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Educational Excellence

impact of their resources before renewing. By stepping back and measuring this in terms of teaching and learning, it is probably going to lend itself to a more powerful outcome. What’s more, before a school even thinks about investing in new technology, it’s important they try to seek out free resources first. If these are available online, it usually means staff and students alike can access this from home without any problems. Moreover, schools need to look at their existing infrastructure as well as work out what kind of learning experience they want for their students.

From the new educational technologies available to schools and colleges, what would you say are the best for supporting educational excellence?

At New Ways to Learn, we speak to schools and present them with what we call a ‘sandpit’ of technology to help them work out what works best for their establishment when it comes to creating a dynamic learning environment. Schools today are generally moving towards mobile devices, with the proliferation of BYOD and 1:1 device schemes. Tablets allow students to create in new ways; they give easy, immediate access to a wealth of information and multimedia content, enabling students to push the creative boundaries of their learning to produce work in a number of different formats including videos, sound clips, images and animations. Students can also access online resources through their devices, in addition to installing any number of innovative educational apps, deepening their knowledge.

As mentioned previously, it’s all well and good having the right devices but what about the support to use these to their maximum potential? Solutions such as iPad 360, provide a ready-to-go bundle of products, services and training that support the use of iPads in schools and colleges. Augmented reality (AR) is still relatively new on the education scene but it’s already being adopted by a number of institutions. Products such as the Paper Portal directly push multimedia content to any smart device triggered by ‘zones’ on the AR enabled smart newsletter, to provide school and college news updates to students and their families.

Schools may also wish to create their own augmented reality enabled resources. For example, when it comes to homework setting they might need to provide additional support. In this instance, AR ‘zones’ on homework task slips could include websites to useful information or short videos of teachers explaining in more detail what they want their students to achieve from the project in question.

Future trends

You’ve probably heard it before – ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. This truism certainly applies to tracking student progress, which once again, is an important part of ensuring educational excellence. I think we’ll begin to see more new educational technologies addressing this. For example, resources such as NeuroSky’s MindWave, an electroencephalogram (EEG) measuring device used to help educators learn more about their students’ brain patterns and learning curve will become more popular. These kinds of digital tools with support assessment in a really exciting, unique way. Educational excellence is about meeting the needs of the whole school community and I think

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this will continue to be an integral part of developing educational technologies. Different schools have different priorities; in some independent schools, the parents are very much the paying client, and it is important for schools to provide them with as much access as possible to academic and pastoral school resources, in addition to specific information about their child. Other schools may offer a wide variety of extra- curricular activities that they want to push out to parents. One thing is the same across the board though; parents are leading increasingly busy lives and want coordinated, accurate and up-to-date information. For many teachers, parents’ evening is the only time they feel they can build a good rapport with students’ families. At the moment we’re working on a prototype called the Parent RePortal, an extension of the Paper Portal, with the idea of giving parents a regular personalised snapshot of their child’s academic progress. For this AR enabled report, teacher videos will be used to discuss a student, showcasing their best piece of work by holding this up to the camera. This enables schools to break down the barriers between home and school and better connects the two.

One school we’re working with at the moment is looking at taking this a stage further and is exploring the idea of a local community portal. They want to make the school an ambassador for sharing school and local news using augmented reality technology and I predict other schools will be keen to follow.

How can you help teachers who are still getting to grips with new educational technologies provide educational excellence through the use of these resources? If you’re a teacher and someone hands you a brand new tablet device, I’d suggest your first port of call is to check out the online forums instead of the apps store. Through these you’ll be able to able to learn a great deal about what you can do with the technology.

Often, a member of staff will be given a whole bunch of technology and sometimes this can really cloud their judgement and hamper productivity. With this in mind, one important piece of advice I have for schools is give teachers’

solutions, not just tools. This means ‘wrap around’ devices and training. I would encourage teachers to get in touch with their senior leadership team to make sure they have access to this. In many cases, schools don’t have a large enough budget so sometimes it’s worth getting together as part of a federation with other schools to bring people in to run full blown workshops. We work with many schools who take this approach.

Another tip for teachers would be to put aside for one week the technological tools you use. This is actually quite a difficult thing to do for most teachers but it is incredibly beneficial when it comes to encouraging educators to find new ways to incorporate technology in class time and for homework setting.

Too often teachers become bogged down and dependent on the same technologies and when this happens, lessons start looking the same. By posing a Doomsday scenario - Google has been destroyed, Microsoft no longer exists etc. - you can encourage teachers to think about other options and get really creative in new ways. Educational excellence isn’t something that comes easy, but with such a beautiful world of technology out there for educators to explore, this certainly provides a helping hand.

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