young children using a tablet in a classroom setting

'They’re collaborating all the time': the schools making the most of mobile

Banning mobile devices from the classroom is a mistake – phones and tablets help students learn better.

For years, classrooms across the country have echoed to the increasingly irritated tones of teachers first asking students, then telling, then insisting: “Put your phones away!” But some schools are taking a more welcoming approach. Here, the days of losing precious teaching time by trooping 30 students to the ICT suite, getting them settled in and wasting more minutes logging everyone on are in the past.

The present – and increasingly, it seems, the future – is all about using mobile technology in school: phones, tablets and laptops.

Smoothing communication with students and their parents is one substantial benefit of mobile tech. At its most basic, text messages are now regularly sent to parents to make sure important school events are not forgotten, that children have the correct kit for outings, and to ask for volunteer help with reading and swimming lessons: this all helps to build relationships and makes school work better for children. Teachers use apps such as Class Dojo to record and comment on how children are engaging in classroom activities, which they may then communicate in real time to parents, who can comment back.

Schools need to be at the cutting edge

Mobile tech is transforming teaching and learning in classrooms too. St Colman’s College in Northern Ireland started its mobile tech journey five years ago. Now, says Kevin Franklin, vice principal and ICT lead: “Every student has access to a mobile device. We’re in a digital revolution and schools need to be at the cutting edge of that. In certain parts of the curriculum we’ve gone completely paperless.”

St Colman’s has benefited from the multiplicity of mobile technologies made available by Capita, which is contracted to look after the tech infrastructure of every school in Northern Ireland. When all schools were set to be made wireless, Franklin says the teaching team sat down to think hard about how best to use the opportunity that whole-school Wi-Fi could offer. They quickly realised that to optimise student access, each child would need their own mobile device, and so the school now buys them in bulk: the 50% discount the school has secured is passed on to make the device affordable.

Capita also provided a new virtual learning environment (VLE) together with email and a suite of educational software. With this range of resources suddenly on offer, the school focused on how information now had the potential to become instantly available to staff and students.

Once every child has a tablet, teachers can, Franklin explains, “give audio feedback to a student on submitted work.” He adds: “You can annotate what’s there, and send it back. I can send an email to every student and because they have a mobile device, they’ll all get it straightaway. It has enhanced the workflow.”

At Rooks Heath College in Harrow, music teacher and mobile tech lead Craig Ring agrees that mobile can transform the teaching and learning experience. His school has recently started using the Canvas VLE. “We’ve realised that what’s in these students’ pockets is so much more than a phone,” he explains. Students are already enthusiastically deploying mobile tech in their own lives, Ring observes. “They’re using video, WhatsApp, audio clips, pictures; they’re collaborating all the time”.

More than just a phone

Helping pupils with organisation is another benefit mobile tech can bring.

“Alerts on phones can help students to meet deadlines and progress better in learning as a result,” says Dermot McLaughlin, faculty lead for ICT and business studies at Lydiard Park Academy which uses the itslearning cloud-based platform and app.

Students at Lydiard Park are encouraged to get their devices out in lessons to film critical teaching moments, photograph whiteboards and record their teachers giving individual feedback.

This ability to offer instant commentary on a piece of work is a significant benefit of mobile in school, believes Ring: each student’s learning is shaped and enhanced through what becomes “an ongoing dialogue” with their teacher. Behaviour improvements are also a major plus of embracing mobile tech, adds McLaughlin, with parents delighted that students aren’t in detention for messing with their phones under a desk, and students now far more engaged with their lessons because they are asked to optimise their learning using a technology they enjoy.

Mobile tech isn’t, however, entirely replacing other tools for learning, says Franklin.

For some subjects, such as languages, the benefits mobile tech can bring are invaluable. For others, it may be that handwritten work is prioritised. “It’s what fits best for different parts of the curriculum,” he says. “We use mobile technology as part of an overall blended approach.”

Tips for developing a mobile tech strategy for your school

  • Understand the differing needs of your school community and consider the impact that technology could have on pastoral care, safeguarding, communication, collaborative working, effective teaching practice, target setting, accountability, self-evaluation, as well as the culture and character of your school.
  • Work out what resources you already have, and what you will be able to commit.
  • Developing a mobile strategy means leadership has to come from the top, but can also involve bringing in mobile tech expertise and enthusiasm at all levels including teachers, technical staff and students.
  • Set short- and long-term goals: these could focus on teaching and learning, the experiences of teachers and pupils, as well as technical goals you want to meet.
  • Choose the right tech for your school with the overriding focus being to enable and support pedagogical change, and tech that will help you turn anywhere-learning into a reality.
  • Give staff the opportunity and support to develop the skills they need to take advantage of the technology. And make sure they have a team to turn to if things don’t go right.
    Thanks to Stewart Davies, head of upper school at Ysgol Bae Baglan, Port Talbot for help with the tips.

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