From a whisper to a scream – the rise of technology in school

A bit of a novelty!

I entered the primary teaching profession in the early 90s. I remember my first class having a computer. An Acorn computer! The school also had some BBC computers, one or two children used them for special programmes that could be purchased on floppy discs. I remember buying one such programme to help children with dyslexia. The computers were not part of the furniture yet, they were a bit of a novelty and their potential limited to a small number of children.

A few programmes, a few users

That pattern of use continued in my first few schools. One or two computers might be in a class (or on the corridor) with a small number of programmes being used by a small number of children. I remember buying my first computer to find out what they could do, my 3 year old son spent endless hours on James Pond – now there was a game! The situation seemed to change towards the end of the 90s and I can remember arriving at my new school as Deputy Head and seeing an IT suite being installed. This was the future!

‘Add on’ rather than ‘integrated’

At St Peter‘s we not only had an IT suite (with approximately 15 computers) but some classes also had a bank of four computers to support learning. The popular programmes of the time were starspell and maths wizard. We also used textease to develop children’s skills with simple cutting and pasting, changing font sizes etc…Heady times! I don’t recall anything too adventurous happening and if the programmes crashed we’d have to wait for the technician to make his weekly visit to school to put things right. We’re not talking about an indispensable tool here! Children would be timetabled to use the class computers and to use the IT suite (half the class would go and develop their ‘skills’ while the other half stayed in class) the whole experience was ‘add on’ rather than ‘integrated’.

The rise of the interactive whiteboard

My move into headship coincided with the epiphany that was the interactive whiteboard! Suddenly a new tool had arrived that everyone in the class could benefit from. Initially one or two classes had IWBs and we would timetable those classes out to everyone. Eventually we were able to fund IWBs in every class which made life much easier and timetabling less of a chore!

Down with IT Suites!

As I moved onto my second headship IT suites were just about to be demonised! ICT was now beginning to be seen as integral to the curriculum as a whole, as something to permeate learning across the board rather than as a discrete subject with its own equivalent to the science lab. Hawes Side had must have been one of the last schools to have an IT suite built before they went out of fashion!

Mobile solutions – from discrete to integrated learning

The move to mobile learning helped move IT into common parlance around the school. It isn’t a lesson taken twice a week in the IT suite, it is readily available at all times to support learning. The rise in the number of laptops around the school and lap trolleys to move class sets from one place to another has provided an further opportunity to support the children’s learning with technology.

The growing number of laptops and netbooks has recently been complimented by the introduction of handheld devices. Like many other schools, we have begun to use itouches with the children bringing the learning experience closer to home. The children are happy and excited to use the itouches, they quickly understand its capabilities and readily push their learning with them.

VC and the rise of Web 2.0

The use of video conferencing has also grown over the last few years with the children and staff now considering its possibilities to enhance the learning experience when planning a new topic.  The rise of web 2.0 has opened up more possibilities than you could shake a stick at, it has given schools the opportunity to move learning from the local to the global, to help develop learners for a changing world, to make a difference in a world of difference.   It is a challenge that the best teachers readily respond to.

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About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

9 responses to “From a whisper to a scream – the rise of technology in school

  • Gerald Haigh

    A lot of those early programs on floppies (and earlier on cassette) were excellent — devised by enthusiastic teachers, typically sold in plastic bags with the instructions tucked inside. I think it’s possible we’ve lost something with their passing. Same thing’s happened more recently with the loss of good CD Rom curriculum material from specialist suppliers who are being pushed into producing versions for VLE which just aren’t as good.

    • smichael920

      Hi Gerald, and many thanks for your comments. It took me a long time to finally throw a lot of them away! I think I held onto them for the very reasons you describe. It was exciting opening them up and using them for the first time. A little like the thrill of getting home with a new vinyl purchase. One of my 11 year old twins watched me handle an old 45 recently and asked me ‘is that an old cd dad?’ I don’t know what their children will ask them!

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  • Ian Addison

    It’s interesting to see this journey and to plot where my new school currently sits. We’ve just bought netbooks but ICT is definitly a standalone at this stage, one of my roles is to integrate it more. Interesting post and who knows where it’ll go from here!

    • smichael920

      Hi Ian and thanks for the feedback. A couple of years ago i thought Video Conferencing was going to be all the rage and confidently predicted to staff that we’d have kit in each class, just like IWBs! Just shows we can’t be sure what’s coming next. We’ve gone with itouches for handheld learning, have to see how that goes. Good luck with your journey!

  • Chris Short

    A great read. My dad was a head of a school with 4 BBC micros which was unheard of, you had one in a school if you were lucky. Dad was a leader in that front, but what software? Word processing skills on wordwise, a super adventure game (adventure island I seem to recall)
    The one thing I see now I am a teacher, computers still thrill children in school. As soon as I say “let’s go to the ICT suite” the children are excited!
    Now why is this? Most have a computer at home…
    Is the next step to have a pc (or something) on every desk, all work done on computers? Yes with touch screens so we can still develop the skill of penmanship, rather than keyboard handling from age 4, but wait! We DO keyboard skill in nursery.
    So where do we go from here? One thing is certain, I came into teaching at an incredibly exciting stage ICT wise.

    • smichael920

      Hi Chris, many thanks for your comments. You’re dead right, it is an exciting stage in the integration of ICT. We seem to move so quickly in some ways and slowly in others. I am excited about the prospect of using handheld technology the children are already familiar with. Seeing them getting the most out of itouches and phones makes me think about the further possibilities of these devices. They say by 2015 that 85% of all moblile phones will be smart phones. The possibilities are endless!

  • Juliet Robertson

    What a lovely history! I think I found the onset of ICT suites and government funded computers very frustrating because of the bureaucracy and red tape that went along with them in the two local authorities where I have worked most recently. For example, needing administrative rights to load a CD onto a machine or blanket filtering of all YouTube videos.

    I would love to see the next move being a step from fear to freedom. Yes we need sensible precautions but I’d like to see teachers given much greater autonomy to choose what children may or may not see or do on a computer.

    Best wishes
    Juliet

    PS You may want to find out more about me but alas my websites may be filtered if you are reading this in a school.

    PPS I found your blog via Twitter – thanks

    • smichael920

      Hi Juliet and many thanks for your comments. I love that expression, ‘from fear to freedom’ it sums up the leap we need to take from moral panic about the use of technology to a digital faith. Children are capable of so much more with the technology already in use and if you factor in devices such as mobile phones (which still worry many) then we’re still scratching at the surface in many ways. Still, it’s an exciting place to be! Lets hope funding problems don’t cause too much of a roadblock to developments.

      I’m now following your tweets! All the best, Michael

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