Teaching and technology

Richard Hanna Education policy advisor Richard Hanna explains the importance of ICT in education and outlines ways in which schools can be more “sophisticated” in using technology to support teaching and learning.

Policy makers in education have always aspired to “prepare young people for life” but the social and economic context in which they work has changed and the role of technology has become “critically important,” according to Richard Hanna.

Addressing an agendaNi forum on ICT in skills and education, the CCEA’s Director of Education said that despite its importance, technology should not overshadow the “basic requirements” of improving standards in literacy and numeracy.

In terms of educational performance in the region, one-in-five primary school children still move to post-primary without adequate skills in literacy and numeracy. Northern Ireland is below the OECD average for mathematics and literacy and, while it is above the OECD average in reading, the province is still behind England, Scotland and the Republic.

Hanna believes that technology could be used as a “tool” to help teachers deal with these problems.

Because children are such “sophisticated users of technology” they “expect the same level of education at school that they get from the iPhone, Facebook or even Sky TV,” Hanna argues. He claims that these devices “can’t be made

irrelevant” by teachers asking pupils to switch off their phones when they come to school.

Rather, Hanna suggests that schools invest in technology such as text-books, open-source applications, cloud computing and “safe” social networks which are “versatile and value for money.”

Open source networks are software applications which help teachers present lessons on a variety of subjects. ‘Moodle’ is a popular free app which allows teachers to create a virtual learning environment to facilitate online learning. Another popular app is ‘Stellarium’, which allows teachers to input coordinates for any point on earth and view the night skies at any particular point in time.

Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular as it is a means computing, via the Internet, that broadly shares computer resources – such as servers, storage and networks – instead of using software on a local PC.

Hanna emphasises that while technology is “not a fad,” it “can’t take over.” The primary issue is education and “technology is the tool,” he insists.

A good example of education technology in practice is the new GCE moving image arts subject, whereby students in Northern Ireland have become the first in the UK to complete an entire A-level exam online.

It would have been “entirely inappropriate” to have a traditional exam for this subject. Hanna adds: “It wouldn’t be fit for purpose, therefore an online exam is used as a method of assessment and pupils type their response.”

In addition, primary four to seven pupils have been using adaptive assessment; a process that Hanna considers is

“effective.” Instead of all pupils sitting an exam with the same questions, a computer system will provide suitable questions for each individual depending on the answers they give. Therefore more able children will be presented with “ever- more challenging” questions, while less able children will face questions that suit their abilities. “The outcome,” Hanna contends, “is that the most able are being challenged and the less able don’t feel humiliated.”

While he advocates the need for schools in the province to “be more sophisticated in how we assess the value of technology and in how we use technology to support teaching and learning,” educators must, above all, endeavour to “create stronger foundations in literacy and numeracy, as well as curiosity.”

Profile: Richard Hanna

Director of Education Strategy for the CCEA, with responsibility for developing policy advice related to curriculum, assessment and reporting and for providing support and guidance to schools. Responsible for implementing revised assessment and reporting arrangements.

Recently appointed Director (Designate) of Curriculum, Assessment and Examinations for the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) and currently on secondment to the ESA Implementation Team.

A post-primary teacher of technology and ICT for 18 years and has held a number of management positions in CCEA which have included development and support for qualifications, e-learning and the use of ICT in support of teaching and learning.

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