Mark Anderson on amazing apps and making 2018 your year [interview]

Mark Anderson

Mark is an in-demand keynote speaker, former Assistant Headteacher and author of the best-selling 'Perfect ICT Every Lesson' who believes in creativity and innovation in the classroom to empower learners. He is now an independent education consultant/trainer and Independent Thinking Associate. He is also a popular award-winning blogger who has led on some of the earliest and largest 1:1 iPad rollouts in schools in the UK. He is a Pedagoo admin, Google Certified Teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator and Microsoft Certified Educator.

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Mark ‘@ICTEvangelist’ Anderson is one of the world’s leading thought leaders in education. Mark lives to make the lives of teachers and school leaders easier, so when we suggested an interview, he leapt at the opportunity to share some of his favourite edu-recommendations.

Throughout December you ran #AppventCalendar, which proved to be very popular indeed. Tell us about how the movement got started, and about your findings by the end of it.

Well, it was Christmas time, and I was looking to share things in a more interesting and innovative way. I was working in Abu Dhabi, sat talking the idea over with Kate Jones, lead practitioner and head of History at Brighton College in Al Ain. I asked her “What should I call it?”, to which she replied “What about ‘appvent calendar’?” Yes!

Once the hashtag took off in December, people really got into it, helping it gain momentum, sharing it a lot. It fits in with that I’ve always tried to do, really; sharing hints, tips, tricks, tools that we’ve used as educators and found to be really helpful. We saw a lot of the apps that often top these sorts of lists - such as Book Creator or Explain Everything - but I was also trying to expose people to a few things that I don’t normally share that publically, ones that I usually keep back for use in training sessions and conferences.


I wanted to give people some great new ideas. A few of them were really popular. The Vocal Recall app, for example, which hasn’t been out very long, went down an absolute storm and is such a really simple tool to use. It’s had a big impact on speeding up teacher time when it comes to giving feedback plus it’s really accessible.

Vocal Recall was mentioned in your very first ICT Evangelist newsletter, which came out recently. What are your aims for this new feature?

Well, I blog a fair amount but what I don’t often have is a broad cross-section of ideas in one place. The idea behind the newsletter is to really give teachers something to dip into across the given month and share a variety of things that might be of interest to them. This could be from teaching and learning in the classroom, such as this month where guest contributor Kate Jones shared one of her resources for the first edition. I’m looking for more people to put their hand up and get involved and I’ve had people like Graham Andre and Amjad Ali show interest. It’s not going to always be about technology necessarily; Kate shared her retrieval practice challenge grid, and explained how she made it, which is helpful for anyone looking to do the same.

There are a lot of things I will regularly share in my newsletter. I will be including my top resource of the month, blog of the month, an app of the month, a book you might want to check out… There are also going to be guests jumping in and adding their thoughts too, because while I like to think that I’m pretty knowledgeable, the network is definitely more powerful than the node. And so, by collaborating and bringing in other people, we get to have even more ideas and thoughts about how we can move teaching and learning forward. This is the whole idea behind it.


When we discuss guest writing with teachers, a common worry on their side is “Will anyone really be interested in what I have to write about?” - to which we always reply with an emphatic “yes”! So with people who may want to get involved with your newsletter, what kind of people are you looking for?

I am looking for any teacher - a Primary school teacher, Secondary, FE, GCSE, A Level, whether you work in England or Reykjavik or Hong Kong - all these things don’t matter. The thing you allude to there with the question “Will anyone really be interested in what I have to write about?”, really, is a phenomenon I even see in myself sometimes - which is that teachers suffer massively from imposter syndrome. A part of the reason for that I think, is down to the fact that our job is quite isolating. It’s also linked to the idea that a teacher will often find it really easy to share things with pupils in assemblies and in the classroom, but put them in front of two colleagues, and they’re shaking, trembling, worrying, sweating, sometimes with cards to speak from. Often teachers can go a whole week without properly speaking with adults at all. They’re not used to having a peer-based audience, be it one that’s written, or be it through presenting on stage.

As you say, emphatically yes; I’m on the same page as well. Getting teachers to move and step outside their comfort zone to do that is quite a difficult thing. I make sure to work closely with people, to help scaffold that confidence.

