Innovation in GCSE English – an approach to using new technology to augment and enhance learning
Barking & Dagenham College (BDC) is a further education provider situated in the north east of London and has several campuses across multiple sites in Romford and Barking. The college has over 5,000 students enrolled on a range of part-time and full-time courses, ranging from Entry 3 to Level 3 and above. Students study on vocational programmes that include Childcare, 3D Design, Motor Vehicle, ICT, Plumbing, Business and Administration, Sports and many other disciplines. Their studies are, of course, complemented by also working towards qualifications in maths and English.
The GCSE English cohort has grown considerably in the last three years, initially comprising a small number of part-time adult learners and, this academic year, consisting of over 300 full-time vocational and part-time students. Classes of approximately 15-20 students are delivered by subject specialists in well-equipped rooms that have computer access. Viability for GCSE English study is determined at the start of the academic year through consideration of a student’s recognised prior learning and an initial assessment which is administered by the teaching staff.
Around three years ago, the Curriculum Manager for maths and English conducted action research funded by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The focus of this was to ascertain what students wanted from their maths and English lessons in college and what suggestions they could make that would enhance delivery. One prominent suggestion was the desire to move away from ‘worksheet’ led sessions, which students felt were boring and disengaging, and instead use more technology in the classroom to facilitate learning. As a result, over the last three years, BDC has invested in Chromebooks for use in classrooms without PCs and championed the use of Google Apps, including Drive, Gmail, Docs and, upon its release in August 2014, Classroom.
The English GCSE team at the college have been trialling the Google Classroom platform (complemented by other Google Apps such as Docs and Drive) with students this academic year.
Online ‘Classrooms’ have been set up for GCSE English classes, serving as an online portal which students can use to access important course information and dates, contact their tutor/one another and access assignments their tutor has set. Students are able to access their classroom when in college or at home, using their personal email account.
Tutors are able to use the stream section of the platform to share announcements and forthcoming assignments with students.
The image above shows lesson content from a previous session which has been shared with students on their Classroom. Accompanying this is a tutor comment explaining the material.
Similarly, tutors use the platform to make presentations that have already been covered in class accessible online to students after the session. This facilitates revision, and also allows students who might have missed the session the opportunity to catch up.
The platform is also being used by tutors to set extension work and materials. Below shows an example of a link to a ‘Quizlet’ activity. The students can use the link from their Classroom to access these flashcards and further explore concepts and information beyond the lesson’s content.
Students are able to use the stream to comment on the linked activities and share their thoughts.
English tutors at the college are also using the ‘About’ section of the Google Classroom for hosting key information which students can view at any time.
Links that don’t fit a specific topic or theme, but that are nonetheless pertinent, are also stored here for students to access at any time.
In this instance, we see key GCSE English terms to aid students with their studies.
Impact and success factors
Initial comments from teachers who are beginning to use the classroom have included:
- “It’s brilliant, considering it’s free to use”.
- “My students took a while to get used to it but do like it now”.
- “In the few weeks I’ve been using it, I’ve found it useful. It’s helped me minimise the amount of paperwork I’ve been doing. Although it’s not working at the moment, I’m hopeful that some of my students will complete the extra work as homework. I’m also hoping that Classroom will assist with cover when I’m not in lesson as students will be able to access the lesson content online and the cover tutor only has to facilitate the lesson.”
So far, teachers at the college report the following positive results:
- Arriving to class after posting the lesson’s content on the Classroom to find students already looking over material before they’ve even been prompted to log on.
- Online documents have lent themselves to further interactivity; links posted in the online documents have taken students to news articles and other websites that will be used in sessions without having to write the URL in manually.
- The majority of students report enjoying using the Classroom and find it logical to navigate and very user friendly.
- The Classroom makes students’ experience a more ‘professional’ one, mirroring the approach you’d find within universities and other higher education institutions (which typically make use of an online hub that hosts lesson content, important information and provides a forum for conversation).