Deira International School is a thriving British Curriculum school in Dubai winner of the 2021 ISC Digital and Technology Learning Award. Run by the non-profit Al Futtaim Education Foundation, DIS has an intense focus on personalised learning, community building and student wellbeing.
Linda Parsons leads the school’s education technology strategy, ensuring that students from ages three to 18 are able to harness the power of cutting-edge technology to achieve their full potential.
Since April last year, DIS’ pupils have answered more than 800,000 questions on CENTURY, completing more than 95,000 nuggets (microlessons) on the platform. The platform’s AI has identified and made learning recommendations for 20,000 misconceptions of learners.
We spoke to Linda to learn how Deira’s students are benefitting from the use of CENTURY.
What is your approach to using technology to improve education?
This time last year we didn’t have a digital strategy – there was no common thread linking the various uses of technology. I therefore made it my mission to change this and create a common thread throughout our work. The two main objectives of our digital strategy are simple: to help students to progress and to reduce teachers’ workload.
We also want to ensure that we only implement technology that fits our school’s family ethos. This is a hugely important part of the culture at a school like ours.
Also, technology should not be a flashy bolt-on. When a technology company tells us they have the latest, greatest software, we are wary. Many technologies change the way teachers teach and students learn – but the best do not.
How does CENTURY fit into your school’s ethos?
CENTURY fits our school’s ethos because our digital strategy was created to empower students to become responsible digital citizens. Our school’s vision is to create lifelong learners – students who are equipped with the skills to lifelong learn. I’ve not yet found a platform that so empowers a student as CENTURY – if a child continually uses CENTURY from Year 3 to 11, their motivation to learn is inbuilt, creating naturally-inquisitive learners. We were intuitively attracted to CENTURY because, unlike traditional platforms, it gives you the most appropriate next step if you were struggling or coasting with something specific. That keeps teachers and students engaged.
CENTURY fits well within our family ethos. We began using CENTURY with older children, and the use of the platform organically blossomed through to younger students who saw what their brothers and sisters and their friends’ brothers and sisters were doing and wanted to join in. When we look at the data, we’ve noticed our highest users, both young and old, often have common surnames, which to me suggests that use of CENTURY is spreading through students and families organically rather than through school edicts – that’s exactly the sort of learning culture we want to create.
We’ve found that CENTURY is not a bolt-on, but a subtle yet crucial part of the learning process itself. CENTURY fits within teachers’ existing practices, efficiently and subtly sliding into their toolkit and boosting the work they’re already doing in and out of the classroom. We don’t want technologies that distract students. They know when teachers are teaching differently because of the tools they are using and we certainly don’t want to undermine our teachers like that. We want teachers to be able to use their own personality – but just in a more effective way.
Why did you decide to use CENTURY?
Last year, we were looking to implement technology that could support students of all ages and abilities to progress through their education. We chose CENTURY because the platform offers comprehensive learning materials in different formats, including videos and slides, and follows several syllabuses across different Key Stages.
This was perfect for our school, because every child is different. We are trying to encourage students to make their own content and notes. CENTURY’s nuggets have videos and notes set out perfectly, which makes it so much easier to explain concepts to children. If a teacher like me may not be 110% confident with a certain specific module, CENTURY’s learning materials also give teachers a great level of confidence to teach.
By the time we got to week five of using CENTURY, we were in a position to test all of our Key Stage 3 and 4 and do all of the end of topic and unit assessments in a low-stakes way on the platform. The students had become so used to studying on CENTURY that it was natural for them to revise for their tests on it. The end of topic tests fed into what students need to revise for their end of year tests, and the way that CENTURY’s content is broken down really helped to pinpoint what they needed to learn to improve.
How did you approach the implementation of CENTURY?
We decided to hold off on introducing CENTURY until later in the year, as we knew that the students and parents were going through a huge period of digital change because we had relaunched as a Microsoft School this year, as well as making substantial examination board changes to better support students transitioning into IB in Science and English. We decided to implement CENTURY in Term Three in order to give our teachers and students the best possible user experience before the new year began.
By sheer coincidence, Term Three was launched entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Launching during the pandemic offered us two opportunities. Firstly, it allowed us to see how easy CENTURY is to use for independent learning, as our whole school launched this platform to every family remotely. Secondly, it allowed us to ascertain how useful the learning material is to support our schemes of work from Year 3 to Year 11 in the core subjects, for several international examination boards.
How has CENTURY helped during the closure of your school due to the coronavirus?
Like all schools, we’re concerned about how children will catch up on the learning they may have missed out on in the last few months. But we feel that we are in a much better place than we could otherwise be, as the digital strategy we put in place last year prepared us very well.
Using a common platform across multiple subjects and year groups meant that we were well prepared when forced to teach from a distance. On top of that, the personalisation and tailored nature of CENTURY’s learning meant that the students were more motivated to learn from home.
