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The Open Classroom

Clore (Nesta) fellow Tom Doust shares his research on teacher networks & learning tools.

Technology is enabling teachers to share new tools and methods of practice but what is being shared?

Jump to the full list of documented tools and practices

In a recent study on the rise of the connected teacher I explored how a minority of teachers are forming new associations and networks; within these, the sharing of their teaching practice and the tools they use is presented in an open and collaborative environment. I focussed on how technology is enabling today's teacher to break down the classroom walls and to move beyond their immediate school communities.

I visited ten TeachMeets across England and observed many micro and nano presentations, short bursts of dissemination that provided teachers the opportunity to share with fellow teachers. Many of the tools were underpinned by technology but some involved more familiar items like a roll of Wallpaper.

Tools that enabled both digital and physical collaborative and open sharing were popular. Edmodo is a social learning platform for teachers, students and parents. Much like Facebook, users can post, embed, use calendars and track their learning. Explain Everything is an app that turns a tablet into an interactive whiteboard and screencast tool, allowing the user to create, annotate, animate and narrate his work then share it. Similarly, Showbie app allows student work to be collated and reviewed. One simple tool that was commonly shared was Padlet, a collaborative online web space that allows each user to upload multimedia from most sources, updating the shared workspace instantly.

Some of the tools shared did not always originate from programmes or apps. The 100 word challenge blog, created by a former teacher, is a weekly creative writing challenge for children. A weekly prompt is posted via the 100wc blog and students can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. Once written they are encouraged to share their piece on their school blog and the 100wc blog, guaranteeing a peer led audience greater than that beyond the classroom. Other teachers were using tools as a stimulus to immerse children in atmospheric environments. Epic Citadel app creates dynamic fantasy medieval themed worlds for students to explore, providing a beginning point for discussion or storytelling. 

With the rise of coding clubs and with the renewed focus on programming and computing in schools, a small number of teachers shared the learning from their own self organised clubs like 'Python programming club' and 'code breaking club'. They shared tools including PiMinecracft, Popcorn Maker and Hackasurus.

Gaming was also referenced as a useful tool to engage students in learning. From game making tools like Sploder to the use of popular games like Angry Birds, Temple Run, Minecraft and Puppet Pals, some teachers saw gaming as a useful impetus and were able to relate elements of the game to their wider teaching and learning practice. A handful referenced Zondle: a platform that enables whole-class teaching using a game based approach. 

Not all of the tools shared involved technology. Some teachers talked about the merits of gaffer tape, word association, song and simple systems like 'Pink to make you think' (coloured flash cards). One English teacher shared a tool she used to engage students in debate called 'Boxing to Argue' that outlined the seven steps to 'dangerous' English.

Today's teacher has a growing wealth of tools available at his or her fingertips to manipulate and employ for collaborative and interactive learning. The pace of development and connectivity is challenging traditional patterns of teaching and learning in schools. How teachers absorb these changes remains an important question. Essentially teachers need time to 'play', to test and try out new tools and to understand how they might enhance their learning in the classroom and beyond.

But teacher networks also need to peer review the application of new tools. While many teachers are capable of discerning the merits of new practice, the impact of new technologies on education needs to demonstrate evidence, work that Nesta are currently focussing on. The ’SAMR’ model is one example that is providing teachers with a framework for integrating technological tools into education. It offers a method of seeing how computer technology might have an impact on teaching and learning.

As the diversity and quantity of tools continues to grow, teacher sharing networks might learn from models like SAMR and Nesta’s ‘Decoding Learning’ framework  that provide structures and systems for application. While peer reviewing is leading to positive knowledge exchange, this exchange could be enhanced if it was transposed and presented in an accessible framework designed and assessed by teachers.

A full list of all the tools and demonstrations shared across ten TeachMeets can be downloaded here.


Tom Doust is a 2013 Clore Social Fellow (Nesta). He has spent his 14 year career designing multi-stakeholder engagement programmes across the education sector.


Oliver Quinlan

Oliver Quinlan

Oliver Quinlan

Head of Impact and Research, Raspberry Pi Foundation

Oliver was a programme manager for Nesta’s digital education projects. He is now Head of Impact and Research at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

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