Christopher Roche, Director of ICT at Windlesham House School, on nurturing responsible digital citizens
Learning experiences are designed to support and encourage independence, inspire critical thinking and support collaboration, and it is important that schools use technology with this in mind. As digital educators, our vision should aim to provide pupils with the necessary aptitude to develop into skilful users of technology, with the ability to make safe, informed choices online, as part of daily life. As such, a focus should be placed on developing digital literacy, and information technology through a robust computing curriculum that uses technological integration to allow pupils to collaborate in the learning process, use multiple tools and approaches, provide authentic experiences and enhance and transform what already occurs in the classroom.
Encouraging positive behaviours around the use of technology has perhaps never been more important for schools. Increased screen time has certainly had an impact on many aspects of our pupil’s lives, leading in some cases, to implications on their mental health and wellbeing. Research has shown how increased screen time is associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
As well as putting systems in place to develop pupil understanding and self-regulation of their use of technology, schools need to recognise that to do this holistically they need support from parents too. Since pupils are exposed to technology and the online world at school and at home, we must work more closely to bridge that gap. In order to create a truly embedded programme, schools need to work with parents to help educate them about the potential mental health impacts of excessive technology use and offer guidance around the use of such technologies.
Parents and educators can then work together to offer joined up support and advice to children and adolescents from an informed perspective. Through a series of online and face to face meetings or workshops, schools can cover topics to help families develop healthy behaviours to support children while helping young people to navigate the many challenges they face in the expanding digital world.
As a key part of promoting more healthy technology use, schools can develop a ‘Digital Wellbeing Guide’to support families at home and help students become responsible digital citizens who are able to progress in their educational careers and make more healthy decisions when it comes to how they use technology.
Educators value the impact that learning technologies can have on educational outcomes especially when integrated effectively into lessons. When using a device in class, it is seen as a learning tool and thus will only be used in a lesson if it adds value to learning. Use of technology in the classroom also ensures that screen time is active and that students are creating rather than consuming technology. For many schools, there are strict guidelines around when and where devices are used, and this is often after students complete their school day. Having restrictions on device use helps to educate the children about maintaining a good balance in their lives and provides opportunities to enjoy being outside or developing skills in other areas without being tied to a screen.
Like many other schools, our daily routines are very clear for pupils, and we aim to help to develop positive habits with the use of technology. Our Technology Rules of the Road are set out to develop a positive use of digital tools. We also find that providing regular sessions on Digital Citizenship via in-house sessions or through visiting speakers is really useful. Schools like ours also appoint Digital Leaders – pupils who are responsible for developing a code of conduct which focuses on positive behaviours. Allowing children to take control of what constitutes positive behaviour can be empowering too.
Enhancing teaching with digital vision
It is important that all staff fully embrace the school’s vision for technology and enhance their teaching with digital tools. Through a commitment to professional development, our teachers have been able to learn how different applications are used in educational contexts and apply this knowledge in innovative and effective ways in the classroom. Staff see this development as continuous and regularly share internally and externally how they are using tools in their lessons.
Windlesham recently became an Apple Distinguished School. There are currently only 535 Apple Distinguished Schools in 32 countries. They are described as centres of leadership and educational excellence that demonstrate a vision of exemplary learning using Apple technology. Educators in recognised schools cultivate environments that use Apple products to connect students to the world, fuel creativity, deepen collaboration, and make learning personal.
Schools have a responsibility to prepare pupils for a future dominated by technology. It is our responsibility to provide those in our care with a lifelong love for learning and an innovators mindset. The future will be one where creativity, digital literacy and a varied range of thinking skills will become the norm. Schools must embrace these attributes if they are to allow children to become future leaders who are able to contribute positively and responsibly to the global society.