Well, here we are in what ought to be a hot August laying by the beach or in the garden, but actually the rain is pouring down! Gives me a good opportunity however to work on my portfolio for ATS and re-visit the project I started a few months ago; to promote the latest digital technologies and find out what tools people are really benefitting from.
Many of you read about this in the June edition of the PD North Blog. At that point I had an established Padlet of tools for the delivery of maths, English and ESOL. I wanted to share this Padlet and the ideas further with the sector, get as much feedback as possible on what people are really using and what they find the most useful and beneficial for learning skills for life.
I can honestly say that the wonderful Further Education sector did not let me down. During a year when practitioners saw unprecedented levels of workload, challenges and stress, peers still found the time to help out with this project. With over 200 ‘engagements’, the responses to my Padlet were great, both in terms of sharing my plans to contributing to the Padlet itself; and on that note, Padlet and Wakelet are very popular tools that can be used for resource uploads and sharing of activities, vital for practitioners working in smaller organisations that do not have large data sharing platforms such as Moodle.
“Padlet has been great as a platform for project-based learning for FS English. Easy to use and more accessible than some learning platforms as no log-in/registration is required to access content.” (RB)
Overall, contributions that I received from practitioners were of high quality and very useful in planning which tool to use for a particular teaching and learning activity, and for use in different teaching contexts. Comments also indicated how learners coped with or benefited with the tools used in collaborative or self-directed tasks, as well as how suitable tools were for accessing on different devices such as smartphones.
So, what are people finding useful and what is maybe not living up to the hype? Well, no surprises in that Zoom and MS Teams have had several mentions. Whilst Google Classroom and Big Blue Button are used quite a bit, the two major players in video-conferencing software appear to be more widely used. Which one do people prefer? It appears whilst Teams has increased in its popularity with the introduction of breakout rooms and other features, Zoom still tops the list of preferred video conferencing with the most common reason given is its reliability and ease of use, much more suited to teaching, rather than holding a meeting” is a frequent comment.
And what about interactive activities, the sort of thing all teachers need to replace the hands-on, practical tasks used in the classroom? Kahoot had been used in the FE sector well before the Pandemic, but its standing hasn’t really dropped, however there is now more competition. Tools such as Wordwall, Flippity and Nearpod all came out well. The chance to have card matching or sorting activities has really enhanced interactivity of online learning. A tool to look out for is BookWidgets, a fantastic tool to make interactive activities and importantly, monitor learners’
While we are talking about assessment, how are practitioners using tools to cover assessment for learning and of learning? A clear runner in this has been Google Forms. Easy to use, works well on phones and so customable that it is a firm favourite. Other tools include Qizizz and Plickers, with of course that great audience participation tool Menti.
“We use these a lot! Google forms are so easy to create a share with learners. We use them primarily for apprentices to claim ‘off the job’ training hours, by researching a topic and then completing the form/question paper to demonstrate learning. But we’ve also used them as our initial assessment forms, for e-safety/e-learning… brilliant.” (SH)
A growing trend is to give learners feedback via a screen casting tool such as Loom, Screencast-OMatic or Screencastify, particularly useful in giving feedback for writing activities.
“I’ve only recently discovered Screencast-o-Matic but have started using it to record verbal feedback with student’s work on screen. I like it because it is really easy and intuitive to use (and free). I also like it because you can scroll through their work, highlight and add notes etc whilst recording”. (DS)
Finally, a word about hardware. A clear winner in the hardware tools stake is the visualiser. One of these small and relatively cheap bits of kit is great for any subject but comes out very high in the delivery of maths, providing the possibility to demonstrate calculations live or in ESOL where the teacher can model language use or display realia to promote discussion.