NDLF – Opinion Piece – Pam McDowall

Pam McDowall is the Headteacher for Cochrane Castle Primary and Chair of the National Digital Learning Forum (NDLF). The forum explores, evaluates and recommends approaches to digital learning and teaching.

This is the first in a series of opinion pieces from NDLF members on what digital learning and teaching means to them and their views on the digital difference.

In this piece Pam shares her views on the benefits digital learning offers, the upcoming National Digital Learning Week, the Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy and how her school is using technology to help tackle the attainment gap.

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I have long been an advocate of digital learning, having been ICT Staff Tutor many moons ago, and continue to promote the benefits of this today in my role as Headteacher and Chair of the NDLF. In my many roles, I have been fortunate to see first-hand what digital learning brings to pupils – from allowing them to present their work in a different format to sharing their work with a wider audience and working collaboratively to demonstrate their understanding. All of these increase learner confidence and help provide them with the tools they will need for life-long learning.

The NDLF shares experiences and approaches to digital learning and teaching and is made up of practitioners from all areas of Education – all sectors, including college, teacher training education and union representation to ensure that the group takes account of the views of as wide a group as possible. We are keen to continue to grow this digital learning community and have recently begun to use Yammer within Glow to open up our discussions. This has proven a excellent resource and is a great place to ask questions and share your views on what difference digital technology can make to learning and teaching. it is accessible through most devices through your Glow login. A good place to start is the Digital Learning & Teaching Yammer group for all of you who have not tried it out yet.

One of our first tasks of the NDLF was to put in place the National Digital Learning Week which allows staff and pupils from all around the country to have a focus on digital learning and share that learning with others using our https://digilearn.scot/ website. I firmly believe that it is through sharing we learn and shape our next steps. This is essential for our own professional learning which in turn benefits our pupils. That is why I welcome the publication of the new Digital Learning and Teaching strategy http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505855.pdf which sets out a comprehensive approach to deliver the increased effective use of digital technology in education. Importantly, this approach was informed at every level through consultation with learners and young people, as well as those with an interest in education.

As a practitioner, it was important that the Strategy underpins the key national priorities. My Authority is an Attainment Authority and we are continually focussing on how to raise attainment. I was therefore delighted to see that an independent review was carried out which proved that digital technology can support educational attainment and help close the gap between groups of learners, as well as improve communication with parents. This has been our focus in school and we make use of digital learning and teaching to support this in a number of ways. Here are just some:

  • Within our school we have Community Groups which include every pupil in the school. One group is Digital Leaders and they are working towards the Digital Schools Award Scotland. The learners are enjoying self-evaluating how our school meets the Digital Schools Criteria. This will help inform our Improvement Priorities for next session.
  • Our classes use online resources for a wide-range of curricular areas, including Literacy and Numeracy which is used to track attainment. We are about to introduce an online reading scheme to support learners.
  • Our staff and pupils are undergoing training with iTeach, linked to our digital profiles. Pupils have ownership of their work and have been able to demonstrate breadth of learning by showcasing this in different digital formats such as posters, movies and videos.
  • This session we have introduced class blogs which has improved communication with parents. It has been great for the “moments” to be captured. Our P7 Press Officers have taken responsibility for gathering news from each class and posting this on the school website.
  • Our main communication tool with staff is Yammer where we have a closed group to share what is happening in school. We also have a Staff Zone where we share documents and materials to support learning and teaching. Classes also have Sites to share their work.

I have recently met with Senior Leaders within my Authority to look at how we share staff expertise in Glow and use the tools available to work smarter. This is the first step towards changing our approach within the Authority to support staff make better use of digital tools. This is as a direct result of the Strategy raising the profile of digital learning and the Government’s expectations.

I think that we must continue to work with Initial Teacher Education to ensure that digital learning is embedded in their courses as it is vital newly qualified teachers have the skills to make best use of digital learning. This will also create leadership opportunities for staff to take on a key role in developing this across schools. Digital Learning forms part of How Good is Our School 4 and within the standards for Professional Update – this should help to ensure digital learning continues to be a priority for all.

Being part of the NDLF gives me a clear role in supporting the implementation of this strategy. It is a privilege to be able to identify and share practice which helps schools and local authorities implement the strategy within their own context. As I said earlier, I enjoy finding out what approach other pupils, staff, schools and authorities have taken as this is often the catalyst for thinking about our next steps. I am excited about what the future will bring and want the NDLF to be at the heart of supporting digital learning and teaching in Scotland.

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We hope you enjoyed this first piece, share your comments below or on the Digital Learning & Teaching Yammer group through Glow

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