This blog was written by David Weston, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust and Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Education. It originally appeared in the SecEd newspaper. It is one of the articles in our National Teacher Enquiry Network February half term newsletter (sign up here).
Buying new technology for a school is a very attractive proposition. Shiny new technology sends a message to parents that “our teaching is modern, we’re preparing your kids for the future”.
The last government certainly thought so, with record levels of ICT investment in schools that ran up to £0.5 billion a year. Vast sums were spent on new computer labs, interactive whiteboards, wireless networks and laptops. In many cases this has had great effects on attendance and behaviour monitoring, but the evidence that it has led to sustained improvements in learning outcomes is thin.
The current pressures on school budgets now require a new approach. A suggestion of improved learning is no longer sufficient grounds to spend money unless it can be shown that there are no cheaper interventions that have similar or larger positive effects on attainment.
School leaders should explicitly link technology purchases to learning needs, and ensure that a major portion of any budget is set aside for implementation (i.e. training and support) and on-going evaluation. Five key questions are:
- What is the specific pupil learning need that we are trying to address with this purchase? Is there a cheaper or easier way to address it (e.g. working on more effective feedback and questioning or using existing technology more effectively).
- Will this technology supplement and support the teaching methods that teachers are already comfortable with or will it require significant and expensive changes in teaching habits, schemes of work and resources?
- What is the risk that this technology becomes unreliable and impedes teaching and learning? What level of technical support, back-up and redundancy (spares) is needed to prevent this and how can this be maintained in the future?
- How will teachers embed the use of this new technology into schemes of work/lesson plans? Who are the experts in how to do this effectively? Are they accessible? Will teachers be given dedicated time to work together to evaluate and refine their approach to using the technology?
- Will the technology allow us to address multiple learning needs (is it flexible, up-gradable, extendable)?
No school is short of good ideas or enthusiastic suggestions and it is the tough job of a leader to try and whittle these down to a few high-impact and reliable projects.
It is significantly more effective to have one or two technology projects with significant two-to-three year training and support programmes built in than have several smaller projects and risk having cupboards full of under-used, redundant equipment.
Staff training and learning is possibly the most important element of any technology project, and yet it often ends up at the bottom of the priority list. Here are some dos and don’ts:
- Do plan regular (at least twice a half-term) protected meeting times where teachers who use the technology can collaboratively review their use as well as the evidence on how it is affecting pupil learning. They should then plan lessons and create resources to support improvements in the next cycle with expert support if possible.
- Don’t simply send teachers on one-off courses without having a sustained programme of support and collaboration back at school.
- Do regularly (at least termly) evaluate how well the technology is being used, technical support needs, how pupils are being engaged, how learning is being improved, the confidence levels of teachers and further training needs. Reserve some budget to act on issues that arise.
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