How mobile tech is transforming education

Mobile and connected technology is playing an increasingly important role in teaching. Mary Palmer, director of Techknowledge for Schools, shares the charity’s recent findings and examples from the heart of the digital classroom.

It’s well documented that the use of tablets and other mobile devices in lessons emphasises and develops collaboration skills. Most teachers cite this as the greatest benefit alongside speed of research. Pupils can lead their own learning through independent research by working in groups to solve problems and present solutions.

Collaboration is encouraged and accepted as a way of discovering answers, asking peers for support or feedback and sharing findings with the group and the teacher. Our ‘Transforming Learning’ research looks even further beyond these benefits to analyse with teachers and pupils how new flipped, challenge‑based and blended learning methods compare with more traditional methods.

Tablets in the Classroom
Emma Beamish teaches English at Longfield Academy in Dartford, where iPads are embedded in teaching and learning and have been in use on a one-to-one basis since 2011. Emma believes that mobile technology can break down multiple barriers to literacy and learning for students.

She said: “If you want students to ‘own’ their learning, if you want them to learn to study independently and if you want to inspire creativity, then give them a personal device that crosses the boundaries between gaming and study, pleasure and work. It fits with students’ lifestyles and abilities and they already have this technology in their pocket.”
In other research by the charity, volumes of ‘tablet use’ best practice have been uncovered for every type of subject. Longfield Academy introduced personal devices as far back as 2011 because they believed it would support anytime, anywhere learning and enable independent research and problem-solving. Teachers there use Google Apps for teacher-pupil-parent emails and document sharing and, in order to maintain enthusiasm among pupils, there are IT champions who run an iBar during break times. Pupils share and collaborate there with teachers, showing them useful applications and ways to use mobile devices for learning.

Emma explains why she’s a fan of using technology to teach English: “The first thing I’d mention is speed. If you’re researching themes in a Shakespeare play, then instead of spending five hours in the library to find all the references to those themes, you can find them in five minutes and spend those hours analysing them – a far better use of time. The same if you want to compare ‘1984’ to ‘Brighton Rock’ – in seconds you can find 12 different newspaper articles with incredibly useful comparison material.

“Working this way simply reflects the growth of constant multitasking in the real world. It’s integral to the working world that pupils will face and we’re simply helping to shape the way they learn to do it. It’s not the tech that’s teaching the pupils. You still need a human to understand how humans learn. Education is about enabling progress, and I know that technology is enabling me to individualise pupil progress more easily.”

Teacher Training
Longfield prepared itself for the introduction of mobile devices for a whole year (wi‑fi, broadband, IT infrastructure) and offered professional development to all staff before the tablets were deployed, during the period of transition, and since deployment. The training was organised both internally and externally and focused on technical advice but mostly on supporting staff in using the tablets in lessons.

Emma believes it needn’t be intimidating: “The thing about technology is that different teachers can hook onto different ideas and apps and play to the strengths of the pupils.  As for teacher confidence and training, it’s not all ‘out there’ somewhere, the knowledge about mobile tech, it’s with us, all the time, on our own devices. We need to familiarise ourselves.

“For language-based subjects, any device that can manipulate language is useful. Learning becomes more interesting. Clicking and interacting to drag words into a different order to demonstrate grammatical points, selecting alternative words and phrases in an instant – it’s all a way of making learning fun. Teaching in this way immediately breaks down barriers between the text and the pupil. For children with special needs, it’s incredibly useful to be able to change font type, size and colour to enable them to view text differently.

“Using technology in class increases a teacher’s ability to be flexible. Marking is a lot quicker and marks can be notated for the pupil’s benefit and for further discussion and shared with parents. It also forces you to prepare your lessons better, with slideshows and signposts that create a journey for the pupils. Eventually we should all be in a position where no-one is re-inventing the wheel any more in preparing their classes.”

Modern Foreign Languages
In Modern Foreign Languages, the possibilities are endless compared to a generation ago. Stewart Dearsley at Longfield, who has been teaching for over 20 years, now uses a range of ‘fantastic’ foreign language apps, but is realistic about their role.

He says: “Using mobile technology is an addendum to learning, a useful enhancement, but it doesn’t change what or how I teach. You still need, as you always did, a teacher who circulates, who can communicate in foreign language and who can get the pupils to do the same. The most useful websites are Linguascope, Zut and Oye! For vocab, Languages Online (free to use and enables pupils to work at their own pace) and Kahoot!, which is great for quizzes  and assessment for learning - one of the best ways to engage pupils in language learning. The flashcards app (Chegg) is also good. You type in your text in English or French and the app can be set to your chosen language, where a native speaker speaks the words back to you.

