The next generation

November 2009

StudentsAlthough many school age children use web 2.0 tools they could also be used as part of school curriculums says David Alderson, ntl:Telewest Business.

The Department for Schools, Children and Families recently announced that it is investing £5.6 million into technology training for the UK’s teachers. The initiative, which will be delivered by the Open University and the IT sector skills council e-skills UK, intends to increase awareness of ICT and internet-based tools as teaching aids and help teachers develop their technology skills.

This investment follows a string of proposed curriculum shake-ups, as outlined earlier this year by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose. In his recommendations, Rose wished to give schools an unprecedented amount of flexibility in terms of what they teach, the tools they use and the way in which learning is assessed.

Some of the strongest reactions to Rose’s draft plans were provoked by a greater focus on new media and web-based skills for key stage development. These included teaching children how to use Twitter, Wikipedia, blogging systems such as WordPress, and the use of a spellchecker along with traditional spelling lessons - all before the age of 11.

However, the backlash around these proposed changes largely neglected to address one key issue: the majority of students are already living and breathing technology and using applications such as Facebook, MySpace and Wikipedia at home on a daily basis.

The students are also likely to be using them in their working lives moving forward. Beyond the headlines lies a key need for educational institutions to deliver the most compelling learning environment to enthuse students. Technology is a critical part of this as a teaching tool.

Long division

These differing attitudes to web 2.0 learning are demonstrated by research carried out by ntl:Telewest Business with parents, teachers and students. This uncovered a chasm between how these groups feel about the use of web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

The nationwide survey of 1,500 teachers, parents and students particularly identified a split between pupils and teachers when it comes to web 2.0.

According to the study, next generation applications are now an integral part of students’ personal lives:

  • 54 per cent of 13 to 18 year-olds use YouTube in their spare time;
  • half use social networking sites;
  • 47 per cent use Wikipedia.

When asked what web 2.0 tools would be most useful at school, students made a clear distinction between those applications with a clearly educational angle, refuting assumptions often made about students wasting time with distracting websites.

  • 44 per cent stated Wikipedia;
  • 35 per cent chose instant messaging;
  • 34 per cent said YouTube.

However, teachers took a somewhat more sceptical line, as 42 per cent were indeed worried these tools would distract and not educate, whilst 35 per cent went so far as to say that they couldn’t see the educational benefit of web-based learning. Security concerns were also raised as a potential issue with web 2.0.

Less than a fifth of teachers use Wikipedia as a resource in classrooms and only five per cent use YouTube. Even general internet sites only scored 14 per cent of teachers’ votes, despite the fact that almost a third felt the internet had added value to education.

While the research highlights teachers’ confusion over the advantages of using web 2.0 tools during lessons, they aren’t the only ones in the dark. Despite two thirds of parents recognising that web 2.0 tools were useful for engaging students, a staggering 54 per cent of parents admitted they had no idea if their children were using any kind of internet-based applications in school.

Adding up the benefits

Many of today’s pupils live and breathe web 2.0 tools, using applications such as instant messaging, Facebook, MySpace and Wikipedia every day to create content, communicate and collaborate with people worldwide. However, as web 2.0 technologies became a global phenomenon in a relatively short space of time, tools such as social networking sites, blogs and YouTube have crept up on the school system.

Hence the need for more training and education of teachers to best identify how to use them within the learning experience. Some schools and colleges are in the early stages of adoption and it is only a matter of time before web 2.0 takes on a more extensive role in the classroom.

For example, Hillingdon Grid for Learning (HGfL) has connected primary, secondary and nursery schools across Hillingdon with a high-speed network in order support increasingly media-rich tools and server-based applications. The interactive e-learning and teaching resources used by the area’s schools include interactive exam revision applications and video-rich teaching resources.

Applications such as the open-source Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) are also experiencing increased uptake in UK schools, enabling teachers to enrich lessons with digital content and allowing 24/7 access to course-related assignments and learning resources.

Do your homework

There is no doubt that innovative use of web 2.0 tools by forward-thinking teachers can help engage the digital generation. However, as well as training the network infrastructure needs to be in place for schools to benefit from web 2.0. As the internet usage has increased in schools, faster and more flexible networks are needed to keep up with demand.

What are needed are next generation networks that can provide sufficient bandwidth and resilience to support these media-rich, digital applications and enable teachers and students to embrace e-learning in the classroom.

In the case of HGfL, a high-speed metro ethernet virtual private network is in place to ensure schools have fast and reliable access to e-learning tools. The network’s flexibility enables capacity to be increased as and when it is required from either 10 to 100Mbps in 10 megabit increments or 100 Mbps to 1Gbps or higher in 100 megabit increments.

If the future of learning in UK schools is to have a genuine focus on interactivity, collaboration and connectivity, schools need to be equipped with a network backbone that can simultaneously support web 2.0 tools in the classroom, video-conferencing in the boardroom, administration systems in the school office and wi-fi in the playground. Once this infrastructure is in place, the digital communication skills of today’s students can be developed and their expectations can be met.

Comments (2)

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  • 1
    Paul Lord wrote on 26th Nov 2009

    An interesting article whic I obtained by chance through a work colleague

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  • 2
    Ravi wrote on 15th Dec 2009

    good...could be made more technical

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