Having recently had to complete a lesson observation for a colleague I was appraising in my department, I was reminded of the standard “lesson observation record form” from the glory days of PGCE. It has that wonderful little box on it usually entitled something along the lines of “Use of ICT”. Given that 9 times out of 10 when I am using such a form, I am observing an ICT or Computing lesson, I usually feel like writing “duh” in that box. (I never do though, I’m a good person.)
This box aggravates me. Part of the reason is because it encourages the use of gimmicky ICT that is either used in the observed lesson or then forgotten, or is very tenuous in its relationship to the lesson being taught, just so that the observer can pat the observee on the back and they can both toddle back to the staff room for a cup of tea and a malted milk. For example, you might have set a task with a given amount of time, and used a “countdown timer” on the board whilst the students did the work. Tick. You may have put the notes on whatever you were covering that lesson on a Powerpoint presentation and showed that on the board with twirly whirly animations and perhaps a few flash movies. Tick. Congratulations, you have now met this ridiculous requirement.
Why do we even need this box?
I have never been congratulated after an observed lesson for an “oustanding use of board pens” or a “innovative use of the photocopier” (although now I can figure out how to do the A3 folded middle staple booklet thingy, I think I really should deserve a bit of credit). Surely if you are using ICT to perform a task in a lesson, it should be because using technology is an efficient, sensible, engaging way of doing it, and most importantly it enhances the learning. Why use technology just for the sake of saying you did so? For example, I once tried to do the register at the start of a lesson using my iPad. Whilst it was possible, and elicited many cries of “ooh” and “wow” from the class, it was in fact slower than ticking off names in a book. Use it if you need it and if it makes the lesson better, if not then you shouldn’t feel bad for doing things the traditional way.
This also brings me on to the subject of “innovative use of ICT”. By definition, innovative means new and inventive? What someone else counts as an ‘innovative’ use of ICT, I count as something I do every day without thinking about – for example I may put up an exemplar piece of work on the board and use the interactive whiteboard tools to annotate over the top of it. To my mind, that isn’t particularly innovative, but it may appear to others that is like…totally cutting edge, man. Dude. In this case, innovative is relative to the skills of the individual. We all refer to students who are “coasting”, and I think the concept applies here. If I (the head of Computing), were content to do the same thing every year and not bother to learn or try anything new with technology, then I don’t really feel I would be doing my job well. However, if a teacher of <insert subject here> were to do some of the things which I currently do, they would probably be described as being innovative. However, neither of us is really innovating – we aren’t doing something that has never been done before in a classroom, we are simply progressing the bounds our knowledge, and I think that is what should be measured.
In appraising a teacher’s use of ICT, in my opinion what we should consider is the progress they have made. If a teacher started off not even being willing to turn their computer on, and has now progressed to using youtube videos to improve the understanding of a topic and provide variety in the lesson, that should be celebrated. If a teacher decides to fill his or her lessons with the use of gimmicky ICT at the expense of real teaching and learning, that may look impressive to the casual observer but in the long term it is not helpful. As we try to teach the students, half of the problem is knowing which tools are fit for the purpose – or indeed if the best fit would be to not use ICT at all for a particular task. The best lessons are the ones which are considered carefully in order to get this balance right.