Technology in education is not just for pandemics! - by Rebecca Starkiss at Basingstoke College of Technology

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Technology in education is not just for pandemics! - by Rebecca Starkiss at Basingstoke College of Technology

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Rebecca Starkiss is Course Director for Art, Media and Game Art at Basingstoke College of Technology and has been working in FE for over 9 years - 'I am passionate about the creative subjects and the unique opportunities these can provide students'.

I will be the first to admit we could not have gotten through lockdown teaching without digital technology but one of the reasons teaching lessons online was successful for us was because we have been using technology in everything we do; before, during and continuing after COVID. 

At Basingstoke College of Technology, we have been actively embedding digital technology into our lessons and timetables since 2016 and as a result our students and staff are confident using it. Why do we do it? Because we need to prepare our students for a world where digital skills are needed and expected. This is coming from my perspective as an art teacher, the assumption that I will be surrounded by charcoal, paints, fabric, paper, pencil, clay etc... is an accurate one, these things are vital to our curriculum - but so are our laptops, cameras, tablets and smartphones. What technology has allowed us to do is streamline the paperwork and free up time to teach practical skills and build strong relationships with our learners and understand their needs. 

The last 18 months has taken its toll on students, within art and design we have seen higher levels of anxiety, additional needs and selective mutism. Technology is helping us to support them through these challenges. If anxiety is preventing learners from being in the classroom, we are teaching them via video link from another studio until they build up their confidence and can be in the classroom. Students with selective mutism are communicating with staff via Google Chat. When students are self-isolating, we are using shared documents to collaborate with others in the classroom. Students with dyslexia are receiving their feedback through Mote voice recordings as they find these easier to process.

It’s important at college level that our learners develop the independence and strategies needed for them to progress into the wider world, and sometimes this requires adaptations to support them to do that. These adaptations are ever evolving depending on the learners’ needs and preferences and for many they can use these strategies beyond the college environment. 

Throughout our curriculum, we use digital tools alongside art materials for example we create digital sketchbooks using Google Slides. This has allowed my students to dramatically improve their artist research and analysis of their own work. Prior to this any adjustments would require crossing out or re-writing sections of their sketchbook which would take time and seemed cruel when they had spent so long putting it all together. Now their sketchbooks exist for visual content and all written work is digital. Does paint end up on the laptops? Yes, occasionally but that seems a small price to pay for the value it brings!

Throughout their digital sketchbooks we will leave comments or voice notes for areas to develop, allowing for quick editing and adjustment, and we have seen a significant improvement in the quality of their written work. Students will also use phones in lessons to photograph physical work and add to their slides. Which means we have a permanent digital copy of their work, meaning the phrase ‘I left my sketchbook on the bus’, no longer fills me with horror. 

Being Dyslexic, I have really benefited from being able to use the digital sketchbook. It enables me to spellcheck, reorder my slides and design my pages. It also enables me to share and get feedback quickly. The quality of my work has increased in comparison to my 1st year of work in a physical sketchbook. I prefer the voice notes which I can listen to for feedback or explanations of tasks.     Katie - Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art & Design

Teaching in a college environment has many challenges and we have a lot of pressure on our time as lecturers. Anything I can do to make things easier I will. This is why my students submit work via Google Classroom. I can view work easily and mark and give feedback all through the classroom. Making use of tools such as comment bank, mote notes and rubric all of which has made marking and feedback so much faster and accessible. Everything lives in one digital space. Giving me more time to get on with lesson plans, creating resources, open days, calling parents and everything else on my to do list! 

I won’t pretend it always works perfectly or be ignorant enough to assume it always will. While we have experience, we are not experts. I also don’t believe technology is, or ever could be, a replacement for teachers; it is a way to enhance what we do and prepare our learners for their future. I am also constantly asking the learners for feedback on what we are doing, if it is not working for them, then we will try something else.

 With our digital sketchbooks I can work much faster, get feedback quickly ; not just in the form of messages but also voice notes and if I have any questions, I can ask them and get help whenever possible. Another good thing is that our teachers can set up presentations and surveys to help us improve and find out where we're up to, this not only helps us, but it helps them also to improve on how and what they're teaching us. Overall, all the technology we use is very helpful, we can access all the resources we need on google classroom and we can get any updates and ask questions on google chat. Without all these resources, I don't think I would have improved as much as I have with my work. Taz - Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art & Design 

Our journey has been full of trial and error, risk-taking and learning from our mistakes. The last 18 months simply forced us to speed up some of those processes because suddenly the entire team was thrown into the digital world with no alternative. We managed it by being adaptive and working in collaboration with the learners. Finding out what they needed and how we could make it happen for them. So, what would I recommend?

  • Be responsive to change and adapt as needed 
  • Be transparent with learners about what you are doing and why you’re doing it, and listen to their feedback 
  • Seek help from others and share your knowledge 
  • Teach your students and staff to use technology responsibly to protect their wellbeing
  • Accept it may not always work, that's okay!

Don’t do it for the sake of it; if it’s not making a positive impact, ditch it