“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” William Gibson
Kate Shevland, one of our most outstanding school leaders, hosted a two day conference at Orewa College on 15th and 16th March – entitled “Through the looking glass”.
To say that it was exhilarating, thought provoking and most enjoyable would be an understatement. It was also slick, timely, very well organised and well catered.
The idea behind the conference title was to emphasise that Orewa College is looking past the technology and through to the pedagogical changes that have taken place. The content of the conference was organised around this theme. On Friday each of the workshops had a theme around curriculum subject areas as well as a leadership session and one on special needs. On the Saturday the topics were project based learning, flipped classrooms, blogging and social networks.
Highlight for many was the keynote speaker, Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, Chair of the Education and Science Committee and now Associate Minister for Education. This is clearly an MP to watch for the future. Without doubt one of the most promising future thinking ministers for education that we have had in a long time. Nikki is not there to maintain the status quo. She recognises that teaching and learning is changing, students are different, our future (their future) is different.
Nikki Kaye is supporting the changes that schools like Orewa College are making. She observed that school leadership in New Zealand is outstanding and for a large part is several steps ahead of our own Ministry of Education. We can look forward to an Associate Minister who is confident, connected and actively involved. She certainly seems to be a lifelong learner. This is most refreshing.
This conference followed the one day event a year ago after the somewhat controversial (well the media thought it was controversial) introduction of compulsory BYOD (bring your own device) for Year 9 students at Orewa College for 2012. The timing of that conference so soon after the year had started worked well following the attention that the school had attracted.
Over 250 people came then to find out what had driven Orewa College to take this step, what preparations they had made, how they had got their teachers ‘over the line’ and what experience they had had to date. This year 300 wanted to understand how the experience had gone for the school, for the staff and most importantly for the students. Given that the school has now extended its BYOD policy into Year 8 as well as this year’s Year 9 and last year’s now Year 10 there are almost 1000 students with their own personal link to the world.
So what were the learnings? Well there were 15 different sessions from which you could choose one for each of the four workshops. I had selected Middle School, English, Business Studies and Student Support (special needs), all of which were well supported and each one provided a range of messages from which some common themes could be determined. Some of the key messages included:
- Students have really responded to the engagement opportunities. As an outcome many more students have felt confident in presenting their work. Certainly in the middle school we were told that the current generation of learners are “Stars in their own right”. The ability to post their work online meant that they remained connected and this enhanced the home and school links.
- The work programme is on the school’s learning management system Ultranet (and visible to parents as well as students) and all work is submitted electronically. Rather than have homework students are encouraged to do preparatory work in a time and at a place that suits them so that they can engage in the next day’s programme more easily. With all programmes online students have access to their work even if they are away on school sports events or on camps.
- Use is made of Dropbox to ensure that students back up their material, and they share one of their folders with the teacher so that the teacher is able to review and mark their work. The teacher uses an app (application) which enables the student’s work to be marked up by adding comments, sticky notes and even voice recordings to assist the student in understanding how they have fared.
- In the English department the flipped classroom concept is used to assist students to be prepared for the work in the classroom. The department reported that they had experienced considerably greater engagement and collaborative learning. They attributed this to the voice that students had in determining what they were learning. The teacher now sees herself as facilitator rather than driver – or to quote Robert Frost “not a teacher but an awakener” .
- In the senior school they move on to using Twitter and blogs. The students publish to their blogs and then use Twitter to notify the teacher that they have posted their work. This has enabled the school to introduce students to their responsibilities as digital citizens as they become very conscious of the public exposure that blogs bring.
- The teaching of English lends itself to project based learning (that will be a new concept to many) and as an example we learned about how students were able to take their study of the Merchant of Venice in a variety of directions – including one group that developed it into a graphic novel.
- Another outcome was how the learning spaces are used differently. Students work together wherever the best environment can help. This may mean they move outside where they can use the space to develop their ideas through acting out roles, or where they are able to avoid disrupting others when they need to use sound to explore their ideas. Good quality wireless is the key enabler.
- The English department also emphasised how boys were more engaged as they were able to work more creatively with the selected apps without the risk of their work being destroyed through their occasional clumsiness. It also ensured that their work was more able to be read by the teacher. We were provided with some wonderful examples of the imaginative projects that some of the boys had developed using video.
- The workshop on Student Support provided a very meaningful understanding of what the technology has meant to students with special education needs. These students require visual, oral and hands on opportunities to help them process information. It is now so much easier to provide them with relevant and meaningful classes.
- Students with special needs have for some time been provided with assistive technology to enable them to be engaged. Much of this has been heavy and inconvenient and the expense meant that only those with very high needs could be funded. With iPads now available at a more manageable price and with their lightness and power capability more students can be equipped. The real achievement for these students however is that the equipment they have is the same as all the other students in the class – this enables them to feel more ‘normal’ and to be equally engaged.
These are just a few observations from three of the workshops. A very big thank you to Orewa College for sharing, it was a wonderful day and a great experience – who says today’s schools don’t collaborate.