Author Archives: Andy McLaughlin

Teaching Lesson Planning with AI⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

I've enjoyed giving some thought lately to potential applications of AI in teacher education. Today, I experimented with ChatGPT in generating exemplar lesson plans and the results were mixed, but no lesser than one might expect from student teachers in their first foray into lesson planning.

My initial thoughts were that this might be a useful tool for creating new examples of lessons to help model lesson structures and, moreover, offer students an opportunity to evaluate various plans, identifying the merits and shortfalls therein.

There is also scope to use AI to help students/teachers get to grips with how they might embed technologies in their lesson plans:

The Bing AI bot was perhaps more helpful in supporting teacher development by focusing on useful resources and a range of suggested activity ideas:

I'm keen to keep the conversation around this going, so please let me know your thoughts.

Digital Citizenship Education: What it is and Why it Matters (by ChatGPT)⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Below is a blog post written by ChatGPT on Digital Citizenshi

p on 10/03/2023. 
Digital Citizenship Education: What it is and Why it Matters

In today’s digital age, children and young people are growing up in a world that is more connected and online than ever before. They have access to an enormous amount of information, tools, and platforms that can help them learn, create, and communicate with others. However, this also means that they are exposed to a range of digital risks and challenges that can have serious consequences for their well-being, privacy, and reputation.

This is where digital citizenship education comes in. Digital citizenship education is a term used to describe the process of teaching and learning about the responsible use of technology, the Internet, and social media. It aims to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to navigate the digital world safely, responsibly, and ethically.

Why is digital citizenship education important?

There are several reasons why digital citizenship education is crucial in today’s society:

  1. To ensure digital safety and well-being: Digital citizenship education helps children and young people understand the risks associated with using technology and social media, such as cyberbullying, online harassment, and exposure to inappropriate content. It also teaches them how to protect their personal information, manage their digital footprint, and stay safe online.

  2. To promote responsible use of technology: Digital citizenship education encourages children and young people to use technology and social media in a responsible and ethical manner. It teaches them about digital etiquette, cyber ethics, and the importance of respecting the rights and feelings of others online.

  3. To support digital literacy and creativity: Digital citizenship education fosters digital literacy skills, such as critical thinking, media literacy, and digital communication. It also encourages children and young people to use technology and social media to create, share, and collaborate with others in a positive and constructive way.

  4. To prepare for the future: In an increasingly digital world, digital citizenship education is essential for preparing children and young people for their future careers and personal lives. It helps them develop the skills and competencies they need to succeed in a technology-driven society.

How can digital citizenship education be taught?

Digital citizenship education can be taught in a variety of ways, such as through classroom instruction, online learning, and parent and community engagement. Some key strategies for effective digital citizenship education include:

  1. Integration with the curriculum: Digital citizenship education should be integrated into the curriculum across all subject areas and grade levels, rather than being taught as a standalone topic.

  2. Interactive and engaging activities: Digital citizenship education should be delivered through interactive and engaging activities that promote active learning and critical thinking.

  3. Collaboration with parents and community: Digital citizenship education should involve parents and community members in the learning process, as they play an important role in supporting safe and responsible technology use at home and in the community.

  4. Ongoing learning: Digital citizenship education should be an ongoing process, with opportunities for children and young people to learn and practice digital citizenship skills throughout their education.


Digital citizenship education is a critical component of education in the 21st century. It helps children and young people navigate the digital world safely, responsibly, and ethically, and prepares them for their future personal and professional lives. By integrating digital citizenship education into the curriculum, providing engaging and interactive learning activities, collaborating with parents and community members, and promoting ongoing learning, we can ensure that our children and young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to be responsible digital citizens

Creating a Digital Bill of Rights in Social Subjects⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

 A digital Bill of Rights

Philosophy is best not when it tells you what to do, but when it is used to help democratic publics better understand the urgent challenges we face, so that we can make better decisions about what to do, together.
~ Seth Lazar, Tanner Lecture (Stanford HAI, Jan 13, 2023)

In his lecture introduction, Seth goes on to say, "Political philosophy, ultimately, is about how to live together. It depends on properly understanding our social relations. But it is yet to adequately address social changes induced by computing, intensified by AI."

