Thursday 14 July 2011

Reflections: ICT in schools

Last week I was alerted, on Twitter, to an article in the Guardian entitled 'Is Michael Gove's concept of learning in the digital era outdated?' by Keith Stuart on 5th July 2011.  A very interesting article which looked at Michael Gove's endorsement of the use of video games in the classroom and which then moved on to consider ICT in general.  The report raised a very interesting point however which was that it appeared that Gove's impression of ICT in the classroom was limited to that of 'carrot and stick' or 'work hard and then you can use the computer'  "do the equation and get ammo to shoot the aliens". This is completely at odds with the way in which I and my colleagues (here at my school and nationally) use ICT to support learning and teaching, therefore I decided to take this opportunity to reflect on our practices.

A qualified Librarian, I have been the member of staff responsible for the LRC (operational as LRC Manager until recently and then strategic management only) for the past 10 years.  Using PCs as an information retrieval and presentation facility is an integral part of our services to students and staff, however as stated in the report "computers are a tool for developing and exploring ideas" *and it is this practice which I want to reflect on.

As my school is a Cooperative Academy and a member of the Cooperative Society, collaboration is an integral part of all teaching and learning which takes place here.  I have always endeavoured to keep the LRC at the front of cooperative learning through membership of the Learning SIG, although I have since replaced this by becoming a member of the Digital SIG which I believe is more appropriate and relevant to my position and chartership.  I have used and witnessed ICT to encourage students to work collaboratively when undertaking research tasks, e.g. Scribe, Sage, Serf, Crusader, delivering training on this as well.  This allows students to cooperate on a single task, each bringing their own strengths to the group, i.e. writing (scribe), leader (sage), e-research (serf) and generating ideas (crusader).  However well this works when researching, it is still only touching the surface of what ICT can achieve in terms of creativity and interactivity.  

This year I have really explored Web 2.0 both personally and professionally (not just dallying with it).  This blog has allowed me to reflect on my progress with digital literacy and my Twitter account has been invaluable to me in terms of professional support and networking.  Add to these my membership of SLN, a Yahoo group for School Librarians and my small and limited network of fellow professionals has grown in a way I couldn't have forseen ten years ago.  So why should my students be limited to just those they sit next to, or in the same class, or year or even school?  I am sure this is what is meant by a globalised learning community and one which enables "a more entrepreneurial approah to learning...[with students becoming] more active and independent learners with the teacher serving as consultant, not chief executive"*  Certainly this is the way in which much of our cooperative teaching and learning is carried out with the Guide (teacher) on the Side and not Sage on the Stage.  

I am now focusing on bringing my involvement in teaching to life with book group blogs on My Big Campus and to allow true collaboration of ideas and answers.  I have trained and then watched the LRC Manager use Animoto and Glogster with students in the book group and Manga Club and I see real possibilities for Glogster in curriculum subjects; indeed I am planning to work alongside a Science teacher to introduce Glogster with the help of one of his students who is a keen user of this resource.  I follow several school library accounts on Twitter and am currently undecided as to the best place for my LRC's (and CEAIG/Sixth Form) online presence in terms of social networking; Twitter, Facebook or something different?  In the last day or so I have explored Google+, but have decided that I need to wait and see as to whether Google's answer to social networking is going to be truly 'across the board'; there is no point in using a social networking site purely because everybody else is or it is the latest thing, at least in professional terms and by that I mean teaching and learning as well.  However I am determined to use the homepage facility offered through Oliver, the LMS we have recently upgraded to, to form the basis of our online identity with links from our website.

I have attended staff CPD sessions and seen demonstrations of Mouse Mischief in Windows and online mind mapping sites (as an keen advocate of the Thinking Maps we use at school, I am not keen on using this as I prefer a whole school approach) and as part of the interviewing panel for the Learning Technology Manager's post I have seen demonstrations of Prezi (which I have already used), Google Docs and online whiteboards.  My task next year will be to begin evaluating the impact of using ICT for collaborative learning, looking at ability ranges and differentiation, success of learning outcomes e.g. coursework results and assessment for learning.  I am sure that this embedded approach is how we should be using ICT in our teaching and learning and not just as a 'carrot and stick' or a basic information retrieval facility.  

* Stuart, Keith. 'Is Michael Gove's concept of learning in the digital era outdated?. Online: Guardian Newspaper. Accessed 12/07/2011

Thursday 7 July 2011

'To buy or not to buy?'

Having submitted financial bids to my Principal earlier this year, I was initially pleased to be informed that extra funding was to be set aside to allow me to upgrade the Library Management System from ALICE to OLIVER; both with SoftlinkHowever I was recently informed that my additional bids for electronic mobile devices had also been approved and that I could go ahead with an order for the LRC.  This news however left me in a quandary - which devices did I want to purchase? Kindles, android tablets or Ipads?  Not a bad position to be in, but one which was forcing me to think of value for money in terms of curriculum use and teacher/student support in teaching and learning.  

Having had a Sony e-reader in the LRC for a year or so and had fairly indifferent responses from students and staff, I was reluctant to go down the route of Kindles.  Having a device which was largely restricted to reading e-books did not appeal to me as I prefer devices which allow users to swap between different applications depending on their individual needs.  Having spoken to staff and students about Kindles, the overwhelming response was either "we prefer reading proper books' or "you can do so much more with an Ipad"

This then left me with tablets or Ipads.  Luckily the PE department were already experimenting using Ipads in their teaching and so I borrowed their precious Ipad for the day and spent a fab few hours exploring its functions, downloading a few apps and generally finding out how it worked.  I viewed a recent thread on SLN which listed a wide range of apps which were being used by school Librarians/LRC Managers and downloaded a few of them so as to give me an idea of which ones may be usefully employed in the LRC.  Pacific Disaster Center proved to be a great example; free and immediately of interest to the Head of Geography who downloaded it onto his Iphone.  This app would link into research lessons on natural disasters, allowing students the opportunity to find out about natural disasters in the Pacific region happening right at a particular moment.  I also loved the Kindle app which satisfied my interest in exploring and introducing e-books to my students, but having it on the Ipad meant I wasn't limiting myself.

Having discovered I love the Ipad 2, I then went to talk to my IT Technical Support Team about what they thought.  Their immediate response was "it won't link to the college network and you can't get Microsoft Office" to which I was ready with "I don't want that - I have 24 PCs in the LRC which do that already".  They then asked why I wanted Ipads and again I had my primary reason ready; offer additional resources, i.e. apps, as part of research based LRC lessons, enhance information retrieval practices in the LRC as well as being a 'carrot' to staff and students alike, i.e. 'look how cool your LRC is?'

My next port of call was to the Head of Science who had already put in an order for Windows 7 tablets for use in the labs.  An especial lure for him however was their ability to access the college network, hence his decision to purchase tablets. He mentioned the range of apps which are available to download (I was already familar with this as I have a Blackberry myself), but I was keen to have the Apple guarantee as far as apps were concerned.  My final consideration took me to the Business Manager to explore purchase of apps.  I asked her if it would be possible to do this in a similar way whereby other schools are buying e-books with Amazon vouchers; a voucher for a certain amount is purchased which the Librarian/LRC Manager can then use to buy e-books.  In the same way we would be able to purchase vouchers from Apple which could be then used to buy apps. 

So what did I decide?  An order was placed for three Ipads, plus three specially sourced cases which appear to make the Ipad virtually indestructible and I am now eagerly awaiting their delivery.  More to come in the new school year on this subject I hope!