Young People’s Learning Technology Priorities

Young boy with tablet device
Photo credit: Marcus Kwan, shared under a Creative Commence Licence

Leicester City Council’s Youth Engagement project was a year-long innovative programme of research which involved 400 young people (11-19 years old).

The Youth Engagement Project was designed to ensure that the voice, opinions and views of young people are included in the development of Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future Programme.

The project focussed on identifying young people’s priorities as they relate to the school environment. Their top 10 priorities were:

1. More indoor social spaces
2. Better designed library spaces
3. Comfortable chairs
4. Well-designed interiors – especially use of colour
5. More vegetable `patches/allotments
6. Sustainable features – including use of biofuels and recycling programmes
7. Nicer toilets
8. Larger dining room spaces –flexible seating arrangements and more food choice
9. Flexible classroom spaces
10. Greater variety in teaching methods

Learners were also asked to think about their priorities as they related to technology.

Young people told us their top 10 learning technology priorities are:

1.  Faster computers

Young people’s number one learning technology priority is for consistently fast, reliable computers and network access. They told us slow computers make them feel frustrated, waste class time and hold up learning. Problems with computers running programmes or connecting to the internet slowly also make teachers less likely to want to use them with learners within lessons.

2.  More creative uses of technology for learning

Even the most interesting uses of technology became boring if teachers use them in the same way all the time. Students told us that their experience of technology used to support learning was too frequently the same – a teacher delivering a Power Point presentation to the class, or being taken through tasks as a whole class on a fixed computer.

3.  More student centred and student led use of technology

Young People talked to us about the ways in which they work together on social networking services, particularly for revision and homework. They want more opportunities to use technology to support their peers and potentially other learners – younger pupils as well as teachers, parents, carers and governors.
Students want to be supported in using online platforms and sites to develop their school councils and other student organised initiatives such as internet radio shows, online magazines and blog sites.

4.  More flexible use/internet access – in schools, the city centre, and in local communities

Students want to be able to use technology and connect to the school network and internet from anywhere in their school. They tell us they do not like only being able to use computers in ICT suites. They want to see greater use of mobile devices – laptops, netbooks, tablets and phones.

5.  Laptop borrowing schemes for home use

Young people told us that going online and working collaboratively with their friends via their mobiles and computers was really helpful, and they did not think it was fair that some young people didn’t have good access so could not develop the skills to use technology effectively. They understand that not every family can afford computers and internet access, and that when money was very tight these would not be seen as priorities.
They also say that computer and internet access at home is really important to them to research and complete homework, and to talk to other people about lessons and exams.

6.  More collaboration with young people in other schools and countries

Young people told us about their positive experience of talking to students online from other countries, and learning about other cultures and ways of thinking about the world.

7.  Access to local and national decision makers via social media and social networking sites

Young people told us they want more opportunities to have a say in how decisions are made in schools, across the city and at national level. They would like to be able to use social media sites to talk about the issues that concern them with decision makers.

8.  ‘Young people only’ space in the city centre with computers and internet access

Young people would like a space that they can meet friends and drop in to use a range of technologies, learn new skills and work on either their school work or their own interests. They would like access to support but space to do things in their own time and at their own pace.

9.  Teachers who can help them use social media and social networking services and sites more effectively

Nearly all of the young people we talked to have social networking profiles and use social networks or social media sites. Many of them have friends who have been bullied online, or have been bullied themselves. Young people recognise that technology can be used in negative ways and would like support in dealing with online bullying. They would like more information and support in managing their online privacy.

10.  A say in school filtering and blocking policies

Students tell us that they would like to see fewer restrictions on accessing sites in their schools. They feel that many sites that would be useful for learning are currently blocked. They also want to be able to access games and social media sites in break times.

The full report lists and expands on young people’s top 15 priorities for the school environment, and young people’s top 10 learning technology priorities:

Download Learner Voice in Leicester City 2012 (Word)

Download Learner Voice in Leicester City 2012 (PDF)

TMSEN12: awesomeness, next steps & the debate results

TMSEN12 cafe

TMSEN12 – a TeachMeet event focusing on practice and approaches that work to support learners with Special Educational Needs (SEN) took place on Saturday 28th February. It's fair to say it was an awesome day:

TMSEN12 awesome


TeachMeet SEN 2012 (TMSEN12 for short) focused on practice that works for learners with Special Educational Needs – learning difficulties or disabilities which make it harder to learn or access education. According to 2010 Government figures, approximately 21% of all pupils in England are identified as having SEN.