The idea, that we are living in a reality which is no longer aligned with our social contract, is one with which many find they are increasingly ill-at-ease. Great science-fiction has grown from the fear of technological developments which outstrip our ability to control them. But the growth of AI is not the existential threat that we have been led to believe by films and books. The leaders of Big Tech companies are far more likely to be the cause of untold damage (c.f. Instagram's impact on Mental Health, YouTube's algorithmic promotion of extremism, Twitter's polarisation of political views, and all social media's increasing mining for our attention to generate greater revenues)

This demands discourse within our classrooms, our young people need opportunities to discuss the issues if they are to better understand the impact of these tools, and this Forbes article is a wonderful provocation with which to engage students in the creation of a Digital Bill of Rights, most likely within Social Subjects/RME contexts.

An opportunity which might involve:

  • an examination of the successes and failures of the US Bill of Rights (c.f. The Fugitive Slave laws (1793, 1850)),
  • looking at the current lack of protection students (and all users) have from Big Tech
  • exploration of a new (digital) social contract
  • raising awareness of ethical considerations
  • reworking the sentiment of the Port Huron Statement (1962) in an "Agenda for a Digital Generation"

If anyone is interested in collaborating to create a resource which could be shared with schools, I'm keen to hash out ideas, so please get in touch.

PGDE Social Subjects – newsletter 3⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

 Why can't my pupils follow simple instructions

By Adam Boxer lead practitioner at The Totteridge Academy, London, on why pupils find it hard to follow simple instructions. [The following is a lightly edited lift from Adam's original blog post]

As soon as you are a few words in the noise starts to build as students pack away, put on coats, push their chairs in and talk to each other. Why? It’s not a difficult class and you’ve had good command of the group…so why does this always seem to happen?

One of the most powerful techniques I use is Means of Participation (MOP) [read more in Lee Donaghy’s blog]. MOP is about how you communicate to students how they are supposed to participate in your lesson. Phrases like:

        "…by putting your hand up…”

        “…just think about the answer for me”

establish the means by which your students will participate. It’s a powerful technique but it isn’t enough.

The second you ask them the question, they start writing down their answer and they are no longer listening to you. It’s not a property of the instruction itself – it’s a property of its placement; where it sits in the sentence.

You need to Front Load your instructions - put your MOP at the front of your instruction, get the important information in before the point when students will stop listening

        "By putting your hand up in the air, I’d like you to tell me…

        "Without talking, I’d like you to write down three things…”

[Please, read the original, much fuller text on Adam’s blog]

The Purpose of Feedback 

The Amazon blurb for Michael Chiles' The Feedback Pendulum reads, "In the words of Bill Gates, 'We all need people who give us feedback. That's how we improve.' The art of giving feedback is widely recognised as one of the most powerful tools in education and equally one of the most variable aspects in the way it is applied".

This Education Scotland resource might be very helpful in getting you to think about your own use of feedback (the following, in italics, is taken from the ES page):

Feedback is a thorny issue, woven into discussions about the use of formative and summative assessment, marking and workload, grading and the value of data as a tool to improve learner outcomes. The key in Dylan Wiliam's work is the emphasis on moving learners forward.

Here, Prof. Wiliam discusses the place of using assessment strategies to support high quality feedback on learning.

 In his words, “good feedback causes thinking”.

The Education Scotland resource invites you to watch the video and consider the impact of your own approach to develop the use of high quality feedback to support the best learning and teaching.

  • How do you use feedback at present to support developing best learning and teaching?
  • How would you avoid offering feedback that focuses on the ego of the learner?
  • How do you use dialogue and questioning techniques to find out where a learner is in their understanding of the tasks they are completing?
[See the original on the Education Scotland website.]

PGDE Social Subjects – Newsletter 2⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Challenging the Extrovert Ideal in the Classroom

Without proffering cliches and stereotypes, the introverts in your class will likely prefer to reflect and think deeply. In the classroom setting, this can mean having a preference to work independently. 

Introverts may prefer planning, enjoy brainstorming and considering all sides of something in their mind before taking the next step. They often prefer discussing things with one other person rather than in a large group. 

Constantly being told to “speak up” and work with others during can cause stress or anxiety. 

When you are designing tasks for your learners, remember that it may be focused, independent learning tasks in which some will shine brightest.

There are links to resources and some great prompts in this article to help you plan for the introverts in your lessons.

Here's Jamie Thom, author of  A Quiet Education: Challenging the extrovert ideal in our schools discussing both why and how we must better cater for introverts in our classrooms.

You can explore some similar themes in this Manifesto for Introversion in the workplace.

