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Teaching computing research project uncovers methods for increasing engagement in blended learning

James Course, a Year 3/4 teacher at Somersham Primary School

A research project undertaken by staff at Cambridge Primary Education Trust (CPET) around the teaching of computing has provided important insight into how both school-based and home-based learning might evolve in the future.

James Course, a Year 3/4 teacher at Somersham Primary School, and Jon Windsor, a Year 3 teacher at Trumpington Park Primary School, analysed the impact of focused teaching of computing across the curriculum – delivered over a half-term – on pupil and parent engagement with online homework. They also explored the potential of blended learning and recovering gaps in education following lockdown.

The project, which was completed in July 2021 and reported earlier this month, has brought valuable understanding of engagement with homework and pupils’ wider learning. “We wanted to discover if one of the barriers to engagement with blended styles of learning was a lack of computing skills,” Jon explained. “We taught a sequence of bespoke lessons to develop these skills, but the impact on engagement was limited. We therefore reinforced that other factors are more significant barriers. Going forward we will continue to evaluate how we can engage parents and families in supporting pupils in their learning, including with homework. We did learn that there appear to be more accessible types of task, especially ones that can be accessed on a phone or tablet. Tasks such as quizzes using Microsoft Forms will therefore be our starting point if and when we look to expand the use of blended learning.”

James said the objective was to ensure that home learning in any guise is meaningful, and reinforces teacher-led learning, and also make related tasks achievable and accessible to all. “While our project has not revealed some perfect solution for home learning, we can definitely take away aspects that can be used in future to create more robust routines and expectations for home learning, which could then form a basis for any expansion into wider blended learning,” he revealed. “Meanwhile, we delivered a sequence of lessons to build a strong platform of core computing skills. We took opportunities across the curriculum to modelling the daily IT skills which we use and take for granted. We saw the children becoming more confident, efficient and capable with their use of laptops and key software such as Microsoft Word. The children also evidently improved transferable skills such as using search engines safely and efficiently, as well as making their own evaluations and comparisons between the different formats of technology available to them.”

The CPET colleagues will now evaluate the Trust’s approach to teaching computing, ensuring that it is developing the kinds of skills that the children will need in future, and aiming for the skills to be both transferable and adaptable to the changes in technology that they will face along the way. A further next step will be to consider how computing skills can be developed more broadly across the curriculum. “We have been able to explore some of the potential barriers that children face, and our findings will influence our future approach and recommendations for setting homework, as well as the potential continued use of blended learning,” Jon said. “The project also helped us as reflective practitioners, questioning some assumptions which we might otherwise have made.”

The research, which included a range of wider reading, was funded and supported by Cambridge Teaching Schools Network (CTSN). “It has been empowering to be trusted to deliver this project,” James added. “We were asked to make a difference by looking into the issue in-depth, ensuring that robust conclusions can be reached, albeit we recognise this is a small-scale project rather than a big change programme. We have already shared our findings with CPET’s senior leadership team and look forward to supporting next steps, both at Trust-level, and directly within our own schools.”

CPET Executive Principal/CEO Lesley Birch said:

“As a Trust we are committed to encouraging staff to develop their skills and experience. Colleagues from all our schools work together to share best practice and resources as well as supporting each other in planning and evaluation activities. In this case it is great to see teachers embracing research to support the learning of our children and other staff members. Often small adaptations make a huge difference to our children accessing learning.”

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