Credit needs to go to my partner in crime, Jo Badge, and to Leon Cych and Mike McSharry for their stirling support. Most of all, huge thanks has to go to everyone who took part and particularly all the amazing speakers. Thanks also to everyone who joined us by live stream and in Twitter.

TeachMeet SEN 2012 followed the traditional TeachMeet format of practitioners talking about and demoing practice that works, in 7 minute micro presentations or 2 minute nano presentations.

Over 70 school leaders, teachers, trainee teachers, academics and Local Authority officers from Leicester and right across the UK spent their Saturday morning sharing effective practice, resources and generating new ideas.

Not just for SEN learners

TMSEN12 for all

Marc Faulder's tweet "So much at #tmsen12 today is valid for all learners" was a thought echoed by many of the participants, and reflected in the event debate, most explicitly in John Galloway's Accessible by default priority.  As many participants commented, the ideas and resources shared weren't just of benefit to learners with learning difficulties or disabilities – but could be of benefit to all learners. The message of the obvious benefit of putting lessons learnt from and effective approaches with our most disadvantaged learners squarely at the centre of planning and provision was loud and clear. By engaging with tools, resources and planning for SEN learners, we can more effectively support everyone.

Next Steps

I'm hopeful that the day was a valuable one for everyone who was able to take part. The value to, and validation of, participants is a really important aim of any event – it's critical that we support and celebrate our practice and provide opportunities for individual development, networking and sharing.

Modeling good practice is also a critical activity. This was brilliantly done by our speakers, and I very much hope that everyone introduced to the TeachMeet format as a process took away some inspiration for looking at how they approach their own activity scaffolding.

In my closing remarks I asked all participants to think about and let us know about their next steps. This event was inspired by the last TeachMeet Jo and I attended, although it took a little longer than we expected to organise:)

My follow up from the day will be to collect and curate the days outputs to ceate a micro site of the days presentations, talks and links. In the mean time, please do carry on sharing resources under the #tmsen12 tag, and let us know what your next steps are!

While you're waiting, you can check out:

Jo Badge Reflections on TeachMeet for Special Education Needs #TMSEN12

Simon Finch TMSEN12 pictures

& my TMSEN12 pictures

Technologies for Inclusion: The Critical Debate – results

TMSEN12 included a panel debate looking at technologies for inclusion. Sal Cooke, Bev Evans and John Galloway, presented and defended the issues and areas they identified as current national priorities. You can read their priority descriptions here. At distance participants and people at the debate we're invited to comment and vote on the outlined priorities, and here are the vote results:

TMSEN vote results

Sal Cooke's Helping staff stay up to speed with the pace of technology practice and development won the vote by a clear lead. In second place was Bev Evans priority Funding for SEN technology in all schools. In third place was John Galloway's Accessible by default priority.

This was very much in line with the discussion on the day. There was a recognition that many mainstream services, tools and programmes were effectively being used to support SEN learners. There was also a recognition that many schools had been given or had invested in specialist or mainstream services, tools and programmes that could be used in fun, creative and effective ways, but weren't being. While no one disputed the need for parity of funding for SEN learners and schools, there was agreement that the critical issue was ensuring that staff could and were using technology, when appropriate, to enhance and make learning interesting, fun and engaging.

TMSEN12: The Critical Debate


It's almost time for TeachMeet SEN 2012! Last minute tickets available here.

Signups for TeachMeet SEN 2012 have gone really well. School, University and Local Authority staff have signed up from across the UK to come along, network, learn and present this Saturday in Leicester.
Our TeachMeet focuses on practice that works for learners with Special Educational Needs – learning difficulties or difficulties which make it harder to learn or access education. According to 2010 Governement figures, approximately 21% of all pupils in England where identified as having SEN.
TeachMeet SEN 2012 follows the traditional format of practitioners talking about and demoing practice that works, in 7 minute micro presentations or 2 minute nano presentations.


