When I talk at people about the latest advances in the use of technology in education, or EdTech as its known, (which, to the annoyance of my wife, happens more often than maybe it should), the response I often get is a half-joking “They’ll be no need for teachers soon at this rate!” However, the more time I have spent implementing technology into my classroom and teaching the current generation of teenagers who have grown up with technology at their fingertips, the more I realise that this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact the art of teaching and pedagogy is now more important than ever.
Implementing new digital technologies into a school is fraught with potential pitfalls. The most common example is schools who blindly invest in hundreds of devices, throw them at staff and students and expect to suddenly become a cutting edge leading digital school. Before long, in many of these cases the devices are gathering dust in store cupboards and have very quickly lost their value both literally and metaphorically. A school or teacher should not implement new technology just for the sake of it. The key is to look at your teaching and learning objectives and see if there is a technology tool that can be used to improve the outcome. For example, quality and quantity of feedback given to students has been shown to be one of the biggest determining factors in a student making measurable progress in a subject. However, teachers struggle to have the time in lessons to feed back to each and every individual student and even when marking work it can be hard to get a necessary message across in enough detail. However, if you could make a thirty second audio recording and attach it to the essay when you digitally return it to each student, they could listen to that on their smartphone before the next lesson and would make more progress. You don't need to take up valuable lesson time, and it should not be an onerous task.
For pupils, it used to be the case that the teacher was your direct portal to knowledge. For teachers, being a real expert in your subject was the most important attribute required. Pupils’ only access to information was through their teacher or reading books in the library. Now pupils are always ‘connected’ to knowledge. They can just ask Siri or Alexa any question they like and they don’t have to spend hours reading and digesting a dense textbook, but can get instant accessible summaries from educators on YouTube. Whether this is a good or bad thing is irrelevant. It is the way life is now and it’s only going to develop more down the same path. There is no doubt that teachers still need to know their subjects well and of course be deeply passionate about them, but classrooms are becoming more about the individual student and less about the teacher. This does not mean that teachers are no longer required. On the contrary it means that teachers are now more important than ever. In the modern era of social media, 24-hour news, fake news and Wikipedia, students need a guide and a chaperone to help them navigate this overload of information and become objective independent learners.
Gamification in education has been growing rapidly over the last few years. Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. If you look at how people play games you find that their engagement is very high, they are more likely to take risks, learn faster from mistakes, collaborate and feel good about completing tasks. So by turning educational tasks into games the hope is that students will get all these benefits but within the context of a topic or subject that they need to know for school.
Playing games in the classroom to help learn a concept is nothing new, but with advancements in technology this is now more then just a role play or paper loop game. Microsoft have seen the potential and have launched a special education edition of its popular Minecraft game which allows teachers or students to create whole worlds, recreate times in history or to test out theories.
A nice example of gamification that I have just discovered for Biology is called BioBlox. BioBlox is a collaboration between Imperial and Goldsmith's Universities in London. The idea is to get students to visualise the complex 3D structures of proteins and how they dock with other molecules. There is a 3D version online and a fun 2D app that you can download for your smartphone. You can learn all about the various biological molecules as you collect them for completing levels.
Leading Chartered Psychologist and Member of the British Psychological Society, Dr Simon Moore and his team have written a whitepaper detailing the significant number of advantages of game-based learning.
They tested 30 students who were using a language based game and found that they were more engaged, enthusiastic and excited to be learning compared to the students who were learning Spanish with basic online exercises. The students also spent much more time voluntarily playing the game and improved their language skills twice as much as the control group.
In summary educational games are going to become more mainstream over the next few years and in my opinion this is a good thing. We have to adapt the way we teach and make it more relevant. If we don't use the gaming technology to our advantage then it's a missed opportunity.
For the first 6 years of my teaching I followed a rather traditional method of teaching. I delivered content in class using a PowerPoint, students took notes and then we may spend a lesson doing a practical or an activity, then I would set homework which we may or may not have time to go through in a future lesson. Every year in faculty meetings we would lament the lack of time for activities, quality individual feedback, development of scientific skills and longer-term projects. To try and combat this we would argue for extra contact time with senior management and get angry with exam boards for never reducing the size of the syllabus that needed to be delivered. Every year you would feel the pressure to ‘get through the content’ and many topics needed to be rushed through only once to meet the deadline of exams. If students were ill, or absent for matches or music lessons then it meant meeting with them at other times to repeat the lesson. When the exams approached you were asked to repeat many lessons by students who couldn’t remember, had poor notes, didn’t listen or just wanted to sit and feel like they were learning it again. Then I found Flipped Learning . . .
“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which first contact with new concepts moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space in the form of structured activity, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.” (flippedlearning.org)
The important point to make here is that flipped learning is not just getting students to do homework in class and then teach themselves in their own time. It’s about making the most of the time spent in the classroom when the teacher is present (group space). Through the use of technology it has now become possible to deliver the content to a high standard out of the classroom (individual space). When looking at Bloom’s taxonomy one can see that remembering and understanding are at the base of the pyramid. These are lower order skills that the students can work on in their own time. The advantages of this are that they can learn at their own pace at a time that suits them. I make detailed animated tutorial videos for each Biology Topic; these are hosted on YouTube and internally on planet eStream. The students watch these and answer the questions that come up on screen to make sure they engage with the content and provide me with feedback about how and when they watched the video. They use the video along with a detailed PowerPoint to make notes on that particular topic. They can pause, rewind, and replay the lesson as many times as they like. They can watch it and make notes at a time that suits them. They will never miss another lesson again!
When they come into class they have done the groundwork on the topic and we can use the notes to take part in the practical activities that I have planned for them. Looking back at Bloom’s taxonomy they will now build on the higher order skills such as applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. These are quite often covered at homework time when the teacher isn’t there to help, but now I can go around and see individual students much more often, give them instant feedback, help them with problems and develop their learning. It solves many of the problems listed in the first paragraph and also creates better independent lifelong learners. The classroom becomes a fun engaging place to be rather than a lecture theatre. Better student teacher relationships are developed and teacher becomes a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’.
Just like any teaching method, Flipped teaching requires good planning and preparation for it to be effective. I have now completed the Flipped Certification course Level 1 run by the FLGI and plan to take the Flipped Level 1 Trainer Certification course this month as well.
Hi, I'm Mr Exham
This is where I'll talk about teaching and learning, practical lessons, flipped learning and the use of technology in lessons. I will also discuss current trends in EdTech.