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James Pickering, Associate Assistant Head and science teacher at Marshalls Park Academy, discusses how digital learning resources have enabled students to accelerate their learning progress.

It is now over 35 years since the GCSE qualification was first introduced to the UK education system, bringing with it coursework and standardised assessment criteria to create a more level playing field for marking based on student knowledge.

With the rapid pace of development in the 21st century, GCSEs have had to change considerably to prepare students with new skills for the workforce. Indeed, research from The Knowledge Academy found that 79 per cent of information and communications roles and 69 per cent of manufacturing roles now demand specific digital skills. Yet it is not only the learning content which is changing; the way students are studying, and revising, is shifting too.

Generation digital

The generation of children coming through schools today are digital natives; they have grown up with technology such as social media and intelligent voice assistants as a familiar part of every day life. The latest research from Ofcom has found that 50 per cent of UK ten-year olds own a smartphone, and almost 90 percent of 12-15 year olds watch Video on Demand/ subscription services. The way that students consume content is undeniably different from 30 years ago, yet evolving teaching methods in-line with how students engage in the digital age is still a work in progress.  

Audio-visual revision

The GCSE exam process can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike, with learners juggling revision for increased content across subjects and teachers striving to help students obtain the best possible results. For parents too, there is the added anxiety of making sure that their children are spending adequate time on revision at home.

The challenge as many teachers and parents will know is finding successful methods to retain student interest during the exam period, and ensuring each individual fulfils their potential. Traditional textbooks of course still play a vital role in the revision experience, however it is not an effective resource for everyone. 

Each pupil is different and will learn best in different ways and at different speeds, so giving students the freedom to spend extra time on topics is also valuable. Perhaps the key to resolving these challenges lies in adapting revision resources according to how students consume content in the digital age. 

In particular when it comes to GCSE revision which demands more independent learning, combining audio-visual resources with traditional classroom methods can be highly effective at engaging and retaining student interest. Fun and bite-sized videos have the entertainment appeal for students but also accessibility, offering the freedom to watch and re-watch videos as needed to get to grips with the subject matter. Encouraging students to use edtech resources where appropriate is not only useful for individual engagement, but also to prepare students with digital skills which they can take forward into the workplace. 

Time is another key challenge when it comes to effective revision. Additional studying time inside the classroom is often sacrificed as teachers have to progress with new materials, while students outside of school may struggle to find the time and motivation to revise. Bite-size, short videos, no longer than five minutes, allow students to study from their smartphones on-the-go and at home, tapping into the ‘on demand’ mentality of modern students. 

To illustrate the point, we have seen a tangible difference in our student’s Attainment results and overall consistency of learning upon implementing GCSE revision videos. The students revising for their English Literature, Maths and Sciences GCSEs began using video revision pods via GCSEPod in the summer of 2018, with those who regularly used the pods exceeding their predicted grades by 3.7 Attainment 8 points. In comparison, students who did not use the videos saw a drop below their predicted grades by -7.7 Attainment 8 points. 

Effectively, those pupils who revised with the video resources increased their grades by six times over. It became clear that the video resources played a significant role in helping students to enrich their subject understanding and retention, however this is not to say implementing the tools came automatically for our school.  

“Students who regularly used GCSEPod exceeding their predicted grades by 3.7 Attainment 8 points. It’s clear that video resources played a significant role in helping students to enrich their subject understanding and retention.”

James Pickering

Associate Assistant Head , Marshalls Park Academy

Improving teacher digital training

Utilising digital learning resources is a challenge for schools up and down the country for various reasons. Whether it is a lack of funding for edtech resources to limited teacher training on how to maximise the tools, this can all hinder schools from giving students the best opportunities to enhance their learning. While students may have grown up as part of the digital literate generation, this is not necessarily the same for teaching staff. As was the case for our teachers, who were not initially equipped with the training and knowledge on how to integrate video revision tools, and help pupils to take advantage as a result.

It was only after revisiting the digital learning resource that we were able to improve the experience for teachers and students. We identified that teachers required better support and so we organised a staff training session on the video revision tool. Through this, teachers learnt how to use the platform’s different features, how to advise students on integrating the videos into revision plans, as well as how they could set homework through the tool. As with any new system or initiative, training is essential for staff to begin reaping the benefits. Training sessions helped to transform the teachers’ perception

The modern student experience

GCSE revision is inevitably transforming to reflect the experiences of students today. Young learners are now accustomed to getting their information in bite-sized chunks through their phone, podcasts and social media. Therefore, short and snappy revision videos are nothing unusual for students. The future of digital revision is user-friendly and accessible at any time of day, whether pupils are at home or on the bus to school. Schools might also want to look at digital learning resources which offer reward-based competitions and incentives, encouraging students to set and outdo their personal bests and ultimately aspire higher in terms of performance. Importantly, audio-visual tools give students a level of autonomy over their learning. The ability to learn independently, to self-teach and review, are invaluable life skills which extend beyond the classroom. 

GCSEs are changing in the 21st century and it stands to reason that revision methods should, and must, evolve too with the digital native generation. The convenience of short and sharp revision videos offers students a familiar way to engage with subjects and further embed their knowledge. As technology becomes intrinsic to our way of life, offering students edtech resources to learn at their own pace and improve their digital literacy must be a priority in schools.

James Pickering is Associate Assistant Head and a science teacher at Marshalls Park Academy.
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