ICT: Challenging but exciting times ahead

Terry FreedmanTerry Freedman share his views and gives advice on the challenges that lie ahead for teachers with regards to ICT and education in general.

The challenge of waiting for the new curriculum, CPD, keeping up with new technologies, finding out the best and most cost-effective way of using technology across all subjects to engage pupils, budgetary restrictions, creating the next generation of innovators etc.

What a year 2012 was! First we celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Then we celebrated the Olympics and the Paralympics. One of the Olympic venues was the Excel centre, the new home of the Bett show. Perhaps fittingly, the events held there included boxing and weightlifting…. So, should we in the ICT community be celebrating – or commiserating with one another?

Well, let’s just stand back for a few moments and look at the overall picture. Mainstream schools no longer have to follow the Programme of Study for ICT (although they do have to teach ICT in some form or other). As part and parcel of this, schools do not have to abide by the Attainment Targets and their associated Levels. There is no longer a designated central budget for schools to spend on ICT.

Even Ofsted is taking a hands-off approach in the sense that inspectors will be looking for evidence of learning taking place, which means that teachers can use ICT in their lessons how they like as long as their pupils are making the progress expected of them. Slavish adherence to detailed lesson plans is no longer required (although lessons will still be expected to have been planned!). Even the much-publicised observation by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw that mobile phones can be disruptive in lessons and that he didn’t allow them to be used in his school was not an edict to ban them from the classroom but, I think, a challenge: if you’re going to allow them in school make sure they are used purposefully. As for advice on how to do so, there are no longer official agencies to guide you, and time and money for CPD are, as ever, difficult to come by.

If we had to sum up all of this in a single phrase it would be, I think, “Laissez-faire”, which literally means “let it be”. This is either incredibly liberating, rather scary, or a little of both.

Last year, I invited people to respond to an online survey about the trends seen at Bett 2012 and what the future might hold. The two stand-out features were more and more cloudbased applications, and more mobile, mainly tablet, devices. These two trends are not unrelated, of course.

On a purely anecdotal level, it would seem that schools are becoming more and more interested in one-toone computing as a way of engaging learners and making anytime-anywhere access to the internet a reality. There have been number of trials involving the use of tablets such as iPads. While there are advantages of giving students a tablet of their own, such as the fact that they can use it wherever they happen to be, there are challenges involved too, namely the expense at a time when there are no ringfenced funds for ICT. How have schools squared this particular circle?

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and to overcome their financial constraints some schools are starting to look at the idea of Bring Your Own Device, which is something I have been researching of late. This side-steps the financial burden associated with buying and upgrading a large number of devices. However, BYOD brings its own potential headaches which schools need to think through before doing anything. In other words, BYOD is not a quick fix, and a few building blocks need to be in place before it can start to be implemented.

Interestingly, on the subject of budgets and spending, things are not all doom and gloom. According to recent research from BESA (An assessment of digital content sales in UK schools, April 2012), sales of digital content have risen, especially in primary schools. The result, is that a 5% increase in spending is predicted for 2012. That’s a welcome sign because it would seem to suggest that an absence of designated funding for ICT may not lead to an overall fall in spending on it.

The research does not provide reasons for this, but it could be that the disapplication of the ICT Programme of Study from September has led schools to rethink what they are doing in ICT and try something new. Providing a curriculum that will inspire the next generation of e-learners, is a challenge and a half – but how exciting to be able to wipe the slate clean and start completely anew!

In my opinion, the only way to cope with all these challenges is to become something of a researcher. That doesn’t mean walking around in a white coat and carrying a clipboard, but taking the time and effort to find out what other people are trying. Even if you don’t have much time, that would be a worthwhile investment. There are several ways you can do so. I’d say going to the Bett show is an absolute must – and I’m not saying that just because I am writing this for a Bett publication! Bett is an excellent opportunity to get to see the latest products, hear what people are doing in their own classrooms, and to meet other people facing the same challenges as you.

If you’re not already on Twitter, sign up now! The days when people told everyone what they are having for breakfast seem to have gone, thankfully. Search for #edtech or #ictineducation and follow a few of the people who appear in the list. I’ve found this invaluable for finding out about new resources, reports and websites.

Go to http://www.technorati.com and search for blogs on educational technology or ICT in education, and fi nd one or two that you like the look of.

There are two good things about having a laissez-faire environment. First, nobody can truly say they have the answer. The time is right for trying new things out, whether in terms of the curriculum (should you have a greater emphasis on computer programming), assessment (how do you judge standards?) or technology (tablets or laptops?). Second, because of that I sense a real excitement in the air, and a greater than ever willingness to share.

Have a good Bett!

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