Educator insight: Ronan McNicholl, Berkhamsted Prep School

Many thanks to Ronan for his thoughts on EdTech and its implementation and use.

This is the full text from an interview that appeared in our schools newsletter of 31st August 2023.

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An Apple Distinguished Educator and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Fellow, Ronan has over 15 years’ experience implementing educational technology initiatives in the classroom.

1) Undertake EdTech market research

I think it is essential that all schools and individuals perform research before committing funds to EdTech purchases. Poor EdTech strategy is often the result of hasty decisions to help a school appear modern and competitive. Research shouldn’t be taken lightly. It involves reviewing specifications, checking for successful deployment examples, and comparing the product against its competitors.

Part of the research phase should include analysis of where the product has been used successfully. Sometimes these testimonials can be ascertained from social media posts, though it’s important to make sure it is not a single individual sharing a review as part of a promotional package, as they are obviously being paid to promote the product. Teachers should contact the EdTech supplier to provide a link to schools, so that questions can be asked. I would say it’s not enough to simply follow quotes or website testimonials as it is important to gather feedback from a wider source base before making any decisions.

    Another piece of advice I would have when considering an EdTech purchase is to use available trial periods to check that the product works as anticipated. Be sure to involve as many teachers in this process as possible, so that they are onboard with the potential purchase.

    To that end, involving as many staff as possible in every step of this process is key and ensures that you have their support. This engagement will reap rewards when organising training and when using technology in schools.

    On the other hand, a lack of research, not involving staff in the process and not checking for successful use cases will most likely result in poor results. It’s also important to consider whether large purchases can be funded in the long term.

    2) Getting staff buy-in

    When thinking about driving change, I believe that relationships should be top of the list. When staff are valued and involved, the outcome is invariably better than when changes happen with little or no dialogue. Most people respond positively or, at least, maturely to change when they understand the reasons why it must happen.

    Planning and preparation is obviously very important. They are great ways to make sure there is time to implement new initiatives and help reduce stress for the staff involved. Full staff involvement also makes sure that everything has been properly considered. This all helps create a positive culture.

      Finally, it is important to review progress and success afterwards. Did the app or product deliver the anticipated benefits? Periodic reviews are very helpful here.

      3) AI and EdTech in the classroom

      Probably AI and how it will impact how students learn and how teachers teach. The ability to deliver personalised learning experiences is very exciting and whilst AI will be undoubtedly disruptive, it will offer wonderful opportunities for transforming learning.

      Our school is currently upskilling staff and their awareness of educational chatbots, such as Chat GPT and Bard. By trying these products, the fear factor will be reduced, policies introduced, and pedagogy adapted to embrace change.

      🎒 Ronan McNicholl’s EdTech toolkit…

      • Power BI: I work in a Microsoft school and Power BI has been a real game changer for visualising pupil assessment data and charting progress over time.
      • RedboxVR: I really like these VR headsets for integrating virtual field trips and expeditions within lessons. It works via a local network, so this makes setup easy. It would be good to see more expeditions in the library though there is currently enough to make it a ‘goer’ in classrooms.
      • OneNote / Google Classroom: My school uses OneNote for Windows and I am a big fan. It is so easy to easily share, mark and return content to students and the interface is clean and intuitive. I have included Google Classroom as I have used it in the past and it’s the same concept for that ecosystem.
      • Flip: I really like how it’s easy to create video-based discussions around topics. Whilst it suits more confident students, it does make learning fun and introduces variety.
      • Apple apps (various): Lower down our school we use a wide variety of Apple apps which are great for enhancing learning. These include the native Apple apps, such as Keynote, iMovie, and Clips, but also apps like Book Creator and the superb Duck Duck Moose apps which are accessible and educational for younger children.
      • Makey Makey boards and MicroBits: These tools are great for STEM/STEAM activities and are reliable and easy to use. They can connect to computers and tablets and can be programmed using Scratch. Microbits can also be programmed using Makecode which is a free to use website.
      • Also great for teaching coding, this website is free, and teachers can create courses for children to complete and view their progress. A tool worth using in any school.
      • BusyThings: This is one for Early Years. Whilst not free, the company offer a huge selection of excellent resources for younger children which can be used on computers, tablets, and interactive screens.
      • Polypad: I came across this website/ community last year and I was really impressed with the huge collection of free tools for teaching mathematics. Children can use this via an app and content can be assigned to students via a portal. It provides a great set of tools for promoting the learning of mathematics.
      • Adobe Express provides a superb set of free tools for children and teachers. These can be used on any device and are great for promoting creativity and productivity.

      Updated on: 31 August 2023

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