Hand-held devices in the classroom

In a recent governors’ meeting, a colleague was typing into his Blackberry. The Chair of the meeting was uncomfortable about this. He thought that the colleague was texting. He wasn't. He was using a note application to convey the key points of the meeting back to his computer at work to save himself and his PA the tedious work of typing up the notes.

Telephones have become powerful computers. What is more, many students have them, and they are becoming the way of communicating and working for many of us. However, these devices, with their cameras and instant messaging capabilities are sometimes seen as dangerous in the hands of the young. Some schools have policies banning their use around the campus, and certainly within the classroom.

But that is not a way to educate children. It is vital that we show the students how to effectively and practically utilise this powerful tool for good. Meanwhile we need to back this up with a system capable of supporting the effective use of such technology for learning.

At Leighton Park School we have just launched a wireless system which uses the same technology as Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport in order that all our staff and students can bring their own devices to school to use wherever they are on site, and whenever there is an appropriate opportunity to do so. One of the key questions asked was whether the teaching staff would be sufficiently conversant with the technology to use it in lessons. The approach we advocate is simple: the children have the technology and know how to use it. The teacher knows what they want the students to discover. If the teacher works with the student, setting them interesting tasks in order to find out information or present findings, and also asks students to discover as many new ways as possible of deploying these devices, then the whole community will learn how best to make use of them. Our learning methods will be richly diverse, and bang up to date and adaptable to the new trends in technological innovation which come thick and fast, month by month. The first pupil to bring in the latest device will be able to demonstrate new capabilities, making learning organic and engaging. The classroom will very quickly become a hive of activity. Our teachers and students will quickly become open to innovation. We will be prepared for the learning community and technological rollercoaster which exists in the world beyond school. So, mobile phones are no longer to be banned. Pupils may now bring in their own devices, and what we will expect is that they will be used in ways which are exciting, innovative and purposeful. Like any powerful tool, mobile technology itself is not dangerous unless it is in the hands of the inexperienced or malevolent. Here at Leighton Park we are excited by the possibilities presented by opening our learners' minds to new methods and developing our staff alongside our pupils.

Alex McGrath, Head, Leighton Park School