Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through The Use of Digital Technology

[Previously posted at openscot.net]

Last week the Scottish Government launched their new digital learning and teaching strategy for Scottish schools: Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through The Use of Digital Technology. The strategy outlines:

“a comprehensive approach to deliver the increased effective use of digital technology in education and bring about the equity of opportunity that is the key focus for this government.”

Key themes to emerge form the strategy are closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, embedding technology right across the curriculum, and using digital technology to improve the assessment process.

The strategy is structured around four strategic objectives that will replace the existing five ICT in education objectives.

  • Develop the skills and confidencescotgov_strategy of educators in the appropriate and effective use of digital technology to support learning and teaching.
  • Improve access to digital technology for all learners.
  • Ensure that digital technology is a central consideration in all areas of curriculum and assessment delivery.
  • Empower leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and teaching.

The strategy emphasises that all four objectives must be achieved in order to realise the overarching vision for Scottish Education:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within Curriculum for Excellence levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed; and
  • Achieving equity: ensuring that every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

The strategy also outlines what Scot Gov and Education Scotland will do to deliver this vision and identifies action plans for each strategic objective as follows:

Objective 1: Develop the skills and confidence of educators in the appropriate and effective use of digital technology to support learning and teaching.

  • Ensure Professional Standards for Registration and for Career-Long Professional Learning reflect the importance of digital technology and skills.
  • Ensure that all Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers instil the benefits of using digital technology to enhance learning and teaching in their students, in line with GTCS Standards for Registration.
  • Ensure that a range of professional learning opportunities are available to educators at all stages to equip them with the skills and confidence to utilise technology appropriately and effectively, in line with the GTCS Standards for Career Long Professional Learning.
  • Ensure that a range of professional learning opportunities are available to educators at all stages to equip them with the skills and confidence to utilise technology appropriately and effectively, in line with the GTCS Standards for Career Long Professional Learning.

Objective 2: Improve access to digital technology for all learners.

  • Continued national investment into initiatives that support digital access in educational establishments.
  • Provide guidance at a national and local level around learner access to digital technology.
  • Promote approaches to digital infrastructure that put users’ needs at the heart of the design.
  • Encourage and facilitate the development of partnerships that will improve digital access and digital skills development opportunities for our learners.

Objective 3: Ensure that digital technology is a central consideration in all areas of curriculum and assessment delivery.

  • Ensure aspects of Curriculum for Excellence relating to the use of digital technology and development of digital skills are relevant, ambitious and forward looking.
  • Support, develop and embed approaches to assessment that make effective use of digital technology.
  • Support, develop and embed approaches to assessment that make effective use of digital technology.

Objective 4: Empower leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and teaching.

  • Ensure that the vision laid out in this strategy is adequately captured in Professional Standards, self-evaluation guidance and inspections of educational provision in Scotland.
  • Support leaders and decision makers to lead change in their local contexts through accessing and sharing relevant research in order to identify effective approaches to the use of digital technology in education.

Implications for Open Education

The Scottish Government has clearly placed raising attainment and achieving equity at the heart of its digital learning and teaching strategy. While it is encouraging that the strategy acknowledges the potential of digital technology to enrich education, enhance learning and teaching, equip learners with vital digital skills and lead to improved educational outcomes, it is disappointing that it does not acknowledge the significant role that open education can play in achieving these objectives. Although this may be regarded as something of a missed opportunity to place openness at the heart of the government’s vision for education in Scotland, it is to be hoped that the new strategy lays a firm foundation on which to build evidence of the role that open education can play in closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, improving the assessment process, creating new opportunities for learners, supporting social inclusion and expanding equitable access to education for all.

Links

Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology documents: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/09/9494/downloads

Leaders and Monitors: The best and the worst of education technology

Last week I attended the Holyrood Connect Learning Through Technology event where I saw a rather jawdropping demonstration of the very best and very worst that education technology has to offer. The best, and it really was wonderful, came from teachers Natalie Lockhead and Nicola Paterson, and pupils Rebecca and Stephen from Kirklandneuk Primary School, who are part of the school’s Digital Leaders Network. The Digital Leaders Network encourages children who are confident with using all kinds of technology to support their teachers and peers by sharing their skills and knowledge, while at the same time enabling the children to develop confidence, literacy and skills for life.

Stephen and Rebecca stood up in front of an audience of over a hundred delegates and spoke confidently and articulately about the importance of the Digital Leaders initiative and how much they enjoyed and benefitted from being part of it. Inspirational has become a rather throwaway term used to describe speakers, but these young people really, truly, were an inspiration.

Their honesty, enthusiasm and willingness to share was in stark contrast to the previous presenters and event sponsors Lightspeed Systems who presented their “online safety and web filtering systems” for education. As well as just blocking content, Lightspeed’s Web Filter also incorporates hierarchical filtering “to keep students safe, even when they leave the classroom,” along with web activity reporting functionality “from the high level to the detail”. I presume in this instance “the detail” means individual students.

According to their press, Lightspeed Systems create tools to help schools manage and filter their networks as well as empower classroom learning. There  doesn’t seem to be any mention of trivial issues such as privacy, ethics and consent. One of their products, Classroom Orchestrator, is designed to allow teachers to monitor students screens and devices “making it easy to see who’s off-task, who needs extra attention, and who’s excelling”. Orchestrator allows teachers to view all students screens from a dashboard, “ensures safety by seeing who is protected by the webfilter and who isn’t”, and perhaps most worryingly, “record sessions to store a students activity to share or investigate.” This immediately rang all sorts of alarm bells; where is that data being stored, who owns it, who has access to it? Although Lightspeed’s products are primarily designed for use on schools’ own mobile devices, the presenter added that they can also be installed on children’s own mobile devices and can be used to monitor their web activity outwith school hours. Apparently they’ve had, and I quote, “Lots of positive feedback about teachers taking control of and locking apps on students’ mobile devices.” That was the point where my jaw really hit the floor.

I made a point of asking during questions who owned and had access to the data that Lightspeed gathers. The reply was that the data is stored on servers in the UK and clients have the right to access this data under the Freedom of Information act. Seriously? I asked again if clients really had to submit an FOI request to access their own data and the presenter replied that they could just e-mail their sales representative for access. I lost the will to live at that point.

The contrast between the two presentations couldn’t have been more stark, and both demonstrated in quite different ways, why it is so important to engage children and learners in their own education, why we need to listen to them, not eavesdrop on them, and why we need to respect their privacy and consent. And most of all, it brought home to me just how critical trust and openness has to be in our use of technology in education. After all, if we don’t trust and learn from our children, how will they ever learn to trust and respect others?

NB Throughout the presentation, the Lightspeed representative seemed to refer to Classroom Orchestrator as Classroom Monitor. There is another UK based ed tech company called Classroom Monitor that markets an assessment platform for teachers. There is no link between Lightspeed Systems and Classroom Monitor and their products are not related.