Times Educational Supplement Scotland Article

This article appears in the TESS as an opinion piece

While my wife makes a 7am start to the local primary school to plan with her team, I often meet with my own colleagues to get planning, too. We have energetic, collaborative sessions talking about workshops, classes, policies, challenges, next steps, planning, leadership development. We work on documents, share music, show family photos and get to know each other: we build a team.

Some of these colleagues I have never shaken hands with — because they are up to 10,500 miles away, in Melbourne or in New York (though one is half a mile away). All are brought together in glorious HD, from six global locations.

This is daily work for our education team, not some special, one-off, highly organised event. This is not some futuristic world of work; this is the world of work right now for an increasingly large number of folk.

But when I look at the technology setup in too many Scottish schools — and I have done just that while seconded to the Scottish government’s Digital Learning and Teaching Team — it feels 10,500 miles away from where it should be. It’s difficult for Scottish teachers to get students collaborating in ways that have become not just normal, but old hat for many of the places in which the same students could start working tomorrow.

These aren’t big high-tech jobs, or even confined to the offices of Edinburgh’s George Street, where many technology companies are based. Fishing boats are packed with the same technology to track their creels, farmers gauge the best time to milk their cows with sensor technology, PAs regularly manage meetings for scores of people around the planet.

We want to prepare all our young people, over time, to be ready for whatever the world throws at them when they leave school — but are we even preparing young people for the world as it is now?

Some of Scotland’s most innovative classroom projects have happened because teachers have asked for forgiveness rather than permission. A recently published Scottish government strategy paper is trying to make sure that they don’t have to do that anymore by making sure that the people who purchase, set up and control our technology serve teaching and learning, and not the other way around.

A case in point: recently there was a “global Skypeathon” for educators, and Scotland was at the very heart of it. While some classes were just naturally dipping into this amazing opportunity to communicate globally, some teachers had to use phones or WiFi Hotspots to get access. Local connectivity or policy stopped the opportunity to join in with a global community.

Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of digital technology: A Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland — not the catchiest title, so let’s call it the “DLT Strategy” — is a guide for learning and teaching and using digital tools in schools (bit.ly/DigiStratScot). It doesn’t say how you do it — that will depend on local context and what learning outcomes are trying to be achieved — but it does say where we should be moving to. It’s a robust guide, too, aligned with global documents such as the Unesco ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, as well as national guidelines, such as the HIGIOS 4 document (How Good is our School?) and the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s standards for registration.

The strategy provides four equally important objectives, which require teachers and school leaders to work more together, as well as IT managers, information security officers and purchasing managers who control access. If one leg of this digital stool is short, then the whole thing is going to be shoogly.

These four objectives are:

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

2. Improve access to digital technology for all learners

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

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

There are clear roles in making all four happen, at national, local authority and school level. Some groups have been active for a while, such as those involving local authority development officers with technology remits, school leaders and classroom practitioners. Others are starting to respond, like initial teacher education institutions and local authority officers without ICT remits.

But there is a vital role for those who control the networks: IT managers and information security officers, amongst others. Through their strategic decisions, taken in council headquarters, they have a say in what can happen in hundreds of classrooms, for thousands of students. These people, through the choices they make, affect the day-to-day potential of a teacher to help students experience learning that matches the excitement and complexity of learning and work in later life.

You can now use the strategy as a lever for change. IT managers and information security officers don’t tend to read this kind of article, or read TESS at all. It’s down to teachers and school leaders, therefore, to make sure that they know about the policy and, more importantly, are involving schools in the decisions they take.

Most decisions on technology are made with the best intentions, but the minute a teacher feels the tightening of digital handcuffs, hindering what they’re trying to achieve for their students, they stop and focus on what is easily accessible. So consider how the strategy might open up some important conversations — to make changes for the better for all.

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