The Education Evolution

Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia in one generation

Do you remember the days when researching a school project meant trawling through endless grey pages of an encyclopedia? Informative, but ultimately pretty dull and certainly not very stimulating. Fast forward to 2012 and the whole concept of researching homework has transformed. Now everything is brought to life online. Learning about volcanoes? Watch videos of a volcano erupting. Dinosaurs? See 3-D models and hear them roar. Learning experiences for all ages are being transformed and the possibilities and benefits are seemingly endless.


Text book transitions

Within Devon and Somerset schools are embracing these possibilities and providing students with access to state-of-the-art tools and resources to awaken and maintain their interest in learning. For some this means the latest gadgets complete with online access. Taunton Academy in Somerset has recently given each pupil in years 9 to 12 an iPod Touch to help with homework and to access the Internet, as well as buying iPads for use in classrooms with lower school pupils. This is part of an ongoing programme to ensure the school is making the most of the educational opportunities available for both pupils and teachers. A key part of this approach is an intensive internal CPD (Continuing Professional Development) programme to support teaching staff in their use of new technologies and to maximise their impact on student progress.

Dean Whitaker, ICT Systems Manager at Taunton Academy has been at the forefront of co-ordinating e-learning for the Academy. He explains why they have taken this ground-breaking approach.

“So many learning opportunities are online now and the way students want to learn has changed. Pupils are used to using the latest technologies in other aspects of their lives and they want to extend this to their schoolwork as well. Providing them with these tools means that they can access excellent resources and can learn wherever they are in a format that suits them. Podcasts are a good example of this. Students can download podcasts to help with exam revision and then listen on the way home or at a time that suits them rather than being tied to a heavy text book.”


What’s next

At the moment there is still flexibility to learn using more traditional tools but is this going to change? Dean continues, “educational resources will continue to change and develop over the coming years and digital formats are becoming the norm. We’re continually adapting to this at Taunton Academy and some of the basic tools we use are changing. For example, whiteboards will soon be a thing of the past in our classrooms. Our teaching staff now have iPads and these connect to an Apple TV in each classroom so teachers can share their screens directly with students and interact with the content during the lesson.”

Taunton Academy is providing an enticing model for e-learning for schools across the country. Teachers and educational leaders are watching with interest to see how cost effective ICT approaches combined with educational excellence are improving teaching and learning experiences.


Connecting at home

But what about connectivity? With appropriate safeguarding controls in place children at Taunton Academy can go online through the extensive school wireless broadband network or through their home broadband. Are students being disadvantaged if their home broadband isn’t good enough to cope though?

Dean confirms that this was a consideration when planning the school’s e-learning strategy. “We have undertaken research with students to determine the levels of broadband access students have at home. Most students are connected, even if they don’t have a particularly fast connection. We don’t want any student to be disadvantaged and so we are currently looking at ways to help those who do not have an internet connection.”

So while pupils should always be able to access online resources via school WiFi networks, all this points towards the increasing importance of good broadband at home, as well as at school. Superfast broadband is going to be an important step forward in this educational evolution.

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