Reflecting on Technological Change in the Classroom
By Nick Ball, Teacher of Maths

It is nearly 20 years since I first qualified as a teacher and I have recently found myself reflecting on how the profession has changed over that period of time.

Of course many things have remained unchanged including the end goal of producing articulate, problem solving students who have a strong moral compass. So too have the ‘bones’ of the lesson – I have always used problem solving in maths lessons to really engage students in deep thought and I still do; and my feedback in order for students to improve remains formative as it always was. What is very different now is how I am doing these things. Much of that is a result of the advances we have seen in technology over the period and this has had a fundamental impact both on the learning experience for students and the way we, as teachers, approach our teaching.

Whilst I have always embraced technological advances, experience has also taught me that just because something is new and exciting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to make someone a better teacher!

A good example of this is the interactive whiteboard which was just making its way into the classroom when I first became qualified. To this day, I am not convinced it ‘added’ anything in particular to my teaching – it was quite clunky and the pen quite often didn’t write where I wanted it to. The projector, on the other hand, on which I could show accurate graphs and prepare problems for students to solve, proved to be an invaluable tool.

Most recently, the Covid pandemic has proved to be a major catalyst for change. Long periods of lockdown and homeschooling meant the sector had to reassess, very quickly, how we could continue to deliver an education to our young people in a virtual environment.

The introduction of Google Classroom as an online teaching and learning tool alleviated the need for physical presence, books or paper. Overnight, students were scanning and uploading their work onto Google Classroom for teachers to mark. With work submitted in this way, providing focused and formative feedback became a challenge until I discovered MOTE – a package which enabled me to leave voice recordings in Google Classroom. I will confess that, initially, I was uncertain how effective my feedback via voice message would be. This all changed, however, when I heard Joe Wicks (aka ‘the Bodycoach’) use voice messages to communicate personal messages of encouragement to individuals to help them achieve their fitness goals. It was at this point that I realised Joe must be doing hundreds of these messages and that, doing so in this way, was not only quicker but also far more powerful.

So, I began leaving students voice messages using MOTE. I marked their work in the usual way using an iPad on the screen (ticks, crosses, correction etc.) but then, at the end, where I would normally write a long comment, I left a voice recording to talk through and sum up my feedback. It was so effective that, when we returned to normality post-Covid, I continued to do this for homework. Not one to rest on my laurels, I surveyed my students to see what they thought of this approach and I was blown away by their response. Every single student said they loved this method of feedback – they seemed happier to listen to my comments than to read them and, it also saved me time. Win Win.

Another evolution has been the visualiser which I also used during lockdown and also continued to use in my return to the classroom post-Covid. This ‘document camera’ connects to my computer and allows me to display techniques to the whole class so everyone can see the content at the same time during the delivery of a lesson. It has proved far more effective to use during mixed mode teaching, than to stand at the front of the classroom with a board pen and whiteboard (which is what I previously did).

Most recently, a colleague has introduced me to ‘Notability’ on an iPad pro. Whilst still at the very preliminary stages of using this, I can already see the enormous benefits. I prepare my lesson in Notability and then go through questions using the iPad. It allows me to wander around the room (unlike the visualiser); I can combine my own drawings with other imported images; and then, at the touch of a button, I can share everything from the lesson with my class. That means my students are actually thinking through the solutions to the questions I have posed, rather than madly hurrying to copy information down from the board. This is particularly helpful for those who have additional learning needs, for whom copying information from a whiteboard can be tricky.

So, as I sit here with all those years experience under my belt, I recognise the significant and positive impact technology has had – both on my ability to deliver lessons and in enhancing the experience for my students. Whilst much has changed and much has remained, I am proud to say I still enjoy what I do and I am still embracing any change that might continue to enhance the educational experience – both for me as a teacher and for my students.

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