GECFutures: Women in Tech: TechnoTeaching
From Teaching Psychology and MFL to ICT and DCF: How did I get here?
In primary school my class had used the BBC Micro (one machine shared between the Year 5 and year 6 Primary classes) to upload our contribution to the Doomsday Project onto laserdisc in 1986 but my experience of using the computer hadn’t wowed me.
(Please see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13367398 for info about this project which is now being digitalised!)
In 1990, I was in Year 9 at my secondary school, Uffculme, in Devon. I loved school, I was a top set kid and I worked hard, especially in French and German. During year 9 we got to have about half a term working in the computer room, a new room in the Page Block with about 20 RM Nimbus machines and a teacher who loved to remind us that we should keep our “paws” off the keyboards when listening to instructions. I have no idea what we actually did in those weeks, I only have vague recollections of sitting in the room with my class but I don’t remember this fostering a love of computers…not like the love I had for French and German anyway. With money given to us from our grandparents, my parents helped my brother and I choose a PC - the Amstrad PCW9512…it word processed and we tried to get an exciting game coded, but neither of us were inspired!
I moved onto college, studying French, German and Psychology along with a pre-teaching course that involved lots of micro-teaches and reading about how children learn. There were some Apple Mac’s in the library, I logged on once at the start of the year…and that was about it. I started university in 1995, the internet and email was only a couple of years old and I wasn’t about to buy and use a computer for my assignments - my Sharp FontWriter worked great and was portable too! (It still works too, although has been consigned to a cupboard at my parents house!). Yes, I had a school email and log in; we occasionally used the computers - particularly to search the library catalogues, but it still wasn’t really part of what I needed day to day.
My first full time “real” (non teaching!) jobs all involved using word processing and spreadsheet software and project management on PC’s and I remember trying to set up an internet connection from a free CD in my basement office for my boss (with limited success!) but even when beginning my teacher training in 2002, computers still didn’t really feature much in my life. My boyfriend had a PC with internet dial up connection in his house when I met him in 1999 and my friends and I all had mobile phones by 2000 but the internet had still not really taken off in education - training in MFL in 2002 meant a lot of cutting up of overhead projector film and lots of repetition of the vocabulary covering and revealing the transparencies in different ways!
I started teaching in 2003 and recall the registers on paper and exam entries using Optical Mark Sheets. At home I would search the internet for images but would still print these onto transparencies for the classroom. Then, a PC came into every classroom, the register went online and I had the internet and Microsoft PowerPoint to play with in my class!
I think this was likely around 2006 as I recall one head of faculty exclaiming “the blackboard is mightier than the computer” and resisting attempts to put a whiteboard and projector in his room!
I embraced it.
Teaching RE at the time, myself and the Head of RE saved our capitation and bought a portable interactive whiteboard that we shared across two classes. We used Hot Potatoes at lot (more so me with the few hours of MFL I still taught) and created a PowerPoint for every lesson we taught, sharing the workload between topics and using the Smart software to make it more interactive. A few years later saved our capitation again for one iPad between us, attended a CPD course that also included getting an iPad each and began moving forward with the use of apps in the classroom. At this point, my love for technology enhanced learning was growing, especially seeing the impact it was having on the literacy levels for the lower ability pupils and for the boys in my classes.
After 2 years of spearheading a tech revolution in my school, every teacher being given an iPad and about 3 class sets that were bookable, it came to pass that the ICT teacher was leaving and, with a falling roll and redundancies on the cards, I was asked if I wanted to move into the ICT role. I jumped at the chance and set about learning a few pieces of software I didn’t know (Flash Animation being the main one along with some of the more specific skills of an Access database for A-Level ICT!) relishing the chance to develop a love of ICT in my classes.
Unfortunately the first thing I noticed was that the ICT curriculum at the time didn’t allow for creative technology or the iPads. Data handling, modelling, presentations, email and searching was the diet of the curriculum and on two hours a fortnight there was little time for much else. Over the next year or two, along with other ICT colleague across local schools we got creative with the prescribed curriculum and started to hear about Hwb, an all Wales learning platform free to schools, and the new Successful Futures curriculum review for Wales (https://beta.gov.wales/new-curriculum ) …both of these heralding a new focus on digital technologies for creating, sharing, collaborating and including computational thinking for the first time.
Yes, the idea of coding scared me, learning computer languages wasn’t something I had intended to do (and is something I am still in the process of doing even now), but the logical skills linked in so well with my MFL learning - it is all about the grammar! Developing Project based learning in KS3 allows for the Digital Competency Framework (http://learning.gov.wales/resources/browse-all/digital-competence-framework/?lang=en) to be developed further by pupils working together, sharing ideas. E-Safety is a big deal so that as consumers of technology we are showing our learners how to be safe online and how each keystroke, upload or download can affect your future. Being creative with the curriculum allows pupils to expereince real life applications of technology, and when jobs are increasingly likely to include computers it is important that students are both competent and safe users and able to be digital content creators too.
It may seem a long way from the BBC Micro in year 5, but the fundamental skills to both use and create using ICT are critical for young people today and, although I’ll always love RE and MFL, I’m glad I made the change to teach ICT full time! If nothing else, it will always be a subject that develops so my learning will never stop!
Twitter: @beckib77 / @RCCS_MissBawler