Bring the world into your classroom with Google Earth

Visual images are powerful teaching and learning tools, providing windows into the past. We need to teach visual skills to young people, and that means treating pictures as sources of information. Pictures can be read as texts in their own right, not as mere illustrations. Although children are surrounded by visual images, particularly on television, they often cannot comment on or remember what they have seen - they have not engaged with the images, have not 'read' them. For that they need to look deeply, to enter imaginatively into the picture, to question, to hypothesise.

Geographers often make good use of Google Earth, but it is a tool we should be using in all our Social Subjects classrooms. 

Here are just a few suggestions for how you might use it: 

PGDE Social Subjects – Newsletter 1⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Cognitive Load Theory - an introduction by GCSEPod

In the late 1980s, John Sweller developed a theory about the demands placed on the human memory when we are learning something new. This he named Cognitive Load Theory. Dylan Wiliam subsequently commented that it was the ‘single most important thing that teachers should know’. 

The theory details three different types of cognitive load, one of which is ‘extraneous load’, that is how the learning is presented to the learner. Sweller suggested that there are ways of reducing the extraneous load, thereby increasing the likelihood of the learning being assimilated by the learner. 

Strategies such as reducing redundant text on a power point or using worked examples to aid learning, are now increasingly being used by teachers, and have themselves attracted further research into their efficacy. 

Text source: , images source:

Thinking in class

by Bruce Robertson, HT and Author

If asking questions to make all students think is something you would like to get better at, here are some techniques you might want to focus on building into your teaching, or developing further:

  1. Show-me boards. If you aren’t already using show-me boards as a matter of routine in (almost) every lesson,  start doing so. Show-me boards encourage all students to think and all students to commit to a specific answer. They also make the thinking of all students visible to the teacher, so we can respond to individuals or the class some point in the future. Show-me boards are a teacher’s best friend.
  2. Pause. If you can get into the habit of asking a question and pausing for a few seconds, embracing the silence, then it is more likely that more students will think about the questions you ask. To help with this, try getting into the habit of using phrases such as ‘Everyone think about that’ each time you ask a question.
  3. Bounce. When a student answers a question, the natural temptation is to give feedback – we want to tell them if they are right or wrong. However, if instead, you ‘bounce’ the same question to another student, you encourage more students to think.

Read more of Bruce’s thoughts in the original blog post on the Education Scotland website

Continue reading

Education needs free, safe spaces for creation, collaboration and discussion.⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

[ P.S. An abridged version of this post was published in TES magazine 22nd December 2022 ]

Safe spaces in which Scottish Educators can discuss, debate, share our thoughts, enquiries and practice are few and far between these days.

Barely have we had we chance to draw breath post-Covid (no pun intended), but we find we are already diving into a period of National Discussion, examining the findings of a slew of reports and a flurry of thought papers (among them opportunities to redefine the place of the Four Capacities and of IDL in our schools).  In such a time of flux, we would benefit from a safe place to share and explore ideas, but our options are instead reducing.

The Future is behind us

Could relics from our recent past be our best shot at establishing grassroots opportunities to collaborate, share and discuss - as Pedagoo provided for a while - regardless of our geographic or digital locale, so that we might optimise this season of reform and renewal?

Blogs and Wikis were once ten-a-penny in the Scottish Education sphere, until microblogging rose to dominate the landscape. Unlike social media, these older content-creation tools did not restrict the length of contributions or steal your attention every waking moment thanks to incessant dopamine-releasing notifications. Instead, they allowed developing thoughts to be published, ideas to be shared and shaped, links made to like-minded thinkers, and documents written collaboratively. The very values cherished both by luminaries of the Scottish Enlightenment and the creator of the Web.

After all, “when he launched the Web in 1991, Tim Berners-Lee intended it to be used as a collaboration tool, which is why he was dismayed that the Mosaic browser did not give users the ability to edit the Web pages they were viewing. It turned Web surfers into passive consumers of published content.” (Walter Isaacson, The Innovators). Blogging and Wikis were the tools which emerged to mitigate this effect, encouraging user-generated content and collaboration. These tools did not restrict the length of your contributions or steal your attention every waking moment thanks to incessant dopamine-releasing notifications. Instead, they allowed for fully-formed thoughts to be published, shared and shaped, links to be made, and documents to be written collaboratively. The very values cherished by Enlightenment luminaries such as Burns, Hume, Hutcheson, Reid, and Smith. 