We will also be hosting a debate, with opportunities for both delegates and at distance participants to join in – looking at the broader strategic level issues and priorities. Our panelists are:


Sal Cooke, Director of JISC Techdis, one of the leading UK advisory services on technologies for inclusion. Sal has overall responsibility for the strategic focus and direction of JISC Techdis as guided by funders and stakeholders, ensuring it continues to be the pragmatic voice of inclusion and accessibility and promotes the innovative use of technologies, to support users within education, business and community sectors across the UK.


John Galloway, an ICT/SEN Advisor in Tower Hamlets, a consultant to a number of special schools going through BSF across London and Essex, and a freelance writer with several books and many articles to his name. He has been using computers with learners with a broad range of special needs since the mid-1980s and still gets excited by what technology can enable them to do. 


Bev Evans (@bevevans22/@TES_SEN) is the new Subject Leader of SEN Resources at TES – and spends time sourcing and creating resources and guidance to help support teachers, who have pupils with SEN, within the classroom. She also spends time visiting schools and events to find out what sort of resources practitioners are currently looking for to help support their work at school and beyond.


Our panellists have been asked to set out the current agenda for technologies for inclusion, and present and defend the issues and areas they have identified as current national priorities.

Our speakers have outlined their priorities – what do you think? Which of the panelist priorities resonate most strongly with you? Do you think there is a more pressing issue? Let us know and join in the debate by voting for the priorities you think are the most important, or contributing your own suggestions, either when you vote or in the comments below.

Sal Cooke:

1. Rethinking 'Assistive Technology

What is Assistive Technology in 2012? – or should we now call it something else?

As more and more of the mainstream technologies, including some free or very low cost solutions are displaying and integrating features that can aid our learners in a myriad of ways,  how do we need to think and re think what we “buy” download or access as assistive technologies?    

The Assistive Technology companies themselves are now operating in a very different world and equally so are schools, colleges and universities and of course so are learners and their families.  As a recent addition to the BATA Council I am very aware of the different pressures in this economic climate for both industry, and from my role as Director of JISC TechDis for the learning providers where the impact of technology (financial or pedagogical) can have such an impact on learners with specific needs.  

2. Keeping staff stay up to speed with the pace of technology practice and development

What about the people?  How will they gain the skills and knowledge about Assitive Technology in this ever changing world?

With the advent of apps, tablets, gesture based gaming and all manner of hand held devices – how do we expect staff to keep pace and obtain best value, the best information, and most of all the best for their learners?

The moves within the industry to more and more freemium offers and services could radically help schools and Local Authority budgets – but how do we know? Where are the sources of information? Do we need to be radical with mandatory training  - what about teaching and learning, and budgetary implications?

The recent post-16 Ofsted review recommended that the Department for Education and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills should jointly create a database of assistive technologies – is that a viable or desirable solution?

John Galloway

3. Accessible by default

With disability becoming more prevalent, why is accessibility optional?

We know that about twenty per cent of school children will have some sort of SEN, about half of them struggling with text. We also know that computer systems aren’t specially made for school children, they are made for average adults – it’s Microsoft Office, after all. But we also know that in Europe we have an ageing population which is leading to increasing numbers of people with disabilities, approximately 80m at the moment. And we know that adopting a principle of ‘inclusive design’ makes life easier for everyone.

So why do we have ‘Accessibility options’ on our computers, instead of ‘Accessibility by default?’ Many aspects of improving access – high contrast, variable colour schemes, enhancing the cursor – would work for most of us  (if we knew about them) These should be the defaults.

4. Anti-social networking  

Online communities promise so much for those with SEND, so why aren’t they more accessible?

Those with special needs and disabilities can sometimes find themselves isolated or excluded. Social networking could be a way of mitigating that isolation by both connecting them with others in a similar situation, and a leveller, including them in a world without the usual barriers. Yet there seem to be limited incidences of this happening, probably because:

  • the interface is complex;
  • the medium is predominantly text;
  • families and carers don’t appreciate what it offers.

As it stands, social networking can exacerbate a digital divide, that it could so easily help to bridge.

Bev Evans:

5. Funding for SEN technology in all schools

How do we stop schools from being left behind in the technology stakes?

