How can technology support learning?

Today was a good day. Today I did something I’ve never done before. Today I stood in front of 255 Year 11 pupils at the University of South Wales, Treforest Campus, and delivered an hour-long session on the topic of ‘Digital Revision’, looking at ‘How technology can support learning’.

Around a month ago I volunteered to deliver this session, but little did I know at the time it would turn out to be one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had since starting my degree.

The use of technology to support learning and understanding is a really big interest of mine. However, it’s fair to say I was a little daunted when given the brief to introduce the pupils to technology that will help support their GCSE revision. That’s quite important, right? What if I stand in front of them and try to teach them things they already know? Even the most patient of adults couldn’t sit quietly whilst being taught to suck eggs for an hour!

So imagine my delight at the opening few minutes: I’ve introduced myself, I’ve successfully logged 250 pupils onto the University’s WIFI network – no mean feat in itself – and I’ve introduced the premise of the session, “I’ll show you technology that might just help you get better grades in your GCSEs“. A bold start, but they’re listening.

So far so good.

The first area I address is using technology to test your own understanding. This looks at ways in which we can use websites or apps to see how well we truly understand a topic. I offered three suggestions: KahootSocrative and Quizlet.

The majority of the pupils had used Kahoot before and the room erupted into excited chatter when I hinted that we might even do a Kahoot quiz during the session. Hardly any had used Socrative or Quizlet, so naturally I gave more time to discussing these resources. I stressed the point I was trying to make on more than one occasion – of course this should be fun, but think about what you’re having to do in order to make these quizzes. A few faces looked at me knowingly, they understood the point. In order to create the quiz you need to know the answers to the questions you’re setting. You need an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter so that you can make the quiz difficult, otherwise everybody will simply answer every question correctly and it won’t be fun.

I offered the pupils the opportunity to take photos of the slides on the screen so that they could document what I’d shown them for use in the future, but hardly any did. Though my experience tells me this is widely done in University lectures, I suspect there is a certain stigma attached to an act like this at their age. A clear learning for me, duly noted.

I then discussed resources that might help those who learn best by watching. The obvious example is YouTube, and the point I emphasised here was to be aware of who the author of the content is when you’re watching something. Do they seem reputable? Are they trustworthy? A Donald Trump ‘fake news’ reference had been made in my notes, but in the moment I decided against introducing politics to the session.

The next resource was one which nobody in the room had heard of, which I was secretly pleased about. I introduced the Khan Academy, explaining that from my own research I had found few sites that compared to the Khan Academy in terms of the sheer volume of content. My enthusiasm for this resource must have come through in the presentation, because I was genuinely blown away when I signed up to test it.

We then moved away from ‘watching‘, and towards those who might prefer ‘reading‘ and ‘listening‘, discussing the merits of iTunes U and BBC Bitesize podcasts. Most had heard of them, but a surprisingly small number had engaged with these resources.

I then moved the spotlight to those who prefer to learning by ‘doing‘, discussing how the app Book Creator could be used to make an e-Book on a particular topic that the pupils wish to revise. Essentially it’s a way of revising and making notes, but in a more engaging format and with the benefit of being able to use pictures, audio and text. You can share the book by publishing it to the iTunes bookstore, which judging by the number of raised eyebrows in the first few rows, seemed to appeal to the pupils.

I briefly talked about how Google Drive could be used to collaborate on a revision document, as groups of pupils could work on them from home at a time to suit them, rather than having to be in the same place at the same time to revise together. This didn’t seem to appeal to them as much as I expected it to, so I swiftly moved on.

I finished by pointing pupils towards Twitter, and some twitter handles that they may find helpful, such as @GCSEPod, @getrevising and #revisiontips.

So what have I taken away from this?

A big learning: Year 11 pupils do not like answering questions in front of their peers. Don’t build your session around their interaction, because you might not get it unless you offer a ‘mask’ – for example, none of them had an issue with answering questions in an online quiz.

Another learning: I regularly stopped and asked them to discuss a question with those next to them. That really seemed to help break up the session so I wasn’t lecturing them for a whole hour.

Finally: online quizzes such as Kahoot are fantastic for any age. If you’re a teacher, seriously consider using it. If you’re teaching older children, however, be aware that no matter how many times you say ‘any offensive names will be banned’, there will always be one that tries, especially in a group of 255.

The trick, it seems, is knowing when something is actually offensive. Final learning: whatever age group you teach, know enough of the pupils’ slang terms so that you know when a word is offensive. Ideally, before you read it out to congratulate them on a high scoring round in an online quiz.

That aside, I am ever so grateful for this experience and I hope the opportunity presents itself for more of the same in the future.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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