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Making ICT work for your school

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By Sue CranmerPrincipal Researcher, Futurelab

Sue Cranmer of Futurelab discusses the growing ‘generation gap’ between teachers’ and children’s confidence using ICT, and suggests ways to use ICT to inspire children

Computer suite

Background to ICT usage in schools

On the surface, information and communication technologies (ICTs) appear to be used well within primary schools.

As a result of the Government’s school ICT strategy during the 2000s, the ratio of children to computers in primary schools has gone from 107 children per computer in 1985 to around seven children per computer in 2008. Most classrooms are now equipped with interactive whiteboards and primary teachers are reported to be more technically confident and more likely to make regular use of ICT in their teaching than their secondary school counterparts.

Despite this situation, ICT use is far from perfect. Although the vast majority of primary children now make some use of ICT in school, patterns of use of technology continue to differ between and within schools. Unreliable equipment and connectivity challenges the best of teachers and makes even the simplest of tasks, such as downloading a small video clip, a difficult and intimidating task. Added to that, other barriers such as filters, firewalls and blocking procedures can limit teachers’ ideas and frustrate their efforts. Teachers can lack both the local technical support they need and the time and space to explore and develop how they can integrate creative uses of technology for learning into their lessons. Concerns remain that use of new technologies in schools is dominated by the mundane delivery of information through interactive whiteboards, and the ‘cut-and-pasting’ of online material with little evaluation by children or understanding of the content.

All of these issues contribute to the growing complaint that schools’ ICT use continues to be limited and somewhat dull – especially when compared with children’s rather more expansive engagement with digital media outside of the classroom. In school, ICT use has been characterised by some critics as something that is done to rather than done by children. Some educationalists are issuing stark warnings of a new ICT-driven ‘generation gap’ and growing ‘digital disconnect’ between the rich opportunities for learning that are provided by ICT at home and the more routine and banal uses in classrooms. In this sense, it is feared that current generations of technology-savvy children will become alienated and bored in classrooms and may become disaffected and questioning of their wider educational experiences.

‘Hanging out’ and ‘messing around’

It makes sense for teachers to relax the boundaries that may constrain ICT use in schools. For instance, attention could be given to the considered loosening of the types of ICT activities that are officially permitted or even unofficially tolerated within schools. From this perspective, there may well be occasions to enable children to indulge in types of ICT activities that are not usually associated directly with the business of schooling and learning, but nevertheless may provide a balance to more formal pedagogic and functional uses of technology. These activities could include technology-based play and entertainment, informal communication and interaction with others, expressive activities and even the practices of simply ‘hanging out’ and ‘messing around’ with ICTs. These activities could be seen as an important part of learning to use digital technology in an environment where children can be supported by teachers.

Whole-school ICT approaches

Here are some ideas for whole-school approaches:
  • Digital graffiti walls – using plasma screens, digital projectors and whiteboards to project child-created content onto public spaces. One example of this activity would be children text messaging short slogans and phrases to appear temporarily on the walls of the playground, corridor or reception space. When these activities have been conducted with adults it is surprising how self-censoring people become. If schools are concerned, then children could be asked to vote on ‘acceptable’ use policies for what messages can and cannot be sent.
  • Computer game Olympics – competitive ‘gamer’ tournaments between children on games chosen by children. For example, devices such as Wii Fit™ could be used for Digital Sports Days.
  • ‘Old school’ games tournaments between teachers and children can be held, using games played by the teachers in their youth and therefore new to the children. Versions of old school games (also known as ‘retro games’) can be easily found for free on online games sites such as MiniClip.
  • Technology amnesty days – allocated days in the school year where children can bring in any technology or media device that they wish, to play with or use in their free time. These should not just be the last days of term!

Teacher guidance with ICT

Individual teachers should be given more encouragement and extra opportunity to shape and direct children’s use of ICT when in the classroom. In our research there has been little evidence to suggest that primary children are capable of making the most of ICT by themselves – with many highlighting their desire for some adult support or guidance. This will mean that teachers getting involved in all stages of children’s ICT use in the classroom, rather than just setting them off and letting them get on with it. This is not to suggest that all teachers have to assume the mantle of being gurus of best technology practice. That said, teachers should be confident of the powerful role they play in introducing their children to ICT applications they may otherwise not come across. Teachers can play important roles in supporting children’s supposedly self-directed activities and providing the initial impetus for collaborative activities that underpin ICT-based learning. In the case of technologies such as wikis (collaboratively-edited web pages) and folksonomies (collaboratively classifying content), for example, there would seem to be ample scope for the orchestration of collaborative and communal activities, with teachers supplying a ‘good core’ and ‘initial governance and impetus’ that is necessary for any effective open collaboration.

For this proposal to work it will be important to ensure the provision of teachers’ access to ICT since, time and again, research has shown this to be a key factor in the confidence of teachers to develop innovative practice. Similarly, there is urgent need for continuing professional development for all teachers – not just those who are leading ICT in school. ICT training and development could perhaps be linked into the general moves throughout the school sector towards Masters level education for all teachers.

Class activities

Here are some ideas for approaches that can be used within a single classroom:
  • Scrutinising Wikipedia – Demonstrate how a wiki application, such as Wikipedia, is an ongoing process written by many different people, not a static product written by one expert (content was said to be written by ‘Mr Wikipedia’ by one of our young interviewees). Choose a topic that all children are able to write a description of and ask all children to write a five-line description. The teacher should write their own description on the board. Ask children to point out bits of the teacher’s description they feel are wrong, or could be made better. Continue a process of debating and deleting until most people in the class are happy with the description. Compare and contrast the final definition with the original. Discuss what is better about the final version, and what may have changed or been lost in all of the corrections.
  • Making autobiographical media pieces – Encourage the children at transition points at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 to undertake reflective practices with digital video and audio, making short autobiographical pieces about their time at the school.
  • Holding class debates about e-safety issues in the news where children and teachers discuss media stories about young people and technology. How balanced are the views put forward? How likely do you think these experiences are to occur to you?

Sue Cranmer is co-author of Primary schools and ICT: learning from pupil perspectives (Continuum, 2010) with Neil Selwyn and John Potter.

Image © ante3/sxc.hu

Reviews

  1. matthew
    on 9 August 2010

    student/teacher divide

    At our school many of us older teachers have not become nearly as proficient as our students. In fact our young IT teacher seems to be virtually every tenured teacher’s enemy. Literally the subject of many slander sessions for his know-it-all attitude and relentless prodding. I often feel like I’m being mocked by students using computers for work and have many times suggested cutting them out of the process rather than promoting them. There is a major divide currently, at least here on the American side of the pond. I feel that there is something not right, don’t know how to fix it, but somehow doubt that you tubes are the answer.

    2out of 5

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