A strategy for life, for students, and for enhanced education
We are very excited about our new digital strategy, which provides a real differentiator for our students. A lot of schools are investing in new technologies but, with other schools visiting us to see what we are doing and Civica (the company that owns CloudBase, which plays an integral part in our delivery of our digital strategy) planning to use our school as a positive case study, we are clearly quite ‘cutting edge’.
Our investment in digital technology incorporates staff training; developments in infrastructure and software; updating our digital platforms and communication methods; and shifting the way we think about the potential uses of technology in learning.
So what is it that makes our strategy that little bit different?
This is real life
The first point is our thinking about the world ‘after school’, where skills are not used in silo, but in a variety of contexts. Part of our strategy is to deliver essential digital skills education embedded within the context of students’ subject learning – to offer similar experiences to what awaits beyond education, reflecting the reality of 21st century working, and living – rather than assuming that these are discrete skills that should be delivered by specialists.
The focus is on developing skills for communication and collaboration; discovery; data management and analysis; control; creativity; and safety – so while students will have stand-alone Computer Science lessons to learn about coding and programming, the wider digital skills will be developed in a range of contexts. The earlier we can instil in them the idea of a coherent approach to developing and using skills in different roles, the better prepared they will be for their futures.
This is for, and with, students
The second point is our commitment to encouraging students to have a voice. In many areas of school life we invite students to take on a responsibility to speak up for themselves or their peers about particular areas of interest – from Student Council roles for Junior School through to Sixth Form, and Year 6 and Sixth Form prefects who each have an individual area of responsibility, to our new High Performance Learning (HPL) ‘detectives’ who will provide essential student insight into on-going Teaching & Learning developments. The same is true with our digital transition, and we already have a fully-fledged Junior School Tech Council, and are establishing a group of Senior School Digital Leaders too. We want to develop our offering in a way that will benefit students and so inviting them to feed into developments of this scale is key. We listen to them, hear their views, and then act on their suggestions. This also naturally creates a group of student ambassadors who advocate among their peers to embrace progress.
This is enhanced education
The third point is that we recognise that technology is a useful tool to enhance learning, and our HPL approach is further supported by the effective use of technology. We support authentic, creative and collaborative learning, enabling a wide range of assessment approaches, complementing face-to-face contact, and encouraging productive learning outside the classroom.
Technology can enhance the delivery and provision of high quality education and content. For example, teachers who champion flipped learning (whereby homework set is preparation for an upcoming class, in order that face-to-face time can be maximised for discussion and analysis of what was covered), are able to share a wide range of resources with students in real time ahead of a lesson. Students can watch a TED talk or conduct research and arrive at the lesson ready to participate.
Another exciting way to extend and enrich learning is through trialling Virtual Reality (VR) field trips! As part of Fairtrade Fortnight our Junior School pupils are set to experience the sights and sounds and cultures of Kenya. Utilising our new VR headsets to take a virtual field trip, they will be able to see first-hand the impact of Fairtrade on a coffee farming community – something we would never be able to do in reality. The potential for these field trips to provide engaging experiences that would be otherwise inaccessible is incredible – from travelling as far as Mars, or as far back in time to Ancient Greece, or to historical or cultural sites some distance away, or into a future-based scenario.
Technology also supports teachers in delivering a broader range of approaches to suit different types of learners or learning needs. One Note Learning Tools offers solutions for SEN students, and Microsoft's real time translation software will support language learners. Devices such as the Amazon Echo enable students to experience books in a new way, as our Learning Resources Centre now proudly features an Audio Book Room with beanbags for students to enjoy ‘reading’ in their own time. The Music department is also making use of the new Amazon Echo – for example, Lower Sixth students are studying songs from The Beatles’ album Revolver and Mrs Sonia Gears, Assistant Head and Teacher of Music, has been asking Alexa to play relevant related songs for students.
Most of us will recognise the relief associated with carrying around just a Chrome Book or iPad as opposed to a day’s worth of text books and exercise books, and the added benefit of this, other than saving young people’s backs, is the flexibility that easy access to resources affords. Not only can students study or submit work anytime, anywhere, but they can also work collaboratively together regardless of their physical location – no more struggling to find a free shared lunchtime to do pair work or lugging textbooks to Easter holiday destinations for revision ahead of examination season!
There is much more besides but these are some of the most exciting steps we are taking to enhance students’ learning through embracing technology; I would welcome feedback from our community as we proceed!