A Historical Context

In the early 18thCentury, Scotland was recovering from a period of great change and unrest - the economic and climate crises hitting late 17th Century Europe, the failure of the Darien Scheme (1698-1700), the Union of Parliaments (1707), the Jacobite uprising (1715). In the 1730s, there was an explosion of clubs and societies established to improve knowledge in key areas – agriculture, philosophy, industry, medicine among them – and to drive recovery. These clubs were “characterised by their cross-disciplinary focus. The boundaries between different subject areas were not as fixed as they are today. It was quite common for philosophers, artists, scientists, churchmen, and lawyers to be members of the same society and to share ideas and discoveries from their different fields of knowledge” (NLS).

 Two hundred years later, as the world emerged from the chaos of the Second World War, a number of large companies sought to drive innovation and economic recovery. In the process, ways of working were revised and traditional workspaces were redesigned. “Bell Labs director Mervin Kelly guided the construction of a new home for the lab that would purposefully encourage interaction between its diverse mix of scientists and engineers.” explained Cal Newport in Deep Work.  “Bell Labs showed how sustained innovation could occur when people with a variety of talents were brought together. The corridors were…designed to promote random meetings among people with different talents and specialties, a strategy that Steve Jobs replicated in designing Apple’s new headquarters seventy years later. Anyone walking around Bell Labs might be bombarded with random ideas, soaking them up like a solar cell.” wrote Walter Isaacson in his 2014 book The Innovators.

It barely needs mentioning, but we are coming through our own tumultuous period. Over a decade of austerity has impacted on schools and communities across the nation, the Climate Crisis is escalating at pace, and Covid closed our schools and forced us to rethink all that we took for certain in the education of children for the first time since the threat of aerial bombardment in the 1940s. For over a decade now in Scottish Education, Twitter has been the space to share ideas, or more commonly, to show off achievements and practice. The balance of broadcast versus collaboration trod a fine line, but it was convenient for most. Until recent weeks, when we saw an escalation of distressing incidents: racist abuse of staff and learners, personal attacks on early career teachers. Elon Musk’s takeover in November further escalated fears that such incidents would become more commonplace and led to a migration from the platform to the tune of 700,000 users (and growing).

Consumers not Owners

While Twitter use has risen, we have seen a growth in 'consumption' rather than 'creation' around Education. Social Media creators on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube seem alien to the education landscape, where we have become accustomed to simply "searching", "finding" and "downloading", rather than "editing", "creating" and "collaborating".

Away from 'social media', the challenges to collegiate sharing are no less significant. GLOW would once have been the obvious solution, but many Local Authorities are turning their back on the platform to pursue their own needs, leaving users frustrated from the need to jockey login details and switch browsers. Meanwhile, we urgently need to liberate ourselves from the Big Tech 3, who are currently carving Scotland into digital fiefdoms, stifling cross-platform collaboration, luring teachers with shiny badges and gamification - as if being a Scottish Teacher isn't achievement enough!

Resourcing Collaboration

Bringing together colleagues from across Scotland, and across sectors, is one of the notable successes of the Education Scotland PLL team. Their leadership courses provide opportunities for collaboration, sharing and network building. However, capacity is finite and the cohorts of these courses (though expanding) make up a tiny percentage of the teaching body in Scotland. How then can we have meaningful discussion of the many reports and ideas.

It is time then to look to our recent past. A network of blogs, free standing from any one provider, hyperlinking to one another to debate and develop ideas, formed a healthy part of the discussion on all things educational in Scotland just a decade ago. What was missing in 2010 was any sort of directory: a working record of the many blogs, themes and ideas. An attempt at this was made by ScotEduBlogs, though this currently hinges on centralised moderators to update and organise the aggregator. Instead, a “ScotsEduWiki" would quickly surpass this, editable by all, allowing for information to be updated quickly and providing a map for educators, linking ideas, papers and research. In short, providing a one-stop shop to support the National Discussion.

Developing Digital Skills for Citizenship⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

I recently read Stepping into a Virtual Reality Classroom for Teacher Training ( and I was intrigued to see the situation in Myanmar pre-pandemic described in very similar terms to how I have previously described the situation here in Scotland today: 

...teachers often lack not only digital skills themselves, but also the pedagogical breadth to meaningfully engage students in inquiry-based activities that make the most of access to technology

The Myanmar: Connect to Learn project site details the issues faced by their schools when it came to developing digital pedagogies:

It was clear that knowledge, skills and infrastructure were all lacking. The same concerns raised in Scotland. Having just supported an authority with upskilling teaching staff and deploying thousands of devices into the hands of staff and students alike, I feel I have a good understanding of how these three factors impact on education here.

The ongoing work being undertaken by a number of organisations, not least council education departments and the Scottish Government's Digital Citizenship Unit, all focus on equity of access and equity of opportunity. The pandemic brought under the spotlight the negative impact caused by poverty when it came to citizens accessing information (health information, financial services, education).

