Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Technology in schools (2015 Term 3 Week 6)

Each term I attend a meeting with many of the principals of other independent schools in NSW. These schools range from low-fee 'young' schools in the outer suburbs of Sydney to regional/rural schools to the 'elite' sandstone schools. It is invariably a very stimulating time to swap ideas, seek advice and share some of the burdens that come with the role. Recently a number of us were discussing the place of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the learning culture and overall environment of our schools; I was staggered at the diversity of practice that emerged.

In one prestigious school it is an automatic Saturday detention for a phone to be seen on school grounds and no students use mobile technology for their learning up until Year 11. In another, many students are prone to sitting in a circle and not talking at lunchtime, because they are so focussed on their phones. Some schools use tablets as a straight replacement for textbooks, some have a one-to-one program that depends on all students having access to an identical device, and some have gone to a platform-agnostic Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program. Some schools have a highly structured and staggered process for the students' use of technology, whereby certain year groups use certain devices.

From our discussions, it was very clear that schools are facing up to the challenges and changes presented by ICT in many very different ways. It was also clear that the three key groups of stakeholders - parents, staff and students - have widely divergent opinions; each of the schools represents a unique context that makes it hard to be dogmatic about 'the best way' to move forward.

Participating in these discussions, I was caused to reflect on the progress that we have made in the last few years with our introduction of BYOT. Over the last few months we have received feedback from our key stakeholders that indicate a very high level of satisfaction with our trajectory and practices to do with ICT.

In the K-12 Parent Satisfaction survey conducted by MMG in Term 2, there was a very strong parental affirmation of the place of ICT in the School. 80% of the parents responding agreed with statements such as: I am well-informed about the BYOT program; the BYOT program is assisting my child with his/her learning; and, the BYOT program improves student communication with teachers and with other students. Likewise, in K-4 there was a similarly high affirmation of our approach to ICT.

In a recent staff engagement survey conducted for Inaburra by the Voice Project, there was an extraordinarily strong affirmation of the School's use of technology. 95% of staff indicated that the School makes good use of technology, 97% said that the technology is kept up to date and 88% believed that we have good skills at using our technology. All of these responses are more than 30% above the benchmarks for other independent schools and for industry more generally.

In an external review of our ICT program that was conducted in Term 2 by Dancrai and the Association of Independent Schools, the findings were powerfully positive. The infrastructure was found to be reliable and the support helpful and competent. The professional learning for staff with reference to ICT was effective, technology was regularly incorporated into lessons for sound educational reasons, and the utilisation of Google Apps for Education was well-received by staff and students.

All of which is to say, the data indicates that our community is strongly positive about the ways that ICT is being used in our school. The effort involved to get us to where we are has been significant, with the burden being felt particularly by staff. The disruption of the professional practice of teachers that ICT brings is considerable and challenging. The leadership of our ICT staff has been very much appreciated, as has the willingness of our teachers to wrestle with the possibilities.

When it comes to our utilisation of ICT as a tool for student learning, we seem to be doing pretty well. The journey is not smooth, the progress is not uniform, the missteps and false paths are real, but the alternative - not to engage with the challenges - makes no sense at all, in our preparation of young people for the world that lies ahead.

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