Can Technology Help You Innovate?

  • Can Technology Help You Innovate?

One of the most gamechanging technology initiatives we’ve run at Madeley Academy so far has been the capture and sharing of lessons in Design and Technology. We realized that a great deal of the content teachers created during class time was of genuine value, and was something both teachers and students wanted to return to later on. In order to make this possible, we aimed to create a bank of online resources that were readily available to students on a 24/7 basis, and that could be also accessed by teachers or even parents.

The shared materials would allow parents to get a first-hand look at what and how their children are taught at school. In short, it would create an ‘online curriculum’ for students to follow at Madeley, so we sought technology that would capture the information being created and then make it easily accessible on our online systems.

Since we implemented it, we’ve found the online curriculum has brought a number of benefits to our students and Madeley’s community. To develop it, we use Camtasia, a screen capturing tool from TechSmith, to record lessons so that they could be streamed or played back later on. When screencasts are created they are uploaded to the Academy’s internal intranet, allowing students, teachers and parents to access them. This is especially valuable for parents, as they can see exactly what their children are being taught in school, and are better able to help with homework and coursework outside of school. Plus, not every student learns at the same rate, so a rich mix of independent learning has aided many students.

Additional benefits include the number of staff in the department that regularly review the screencasts to learn how to do Computer Aided Design work in the classroom. In turn, this CPD is an efficient way to ensure that students not only have a reference video, but a staff member who has been taught by the expert in a particular project.

The online materials support everyday tasks, allowing students to review lessons exactly as they were delivered, and this can really help when – for instance – they are completing tasks at their own pace. There are also clear advantages in the run up to exams. Students can use screencasts to revisit lessons that took place several months ago for revision, as if they had been delivered the same day.

Screencasts also enable students to learn, even if they’re not physically able to make it into school, due to illness or injury for example, meaning they can continue with their studies using the uploaded lesson notes and recordings. This can be especially important for pupils in the run up to key milestones in the student’s academic calendar, such as GCSEs or final year coursework, when the pace at which topics are covered increases.

A BYOD policy built on trust Another technology trend Madeley has adopted in Design and Technology, and witnessed notable improvements with, is Bring Your Own Device. BYOD is a tech initiative that’s often underutilised across many British schools - despite being fairly easy to source. Students of today are more than comfortable with their own technology and when called on to use it, can do so swiftly and with ease. When using devices in their own time, they may well fill their lives with time consuming apps, but the smartphone by itself can actually offer the opportunity to record, review and progress.

For example, the recording of images for that all-important moment of practical evidence can be saved to Google Keep or Evernote in a flash and sequenced for recall later. Students record their practical development and can demonstrate progression. Coach’s Eye from TechSmith is another app able to record, analyse and help to make improvements to a sportsperson’s technique. Find me a parent who would object to their child bringing home evidence of progression and success in their project work – its powerful stuff.

Many schools are nervous to introduce BYOD initiatives or reluctant to encourage students to spend any more time on their mobile devices than they already do. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found there has to be an existing degree of mutual respect within the classroom before teachers can start to promote the use of smartphones during lesson time. Students who enjoy learning will use their technology productively. It is definitely worth spending some time to make sure students know the boundaries of what can and cannot be done with their mobile devices. I would consider the recording of learning experiences in D&T using a camera or video as absolutely sound progress if the teacher has engendered a culture of trust and mutual respect. If that is not present, then it’s best to keep the technology out of the equation altogether.

To enable and empower

While all of these initiatives are exciting changes for our students, we are keen to ensure there is an undercurrent of technology in everything we do – both in one-to-one teacher student situations, but also in a whole school context. In this vein, we have introduced a state-ofthe- art broadcast system and produce a professional broadcast for the students to watch each week. There is always a curriculum focus where a video is taken of students learning in each of the different subject areas, for example one week the video could provide an overview of the latest work being crafted by students in A Level Product Design, and the next week could show some of the productions from the Music Technology lab. The recordings are then dubbed or presented by staff and students in an assembly. The cultural impact of revealing progress from the students or displaying excellent work cannot be underestimated. When the video is shown to the wider student body, we see an almost immediate reaction from the students aspiring to do work of a similar calibre. Through making these short, engaging videos we’ve learnt how the positive influence of tech has worked beyond improving grades and exam results. With proper, smart use, digital software can provide new methods of motivating students who are growing up in a constantly connected world and capture their attention.

When it comes to long term projects, electronic feedback is highly efficient. I regularly use Snagit to grab a page from an e-portfolio and highlight areas to address, before sharing back with the Sixth Form students via the school email. It is immediate, relevant and easy to understand for the student. In the same way that you might ask the students to use demonstrate their application of colour and tone in a sketch, why not record it and the work done of another so they can compare, contrast and reflect later? Often, teachers find that moment to delve into a piece of electronic work on the network and prefer to use electronic feedback to reply with either typed or another screen grab of an alternate approach. Why wait for the next lesson at all?

Teachers here have been on a technology journey. I have witnessed the rise of hardware and content authored for schools and watched as teachers savvy in tech produced their own, often better solutions. I like to consider that I have been a part of this. However, schools are changing rapidly to meet the rigorous demands of Ofsted and this, I fear, may redirect creativity. My focus has always been on the progress of the children I teach. Technology now has to work alongside me (and sometimes take a back seat) as we meet head on the key judgements by which schools are judged successful.


Jonathan Boyle is deputy head teacher at Madeley Academy– a specialist Sports College based in Telford, UK. The school educates over 1200 students each year aged 11-18.