In both countries, lots has been done. During Covid we saw WiFi provision for the poorest students prioritised, devices deployed and upskilling supported. In schools, we saw teachers engage head-on with developing the digital skills they needed to continue to support their learners, at least in so far as managing a work flow solution to pass work back and forth. But on return to in-person learning, the momentum was lost and many practitioners returned to their tried and trusted ways, eschewing the new digital tools.

Perhaps, most surprising though was the range of solutions proposed. While we recently upgraded the network connectivity of every school, Myanmar was deploying 3G and 4G enabled devices. They, like us, were introducing a development programs both for teaching staff focusing on the use of ICT in the classroom. And while we deliver inputs on SAMR and digital skills, and planned to develop curricular pathways around Computing Science, Cyber Resilience and Internet Safety, the Myanmar project was building a Virtual Reality sandbox where teachers could "gain additional confidence to integrate the use of advanced mobile technologies in the classroom".

  • Are we doing enough in Scotland to build teachers' skills, knowledge and confidence around digital to help them better prepare our young people for the world around us? 

  • Are our young people (and their communities) being provided with the tools they require to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens in an increasingly digital world?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then who is responsible for making Digital a national education priority?

We are in the midst of a mammoth review of all things Scottish Education, perhaps now is time to put pressure on ministers to renew their ambition to provide devices for every learner (and, subsequently, ensure a device in the home of much of our population). With Education Scotland and the SQA under the spotlight, perhaps we can also seek opportunities to enhance the digital landscape across the nation, build our own digital sandbox, create safe spaces to share, collaborate and question. Extricate our schools from the digital fiefdoms where big tech companies have rieved them and cut them off.

From the Archive (3): Targets I set myself in 2009/10.⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

 The following excerpt is from a much longer reflective piece I wrote in 2010 as a student teacher. I've included it below to force me to reflect on how my practice has changed over the subsequent 12 years.

Considerations for Future Practice: Inclusive Environment and Learning Experiences

I feel in many ways I missed a golden opportunity with this class.  Although we used ICT, we used in a pedestrian manner.  In this modern, digital era, it is both easy and essential that we provide activities which will benefit everyone in a class, not just those with perceived inhibitors or disabilities.  “Difficulties” of a wide variety can be leveled through the use specialist programs, specific equipment, or even just through new ways of using readily available resources.  Technology can easily augment the learning of struggling pupils, can enhance the education of all pupils, and can be geared to stretch even the most able students in a class.  Mobile technologies, such as iPods and mobile phones, can be used to reinforce learning through applications, games, homework reminders or specific tasks. Word processors and laptops can be used to make life easier for pupils with conditions such as dyslexia. Returning to the idea of communication difficulties, ICT provision can help children struggling with direct speech (for whatever reason) gain confidence using speech bubbles in online cartoons or automatically generated speech through programmes such as Voki or voicethread.

Using Digital Intentionally⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Since first appearing here, this post has since been posted on the Education Scotland PLL blog.

In my last blog, I asked leaders to think about how they might liberate the minds of their staff teams. To adopt “intention” instead of “instruction” based leadership strategies. The notion of ‘intentionality’ has been at the fore of my thoughts for some time. Whilst discussing the benefits of digital tools, and training staff and students to maximise those benefits, I have been in the habit of asking leaders and teachers about their intended use of digital as part of wider school improvement ambitions.

Often, the responses have outlined a drive to integrate digital tools into classroom activity or develop digital literacy amongst staff and students. Recently, though, I was told “I want to see the devices used in every lesson”. It may seem counter intuitive, but I reacted negatively to such all-encompassing digital goals.

In another conversation, an early career teacher rightly asked me about the long-term effects of digital tool usage on younger children. The same question was often raised during the remote learning of 2020, when people rightly worried about the negative impacts of too much screen time during Covid lockdown.

Both of these conversations were revealing about how important it is to discuss intention when planning the use of digital tools and technologies. To both, I responded in a similar way:

Our classroom teachers are professionals. They know our children and know how best to provide engaging, meaningful learning opportunities for them. Classroom teachers will look to provide a variety of experiences, some of which might be digital, most of which will be analogue. Indeed, you wouldn’t ask your students to write all day every day, or walk around with a bean bag on their head for hours on end. Everything in moderation allows for skills to be honed without negative side effects. The use of digital is no different.