For example, I went to the WomenEd edtech event in Birmingham towards the end of last year. I’d been working at a school and two of the teachers I worked with there were presenting at the event. In the days leading up the day, they asked if I wouldn’t mind helping them out a little bit. It wasn’t that I was going to do anything groundbreaking or anything; it just helped give them a bit of scaffolding, a bit of confidence. On the day, rather than me presenting with them, they delivered and rocked the room! They asked me one question during, to which I responded “Yep, that’s right” - that was about all my input.

They just needed that assurance.

Sure, I might have helped them with their confidence but it was all their work, it wasn’t me. Having me there at their session just in case… that kind of support really helps people be 10% braver, an attitude supported at these WomenEd events.

You mentioned the WomenEd events, and the great work that they’re doing. What were some of your 2017 highlights? Tell us about the people, organisations and events that stood out for you.


Looking back reminds me of just how lucky I am to do what I do. It’s a real privilege to do what I do now; a real honour. I’m so passionate about teaching and making a difference! And so, to be able to travel around the world, and do what I do, is a real privilege.

I very much enjoyed working in the Apple Village at the Bett Show last January - it was great fun to work alongside the likes of Abdul Chohan. Being invited to speak at Bett Middle East in April was a big highlight, too.


One of my favourite conferences that I was involved with last year was Tablet Days in Switzerland, where I did a keynote and a whole bunch of workshops. Hundreds of people turned up, and it was such a slick event. I learned loads myself. The workshops were run in a really innovative manner, and I’ve not been to a conference like it.

The event was held in Rorschach, and was based around loads of different ways for delivering training: through playgrounds, through hands-on activities, through games - all sorts. Not only was the whole thing really, really innovative, but it was massively successful too, and there were people in attendance from all corners of Europe. They’ve got another one coming up in 2018.


All of the sessions at Tablet Days were based around the work of a friend of mine who’s an ADE, Kurt Klynen, and one of his projects. He has created a series of e-books called The Joys of Professional Learning. What he’s done now, furthering the number of books available is bring on board other ADEs and getting them to share their ‘recipes’ for the books, which are all free.

There was another really great event that I did with Nina Jackson, a two-day conference at Cardiff and Vale College, looking at mental health and wellbeing. This was an amazing two days; people were really up for it. They were all doing really innovative things. I spent much of my time there working with James Donaldson, who knows his edtech and works in SEN/ALN. Working with him and his colleagues was a really inspirational experience, with loads of great sharing taking place.


Another great one: over in Bangkok, I spent a few days in September doing a big conference at St Andrews Samakee International School, that was really good. I also spent time in Rotterdam and Hong Kong.


As I say, I am really very, very lucky to do what I do - I always consider it to be a tremendous honour when people choose to drop me a line and want to work with me. Like I mentioned, I’ve had imposter syndrome - I get lovely feedback and people say lovely things, but we all suffer from this at times, wondering if what we do makes a difference. It is important to me that I am able to make a difference and help others.

I’ve never met anyone who got into teaching to make kids’ lives more difficult. Teachers tend to want to make a difference! That was my mission when I started my career as a teacher, but it’s been amplified a significant amount just by the nature of what I do. Whilst I’m not in the full-time classroom anymore, the feedback and the opportunities I get to work with people means that I’m still able to have that impact.

Another huge highlight is when people send photos as well as feedback. They’ll send images of what they’ve been doing with their kids on the back of my sessions.

That must be really fulfilling.

It’s brilliant. I’ll always remember the first time something like that happened. I made a digital citizenship poster where I used an acronym titled “THINK” - is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary, is it kind? This is all about trying to get children to think about what they’re doing while they’re online, about their digital footprint, about being a good digital citizen. I made this poster for the school I was working at in Clevedon and I shared it on my blog too. I’ll always remember when this principal at a school in New York had seen it and gone “Wow, that’s amazing, man!” - before printing it out and sending me a photo with some kids. He’d blown it up to be six, seven feet tall! I thought “Wow, something I’ve done has had an impact on kids all the way over there.” Little did I know at the time that just a few years later I’d be travelling to places like that to share ideas with people.


