Technology, in some shape or form, has been an established tool for teaching and learning in many schools for a long time, but in the last few years digital education has taken a significant step forward. We have reached a watershed moment in the maturity of portable devices and wireless infrastructure; technology is now reliable, fast and easier to use than ever before. The ubiquity of mobile devices and internet connectivity is driving real change in the way people learn, work, communicate and live their lives. What is even more important, however, is that technology is now well placed to enhance teaching and learning and create learning environments which promote analytical skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork, adaptability, creative thinking, problem-solving, and global citizenship. Whilst these kinds of skills need not involve any use of technology per se, evidence emerging shows that technology enables higher level skills. For example, Crompton et al. (2019) found that pupils using mobile devices for cognitive processing were utilising all six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Forty percent of the activities had pupils working at levels one and two, remembering and understanding, and 60% were at levels three to six, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Therefore, grounding technology within what is needed for learning is where the journey for successful integration of technology should start (Davies cited in Luckin, 2018).
In recent years, some departments at Eton have been exploring the pedagogical opportunities offered by pupils each having a tablet device. Traditional note-taking began to be replaced with digital notebooks comprising handwritten notes using a digital stylus, sketches, images and video content. Pupils’ ability to quickly combine online research with their own class notes showed evidence of deeper learning as well as greater engagement. Teachers reported the benefits of being able to see pupils’ work at any time as well as add written and audio comments, leading to a higher quality feedback cycle overall. This preliminary use of devices showed that there is scope for technological devices to be used in the classroom in a way which can encourage real independence and autonomy in learning as well as collaboration and creativity.
Increasing numbers of teachers have also been experimenting with digital tools to create online learning content. Flipped learning has allowed some departments to free up class time for deepening pupils’ understanding through discussion, experimentation, and other extension activities, as video explanations and knowledge acquisition are provided as homework activities. Informal quizzing tools have also seen widespread use across many subjects allowing for quick, formative testing in class and interactive revision content for pupils’ private study.
Throughout this process, the technology should not take centre stage but should be available and should work instantly as and when it is appropriate.
As a result of the increasing use of digital tools, in 2019 the school began a phased introduction of iPads as the 1:1 device for teaching and learning. This decision was informed by trials of devices in some departments, as well as research and consultation with staff, pupils, and visits to other schools.
Structures in place
On a strategic level, it has been vital to adopt a schoolwide approach and have buy-in from all key stakeholder groups. Yuen, Law, and Wong (2003) see the school leaders’ vision, including understanding the impact of technology use in the curriculum, cultural background and the school’s overall vision as important. Thus, school leaders’ practices strongly impact the uptake and use of digital technologies in schools. Here, the leadership team recognised the importance of technology and placed it within the strategic vision for teaching and learning. Detailed planning and clear communication of the core justifications for the iPad programme have been critical to its success thus far.
The Tony Little Centre has been important as a hub to bring together various groups investigating forms of educational technology and measuring their impact. Pupils have played a joint role in researching and exploring the benefits of tablets in their learning with a preliminary study analysed by a pupil in Year 12, as discussed in the next article. We have also ran focus groups with pupils exploring their perceptions of educational technology and have conducted observations of lessons where iPads are used extensively. Dr Kevin Burden, an expert on the impact of digital technology on learning who has also written for this issue, is collaborating with the Centre to run a bigger scale research project on the impact of 1:1 devices.
The introduction of tablet devices to teaching and learning practices cannot happen without a high level of support for teachers. A pivotal decision was the appointment of an Academic Technologist to work with teachers on best practice. Over the course of the 2018-19 academic year and beyond, the Academic Technologist will provide training that is personalised, relevant and delivered according to teachers’ individual needs and time constraints. For example, this can take the form of departmental training on specific learning priorities (perhaps differentiation or feedback) tailored to that subject’s requirements, or regular one-to-one training sessions with a teacher to enable development of a range of digital skills. A key aim is to promote a culture of sharing amongst colleagues and within departments in the hope that experimentation will start to inform classroom practice and future planning as some of the possibilities offered by tablet devices become apparent.
Throughout this process, the technology should not take centre stage but should be available and should work instantly as and when it is appropriate. The best use of technology is when it makes the previously impossible possible, or when learning is deepened, extended or enhanced. It should also make it easier to bring the outside world into the classroom. In addition, it can be used as a tool to facilitate collaboration, project work or creativity. In every case, careful thought must be given to the role the technology plays in learning.
Technology for teaching and learning
The use of iPads should facilitate diverse learning activities, including note-taking, resource sharing, quizzing, and collaborative and creative tasks. The classroom management tools (Apple Classroom) enable teachers to monitor pupils’ progress as well as lock their focus on a particular task. We notice iPads being used increasingly for pupil-led research, for note-taking, for accessing online resources and for informal testing.
Some lessons might make more extensive use of the iPad, requiring pupils to create digital work, collaborate with one another, or make use of video or augmented reality. Over time, we expect to see iPads being used in many novel and innovative ways, but as a starting point we anticipate the devices will be used for: online research; digital textbooks; annotating documents; rich note-taking supplemented with photos/videos/diagrams/links; creative & collaborative work; online assessment and feedback; quizzing and digital flashcards; showcasing and deconstructing pupils’ work on the schoolroom whiteboard.
The integration of standardised iPads allows for us to explore more effective and efficient approaches to workflow, both in terms of the work that pupils complete as well as the work we do in our roles within departments or in other areas of the school. The use of apps like OneNote Class Notebook, for example, mean that a teacher can see a pupil’s work at any time and offers different ways of marking and delivering feedback.
Today’s learners access, receive and create content in a variety of formats and, using their iPad, they are able to move efficiently between these differing media. It may be, for example, that during the course of a lesson a teacher shares PDF documents to be annotated, or offers supporting video resources and links to useful web pages. They may then wish pupils to demonstrate their understanding by completing an online quiz before moving on to draft an essay, either in a more traditional pen and paper mode or using OneNote and writing with their Apple Pencil so that their work can be easily reviewed by the teacher and good practice can be shown on the board to the class.
This blending of new, digital learning possibilities with tried and tested educational methods was a key factor in the choice of device. Technology such as the iPad can now provide intuitive and reliable ways of enhancing the learning experiences of pupils and, at the same time, complement pedagogical methods which have been proven to work over decades or even centuries. Given the increasing role that technology plays in society and the implications of this for our pupils’ lives beyond school, it is clear that a comprehensive strategy for the integration of digital tools in teaching and learning, informed by research evidence and with on-demand training and support at its core, should ensure that our educational provision remains engaging, relevant, and future-proof.
Crompton, H., Burke, D. and Lin, Y.-C. (2019), Mobile learning & student cognition. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50: 684-701.
Luckin, R. (2018). Enhancing learning and teaching with technology: what the research says. London: UCL Press.
Yuen, A. H. K., Law, N., & Wong, K. C. (2003). ICT implementation and school leadership. Case studies of ICT integration in teaching and learning. Journal of Educational Administration, 41(2): 158–170.