“In terms of sharing progress and discoveries with other teachers and parents, Google+, Google Drive and Google Classroom are great tools. In Google drive it is possible to create an area for teachers to share resources. For pupils, Google Classroom means that each class and the parents of the students in that class may have a private ID for accessing recent work.”

Aurelie Charles, who also teaches French and Spanish at Longfield, is a huge mobile tech enthusiast and happily trains and guides other teachers, within and outside of the school. Google Docs and Google Classroom (for sharing and assessing work) feature heavily in her teaching, as do YakitKids, iMovie, Google education products and various apps for iPad.

Aurelie says: “Pupils prepare their conversations as comic strips. It only takes a few minutes to turn that into an iMovie. Most pupils prefer to learn that way. The important thing is to have a clear purpose when using technology to teach. Our Year 9 and 10 pupils are twinned with schools in Spain and France through eTwinning and they love sharing classwork and conversation with native speakers at the press of a button.

“The role of the teacher hasn’t changed. We still have to guide them, but this way we’re tapping into their curiosity and IT skills and allowing them to present back to the class using multimedia tools that are already a regular part of their lives now.”

Flipped Learning
Flipped learning, the pedagogic approach where students learn new content online by watching video lectures, reviewing presentations or conducting research, is increasingly common in schools who rolled out school-wide tablets a couple of years ago. What used to be homework is instead done in class, with the teacher offering more personalised guidance and interaction with students instead of lecturing.

Flipped lessons also re-distribute a teacher’s workload. Teachers spend more time preparing lessons, but the lessons themselves are less labour-intensive. The teacher is free to walk around the classroom and offer support. For a student strong at maths but who struggles to write because of dyslexia, using devices in this way is invaluable. It allows a student to record videos explaining how they solve equations, in place of written answers.

Tim Cross, head of Learning Technology at Leigh Academies Trust (to which Longfield Academy belongs) suggests: “Flipped learning forces you to change pedagogy, but it’s worth it. Yes, staff still needs guidance in using the tools, but again, it’s worth it. When it’s done well, it is like splitting yourself 30 times into 50 minutes. There’s a huge advantage to setting pre-learning and homework before class even begins. Students have already engaged and therefore see the value in the class content and the teacher knows who is prepared and who isn’t.”

Tony Ryan, head of Chiswick School, is a staunch supporter of one-to-one tablet use. He estimates that the process of introducing one-to-one iPad Minis to his pupils took approximately two years in all. The first year was spent installing a new IT infrastructure (servers, wiring, switches and wi-fi). Preparing teachers, pupils and parents for the proposed changes came later. The school introduced the tablets one year group at a time.

A Variety of Resources
Now, Chiswick School students create eChemistry books, go on Knowledge Quests, explore world cultures online and record and analyse their own PE performance using tablets and a popular app called Coach’s Eye. The entire Year 8 music curriculum is being digitised by ‘digital champion’ and teacher Renaldo Lawrence. Tony Ryan is also a fan of methods such as flipped and blended learning.

He said: “Our maths provision is one of the best examples of flipped learning. Teachers create a video (via an app called Educreation that transform tablets into a recordable whiteboard) featuring sixth-form maths students sharing what they wish they’d known about maths in Year 9 and how they’d have done things differently if they had understood certain aspects of the curriculum better. We show this video to our Year 9 students and it really works.”

As with all mobile technology and new pedagogical models emerging, teacher guidance and training is paramount. The most effective CPD often takes place in informal ways within departments, with teachers co-creating and sharing resources.

Ryan summarises: “We have to help teachers keep on top of all that technology can offer, because it’s making a huge difference on many levels. I choose to invest in this and for other schools weighing up the balance of where to invest, I’d say it’s about priorities. We embrace digital technology at Chiswick School because I genuinely believe it’s making a difference.”

He’s backed by José Picardo, assistant principal at Surbiton High School: “School‑wide implementation still risks monumental failure if all resources are spent on infrastructure and hardware and hardly any on the issue of training staff and pupils. Where one‑to‑one tablet use is concerned, success or failure will be measured by how well the new technology is integrated into the daily business of teaching and learning.

“Time, effort and money need to be spent on establishing a vision for the project and providing the necessary, frequent and ongoing training opportunities.”

Further Information