You’re a member of the our advisory board, helping us to achieve our goals and stay on track. What does this position mean to you?

I work with lots of edtech companies, but I don’t work with everyone that asks to collaborate. Back when Michael [Forshaw, Innovate My School founder and CEO] was first starting out I was one of the first people he got in touch with, and I got onboard with his mission, his vision, right away. And so, when I was asked to join the advisory board, it was not only a real privilege but a no-brainer too. It’s nice to be able to come along and give my two pence, to know that my opinions carry weight and help keep you on what I see to be the straight-and-narrow.


As well as that, the position gives me the opportunity to connect with the other people on the board, some of whom I’ve known for a long time through social media. It’s good to get our heads together. When you’ve got a bunch of people who are at the forefront of practise and thought leadership, with a good diversity of experience, it’s a great way to help you steer what you do. You’re also really reflective as an organisation; lots of companies are really insular.

I’ve often found that a lot of education companies are so close to their product that when they get some feedback - not negative, but formative and about how they can improve - they just can’t see it. And that’s my best piece of advice for any teacherpreneur - always be open to the feedback you get. With all the stuff I come up with, I always seek feedback and adapt accordingly. For example, I’ll often make my periodic table resources, and one of these was all about educational tweeters to follow. While a lot of people got upset - people I hadn’t come across before in my PLN - it was hugely welcomed for the most part. When I made this list, I took feedback from loads of people - about who to include, who not to include… It’s so important for entrepreneurs and companies in education to take on feedback, as this will give you the best chances of success.


Bringing it back round, that’s what’s so great about what Innovate My School do, because you’re not completely set in your ways. You are agile enough to respond to changes in trends. What’s so clear is that you do operate on the basis of extensive feedback, lots of which is from the advisory board.

What are your main hopes for edtech in 2018?

Well, I’m a pragmatist, and if I’ve learnt anything it’s that no technology is going to completely transform the classroom. The best resource a classroom has is the teacher. With this in mind, there are two main things I’d love to see more of in 2018.

Firstly, I’d love to see a raising of the general knowledge surrounding edtech, as well as teachers becoming even more skilled with technology in the classroom. It’s not about a big win, it’s not about a new tool or anything, I think it’s about getting a much more improved baseline.

I’ll give you an example. Two or three years ago I was sharing Kahoot with some teachers. Much of the reaction was along the lines of “It’s going to change my life!” Nowadays, I don’t tend to talk about Kahoot as it’s so well known. I’d love to see teachers be knowledgeable about other edtech resources, so that they know what they have to use in the classroom. In order to be a modern educator, you need to embrace new skills, you need to be open to feedback, and you need to be open to using new technologies to support what you do. I’d love to see what teachers can do with an even broader toolkit.

The second thing I’d love to see this year is for teachers to have access to solid research on edtech. It’s really difficult for busy teachers to have the time to skill themselves up with these resources, and how to know which ones are which. That’s something I’m going to work on throughout 2018 - doing a lot of the groundwork, sharing findings at conferences, that kind of thing. I’ll be working with a lot of low-stakes quizzing tools that can help with spaced practice, and then retrieval practice off the back of that work.

All of this aside, what do you, the ICT Evangelist, hope to achieve in 2018?

Global domination! No, but my new book will be out sometime this year - that’s not far off being finished now. It actually ties in with what we’ve just been talking about actually - looking at various bits of research, taking in case studies from across the world, discussing techniques used in various countries.

The book will be for anyone with an interest in teaching and learning with technology. Reception, Primary, Secondary, FE - there’s something in there for everybody, backed up by case studies from schools all over the world where these ideas are working. Hopefully it will have an impact! The idea is it for be a good field guide, that you can have either physically on your shelf or digitally on your phone, ready to pull up whenever necessary.

I’m also looking forward to visiting more schools, working with more people, sharing more and more ideas. I just want to make a difference, help improve things for everybody. Kids are our future, of course, so I want to help make them problem-solvers and thinkers. Without young people being curious and having the capacity to change things, the human race isn’t going to last very long!

So yes, in 2018, I want to continue to make a difference, meet and help new people, and learn new things every day - as I always say, every day is a learning day!

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