As technology becomes more and more important in schools around the country what can be done to help those pupils in badly funded areas progress or have the access to the equipment they need? Some areas within Wales are particularly lacking in funding or support in this important area ( I am sure this is true of other areas within the UK too) – is it really good enough that this is still happening in 2012?

6. Bring services to pupils

Why is support for pupils with SEN so patchy across the UK? Is it purely a funding issue or are other things contributing?

In my area of Wales I have always been aware that many parents of children with SEN, in particular those with children who have autism, move into the county to access the provision available. I’m also aware of this  happening between schools across Wales and, from the emails or messages I get through position at the TES, it is obviously something that happens elsewhere in the country too. Why do some school or LAs put less effort into properly supporting and addressing the needs of pupils with SEN? Is it always a funding issue or do other factors come into play?

You can vote here for the priorities you agree with, suggest additional priorities or leave your comments below.

Computer Science is not Digital Literacy

I'm a huge fan of the current wave of enthusiasm and political will to transform the way that ICT is delivered in schools. This morning at BETT, the UK's Education Secretary Micheal Gove will outline the Government's endorsement of the development of Computer Science and hopefully, a more interesting, relevant and creative computing curriculum.

I'm a big supporter of brilliant initiatives like Code Academy, who are making getting started with coding easier and more accessible than ever before, and the fantastic work going on to get children and young people not just consuming tech but creating it, such as Coding for Kids (check out the #codingforkids hash tag on Twitter for related links, discussion and resources).

I've also done a huge amount of work over the years promoting, supporting and contributing to the idea of digital literacy. I currently work for Leicester City Council, and this year will see the role out of a city-wide digital literacy programme which aims to support every teacher across the city's 25 Secondary schools in developing digital literacy, both as individuals and as whole school communities, positively impacting on education, providing opportunities for, and engaging every young person in the city. The City Council is working in partnership with the schools, both of Leicester's Universities, and with local community initiatives and entrepreneurs, as well as with national and international partners, to make sure our ambitions for the city are realised.

In a recent article, 'Digital literacy can boost employability and improve student experience' Sarah Knight argues that digital literacy – which she defines as "those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society" are important for the post-compulsory education sector to address. The recognition of how important digital literacy is to the post-compulsory sector throws the importance of ensuring children and young people are not disadvantaged by an education system that fails to equip them for real life into sharp relief.

While it was still around, Becta defined digital literacy as 

“…the skills, knowledge and understanding learners need to participate fully and safely in our increasingly digital world. 

It is a combination of:

functional technology skills

critical thinking

collaboration skills and

social awareness” (2010)

The definition I most use is similar to this, but I replace the passive connotations of social awareness with social engagement – active participation – as a better description of what digital literacy should look like.

For me, the main characteristics of the many of the available definitions of digital literacy are that:

  • it supports and helps develop traditional literacies – it isn’t about the use of technology for it’s own sake or ICT as an isolated practice
  • it's a life long practice – developing and continuing to maintain skills in the context of continual development of technologies and practices
  • it's about skills and competencies, and critical reflection on how these skills and competencies are applied
  • it's about social engagement – collaboration, communication, and creation within social contexts

It's dismaying then, to see in a week where we are seeing a huge move forward in the promotion of technology and a fresh look at how ICT as a subject area is designed and implemented in schools, to see digital literacy being used as an interchangeable term for computer science skills. 

Not being able to code doesn't make you digitally illiterate. Not being able to participate in  social, economic, cultural and political life because you lack the confidence, skills and opportunity to do so is what makes you digitally illiterate.

It should not be acceptable that after 11 years of compulsory education any young person should lack the skills and confidence to access information, or to be able to critically use and consume products and services. It should not be acceptable that we are neglecting to support children and young people in realising their rights to participation – as active, engaged community members and citizens. Digital literacy means the the skills and confidence to take an active role in engaging in networks, and in shaping and creating opportunities – social, political, cultural, civic, and economic, and we shouldn't be collapsing these broader rights into the relatively narrow concerns of computing science as a curriculum area. We need to be supporting and developing the work that schools, teachers and educators are doing across all curriculum areas, for formal education and extra-curricula and community based activities.

