Where next for education?
Phil Neal, director at Capita SIMS, discusses how technology is changing schools
Many years ago, when I was a physics teacher in Luton, our school received a RM380Z. For those of you younger than I, this was an early 8-bit (yes that is all) microcomputer and the new acquisition gave me the chance to finally put a two week university module in computing to use.
Looking back, the technology was incredibly basic but despite its limits, what I learnt to do with it transformed my working life. I developed a new way of writing pupil reports which saved me and my colleagues countless hours of precious time - something that even in those days teachers did not have a great deal of.
I have been transfixed with the transformational power of technology for schools ever since. Used well, it can make teachers' working lives easier and engage pupils in lessons in a way that was not possible when I was teaching.
Current advances in technology continue to change the face of education and I think there are three key trends that will have an impact in classrooms over the next few years.
1. The next steps for gamification
One current development that I consider unlikely to disappear is the growth of gamification in learning - using elements such as point scoring, badges or rewards to help pupils learn.
The technology behind gaming has been in use for a few years now. And you can see why it is increasingly taking its place in education; learning is an active, participatory process so adopting a game framework, where effort equals reward, can work well to motivate pupils.
What we are starting to see more of now, however, is an evolution from a few interesting apps that reward pupils with game time when they respond to multiple choice questions correctly, to games where more active, full participation is required.
Time Tables Rock Stars is a great example. It's a lightening quick competition that encourages children to recall times tables at speed and become Rock Gods in the process.
The element that adds motivation is that children can compete against pupils from Australia or India, live online, in their very own rock festival, much like older children compete with virtual gaming buddies. These'times-tables-offs' can even have real offline prizes like a helicopter flight over London for the lucky winner. The result is pupils that are happy to learn their times tables and more engagement from the less motivated learners.
Gamification can add additional competitive elements to other aspects of school too. Instead of a nine year-old getting a paper certificate for good behaviour or attendance as they do now, why not automatically post these points on a leader board on the school learning portal to motivate pupils to compete with their class mates? This way technology can help schools harness the natural, healthy competitiveness of pupils and improve behaviour in school at the same time.
2. User led design
Whether you love or hate Apple, you have to accept one thing - they have dramatically changed our expectations of software. Where previously we would have been happy to go looking for information, now we want it made available to us with a single swipe or click.
Before iPhone apps, Joe Public had little to do with software design and did not get that involved with how the software should work. Now, more often than not, it is user feedback that sculpts new developments - and suppliers simply have to find the best technology to meet that demand.
This shift has led IT suppliers who work with schools to look differently at how their systems are designed. Teachers want to access sophisticated data analysis in a click. So, technology has had to move away from data in mineshafts - where pupils' attendance information is stored in one place and their behaviour and achievement data in another - to instead give teachers a single picture of a child.
This way, they can see at a glance the impact a child's recent absence has had on their achievement or behaviour, without having to work out how to find the answer.
As this quick and easy data analysis technology rolls out more widely across schools, it will no doubt enable teachers to provide more targeted help to children, from the moment they need it.
3. Mobile working through the cloud
The final trend that will continue to impact on schools is the whole shift to mobile working through cloud technologies.
Laptops and desktops have never really completely suited teaching. Teachers, by their nature, do not want to be restricted to sitting behind desks. They want to move freely amongst pupils or take them out into the school playground to learn.
The explosion of tablets in schools and the ability to access software in the cloud therefore better fits the nature of the job. They allow teachers to harness the full advantages of IT without having to change the way they work to suit the limitations of the tools.
Registration or assessment marks can be added as a teacher walks among their pupils and pupil reports can be updated by voice recognition when the teacher has a spare 30 minutes between classes.
Tablets are revolutionising pupil learning too. Indeed, the British Educational Suppliers Association estimate that by 2020, 44% of schools will have enough tablets to ensure every student in school has one for their own use. I can see that it will not take long before 100% of pupils have one. That will have an amazing impact on how children learn and also what resources will be available for teachers to help them engage individuals and groups in the learning process.
How these changes improve schools' ability to raise the achievement of all their pupils is yet to be seen but it is certainly true that the current generation of children will have very different learning experiences to the ones we had - and I for one, am all for that.
Phil Neal is a director at Capita SIMS which supplies schools with management information systems