Sustainable Use of Tech in the Classroom


It’s another week of sarcastic top-tips to improve your teaching and learning through technology. Innovation through technology, you could say. That’d make a great motto for a car company…

This week is a very practical, but almost simplistic way to add more technology to your lessons. You don’t need every student to be sat there with an iPad to make use of technology in your lessons, you just need imagination!

Sustainable Use of Tech in the Classroom

One of the most difficult things to do in your lesson is to introduce a fantastic new piece of tech; be it an app, device or service; and make sure that the students both engage with it and produce the work you want using it. Let’s be honest here, why would a non-ICT teacher really care about using tech in their class? Maybe one reason is increasing the range of possible teaching and learning activities available to them, but it can be a scary proposition that instead of students working on paper they work on a computer.
The key skill to acquire is how you can sustainably introduce and use technology in your classroom as a regular occurrence and not the one off special lesson that ends in stress and lost learning opportunities.


Gearing yourself up for a new unit of learning – you’re thinking about all the different activities that students could be doing in order to consolidate and present their learning. You’ve done posters, newspapers and scripts galore; but now you want something different, so you look online – maybe you search twitter – and find something cool.

This online cool thing is amazing and you really want to use it in your lesson, maybe you find an IT room or you take turns on the equipment in your room, but the students eventually are working on the cool online thing, struggling to make things work and taking a lot longer than they normally do for a similar activity. You grow disillusioned. You cancel the topic or only half-heartedly mark the work produced. The students never again see that really cool thing that you saw all that potential in, and next time you have the thought to do something cool and online you simply don’t bother. Retro is best, yes?


I’m teaching Oxbow lakes in Geography and I think if I see another poster of lake shapes then I’ll blooming scream. So I’ve found this really cool website where students can create narrated videos and share them with the world, it looks amazing and I’ve seen some other teachers on twitter raving about it, I must use it.

So I do my lesson starter, introduce the concept and start the students on planning their videos whilst the first to finish end up on the computers we’ve got starting to record. Problem is that the students are being really silly and recording daft things, they’ve got ‘comedy’ introductions and are using memes on screen. Some of them are stuck with using it, or there’s an error that makes them lose their work and they can’t recover from it.

Suddenly I’ve got a backlog of students asking for my help with the learning whilst I’m desperately struggling to show the students on the computers how to effectively use the software, everyone’s getting a little disenfranchised. I know, let’s call a halt to this as it’s going south and I’m losing the kids. I’ll set it as homework, there done, let’s move on.

A week later and students all seemingly had problems doing it at home, fair enough – it was going wonky in the lesson, let’s just assess their plans and move on. Next year I’m back to doing posters.


  • Students associate digital work with an easy out; you know as well as I do that most students will find any excuse to justify their poor decisions and so whenever a non-ICT teacher launches into something a bit techy and new for them, the student can feign idiocy and get away with doing less work
  • Students associate digital work with messing about and having a laugh, fine in moderation, but when their only experience of creating digital content outside of an ICT lesson is that they get to stick in lots of in jokes because the work will never be marked anyway, then their ability to engage with the medium diminishes
  • You’re doing yourself a disservice to introduce something exciting and new and give up on it too quickly. I’m sure you remember back in September when you had to train new students up in your expectations and classroom behaviour? That took more than one try, so why give up on digital work?
  • The reduced variety of your possible outcomes, all students get a bit sick of posters and it would be nice to have the extended variety afforded by digital technology.
  • There’s a problem even accessing the hardware to make it in the first place, realistically, so you need to plan ahead and around that. Does it need to be done in lesson time? Can it be done in lesson time?
  • All work should be treated equally, if you accept that there could always be a technical hitch with digital work then there always will be. We wouldn’t accept a broken pen as an excuse for traditional work not being handed in, so why do we accept the digital version of that excuse?


