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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Embracing technology in learning....

Recent failures in our internet service to all our schools (due to a DDOS attacks at our source) have really shaken the basis upon which we deliver our services.  So let me think out loud a little... Where have we come from? What are we called to do? How have we responded? What are the things that are important moving forward? 

The History of ICTs in Australian schools
In 2005, Mceetya released “Learning in an online world”. It identified the need for Australian schools to integrate ICTs in learning. It introduced six dimensions that need attention to make the paradigm shift: people; content; infrastructure; research; policy and reporting. The Melbourne declaration released in 2008, cemented this expectation.

Rapid and continuing advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are changing the ways people share, use, develop and process information and technology. In this digital age, young people need to be highly skilled in the use of ICT. While schools already employ these technologies in learning, there is a need to increase their effectiveness significantly over the next decade.
In 2011, by introducing ICTs as a ‘General Capability’, The Australian Curriculum cemented (or even legislated) the need to embed ICTs in learning. At that moment, the discussion shifted from “Will we” or “Should we” to “We must” and “What is the best way to do it"? At the time, ICTs in schools were the realm of ICT specialists and technicians. In secondary schools, access favoured those who chose IT subjects. In primary schools, students tended to access 'the lab' and the IT specialist on rotation. 

How did we respond to ICT access as an entitlement?
In the Catholic Diocese where I work, my team supports 51 sites (28 schools, Early Learning, the Catholic Education Office, the Diocesan Office, Parish offices and North West Queensland Indigenous Catholic Social Services). My team is 27 staff in total,  including management and administrative support, dedicated to delivering the infrastructure and technical support so ICTs can be embedded in learning. Our strategy has been based on good internet services, good wireless in classrooms, central collection and repurposing of data (ie DataJug) and Google Apps for Education as an E_Learning platform. This has bridged the gap between learner and E_Learning and to a large part, removed the technician and IT specialist as go betweens. 
Here are some examples .


Activity
Who (old days)
Who (now)
Digital portfolios
IT specialists
Creating and publishing digital evidence of what one had achieved was quite a technical activity. You needed specialist equipment and software
Any teacher/ Any student. All staff and students can create digital portfolios. They  have the tools to capture content, the means to publish content and control access, and UNLIMITED space online for storage (via Google Apps for Education).
Create, collaborate, communicate and inquire using ICTs
IT specialists
Only IT specialists had access to ICTs and only students who took those subjects had access to labs and devices.
Any teacher/ Any student. All classrooms in the diocese have powerful wireless connectivity and most schools offer access to devices via shared device trolleys. Some schools offer one is to one. It means every  student in every subject can be using ICTs to create, collaborate, communicate and inquire within the context of the discipline.
Distributing large files and presentations
Tech staff
(Remember the beginning of year induction DVDs we would create, copy and distribute?)
A student. Anyone in the diocese can now upload a large presentation to their Google Drive, permission it accordingly then share the link. The big benefit is that if you have to make a change, it can be done on the one master copy.
Publish to the web
Tech staff. Usually a web developers or IT person who knew HTML, FTP, relative paths etc etc
A student. Anyone in  our organisation can publish to the web through Docs or Sites. Our recent web training for our school public websites is another example. Most schools are sending teachers or office staff to get the training to maintain their web sites not their school techs.
User Account setup
Tech staff.
(Remember those days when users would not have accounts until someone created it?)
Automated. Once a student or staff member is added to Maze or PCSchools, they are automatically pushed to Google Apps, our IDV and Office 365 and given a local server account so they can log into school devices. This happens overnight. When that user changes their password, the change synchronises to all these places in real time.
Account blocking/ password resets
Tech staff
Teacher. Via DataJug, any teacher has the tools to reset their own password or a student  password.  People with datajug admin can reset staff passwords.
Track bullying
Tech staff
Teacher. Principals need to decide which staff in their schools can access student mailboxes. Those granted this access can see the mail tab when they open any student user on the new DataJug UI.
Video conferencing
Tech staff to setup.
Special room. Expensive equipment
Teacher (and possibly student). All our teachers can enter or setup a Hangout with one click. They use their laptop and built in camera. They can invite anyone (teacher or student) in the diocese and anyone else with a Google account.
Video “How To” guides.
Tech staff or those with licensing to use screen capture software.
Anyone. All staff and students in the diocese can load a Chrome extension called Screencastify and create videos that integrate their screens, their faces and their voices.

So what are the challenges?
  1. Shift to web. Many teachers have come from a Microsoft/Apple on the desktop paradigm. The shift to productivity tools in the web, collaborative documents, video conferencing on demand from your classroom using your device, and moving storage off one's device and school networks to the web where they are accessible 24/7, are relatively new phenomenon. If our E_Learning Guides and Inquiry Based Learning projects are any indication, then there is a rapidly evolving realisation of what is possible and a growing body of champions across the diocese modelling new ways of doing.
  2. We are too busy... We don't want to hold the keys. Bring back the IT specialist. The new digital technologies learning area is an exciting area of curriculum and a resource like https://code.org/learn  is a wonderful example of how generalist teachers can bring students to complex computational thinking concepts. But for P-6 teachers with 9 KLAs, high stakes testing and increasing public scrutiny of their practice, "holding more keys" may not be their preference.
  3. Bandwidth and connectivity. If the system cannot provide a solid, reliable internet connection to our schools, we are pulling the carpet from under teacher feet. The Internet has become the base upon which so many of our services are built. 
  4. A special breed of tech. Teaching is an incredibly complex activity. Even when the technology "just works" the job is difficult. When it doesn't work, the job becomes impossible and it's no wonder teachers divert their time to the things where they can control the outcome. When we select our techs, we look for people committed to serving teachers and with a healthy respect for the demands of teaching. Not all teachers want the keys or are ready to hold the keys whilst others flourish in a "power to the user" paradigm. Good techs slide between these two extremes. They respect the profession and see themselves at the service of teaching and learning no matter what they may look like. Good techs are not tinkerers. They absolutely are committed to the endgame - infrastructure and services that "just work".  
I wasn't too sure how to conclude this reflection.... and I have to go... so feel free to add your thoughts.