The interactive classroom – the story so far…

It’s been over a decade since the UK adopted interactive whiteboard technology as its core teaching tool in the classroom, and it was nothing short of a revolution.

All of a sudden, teachers had a wealth of opportunity at their fingertips, from annotating images to hand writing recognition to advanced educational software and more. School pupils could interact with shapes and maths puzzles and apostrophes and teachers could engage with pupils and present like never before.

In spite of a perceived lack of teacher training in some areas, using this interactive display technology became second nature to the majority of teachers. Lessons resources built into the software packages were shared among staff, and teachers retained them when moving schools. Schools became comfortable with their use and pupils were seeing a technology developing as the burgeoning Apple iPhone was in their home lives.

That is, until the technology began to fail. 

Classroom projector lamps began to dim and their warranties expired. Several hundred pounds of unbudgeted spend for a replacement lamp began to look excessive, as did the time spent needing to calibrate the interactive whiteboards every morning.

Maintenance became an issue, and that lack of training among IT support staff began to bite. Interactivity functions on the whiteboards became sketchy and new 16:9 laptops seemed incompatible with the 4:3 display on the wall.

Boisterous children upstairs, wobbly mobile classrooms and even changes in temperature affecting classroom projector fittings meant teachers were incessantly recalibrating the whiteboards.

Some schools invested in maintenance, paying for services such as our ‘Projector Refresh’ program. Others purchased replacement systems off the page, renewing performance but not upgrading functionality.

A concerningly high proportion of schools began to close the blinds and switch off the lights during teaching time, perhaps even using their investment as a dry wipe board. Many teachers felt they were letting both themselves and their pupils down.

Our vast experience with schools, specifically on the hundreds of Classroom Healthchecks we’ve carried out of the years, shows the latter is widespread. A school may incorporate Growth Mindset into its teaching yet fail to implement it into management of their technology – schools have come to accept mediocrity in how they present their teaching.

In 2012 though, a relatively expensive alternative for schools arrived – the interactive flat panel display – otherwise referred to as interactive touchscreen, touchscreen TV and others. Brighter, clearer, with lower running costs and so a return on investment, early adopter schools and new-build academies took the bait and immediately saw the benefits.

Adoption became more widespread and affordability improved, as did their specifications and capabilities. And we are now at a stage where around 40,000 classrooms have been upgraded and around half of schools have invested in at least one interactive touchscreen.

We are also at the point where a bewildering number of manufacturers are trying to access the market, yet alongside some new entrants, it is those original innovators who have retained their leadership.

Consider the modern classroom with a large, clear, bright all-in-one teaching tool as its hub, seamlessly facilitating collaboration. Teachers and pupils can interact with content, simultaneously write and draw, and connect mobile devices to mirror content and collaborate. Teachers can wirelessly share their lessons, easily access content, and download and use their favourite applications.

Teaching resources, learning through play, lesson building, formative and summative assessment abound – as a teacher, you can watch your pupils’ eyes light up and learn.

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Article published on Blog page at Elementary Technology

Know your Deezer from your Jango?

“What’s that?” asked an apprentice who was visiting our offices recently, still wet behind the ears and slightly too cock-sure with his fresh 2:1 in Marketing.

I suppose to someone born in the late 1990s, a large telephone with an integrated printer may look a little bizarre.

‘It’s a fax machine’ I replied, realising I was being a little more cock-sure than he was.

As I returned to my desk after a decent chat, I realised the double edged sword of being born after the mid-1990s. Yes, you might know your Deezer from your Jango, but you’re still out of date – just in the opposite direction.

It also reinforced to me how business, and specifically marketing, is developing so quickly. Working in the technology industry as I do, my colleagues told me story of winning their first deal from a fax-shot. They’d design it on Pagemaker, print it in monochrome and fax it to as many companies as they could muster from the phone book.  They described it nostalgically as if it were on a cine camera (had to Google how to spell that – I’m an early 80s kid – I guess my visitor would have asked Siri. On his watch. Whilst sending a Snapchat to his ex).

And here we are just 15 years later…

From designing fax shots on Microsoft Works to building eshots in the cloud, wherever that is. We add a 15px padding around a transparent .png header, we tap a click through to view a Full HD movie streaming from our Vine channel. We use tracking code to analyse Traffic Acquisition on Google Analytics, made more accurate if we utilise unique embed code to feed a survey form from Dotmailer so we can allocate a campaign source and track ROI. And all to the backdrop of dawn chorus #whatevs

So when our visitor comes of age and hits his mid-thirties, in (gulp) 2030ish, we assume a mouse will look as fruitless as a fax machine and a USB stick will be as comedy as a 5 ¼” floppy.

We’ll still all come to work though, even if an Android has done the driving, and have a banter in the kitchen over a brew. We’ll still sit around a table and discuss how to generate a healthy return on cost, even if half the table is half way across the world.  I guess we’ll still be sending mail shots as well, and also what will essentially be an eshot.

Fax shots though? It’s a long shot, but you never know.

