The reporting of research like the recent OECD studyundefined pose a big risk to technology co-ordinators and leaders. A school principal who has been wondering whether the benefits of ed tech justify the cost could end up being swayed in the "wrong" direction. Notice that I said "the reporting of research". More often than not, the press reports don't convey the full story, (in Britain at least), and the research is usually more upbeat about ed tech than you might think. Makes no difference: an impression has been created, and that's what counts.
But not all is lost. There are a number of things you can do to help the principal realise that, whether or not ed tech benefits students everywhere else, it absolutely does benefit them right here, in your school. Here are my suggestions.
1. Create an exciting atmosphere for the students you teach. An interesting scheme of work makes them keen to come to lessons. You want kids to be overheard saying "Excuse me, but I have to get to my Computing lesson, as I don't want to be late."
2. Make sure there is lots of kids' work up in your classroom and, crucially, outside your classroom, so that passers-by can see what they have been doing and what topics they've been tackling. Update the display every few weeks.
3. Think about creating a team of digital leaders, ie students who can assist other students and also teachers. It's essential that they have a great-looking button to wear, so that people know who they are, and which they can wear with pride.
4. Think about starting a weekly blog for parents, for which students will be expected to write.
5. From time to time, have the students conduct staff surveys related to Computing or some other ed tech-related topic. For example, a survey on whether they are worried about identity theft. That can help create an awareness amongst your colleagues and a sense that something interesting is going on.
6. Set the bar high for the students. In my experience, students tend to rise or fall to the level of their teachers' expectations. Given the choice between an easy qualification that the kids had no respect for, and one that they had to do some work for, I always chose the latter. You don't want ed tech to be regarded as a sort of academic trash can.
7. Get parents involved and, even better, engaged. How about running some free classes in how they can keep their children safe online? What about running a Python, Scratch or HTML taster session?
8. I know you're crazy busy, but write a monthly or half-termly report for the Principal, saying what has been going great in ed tech, why the most recent negative news about the non-benefits of ed tech were wrong – and why you need more money to keep the good stuff coming!
9. Another nice idea is to produce a half-termly newsletter, saying what skills the kids have been learning that other teachers could make use of. For example, if they have learnt how to use a spreadsheet for modelling or drawing graphs, that may be of interest to the teachers of math, science and geography – because now they won't have to teach the students those skills themselves.
10. If you are in charge of a computer lab, make it inviting. Most of the ones I've seen in high schools (not so much in elementary schools) look like a replica of a prisoner of war camp: lots of notices shouting at you about what NOT to do. Replace them with posters telling people what they can do, and how to do it. Some colourful examples of kids work wouldn't be a bad idea either.
Bear in mind the only thing I ever learnt in my science lessons at school: nature abhors a vacuum. If you don't talk about the ed tech in your school then someone else will – and they might not be so positive about it. None of the suggestions here appear to have anything to do with newspaper reports of research, but in a way they all do. By building up a huge amount of positivity and goodwill towards ed tech, you will hopefully be creating a buffer against the declarations of the gloom-mongers.
About Terry Freedman
Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT and Computing consultant in England. He publishes the ICT in Education website at www.ictineducation.org.