I used to think that ICT would ‘transform’ education, and that it could also ‘transform’ society. Well, perhaps it will, but it hasn’t yet. As I get more experienced it seems to me that ICT, like any tool, has its benefits and its downsides. It also seems to me that one of the big problems with the use of ICT in learning is that students quickly learn to game whatever system they have been asked to work with, and that this works in the directly opposite direction of my main aim as a teacher. I want students to slow down, to get caught up, to be forced to think again. They want a high score, or to get to the end, or simply to be finished, on to the next thing. Even if they get beyond this, often they want what they’re doing to be ‘good’ (or sometimes ‘good enough’). ICT can make all of this far too easy.
That’s why I tend to use less ICT directly in the classroom than I used to, and when I do I always try to ask myself ‘why am I taking the extra time to do this using ICT?’ or ‘why are we learning this in the ICT suite instead of our normal classroom’. Sometimes I can’t find a decent answer to this question, and then we go back to the classroom and to books and pens and pencils.
In the past I have used classroom blogs a great deal, and know colleagues using them to great effect – Alan Kydd’s www.heathenhistory.co.uk for instance. However, sometimes I don’t want a public blog for my class, for instance. I want to know who is reading it, and I don’t want to worry about the administration of usernames and privileges. What I do want is a quick way of getting information, links and assignments to students. Previous experience with various VLEs has taught me that this can be an enormous pain in the bum, and that the difficulties that these things represent can quickly sap the energy from efforts to use ICT to help teacher/student communication.
Recently I’ve been looking at Google Classroom, which does seem to offer me some quick and easier solutions for the problems I have run into whilst using classroom blogs. Classroom isn’t transforming my practice, but I am finding it useful for the usual things like homework reminders and answering queries from students. However, what I like it for best is for fleshing out those throwaway remarks, or passing conversations we have with students who are interested in topics not directly related to our syllabus. Links to extra reading, radio or TV shows, catch up notes and historical novels that we have discussed.
Teacher dashboard is a set of apps with even more potential, which I’m still experimenting with. This service from Hapara gives you the ability to create a folder in your students’ google drive (not their personal drive, but one connected to their institution), and to send them google documents and other resources. Using the dashboard I can then tell which students have amended their documents, and when they did so. I can also give them feedback on their work as they progress. I’ve been using this with some year 10 GCSE students. Their assessment in 2016 will be on paper, so I’m reluctant yet to spend a great deal of time asking them to type answers into google docs. What I have been using it for is revision presentations.
I have been asking students to go home after each lesson and make two or three slides to record what they learned in each lesson. In this way I’m hoping that I can encourage them to see that revision shouldn’t be something that happens at the end of a course, or just when you have an important assessed test coming up. In trying to use something I learned from making it stick – that effort expended in trying to remember something will help later recall – I ask the students to first draft their slides without looking at their notes. When the first draft is done, then they should make the notes. We have a short formative assessment every month or 5 weeks, and they hand in a printed version of their revision presentation as the test starts.
I can’t honestly say that this has yet had a huge impact on grades. I have noticed that their retention and use of important information has improved. What it is doing is setting up a routine and expectation that revision is ongoing. I also get an example of what they do when they revise, and I’m going to use this to help them revise better as the course goes on.
So, Classroom and Teacher Dashboard is ICT that isn’t revolutionary, but is genuinely helping me in my task of enabling students to learn.