When we ask teachers how they feel about using EdTech in the classroom, at the same time as recognising that it is exciting, innovative, develops communication and creates learning opportunities, many also admit that they feel daunted and anxious about using it with their pupils.
It is easy to see why. If teachers are simply given a whistle-stop tour of a solution for an hour or so during an inset training day, they are unlikely to be immediately confident in its use.
What they need is the chance to get their hands on it, practise and become familiar with it on their own terms.
Without this time factored into their timetables, they will struggle to gain a working knowledge that enables them to use EdTech meaningfully with their students – and so the cost of purchasing and implementing it is wasted.
Where to start
Even if you do have a supportive SLT that is fully invested in helping staff develop their technology skills and has allocated time for you to do so, where do you start?
Being left alone with unfamiliar technology can be intimidating, so receiving practical training that you can try out on the actual devices you will be using in class is crucial.
Accessing the technology as soon as possible after the training really helps to consolidate what has been demonstrated. Taking it slowly and becoming familiar with one feature at a time means that knowledge and confidence will build together, before you put things to the test in front of your pupils.
As with learning any new skill, repetition helps to achieve fluency. This rehearsal time is where making mistakes is beneficial as it provides you with the chance to find out how to fix things without being under pressure; minimising the fear factor and leaving you better prepared for the classroom.
Some teachers I have spoken with say they have practised by videoing themselves and, when happy with the results, have incorporated the feature into their video exemplars for pupils or parents.
This is a really useful tip because, not only can you review and adapt as you go, but you will also build up a bonus library of instructional resources.
A model for describing the stages teachers may identify with when learning new EdTech is defined by Mandinach and Cline (1992), who outline the phases of survival, mastery, impact and innovation.
With that mindset, if we hand a new solution to a teacher and provide little or no training, that places them in survival mode.
They are not sure how to use it properly, are fearful of breaking it and, under pressure with 30 eager faces in front of them (either in class or sitting at home), confidence does not really come into it; it is just a case of whether they will sink or swim!
However, once teachers have learned the basics, they move to phase two, which is mastery. This is where they have received training and have had the opportunity to practise by themselves. They have also tried things out in lessons and, when they have worked, this has begun to boost their confidence.
The reason that schools have invested in devices, software and (hopefully) CPD, is that mastery evolves into stage three, which is generating impact. Teachers are no longer afraid of the technology, can cope when things do not go to plan, and they (and their pupils) are using it effectively.
The final step that every school aspires to is to generate innovation. Here, technology is used intelligently and appropriately, teachers feel that they are digitally literate (with their technology knowledge on a par with their pedagogical and content knowledge (TPCK)), so much so in fact, that they are in a position to share those skills with others and, in effect, become the flagbearers for those less confident than themselves.
Practising and retaining skills
During the pandemic, through necessity, technology has taken centre stage. So whether collaborating and communicating in Teams, Zoom or Google Meet or helping students to learn via ClassDojo or Seesaw, many teachers have worked hard to significantly raise their EdTech skills in a short time – and for that, we applaud you!
What is critical though, is that these new-found skills are not lost once we begin to move past Covid, when the urgent need for remote teaching and learning inevitably diminishes.
For that not to happen, the progressive use of EdTech needs to be embedded across the school. Schools can ensure this by reviewing and standardising their solutions; making things easier for staff moving between sites within a Trust, and easier to support.
So deciding, for example, whether you are an Apple/Google/Microsoft school is key and gives you the foundation on which to implement complementary applications that are therefore more accessible (in terms of intuitive usage) for your teachers.
Continued learning support is a fundamental part of retaining any new skill. This can take various forms, such as ongoing formal CPD training sessions, top-up/revision training, peer sharing, solutions champions or interacting on dedicated online forums to ask questions and share answers and experiences with others.
The key is to keep your knowledge ticking over and evolving with changes in the technology, rather than letting your skill level drop and having to play catch-up. This way, you will retain the knowledge and confidence to use EdTech as a tool to innovate, rather than simply just ‘use’ it.
There has never been a more important time to be digitally literate and the pandemic has been a huge catalyst for change in this respect, with the need to teach children remotely and maintain communication with parents to support the continuation of learning.
As many schools will maintain their current EdTech use after Covid, the work teachers are doing to increase their digital confidence now will integrate technology into their teaching practice, so that it moves from being a box they must tick to being a tool they automatically use to achieve their pedagogical aims.
Get to grips with EdTech
- Learn at your own pace. Rushing things means you won’t take information on board fully and increases the likelihood of coming unstuck later on.
- Don’t be intimidated if others appear to learn faster. Stick to what works for you. You know you’ll get there eventually.
- Testing, testing. Try things out with an audience of one: yourself. Video yourself and watch it back. You’ll soon see which bits need refining.
- Mental preparation. If you have the sequence of what you need to do outlined clearly in your head first, then the practical side will follow.
- Take it steady. Minimise stress and validate your progress by introducing just one new tech feature into your lessons at a time.
- Giving is receiving. Share experiences and tips with colleagues in the same situation as you and they’ll reciprocate. You’ll all pick up some great ideas.
Al Kingsley is Chair of two MATs (as both a Trustee and Member), Chair of his local Governors’ Leadership Group, and is a member of the Regional Schools Commissioners’ Head Teacher Board for North London and the South East.