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e-Help Seminars - Neal Watkin
e-help Seminar 32
Using ICT to strengthen independent learning
Toulouse 8-10 June 2006
The Rules of Engagement…

The Rationale for the presentation is that…
• ICT makes for good engagement. Engagement is essential for good learning
• ICT has the potential to promote independent learning

• Tasks have to be carefully constructed in order to create the correct circumstances

ICT is an essential tool in the modern classroom; it can engage pupils on a number of levels and make the job of the teacher considerably easier. However, the use of ICT does not necessarily ensure good learning. There could even be a situation where the class is quiet and engrossed in their computer/web-based activity, but getting no lasting benefit from the activity. All activities, ICT or not, should challenge pupils thinking at a high level and try to make them better learners.

It is impossible to separate engagement, from getting pupils to think at a high level and making them into independent learners - they are all linked. The aim of all three is to create an effective learning environment.

The Rules of Engagement
In their recent ‘Pedagogy and Practice’ Pack the DfES stated that, “People learn best when they are interested, involved and appropriately challenged”. This is hardly a revelation, but it is easy to forget the third clause in that sentence. Some of the ICT going on in History classrooms is exciting and captures the imagination for a short time, but does not involve a level of complexity and challenge students mentally. If learning is to be effective then interest, involvement and challenge all need to be addressed. With this in mind, and the research and Vygotsky and Piaget, the DfES came up with nine rules of Engagement:

1. Activities have a clear purpose and relevance
2. New knowledge is related to old
3. Presentation is varied
4. Activities generate curiosity
5. Pupils ask questions and try new ideas
6. Pupils see their achievements and progress
7. Pupils analyse their thinking/learning
8. Pupils gain satisfaction and enjoyment from their work
9. Pupils get a positive image of themselves a learners

Of these nine, ICT covers six of the points really well:
• Activities have a clear purpose and relevance
• Presentation is varied
• Activities generate curiosity
• Pupils ask questions and try new ideas
• Pupils see their achievements and progress
• Pupils gain satisfaction and enjoyment from their work

The benefit of most widely available applications is that they automatically give you an end product, e.g. a presentation using Power Point or a movie using Movie Maker. Also, the wealth of free applications can allow you to build variety into lessons; and, if lots of packages are used, then pupils will have to figure out how they work and interact with others to create the desired results. If the end products are realised then pupils should get a sense of achievement and satisfaction form their work.

This leaves three points that do not naturally appear in ICT activities:
• New knowledge is related to old
• Pupils analyse their thinking/learning
• Pupils get a positive image of themselves a learners

ICT activities can include these elements of learning, but they need to be thought about carefully and planned into any activity. We should not see this as a simple process: saving work from one lesson to the next does not constitute ‘New knowledge is related to old’. Teachers need to make review and linking points into a structured part of the lesson so that learning becomes connected. Analysis of thinking needs to tackled in a formal way – how the activity was completed and how the skills can be applied in other contexts.

Independent Learning
As well as fully engaging pupils with ICT, we should be trying to increase their general ability as learners. This can be easy to achieve and in some senses supports the way that applications are designed. The key is to make the principles of independent learning explicit to pupils and help them to analyse how these are enhanced through the learning.

For me, independent learning involves:
• Problem-solving
• Inter-personal skills
• Industrious activity • Self-motivation
• Creativity
• Being reflective

The question is, how can ICT activities be used to achieve these?

PowerPoint: Instruction/research
Teachers make good use of PowerPoint, whether they make effective use is another matter. If we simply use PowerPoint as a means of imparting information then it will cause paralysis among the masses. However, PowerPoint does come with a number of interactive elements and with a little manipulation you can create a meaningful activity that has a clear purpose and allows for independent learning.

Create a clear activity for pupils to follow: PowerPoint does not have to be passive. You can use it to create surprises and force pupils to discover information in order to complete an activity. The process of learning needs to be the same for any type of activity. We need to have a learning journey; for example, I have created a virtual battlefields tour that allows pupils to visit sites and monuments in order to complete the preparatory work for their coursework. The focus is clear and the information has to be found and carefully sorted. I have used the ‘grow/shrink’ option to help with the analysis pictures (different parts of the image can be emphasised at different times using a simple cropping and overlay technique). Also, transparent boxes can have hyperlinks attached to them to create interactive maps and diagrams. This increases the search element of the task and the idea of discovery.
Using action settings will allow you to set consequences for pupils rolling over a particular section. This can create interest and surprises and to some extent create interaction, simulate research and problem-solving.

PowerPoint: Peer Instruction
A step forward from exciting presentations created for pupils to use, is allowing pupils the time and space to make creative PowerPoints of their own. In this way they can solve problems and reach a meaningful goal. The challenge does not have to come solely from the ICT aspect: pupils can be set the challenge of giving a lively presentation with PowerPoint as one aspect – integrating the ICT to achieve a wider objective. The opportunities for internal and external challenges make ICT a flexible option in the classroom.

If you are just using PowerPoint then challenge can be created quite easily by asking pupils to work with a restricted number of slides, points or words. Another idea is to include an evaluation scale. For example, if pupils have identified and discussed five factors then ask them to assign a numerical value to each one – they should distribute 15 points over the slides, with no two slides having the same value. This will create a hierarchy and force pupils to consider the idea of significance.