Applying ‘Growth Mindset’ to classroom technology

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that”.

So said Carol Dweck when describing her Growth Mindset philosophy, and how it can be applied to schools.

And when you explore a little deeper into the ethos, it becomes clear why its proliferation has been so vast, to the point where it is now referred to in headline terms on many school websites alongside contact details and holiday dates.

After all, if a pupil, teacher or a school starts to become content with the status quo, then something is going wrong somewhere – isn’t it?

Growth Mindset basically refers to the notion that intelligence is not fixed, but can be developed through hard work and support. So in order to encourage it, instead of condemning mistakes a teacher should instead discuss how to learn from them to make their work better next time. And instead of lavishing praise on good work and creating a lack of need to improve, a teacher should help identify ways to enhance their output in the future.

The concept is course relevant to far more than just teaching. In our day to day lives we often switch off and let things go a little, whether it’s a squeaky car boot or not twigging that the area next to the shed would make a neat vegetable patch. And before we know it, it’s next year and we’ve not moved on.

Looking a little closer to home then, into our classrooms. Those hubs of teaching and learning, those gateways to a brighter future as a society no less. Those spaces where teachers and students alike use tools and technology to improve themselves and each other.

Given they’re so significant and such potential influencers, we’d hope they’re the last places on earth we’d allow to linger into the status quo? Yet although we must never discredit schools, and the effort that goes into maintenance of an inspiring environment, there are often areas which drag down the bigger picture. Areas which can distract from the promotion of a growth mindset in a school.

These areas will usually be right at the front of the classroom, which aside from when engaged in personal or collaborative learning, are the main learning tool. We’re talking about the classroom display equipment.

In over half the classrooms we’ve researched, the main classroom display was over 5 years old. Equipment which is therefore out of warranty, uses obsolete technology and which quite frankly, has been left to linger into the status quo. A projector which is a bit on the dim side, an interactive whiteboard which needs calibrating twice a day and an ongoing need for the children to squint to see your teaching anywhere near its full glory.

Fixed traits – this is your classroom display, and that’s that. It’s technology in a fixed mindset, as Carol Dweck would say, and by default therefore, it’s in a school which has a fixed mindset with regard its most vital teaching tool.

But hang on a minute – that doesn’t sound good!

That’s because it is far from good. In fact, having inadequate classroom display equipment, to the extent where it’s affecting teaching and learning, is a failure and a mistake. Therefore if we’re applying Growth Mindset to classroom technology, it’s something we need to analyse and discuss and work on resolving.

So after reading this, return to your classroom, step aside from the status quo for a few moments and view your classroom display as you would a pupil’s work:

“Is this the best it can be? How can I improve this? If we had an empty wall, would I buy this or I would I look for something better?”.

Quick! It’ll be next year before you know it!

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Article published on Blog page at Elementary Technology

The EU as a Collaborative Classroom

Collaboration delivers results in the classroom, yet are these lessons we teach at school reflected in our commercial and political circles?

The responsibility to teach our young children the value of strong relationships, of teamwork, of mutual benefit and sharing initially lies with our parents. We share our toys and our cake, we work together to build sandcastles and we learn the value of friendship.

This continues into our education; guided by a qualified teacher, today’s pupils use mobile devices to work together, they sit around tables, interacting with technology and each other as active participants in learning. They engage with each other to deliver results which are better than if they’d worked in isolation, as passive listeners or outside onlookers.

We move through the next stages – traditionally SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels – all the time we gain a better understanding of the world around us. This time built with our experiences, more than what we’re advised by our elders.

The tone then begins to change – we start competing for university places, and after we reach our final stage of academia, we hit the world of work into what is a competitive jobs market. Our jobs usually involve being better than our equivalent companies in our competitive marketplace. We aim to be a cut above the rest. We want our sandcastle to be the biggest and the best.

With the rise of academies, similar themes are entering our education system.

The collaborative system of Local Authorities championed the idea that schools work together on a regional basis. By pooling resources and sharing expertise, an LA can improve educational outcomes.

The tone is beginning to change – academies adopt a more commercial outlook, and although they cooperate within themselves as Academy Trusts, there’s a stronger element of competition with each other. The idea being of course that the desire to exceed historical standards, and to exceed each other, improves outcomes. Perhaps it does – but at what cost to collaboration?

So the 27 remaining EU countries – an uncanny number given the size of an average classroom – still retain their status as formal collaborators. They’ll continue to sit down around a table, share experiences, resources and expertise. Continue to learn together and help each other develop.

It could be argued that the UK will soon become that outside onlooker. The pupil with their head down in a textbook. The pupil without the iPad and without the WiFi connection to the interactive touchscreen. The pupil unable to annotate on their fellow pupil’s work on the classroom display to suggest an improvement.

As they sit there minding their own business though, there remains enormous potential for a single mind. To build on their own knowledge and expertise using other resources – perhaps even beginning to compete with their colleagues at the other end of the classroom.

The question is given the option, would that be their choice? Will they be better off?

There’s one way to find out.

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Article published on Blog page at Elementary Technology