Innovating into Cloud Computing at Manchester Communication Academy
Overview of the school
The Academy is a secondary school, opened in September 2010, in an urban setting. There are 658 pupils on roll (361 males, 297 females), 44% of students of which are entitled to a Free School Meal. There are 130 staff. Lessons are taught in large open-space learning bases.
Description of ICT infrastructure and resources
Overall infrastructure and resources
Viglen manage the technology in the school, with four on-site technicians. There is wi-fi throughout the school. The school runs Windows 7-SP1 32bit and Mac OS. All Macs run Bootcamp allowing for the use of either Windows or the Mac. The school has a range of computers, including 40+ Windows PCs (desktop machines), 40+ Mac OS desktop computers, 350+ Windows laptops, 60+ Mac OS laptops, and 100+ Dell Atom Netbooks. These resources are organised so that each of the five departments have ICT facilities available to varying degrees based on current need/Subject.
The specific technologies were 1-1 laptops, the RealSmart cloud learning environment (http://www.realsmart.co.uk/), smart boards, and a number of associated software packages.
Overview of work/activity/project
Since opening in September 2010 the teachers have been developing appropriate strategies year groups in one large, open-plan space. Understanding how to teach up to 220 pupils in one space was a key driver for the project. The Academy has a specialism in communication and one of the three school aims is that pupils “can use technology effectively with an emphasis on collaboration tools.” In response, Natalie Hewitt (then NQT for science) and Tony Canavan (head of science) have developed a Project-Based Learning strategy that brings all the pupils together in an integrated learning pathway, with three streams (less able, able, and more able) in three environments (SEN, dependent learners (20%), and independent learners (80%)). The current project is ‘Who Robbed MCA’ that builds on a recent break in at the school. The project is organised and presented to the pupils on ‘RealSmart’, a cloud-based learning environment. On the platform there is a RAFL that outlines tasks and criteria for success.
The RAFL allows each student to follow and evidence their progress, access the next task, understand what they are meant to do, and then the pupil attends a tutorial or practical and finally submits work. Each pupil has a 1-1 laptop and a dedicated seat. The pupil can upload content in written or other media (e.g., podcasts), if they prefer different learning styles. ‘RealSmart’ can be accessed in and out of the academy, which is used for pupils who spend extended periods abroad. The homepage also provides access to a range of other learning resources and apps, such as the Kahn Academy. The project at this point is the “skeleton and now we’re going to figure out everything else… and embed other technologies, fit them in when we see the benefit.”
It is difficult to judge the impact of the project on the staff because there are many variables to consider. The staff involved have gone from a shocked and initially reluctant stance to really engaging with this style of teaching. The emphasis of the project is the independent learning of the pupils and this has involved the teacher relocating from a central ‘chalk and talk’ position to one where they are facilitating the pupils learning. This implicated a particular change in what it meant to practice as a teacher. As the activity has developed the teachers enjoy this way of working, it is seen as being more collegial and less isolating to work with more colleagues in a larger space.
The activity is most established in science and technology but there is a definite sense in the school that this is a key direction of travel for the Academy, especially as they seek to find new ways of teaching and learning in the large, open-plan spaces in the Academy.
The pupils have really engaged with this style of learning. They like the way in which they can customise their learning interface, work at their own pace, and collaborate with fellow pupils to find the answers rather than being told the answers by the teacher. In year 7, 93.8% of pupils are currently on target to make 3 sub-levels of progress.
Key lessons learnt
- Begin with teaching and learning, the consider appropriate technology
- Provide teachers with time to plan (2 hours per week), trial new technologies and reflect
- Getting the technology infrastructure from platforms (e.g., RealSmart) to laptops and Internet access is crucial
- The technology and ‘lesson’ organisation need to be integrated and complementary
- It is important the projects are interesting and engaging for the pupils
- Be patient, it won’t happen over night
- Expect failure and don’t retreat to safety when things don’t work
- Accept that pupils learn and understand more by themselves, let them go!
- Ensure sufficient time for testing the technology