The tools we need are already here
Nevertheless, whilst it might be enjoyable to peer into the future, it is important to look at how we come to realise some of the ideas we have talked about. Many of the tools we need to start to transform the learning environment are already here, so over the next three articles I will look at some of the solutions that many schools are using and their impact.
Probably the most significant technological change we have seen in the last 40 years has been in the area of communication, which is certainly being felt in schools. As previously noted, more and more schools are trying to move to a paperless environment. This has many benefits and not least time and cost savings, with many schools using online platforms to share material with teachers, students and parents in a wide variety of formats, such as text, images, video, blogs and e-newsletters.
The technology also provides a means to gather information, using for example online forms, forums and polls as a simple way to collate responses from all parts of the school community in a way that is both rapid and less time intensive than the more traditional routes. This in turn streamlines communication within a school, allowing a far more agile way to talk to the different parts of the school community.
The good news - this technology is already here! But we need to develop our understanding of its potential and do away with, for example emailed letters, which are simply a more ‘techy’ way of posting letters as we have always done. To engage teachers, students and parents to work together we need to give all parties the positive educational experience we all desire and technology empowers us to do this in a way that saves time, energy and money.
One of the key factors underlying positive school engagement is good communication. But, one downside of technology is the ease with which communications can be sent - counterintuitive perhaps, but if we consider the state of the average inbox, there are always a significant number of emails that never get read, largely because the information is seen as irrelevant. Fortunately a good technological solution can also ride to the rescue in this instance by ensuring that communications are carefully targeted so that individuals only receive information which is of interest (and use) to them.
Most schools have some sort of MIS which manages different groups (teachers, students, parents, year groups, classes, etc) ensuring that people with similar interests are marked as such. Learning platforms can take advantage of this arrangement so that no-one gets spammed with information they don’t need and as a result are more likely to engage with the communications they receive.
We can go further and consider the nature and format of these communications as well. Print and emails rely on words and images to engage the reader, but if we look at social media (which of course has communication as a prime objective) then video and audio are increasingly prevalent. As schools we can learn from this move away from text-based messages if we look at what we want to communicate and what might be the best way to go about it. There will still be a place for the written word, but why just write about the school production of “Grease” when you could include a short video clip of the students in action?
Or, give the winner of the inter-house music competition the opportunity to record their performance to share with parents and give students the freedom to update their school magazine with recorded interviews or performances that will supplement the traditional articles and pictures. We already know from schools that are using technology in this way that the degree of parental engagement is hugely increased and this can only have a positive impact on the learning outcomes of the individual.
The ease and speed with which high quality communications can be put together and distributed is something that the best schools are taking advantage of even now. The benefits of these strategies are already having a significant effect on teaching and learning and I have no doubt this will continue to evolve in the years ahead.
In my next article, I shall look at how schools are starting to use data more effectively and the impact this has on the home school partnership.