospital would log your notes on tablets, or that staff in restaurants would be taking orders on smartphones? The overwhelming majority of workers in this country, if they studied ICT, would have worked on clunky desktop computers at school to develop their skills.

And so it stands to reason that the children we teach will themselves engage with unforeseen technologies in their futures. So is there any point in filling their classrooms with equipment that could belong in antiquity by the time they reach their twenties?

In short, yes. Quality technological provision is a huge challenge with the funding squeezes upon schools, but evidence from my classroom strongly suggests that it is an investment worth making. The Samsung Digital Classroom project approached my school in 2014 with an offer so outrageous that it seemed too good to be true. A whole class provided with their own tablets, Chromebooks and a smart screen so enormous that it could illuminate the street. Our brief was to explore how the equipment could impact upon pupils from an incredibly deprived background. Year 6 would be the targeted children. A great year group for trying a new way of teaching, yes?

Research pays
Many of the stories and case studies I’d read of technology in the classroom, particularly about tablet use, hadn’t filled me with enthusiasm. Often, the best work seemed to happen in schools far removed from the social context of my pupils. But with the provision we had, I spent a six week holiday investing an enormous amount of time in researching and trying out apps. I’d always considered myself tech-savvy, but there was a whole new world out there when I started treating technology as a tool, not a toy.

By knowing my way around different apps, methods and possibilities, we could get going immediately. Children loved the chance to take responsibility for something – even those who already had tablets at home – and we are, incredibly, still awaiting a broken screen. Having their own Google accounts, which I can control, introduced e-safety immediately: vital for modern children.

Investing my time in exploring apps led to a rapid increase in pace and intensity. I knew which apps could extend each child during lessons, delivering more than a ‘getting on with’ activity. It is a funny feeling to see children convinced that they’ve got one over on you to finish their work and recap fraction equivalents or practise reading skills.

Promotion collaboration
Children from deprived backgrounds are more likely to have communication and language issues from entry into school. Being able to record voice, images and annotations on apps, and review them, often provides my pupils with something they’re not proud of at first. But by collaborating with each other, seeking technical language and competing to show what they know, every pupil in my class is always keen for their work to be shared on the big screen via Google Classroom. It gives a new impetus to learn and promotes confidence in the quality of their work through this medium.

And then we come to results. The first cohort to use the technology were challenged by our local authority to exceed 40 per cent meeting national expectations. They ended up at over 80 per cent, with 100 per cent achieving the national average or better in reading.

Last year, when we expected armageddon with the new tests, a cohort with even lower KS1 results ended up leaving Y6 with 75 per cent at the ‘expected standard.’ Those children worked phenomenally hard. I worked phenomenally hard. But the technology, literally at their fingertips, played a huge role in delivering that progress.

Winning over leaders
The people to win over when it comes to using technology successfully are not your pupils. It’s the school leaders who hear that tablets are great, so buy half a dozen in a two form entry school. It’s the support technicians constantly being called out to deal with security and connectivity issues on a creaking infrastructure built for Windows 95 and 1mb broadband. Your senior leaders need to be shown how incredible lessons can be, invited in and made to sit with children. Make them scan that QR code on the wall and see how children can independently solve their own problems. The technicians need to be made cups of tea and allowed to talk: these people always have skills beyond plugging a USB lead back into an interactive board, which they will share with you.

Finally, don’t tie yourself down to one form of technology in school. Embrace digital pluralism. In the future, we don’t want nurses who can’t log notes because Android is different to iOS, or a waiter who confuses ‘send’ with ‘off’ because he’s used to a different brand of device to order on.

Yes, technology is an expensive thing to explain to governors. Yes, it takes a huge investment of time for classroom teachers. And yes, it can be an immense headache when trying to deploy new apps and programmes. But the confidence, ability and growth which I’ve seen in children over the past couple of years tells me that every penny and minute would have been wisely invested.

Samsung Digital Classroom
Samsung’s Digital Classroom has been a three-year project designed to explore the impact technology can have on teaching and learning. As part of Samsung’s commitment to help close the digital skills gap in the UK, Samsung wanted to encourage the development of digital skills from an early age by enabling access to vital technology for some of the most disadvantaged learners in the UK.

Working with 15 primary schools in underprivileged circumstances around the UK, Samsung provided a full suite of classroom technology and technical support to create a dynamic and motivational learning environment.

A rigorous research and evaluation programme enabled monitoring of the impact within the classroom and beyond.

Feedback from the schools participating in the programme reveals that pupils demonstrated high engagement with lessons, were more motivated and showed marked improvement in grade attainment.

Results from the programme also revealed that teacher confidence also improved and teaching practices changed over time, with children increasingly able to work independently and collaboratively

89 per cent of pupils that took part believe that the equipment helped them to learn new digital skills, with 81 per cent now finding it easier to do a variety of tasks on computers and 79 per cent saying they work better with their classmates

The programme showed that pupils confidence increased, with nearly nine in 10 (88 per cent) saying they felt more equipped for their next academic years of study.

What’s more, over half (57 per cent) are writing code more frequently and are finding it easier to write code on a computer or tablet, compared to 28 per cent at the start of the year.

Apps and safety
83 per cent of the pupils that took part now find using apps an effective and easy way to learn new things, compared to 64 per cent at the start of the year.

Knowledge of online safety has also improved, with 80 per cent of pupils now more aware of how to stay safe on the internet, compared to 60 per cent at the start of the year

Over four-fifths (82 per cent) find a computer or tablet helpful when working with other students in a team, compared to 70 per cent at the start of the year.

The Digital Classroom also had a disproportionality positive effect on children who needed extra support and motivation. Teachers reported that the Digital Classroom increased flexibility, gave them the capacity to differentiate learning and made lessons far more inclusive.

The full Samsung Digital Classroom impact report is available here:

Further information