We see in the data that children are very motivated to learn independently. When we noticed that students that might require more help in class were struggling with their digital learning, the data from CENTURY played a huge role in motivating them and spotting areas of improvement.
How did you implement CENTURY for online learning?
On the first day of online learning, our children in Years 3 to 11 were given logins to CENTURY. We decided as a school to wait two weeks to introduce this new platform to the students and the teachers. It has now been two months since we officially launched CENTURY to the whole of the secondary school.
We did this in three stages in Secondary. Firstly, the Deputy Head of Teaching and Learning and the three Heads of Departments established a year group to whom to rollout CENTURY. We chose Year 10 as this was the year group most in need of immediate GCSE support.
We tested whether the year group understood how to sign in using the Microsoft SSO function. It also gave the teachers a chance to explore how to use CENTURY’s functions of setting assignments and recommended pathways.
One week after rolling out to Year 10, we managed to get 90% of students logged into and using CENTURY. Based on this success, we moved into phase two: rolling out to the whole of Secondary school. To support this official rollout, CENTURY offered a school-wide remote training to guide teachers, which was extremely well-received.
Teachers from English, Maths and Science have now been setting assignments and learning nuggets to students from Year 7 to 11 in preparation for their first online Topic assessments.
We decided to use CENTURY as a platform to assess progress per topic, by use of the diagnostic checkpoints in each subject. We chose to use CENTURY in this way because the diagnostics can only be completed once by the student, after that, the teacher must set the assignment in order for the student to complete the test. The diagnostics can also be compared across the Year groups, therefore giving us a part of a snapshot of the learning that has taken place.
For Primary, the Edtech Lead decided to use CENTURY with Year 4 and Year 6 first, primarily as a platform to support independent learning. Independent learning is a skill that takes time to acquire and the fear of “getting it wrong” and making mistakes can be scary for a younger child. Therefore, Primary teachers have been working with the primary families to explain that the CENTURY pathways may provide opportunities for students to learn about new material that has not yet been covered in class.
Two months into our online learning, and our teachers and students use CENTURY to facilitate online learning as diverse as physical classroom learning. Some teachers use CENTURY as “do now” classroom tasks, others for flipped learning. Revision lists have also sprung up to promote the student’s independent exploration and learning.
It is becoming increasingly clear that CENTURY is enabling our teachers, students and their parents to reach a new level of teaching and learning.
What would you tell other schools considering new technology?
My advice for anyone is to invest time in training teachers. This is training them not just how to use technology as teachers, but giving them the students’ view as well. We implement new technology in this way by giving teachers a good amount of time with the technology before we unleash it on the students.
Having the support and training from Charles and others from CENTURY and the training videos helped, resulting in CENTURY being completely embedded in lessons, rather than just a bolt on.
It’s important to start consistently across the school too. This doesn’t mean all pupils at once, but all pupils of a certain group at once – for example all Year 10 Maths classes. There will always be teachers who are hesitant to use new approaches and the students know this, and some will exploit it. Therefore, ensuring all staff are empowered and enthusiastic about using a new technology is vital. This ensures consistency across the school and prepares you well for when you are ready to expand its use across the school more widely.
How have your staff responded to using CENTURY?
We recently surveyed our primary teachers using CENTURY and were very pleased with the feedback. Every teacher said CENTURY helps with independent learning. Every teacher also said it helped to save them time – a crucial objective of our digital strategy.
The survey found that teachers rated CENTURY 9.34 out of ten for ease of use and 9.29 out of ten for whether the platform meets their expectations.
It’s also helping in ways we didn’t expect. From a sustainability perspective, CENTURY has saved a mind-boggling amount of photocopying. We’ve now run our school paperless for 12 weeks, which will be a massive part of our team management summary. CENTURY has saved us a massive amount in terms of toners and ink, a benefit that is significant to us, not only financially but also helping our environmental ethos. Everything like this has to be flown into Dubai. So not only is our teaching and learning improving, but so is our carbon footprint!
I describe CENTURY as like giving every single child their own personal educational ‘best friend’. It’s always there to give students encouragement and help them academically, while empowering our teachers to flourish in the classroom.
What has the pandemic and its disruption taught you about how technology can help schools to thrive?
The sudden onset of online learning taught our students the importance of independent learning to succeed. CENTURY, with its advanced AI, gave our students the means to challenge themselves and the pathway to do so, every single day.
Platforms are not the silver bullet to education, they only become effective through human intervention. Our teachers and students are successful in edtech use because they understand how it enhances their classroom learning. This is true for our physical and digital environments.
Our community learnt the true value of human interaction within the education environment. Technology itself is not the silver bullet to high achievement in schools, rather it is a teacher’s smart use of platforms to unlock precious time with their students for real time, meaningful interventions. CENTURY enables this on a daily basis, therefore it has thrived in our school, enabling a more personalised learning environment in our school, forever.
Learn more about how CENTURY can supercharge your students’ learning.