Another idea is to create ‘How to…’ guides. This could involve an aspect of history, or even be a structured look at how they achieved the task. For example, after completing a presentation, you could ask the group to produce a set of ICT resources for teachers to help them conduct a lesson entitled ‘How do you build an effective presentation?’

The most effective way to move skills forward is to blend ICT with Assessment for Learning strategies. As well as having pupil targets for History skills, they could have targets in Communication. This will allow them to see that the subject is a blend enquiry and development skills and finding ways to present that information effectively. These targets might be explicitly linked to ICT (e.g. Use the cropping tool to create more specific analysis of images) or they may be about more general communication concepts (e.g. Engage the audience more in your presentations). The first is an example of a scaffold approach that helps pupils to think about how ICT and communication skills can be built up. The second is more open and encourages pupils to think about a range of strategies (some ICT and some not) to help move them forward. Both have their place and should be used to maximise pupil learning.

PowerPoint is a little unfashionable these days. To dismiss it as a tool misses the point of its use in the classroom. All schools have access to it and so do many pupils at home. It does not matter if there are better tools out there for delivering presentations, what we need to focus on is the skills it can give pupils in terms of the possibilities of ICT. They can then take this to other applications and investigate these for themselves. We should always keep in mind that the ICT is there to support the History and applications should only be judged in terms of whether or not they can move historical thinking forward. PowerPoint can be used to support problem-solving, and manipulated to enhance inter-personal skills (e.g. to create an interactive back-drop for dramas or role-plays), it can be used in a number of creative ways enhance presentations and provides pupils with skills that they can analyse and reapply elsewhere.

Movies: Thinking Prompts
Movies can be a really effective way of demonstrating a point. This can be taken a step further by introducing a theme or idea for pupils to develop or debate. The principle here is that pupils are not just passive observers, but part of a joke or mental jolt. For example, the politics of interwar Britain can be presented as the six episodes of Star Wars (as in, Stanley Baldwin is the ‘Phantom Menace’ who caused the end of the Lloyd George Coalition). This can then become an exercise in lateral thinking with students continuing a story started by the teacher, or challenging the interpretation established in the film. In this way, Movie Maker can be used to set up a learning task that makes pupils think, evaluate and be creative.
In a similar way, music videos can be used to make links to individual lessons. More intelligent music acts will show an interpretation of the lyrics within their videos and so this offers two possible points for discussion: the images and the lyrics. So, when teaching Appeasement and the mindset of the British public, Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ makes an excellent start and end point for the lesson.

Pupil Movies can be effective too. Allowing pupils access to Movie Maker at regular intervals throughout a scheme of work means they can slowly build up a audio and visual record of the work the are doing. This works on a number of levels: pupils must carefully select information, but have regular opportunity to review and edit; adding layers of complexity actually improves work, because thinking is occurring at a higher level.

Movies can also be used to give pupils the space to work independently. After a session of history, getting them to report directly into camera - Big Brother diary room style – will allow pupils the chance to work without interference and still give the teacher something to assess and comment on (maybe in the form of a movie!). It can also be a stimulating end product for pupils when conducting Projects. They are useful for establishing chronologies and finding patterns.

Captivate or the free programme ‘Wink’ can provide something similar. The rollovers and interactive elements can create an environment which provokes thought and allows pupils to develop their own routes through a particular problem. It can also give teachers and pupils the facilities to make interesting ‘How to…’ guides. Podcasting is an alternative to this. Pupils and teachers can get a lot from audio recordings if they learn lessons from radio. Try to include interviews, linked music, quizzes, news slots and reviews. All of this introduces an element of thinking to the production and to the listening.

Kim Cavanaugh & Debra Maupin argued, ‘Focusing on the process rather than the tools reverses that dynamic so that students are able to appreciate not only how a particular task is accomplished, but also which technology is appropriate for the assigned task—a common skill they will need when faced with real-world work requirements’. This must be the starting point of all discussions about the use of technology in the History classroom. If we add in ICT as an easy way to grab attention, then we will make little headway in turning out good quality learners. The skills we value as historians must be reflected in our use of technology, otherwise there is little to justify its inclusion. In the workplace, use of technology is fully integrated into wider systems and we should be trying to prepare pupils for this.

For this to occur, it is important for teachers to hand control of ICT over to the pupils. This will give pupils the chance to find out strategies for themselves and become independent learners. A step on from this is to give pupils clear criteria and then allow them to select the most appropriate mode of presentation. This can throw up some interesting results, with pupils exploring the possibilities of technology as diverse as Flash and mobile phones.

In order to manage such situation, I find a flexible classroom model the most helpful. Rather than taking pupils to a suite of computers, six are installed in the teaching room. This allows teachers and pupils to experiment with group dynamics and computer time. For example, a class of 30 could be given a problem and then split into groups of five; they can be told that they can access one computer per group over three lessons. This will focus their attention on what can be achieved and force them to think of alternatives to ICT.

Whatever strategies are employed, the most important section of any task is the ‘debrief’ and looking at transferable skills. This type of metacognition allows pupils to build on their skills and continually move forward. This is what ICT in education should be about.

Contribute further to the seminar at



Spartacus Learning Online MacGregor is History Historia Siglo 20 Historical Association International School History Sintermeertencollege InnovativeICT.net

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