Sharing experiences of using digital technology in the classroom
The Discovery Education Community brings together education professionals from around the globe with a shared interest in using digital technology in the classroom to extend and enrich learning. It has been running in the US since 2005 but I first heard of it a few years ago when I was consulted to see whether a community would work in the UK. I could see its value immediately and have since been involved in helping shape and grow the community for the UK.
The Community is open to any teacher using Discovery Education services to who wants to learn and share ways of using technology in the classroom. All you need is enthusiasm for teaching and learning with technology, and a willingness and capacity to share that enthusiasm. You don’t have to be an expert – the community includes teachers with many different talents and levels of experience.
While membership certainly helps teachers to make an impact on teaching and learning in their school, it’s about so much more than technology – it’s really about making an impact on learning.
I’m delighted to say that my school, Harbour Primary and Nursery School in East Sussex has a long tradition of using many different forms of technology to enrich learning across the curriculum and we have been nationally recognised for our use of digital technology and won several awards including the Quality Lead Award from Achievement for All 3As. We are also an ambassador school for Discovery Education, formerly Espresso Education, providers of dynamic, award-winning digital content to primary and secondary schools across the UK who also offer a range of services and opportunities designed to help schools meet the needs of students in the digital age.
Despite feeling that we came from a fairly strong start point, we have still found much to learn. Although much of the impact of the Discovery Education Community comes from sharing experiences of using technology, it is not all about tools. It’s just as much about finding ways of teaching through those devices so that students will thrive and learn. A side effect of using technology is that it makes teachers more passionate about their teaching. By sharing, teachers feel better about their job. And the more teachers are engaged with their subject or lesson, the better their students do – so it’s win win. A recent study on electronic learning found that teacher engagement was the strongest predictor of higher levels of student engagement.
Through the Community teachers build a professional learning network which opens up a whole new world of resources and experience and will increase passion for the integration of technology into the curriculum.
Although I could see the benefits of this type of network immediately, I was further convinced of its worth when I was lucky enough to experience it at first hand when I joined 149 other educators from across the UK, US and Canada at the 2014 DEN Summer Institute (DENSI) last July. This was a prestigious week-long professional development and networking event hosted by Discovery Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
During DENSI, I was able to participate in a number of seminars and hands-on workshops designed to support educators as they sharpened up their knowledge of the latest technologies to create authentic learning environments. In addition, we all had the chance to connect and share resources, ideas and strategies for integrating digital resources into classroom instruction.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. How would teaching and learning strategies in the US and the UK compare for example? But I realised very quickly that teachers are teachers and we all have many similarities – not least the desire to do our very best for our pupils. Nor was it all ‘top down’ guidance – the seminar was run by teachers for teachers – of all ages – as is the whole Community. While ‘in-person’ events are sometimes possible, more often our interaction with fellow members – whether they are in our own school or across the world - is through social media or virtual conferences, but it’s always peer to peer.
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There is nothing better than hearing a teacher say; ‘This is something I’ve had a go at with my children in my class – it has worked well in my school – would you like to find out about it?’ The whole event was a great mix of inspirational speakers, practical advice and hands on practice. For example one of the seminars I attended was about Aurasma – the augmented reality app which we had looked at in my school, a teacher had done a presentation about it, but I knew I hadn’t mastered it, so went along for another look. Then I attended a session about green screens, which we do use a lot, so I saw how to use a green screen app with an iPad and puppets, which included a very practical tip about the benefits of using green straws from Starbucks! It could have taken me ages to find that out for myself – assuming I would ever have done so.
I returned to my school with renewed enthusiasm for peer learning – not just enthusiasm for technology, but much more than that. It was more about the pedagogy around it, so I’ve come back convinced of the need to share more as a profession. We all invent things over and over again in our schools – you could go to any school and we are all trying to do the same things and we haven’t really got the mechanisms, or very good mechanisms, for sharing in the UK. And I don’t think we even had them within my own school; it’s quite a large school of 500 children, where until now, we weren’t even sharing the best practice that was going on in Y5 classrooms with Y2!
So back at school, I have been evangelical about the importance of networking and sharing ideas. Professional development sessions enable teachers to share ideas and resources and build their own learning networks. I’m very exciting about the possibilities for the Discovery Education Community in the UK. The power of a collaborative community here will allow us to do some inspiring things.
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