As in the song, we might say that collaboration and education go together like a horse and carriage. However, while the latter pair are more or less entrenched in an analogue past, collaborative learning has found a new lease of life through the power of technology, or EdTech. Perhaps a better analogy now would be a battery and an electric car!
A little over 18 months ago we launched the ‘Digacy’ programme at Northampton High. Digacy stands for ‘Digital Literacy’ but aims to go further, with the vision of bringing all things technological together under one banner, to help students develop future skills and to bring transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Little did we know that Covid-19 would push technology even further to the forefront of our thinking, giving us an unprecedented testbed for cloud-computing platforms across the school.
Using technology to support learning helps not just to deliver content in more adventurous and supportive formats, but, more importantly, allows students and teachers to connect with each other within and beyond the confines of the conventional classroom. Our school 1 to 1 device policy enables teachers to ‘break down’ the traditional home/school barriers, by sharing content before the lesson begins and allowing students to ‘preload’ with key information. It also encourages students to engage in shared working and they benefit from detailed feedback dialogue, which encourages continual improvement in skills and understanding.
The Digacy programme works from core principles, including online safety, computational thinking and the creation of content, to ensure that pupils have the adaptability they will need in the future. Digital tools like mentimeter, padlet, kahoot, flipgrid, quizlet, newsela, pobble and readtheory are amongst the many available that help teachers to support pupils individually, inspire curiosity and create inquisitive learners. All students curate their achievements online via a self-made website which we call the ‘360-degree Me ePortfolio’. This gives them the skills to manage their digital footprints positively, with an eye for their future employability. As a backbone to this, our shared platforms allow us to offer seamless learning approaches, meaning all pupils have access to the materials they need, along with their teachers’ expert advice.
As a result, both in lockdown and while just some students have been working from home, we have been able to prioritise live lessons via video to ensure as smooth a connection as possible. Beyond Northampton High School itself, we are proud members of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), a group of 25 schools which, like us, are centres of excellence in the teaching of girls. Our home schooling process, called Guided Home Learning, has thrived because of our access to GDST-wide online enrichment programmes, and the pedagogical support of many hundreds of like-minded colleagues around the country. In addition, our resident expert Consultant Teacher has also worked to develop our feedback methodologies, with much now delivered orally to students via technology.
The standing of computer science as an academic discipline has been given a boost in recent years. Famously, Bill Gates once criticised the UK for concentrating too much on the applications of technology and not the deeper understanding of coding and algorithms that is essential for developing the next generation of technical innovators. We took the step of incorporating Computing as a subject into Mathematics and giving it dedicated curriculum time from the youngest year groups in our Junior School. This has meant that computational thinking has been placed at the heart of the curriculum and has led to healthy uptake at public exams in the subject itself.
However, the belief that, as digital natives, our young people should be able to pick up IT creation skills as easily as learning a new computer game, ignores the fact that without clear guidance they will generally only approach this when they have to. As a result they may lack standard digital competencies, such as formatting documents, ordering filing systems, using spreadsheets, and creating intuitive presentations and websites. At Northampton High, the Digacy programme also acts as a safety net to ensure that these functional IT capabilities are not lost. All pupils develop these skills at the most suitable time in their education, and in the most suitable academic discipline. For example, the website skills learned in the 360-degree Me ePortfolio, are developed in Humanities lessons as a key part of our transferable skills agenda.
EdTech is with us to stay and we are confident it will help our pupils to thrive in the future, but technology is not an answer in itself. We may be moving into a world of self-driving cars and intelligent fridges, but some things will never change. It is the human connection transcending the digital, the understanding, guidance and perseverance of our teachers, that will allow students to find their individual paths in this changing world.
Deputy Head Academic