In Leicester, I am developing, designing and implementing a digital literacy programme in partnership that encompasses a wide range of areas – including basic skills, online identity management, digital research and learning skills, e-safety and cyberbullying, collaborative learning, and online citizenship. We will be supporting and celebrating computer science, coding, and ways in which young people can become active in creating and critically engaging with technology. But our ambition for our young people, education provision and communities, and the ways in which we can see these being transformed by digital literacy, certainly exceed the boundaries of computer science skills.


Should you friend your students? The short answer is no

Earlier this year I delivered a further cyberbullying guidance document on behalf of Childnet International for the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Guidance follows up (and designed to compliment) cyberbullying guidance, a comprehensive document  that formed part of the Safe To Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools suite of advice. While the initial document was really well received both within the UK & internationally, teachers unions and associations were increasingly being asked to deal with school employee cyberbullying cases – in which the staff member was the person being victimised. I welcomed the opportunity to produce further guidance which would both support employees in term of basic digital literacy information and encourage employers to meet their statutory obligations. The document set out, ambitiously, to encourage policy and procedure be put in place for preventing and dealing with cyberbullying as a whole school community issue – which includes meeting and recognising the specific needs, rights and responsibilities of employees. In no other area of harassment would it be acceptable for an employee to be expected to deal with cases that rose within the work place on their own – yet the reports from school staff included cases where cyberbullying was not taken seriously or understood, and where they had been expected to sort out situations for themselves.

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff (PDF) was released in April this year (Google doc version here).  I've been talking about the document a lot recently, and I want to just explore in a little more detail the thinking behind the advice given to school employees regarding friending students in social networking services. The actual text is (with my emphasis):

‘Friending’ refers to the act of giving contacts permission to view information or contact you within web-based services. The terminology will vary from service to service – ‘Friends’ may be called contacts or connections, for example. Most social sites enable you to give different levels of access and set privacy levels on your own content and activity. These functions will vary from service to service but typically include:
•     Information that is only available to the account holder
•     Information that is accessible by contacts on the account
holder’s approved list, and
•     Information that is made publicly available, either within
the service or across the whole of the internet.

‘Friends’ does not necessarily refer in this case to people who are your actual friends, although you may choose to restrict your connections to that. ’Friends’ in this context may also be work colleagues, family members, and people that you have met online.

If you have a social networking account, do not friend pupils or add them to your contact lists. You may be giving them access to personal information and allowing them to contact you inappropriately. They may also be giving you access to their personal information and activities

So the text above outlines three basic levels of permissions granularity that can be found on most sites, gives a definition of friending, and very explicitly says don't friend pupils. This is explicitly prescriptive advice, based on the case studies reviewed during the document negotiations, and an implicit understanding that the school staff accounts referred to are either personal, or contain elements of personal activity (I previously posted on a definition of three basic online identities, characterised as personal, professional, and organisational).

The approach taken then – don't friend pupils – reflects the kind of boundaries between staff and learners that we'd expect to see in offline behavior. You wouldn't expect a teacher to give a school aged pupil their home phone number, show them pictures of their friends or regale them with the weekends social exploits. Obviously friending isn't the only issue here – managing publicly available information so that you are comfortable with what co-workers, learners and employers can access about you is also addressed in the document. The research and anecdotal evidence indicates that we operate within social network services as if we were in a closed, private world. This isn't naive – I think it's a necessary fiction which makes social networking services human spaces. The do not friend advice is there to reinforce the message that private online is typically back of a post-card private, especially if we are within environments where we're not entirely sure who has permission to see what (*cough*Facebook*cough). It also reflects the leakiness of our online identities, the way in which the personal is often hand in hand with the professional.

What the advice isn't trying to do is to put anyone off evaluating social networking services to see if they could support learning & teaching effectively. The advice goes on to state:

If you want to use web-based social networking sites for a class or for the whole school, use a service that doesn’t give contacts access to personal information and updates, or allows collaboration without requiring permissions.

Alternatively ask pupils to create new, work-focused accounts for themselves, and run them as they would an online portfolio or CV.

You can find more information and advice about Social Network Services at www.digizen.org/socialnetworking.