How can educators prepare for students’ futures, when recent months have shown just how unexpected the future of education can be?
In a virtual session at Pearson’s Digital Live series, we heard the insights of teachers Stephen Sadler and Stefanie Campbell, respective winners of the 2019 and 2020 Pearson National Teaching Awards for ‘Digital Innovator of the Year’’.
Read on for a taster of their top thoughts around achieving engagement through digital learning now and in future.
1. Start small and try things out
"If it doesn't work move on. Find something new. Because there will be an amazing digital tool out there – you just haven't found it yet."
No matter where someone is in their teaching career – if they’re only just starting their digital journey, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed.
As Stefanie Campbell explains, “you can very quickly get lost in the hundreds of digital tools and strategies available” – a feeling that’s likely to grow as numerous online and remote learning options continue to flourish.
Stefanie suggests asking colleagues what’s worked for them, give it a go, and don’t hesitate to stop if you think it’s not beneficial. “If it doesn't work move on. Find something new. Because there will be an amazing digital tool out there – you just haven't found it yet.”
As well as mining existing skills that, for many educators, have been newly uncovered this year, Stephen recommends that – with digital learning – educators should take time to assess what their setting already has on hand, before reaching out beyond its walls for provisions in the future.
In a practical sense, this could be as simple as unearthing a stash of tools that have been shut away in a storeroom. Alternatively, educators could explore the array of free resources available online, such as the ‘Immersive Reader’ tool. “Take time to research what other associates, colleagues and schools are doing,” he adds.
2. Listen to and harness your digital experts – whether teachers or students
As edtech evolves, both educators and students will undoubtedly experience times when they find it difficult to keep up – so it’s crucial that friendly advice is available to help answer any questions.
In Stephen Sadler’s school, teachers have found a novel way to source knowledge for their community: a Digital Learning Expert Team, comprised of members of the student body. “They are confident at using software,” says Stephen, “and are go-to people that teachers [and peers] can comfortably ask questions of.” The initiative develops leadership skills, builds student confidence, and boosts social engagement.
Perhaps your best expert might be within the teaching team. Stephen advises: “Those people that are experts out there, don't be shy in putting yourself forward and saying ‘This is how I see this bit of software or hardware being used effectively’.
“Those people that are experts out there, don't be shy in putting yourself forward and saying ‘This is how I see this bit of software or hardware being used effectively.’”
“And for those senior leaders out there: listen to those people, because they know what they're talking about, they know what they're doing, and it might be that person or group of people that really can push your school forward.”
3. Believe in yourself and your school community
“In terms of supporting staff, I’ve seen just how resilient educators are.”
Both Stefanie and Stephen have been buoyed by the confidence teachers have shown while navigating the pandemic and the move to more digital learning. “In terms of supporting staff,” says Stefanie, “I’ve seen just how resilient educators are.”
Stephen believes teachers are now believing in themselves, partly because “they’ve got the scope to deliver learning in a completely different way, and in a personalised way as well.”
Nevertheless, continued teacher training is essential to keep those improvements coming. For this, teachers need time – set aside by their setting, or protected by the government – plus all the appropriate resources. “It’s going to help benefit everybody,” he says.
Stefanie agrees: “Looking at the future, I think it's still so unknown. But if anything, it has taught us this year that it’s okay – we can do unknown!”
4. Let’s keep tackling the divide
Naturally, the pandemic has impacted different sets of people in myriad ways, and not all are positive. It’s important for educators to keep this in mind whenever contemplating current – or future – edtech. Do pupils have the right devices to access what they need? Will a new style of learning really suit them?
Stefanie emphasises the importance of staying aware: “Students need to be able to communicate, and in a workforce we need to be able to collaborate, and share, and to champion each other. But we also need to be so aware of where everybody is coming from. I think there's a huge area of work still to be done in terms of inclusivity”.
“I think there's a huge area of work still to be done in terms of inclusivity.”
5. Keep the digital revolution going
“It’s now time to really make edtech really push the boundaries of traditional teaching.”
Alongside considering the challenges of edtech it’s also crucial to balance how digital learning can help students thrive: the flexibility it offers, the interactivity, the chance to fully adapt education to difficult home situations and evolve this.
Stefanie explains how she has had students share how much they’ve valued the flexibility of learning, whether it’s participating in a class and rocking up with their pot noodle, to students who are carers and able to stay at home, maintain their caring responsibilities while also being involved in their learning and the class.
Both experts are keen to see the acceleration of digital learning continue, even as most students return to physical classroom environments. “I think we're reaching a critical point where we're in danger of perhaps losing some of the hugely positive things that we’ve seen can happen through edtech,” Stefanie says.
Stephen agrees: “It's important that schools and school leaders try and keep that hybrid momentum going – it's important for the younger generation who are going to leave school and enter a digital first world.”
He advises that teachers try to “think differently” and find a creative way of applying digital learning into their existing ways of working and methods, inspiring new learning scenarios from this: “In the same way that the digital revolution is in the consumer business world, it’s now time to really make edtech, and really push the boundaries of traditional teaching”.