The key to this is patience, willingness for things to fail first time and commitment. I’d do exactly as I’ve done here but in the case where I’ve got limited in-class tech then I’d set the digital work as homework, doing a quick demo of it on the board (taking a few minutes of lesson time to show it off for the first time) and allow students who finish their planning for it to have a quick start on it whilst we wait for the class to catch up.

Intervene in silliness and be very pro-active about how important it is to engage with the learning, remember – to the student you’re teaching them about the software at the moment and you need to remind them that that’s not your job – all you care about is their ability to explain the content of the lesson using this slightly-more-fun medium.

Set expectations that you expect the work in on a date without exceptions, and when that work doesn’t come in then be merciless in your acceptance of excuses. Sanction those that didn’t do it regardless of the reasons because they will start to realise that digital work is the same to you as traditional work and will start to assign it the same importance in their minds.

Here’s the killer – no matter what happens make sure you use that same lesson format again with the same class within the next month or two. You’ve given up some of your lesson time to teach some of the usage of the software, time that could have been used delivering your content. Why repeat yourself? Students have now all experienced using the software and should be able to create better content using it with less help.

Show them Outstanding examples of the work produced last time, make a big deal of which pieces are showing off the content of the lesson better than others and make sure to keep stressing how important it is that content is king!



  • Whatever technology you introduce into the lesson, if you need to use some of your lesson time to show them how to use it then make sure to use it more than once. Get some return on your investment and soon maybe students will be able to churn out fantastic videos and interactives that show off the content as well as they can construct a poster for the same ends.
  • Be consistent in your approach to digital work as you are with your traditional work, don’t accept excuses, mark it to the same rigorous standards and don’t get wowed by fancy technical feats; it’s always content that is king. Students need to remember that.
  • If you haven’t got the resources in your classroom for all students to be making the digital piece of work then make the planning for it a part of the assessment, and set the digital work as homework. Even if the student has to spend some time in one of your school’s computer labs then they can get it done, there should be no worthwhile excuses that can be made – homework is homework regardless of the medium.
  • Make sure you’ve had a quick play with the digital or tech resource before the students so you are reasonably happy with what it can produce as well as in the simple use of it. You don’t need to be a tech expert, but you will need to at least demonstrate quickly how it works. These students understand how to learn how to use technology because they’ve had to do it all their lives, if they’ve learned Facebook then they can learn something productive!
  • Don’t feel the need to be a tech expert. No one expects you to. You’re an expert in your own subject, remind the students of that when they ask and encourage them to help themselves. Why not nominate a member of the class to become the classroom ‘Genius’ and let them explore and train up on the software so that they can be the first port of call for troubleshooting? They have much more free time to do this than we do and you know there are students in your class that will love that responsibility.
  • It is important that you make this model sustainable, don’t do anything that runs you ragged or makes you move too far out of your comfort zone. If you’ve suddenly become an ICT teacher you’re doing it wrong; make sure the students know they need to solve their own problems, and that those problems will not form part of any excuse you’ll accept. Don’t feel the need to apologise for this, or any lack of proficiency with computers that you may have, you’re an educator, an expert in your area – you’re allowing the students to use something cool, it’s up to them to work out the specifics of how they use that.
  • Use the best of the submissions as examples, so next time students try to raise the bar. Can you share the content with the school or wider learning community? Then do it!
  • I once had a group of Y13 Computing students say, “Sir, can’t we just use paper?” after I binged on cool new learning experiences with them. Students don’t always need something new and flashy every week, that’s why reusing the cool things you’ve used before is good. Students get a second crack at something, and this really cool new thing becomes just one more tool in their arsenal.


The type of sustainable use of technology in the classroom depends upon the amount of resources you have available and your tech-savviness. More than anything, though, technology needs to be used to support teaching and learning of the content you want to deliver. It should not be shoe-horned in to any lesson for the sake of it. So you need to develop a way of working with technology in teaching to diversify the variety of activities you can offer students to expand on their learning and ideas.

If you ever find yourself running around a lesson, baffled by the tech and the learning falling apart because of it then  you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book… which happens to be on sale!

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