Digital Leaders at Parkside Creative Learning Trust

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The methodology adopted for this case study closely followed that prescribed in Research_Strategy. However, it differed in that interviews were also conducted with Local Authority staff who were instrumental in assisting the initial development and the technical elements of the initiative.

Overview of the school

The school is a six-form entry secondary school (11-18) in a semi-rural location outside Keighley, West Yorkshire (within Bradford Local Education Authority). There are 1035 students on roll and 142 staff. The school is housed in a modern building, phase 1 of which was completed in September 2001 and the second phase completed in September 2006.

The school’s catchment is from local villages and the wider surrounding area taking students from a diverse range of backgrounds but predominantly White British. The percentage of students eligible for FSM is low (10%). The proportion of students with special educational needs and/or disabilities (including those with a statement of educational needs) is 22% and the school has a designated provision for students with autism.

Description of ICT infrastructure and resources

Overall infrastructure and resources

The school is hard-wired and has wireless access throughout the school building, but not within the school grounds. The 100MB Internet connection is provided by the Local Authority education service with caching/filtering/monitoring being managed by the school’s network manager. The school’s network and resources are managed by a network manager plus one ICT support technician. Staff computers (90) and ICT suite computers (120) are all desktop PCs: outside of this project there are few mobile devices for staff or student use.

Specific technologies

The main focus of this case study is the school’s Digital Leaders however there would be little for them to lead without the accompanying iPad initiative. The school has 42 iPads that are stored in a charging unit in, and managed by, the Learning Resource Centre. The iPads are available for teachers to book out either as a class set (providing a 1:1 resource) or as a resource to support small group work.

The iPads were provided by the Local Authority together with traded support from a technician to guide their management and use. This is part of the LA’s on-going support for innovation through the use of emerging technologies and the outreach support model employed is very much valued by the head teacher. The iPads are not supported by the school’s technicians but are subject to the restrictions of Internet access placed across the whole school by the school’s technicians and by the LA Internet connection. There are instances when this does not allow the optimum use of the iPads. For example all blogs are blocked for pupil users but the Digital Leaders project would like to include the use of Edmodo for a Digital Leaders’ blog in the first instance with then wider uses being made of blogs: this is under negotiation.

The Digital Leaders support the use of the iPads in lessons. They assist their classmates with how to use the devices both on a 1:1 basis and occasionally through a whole class input. They also support teachers with specific aspects of their use. One of the Digital Leaders works alongside the LA technician and has been trained in the iPad management.

The school has an SME (Storage Made Easy) account to use WebDav on all iPads so students can save KeyNotes, Notes and Pages documents (documents from these Apps don't automatically convert and save in Dropbox, the school’s usual storage solution). The Digital Leaders have been trained in how to save from the iPads and can support this in lessons.

Overview of work/activity/project

The school has a well-developed, and well-established, pedagogy that is based on an accelerated learning model. The head teacher is clear that: “the pedagogy underpinning what we do is the key to success, with students working 80% to the teacher’s 20% - not the traditional model of teacher-lead lessons”. Digital Leaders and transformative uses of technologies are important to the school because they are consistent with this model, supporting learning as creation, not consumption. The Digital Leaders and iPads projects are designed to address the issue of education for the 21st Century, what is a 21st Century learner and what is that person doing? The school’s goal is to create enthusiastic young people who are independent learners. The head teacher and key staff involved in the Digital Leaders project believe that teacher-pupil relationships should not be hierarchical and that learning can be supported by anyone with appropriate expertise.

Having decided to run a Digital Leaders project the school made a request for applications from pupils in all year groups, with staff being asked to encourage pupils to apply and application forms were available via QR codes placed around the school. Following a selection process that included an interview twelve Digital Leaders were appointed early in the Autumn term 2012. The introduction of iPads to the school has been coincidental to the Digital Leader project but the Digital Leaders have a large role in supporting their use. The Digital Leaders are encouraged very much to be leaders in this project: finding new Apps that support learning and bringing them to the attention of teachers, as well as: supporting pupils’ and teachers’ use of technology and; using technology to support learning outcomes. Digital Leaders will also be represented on the newly-established e-safety committee.


The initial reaction of the majority of staff to the Digital Leaders project was positive: most welcomed having an additional technology expert in their classroom and were not daunted by this being a pupil. Also the majority of teachers at the school are creative and willing to take risks and have embraced the opportunities presented by the iPads. A few had initial reservations of whether using new technology and the Digital Leaders would detract from the core essence of what pupils need to learn but mostly now the demand for Digital Leaders is greater than the number there are (not every class currently has a Digital Leader).

Teachers drawing on Digital Leader support were observed to have fast-paced, dynamic lessons that were richly supported by technology. Pupils were highly motivated by the use of the iPads and engaged well with no off-task behaviour. Pupil learning outcomes were achieved through the use of the technology: especially so in PE where the Digital Leaders used the iPad App Ubersense to video and then analyse the performance of their peers in a badminton lesson whilst also teaching their classmates how to use the App for themselves. The teachers have been pleasantly surprised by the very small amount of initial misuse of the iPads (‘silly’ rather than seriously inappropriate) and now report that pupils view using iPads in lessons as something to look forward to and that they would not risk that through inappropriate behaviour.

The enthusiasm of the ‘early adopters’ amongst the teachers together with the Digital Leaders have enabled some teachers who were otherwise reluctant to use the iPads in their teaching to do so. Colleagues who were previously happy to use the iPads for research, are now making more creative use of them with Socrative quizzes and video clips. Often, in the first instance, this is by working with resources, such as Socrative quizzes created by fellow subject teachers.

Key lessons learned

Digital Leaders eagerness to be a Digital Leader can be to the detriment of their own learning and teachers need to plan, and react in lessons, to ensure that this is not the case.

Digital Leaders benefit from training in the best approach to assist others to learn how to use technology: is this doing, showing and/or telling?

There is a need to create a Digital Leader-specific profile to allow appropriate access to the network and Internet for the Digital Leaders.

Managing iPads in a school is tricky: saving work; printing work; clearing pupils’ documents and images etc. from the device at the end of the day; charging; and the ability to access the required Apps/Internet content all need to be managed and are not straightforward.

A ‘fair-use’ policy supports good student behaviour with an ‘unrestricted’ device.

An ‘Emerging Technology Group’ with a representative from each subject department is an effective means of researching, adopting and sharing new ideas for how to use the available technology in lessons. Digital Leaders can play a lead role in presenting new ideas/Apps to this group and to the wider staff.