On reflection, these conversations revealed more about competency than attitude. Just as would be done for outward-bound trips, planning is essential for a positive digital learning experience. Moreover, a robust Risk/Benefit Analysis is required to ensure any risks are mitigated where possible and worthwhile where not. In my experience, the best RBAs for trips are done by people who visit the site first, are clear about the learning goals and fully understand the activities which are planned, and are knowledgeable of the measures in place to keep children safe: outdoor education instructors have a depth of experience and expertise within that field that the average classroom teacher simply hasn’t and as such, the RBAs of teachers who work collaboratively with the instructors to plan the excursion are generally far more detailed than those written in the classroom. (Indeed, never mind analysing the risks, some dedicated teachers can struggle more than the pupils with the treetop ropes course or abseiling off a tower!)

One challenge with digital then, is that relatively few teachers have yet to build-up sufficient professional expertise and experience of digital tools to feel confident in planning meaningful experience, identifying the risks or providing digital safety. Central teams then, whether at local authority level or the @DigiLearnScot team at Education Scotland, are charged with providing scaffolding and training across a range of topics and platforms, stretching their capacity and resources to the limits without really getting the chance to collaborate with the classroom teacher.

Some help may be at hand. In his book, DigitalMinimalism, Cal Newport writes, “I am glad that we are worried about digital wellness but I think we have to go beyond small tweaks and hacks, and start thinking seriously about ‘What is the role of technology in our modern notion of the good life?’

And so I ask you, ‘What is the role of technology in our modern notion of good learning and teaching?’

By identifying the goal, we may avoid much of the risk. Either by reducing the potential for over-use or by avoiding the potential for misuse.

The idea of planning deliberate use of digital tools and technology might seem obvious, but when speaking to teachers across the country, I am regularly amazed by how many focus either on digital learning as the end result without fully considering why digital is the best medium for the planned learning activity (like the earlier conversation, the use is in itself the achievement). Almost as common are those who see the use of digital as little more than a threat to discipline or learning (without contemplating the opportunities to leverage rich learning experiences through strategic use of digital technology).

To those who simply view digital tool use as the ambition, I urge caution. As Newport remarked, “Simply put humans are not wired to be constantly wired”. If you are asking your young people to plug in, be sure to have a clear rationale for why.

To those, who see digital tools as little more than a distraction, disruption or hazard, I urge you to look for the benefits but embrace the principles of Digital Minimalism.

Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves. They don’t accept the idea that offering some small benefit is justification for allowing an attention-gobbling service into their lives, and are instead interested in applying new technology in highly selective and intentional ways that yield big wins. Just as important: they’re comfortable missing out on everything else.

~ Newport, Digital Minimalism (2019) 

I was given pause for thought during the HarvardX Leaders of Learning course, when educator and PBS commentator David Thornburg’s observed, “We use to ask the question, 'What can I do with technology?' as opposed to 'What can I do now that I have technology?'"

There is no denying that digital tools can have a negative impact on focus. We see this every day in our classrooms as children and young people struggle to focus without checking their phones for a dopamine hit. Countering the lure of the phone may be one of our greatest challenges and one of our core responsibilities going forward. By embracing digital minimalism we do not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead reject the way so many of us currently engage with these tools. In some ways, the tools themselves might even help us mitigate this addictive behaviour, through careful use of assistive technologies built-in to cut out distracting notifications or app usage. The deployment of centrally managed devices, like in Glasgow, the Borders and Edinburgh, might also stem the constant distraction by enabling tougher stances on unmanaged device use within schools (including phones). On breaking our reliance on attention-seeking tech, Newport has written extensively, illustrating how we might go about (re)building focus, training our brain: it starts with 20 minutes of avoiding distraction. Warning: It's not as easy as it sounds.

Beyond competing with social media, we must open learning experiences that have never been available before to enrich curricular and non-curricular offerings. Fundamentally, schools and councils will have to provide teachers with greater opportunities to develop their understanding of digital pedagogies and to explore the positive benefits of digital technologies.

My former colleagues in the Empowered Learning team at Edinburgh might provide an initial step for this. Their #SAMRTuesday girds on Twitter support the intentional use of digital tools with clear planned purposes and worked-examples of using the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Reimagination) framework (created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura) to show how digital can enhance and even transform many aspects of learning and teaching.

Leveraging the power of digital in the classroom can improve outcomes for all our young people. But with great power comes greater risk, don’t run with those digital scissors in your hand. Embrace digital minimalism. Use it sparingly, build your competencies and wield your digital pedagogies intentionally.