What do you picture when I mention the following terms: computer, ICT, coding, technology, digital, e-learning, flip teaching, programming, virtual world, cloud learning, etc.?
Hopefully, not too many frightening or emotional responses. However, I would understand if there were at least a few who have been more than once impacted by the curse of a digital virus or bug; not to mention the failure of technology to work when you want it! We are expanding our knowledge and the impact of digital technology has created a huge shift in teaching and learning, our work practice and life in general.
I started in teaching with chalk and ink for technology. The pen replaced ink and the touch screen has replaced the blackboard and chalk by white board markers or remote controllers. This change has been fast in some schools and slower in others. The classroom practice and tools of 2105 are very different from 1975. Has this change kept up with teacher training? Graduates finishing at the end of 2014 would have started their course just before the iPad entered the market. In some schools they might now be expected to be operating their teaching and learning classes by iPad. I wondered what training they would have received. What training is now being provided?
Curriculum development has seen the development and implementation of the Australian Curriculum. While there has been inconsistency in take up, all states and territories are now using the language and concepts from the Australian Curriculum. The interesting aspect is for the first time we have a strand called digital technologies. In previous curriculums this learning was integrated with science or maths. I would suggest is remains integrated and would caution against treating this learning as a stand-alone subject. Learning is this area needs to be related and applied in real world challenges. It also more than getting students to use Minecraft or virtual world learning: it has to be collaborative problem solving, applying the knowledge to create or be innovative. It is using the technology functions to understand how it could be applied in a real world situation or solution to a problem. Our curriculum in the primary school has moved from content driven to skills, knowledge and capabilities measuring by demonstrated achievements.
Teaching is going through an evolution that is challenging many people. Maybe one reason is that for many teachers and parents their memory of school is different and so our mental mindsets are being challenged and we are needing to rebuild our model of school. It is like we (older teachers and parents) are living on Earth and our students are on Mars time, thinking and communication. I note for some the change has been actively taken up, whereas for others there is still work to be done. As Tony Wagner (2014) believes, we need a new dialogue for our children’s future. We need to acknowledge that school is different and, “… maybe students today do need something different. I wonder what it is?” (p. 269). We need to be teaching the learning our students need today but unfortunately some are still teaching (and testing) for yesterday.
I attended the 2015 EduTECH conference in Brisbane and noted the great enthusiasm by attendees for learning about the use of technology as a tool for learning. The other growing trend was sharing on innovative learning environments, maker spaces or Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLE: see Prof Sugata Mitra or http://soleaustralianetwork.wikiispaces.com/).
The conference opened with Eric Mazur. The key message for me was about assessment and how this is also changing. We are moving from standardised testing and learning to personalised learning and assessment. Computers or robotic machines will replace functions where repetition is required. Therefore, we need people who can adapt, solve problems and innovate new solutions. Mazur suggested four improvements for assessment to reflect the new learning approach: Open Book Exams; Team-based Learning; Focus on Feedback; and, Focus on Skills. We need to “rethink assessment as we continue to educate people for yesterday not tomorrow.”
I also note the increasing movement in our schools of developing and building innovative learning environments. This trend is capturing the imagination of school leaders, teachers and designers. We need our policy developers and politicians to reflect this in their work as well. I recently presented at the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Conference in Canberra. My key points for consideration by future planners of learning environments included:
• What is the teaching and learning approach? Do the digital tools or technology enable the learning? The infrastructure needs to be futures focused.
• Preparation for the learning environment. What skills, knowledge and training is required by teachers, students and parents.
• Will the learning spaces be inclusive and accessible?
• Flexibility in use and community thinking mindset.
• Partnerships beyond the school.
• Project based learning and inquiry approach principles should be reflected in the learning design.
• Teacher capacity to keep up and be across the key goals of the learning- On-going access to professional learning.
• Student voice to build responsibility, empowerment and engagement in learning.
• Innovative buildings and sustainability with energy use. Green star focus for materials.
How do we move forward?
The Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) has called for a National Digital Technologies Strategy. We need a strategy that will support primary schools to integrate digital technologies into the curriculum. Placing digital technologies and coding in the curriculum is just the start. We need every teacher to be confident in integrating digital technologies. This is vital for our students to develop the skills and capabilities to live and work in a digital world. The strategy must include the leadership of schools, resources for students and building the capacity of every teacher. We know of many primary schools embracing and innovating within a digital learning world.
APPA is working with ScopeIT Education to support principals in building the capacity of their school to engage digital skills in an integrated model. With ScopeIT, technology takes off in the classroom and brings the ‘know how’ that empowers primary students of all ages to code and create their dreams. Whether introducing students to coding and real world, hands-on electric design or engaging in computer software, website and application design and construction, ScopeIT takes design and technology to a new level in our schools. ScopeIT brings the latest laptops, the most cutting-edge software available into every classroom. The activities are aligned to the curriculum and the learning is fun, interactive, engaging, inspiring and educational.
Recently, I visited Mt Kuring-Gai Public School in New South Wales to discuss the program with principal Glenn O’Neill and students. The enthusiasm for the program was evident and Glenn’s comment was simple: “It ticks all the boxes.” My key observation was the program builds the capacity of teachers and the students can readily access their learning when ScopeIT have finished for the day. This may be a solution to bringing the best in IT to the classroom without the enormous outlay of technology hardware, connectivity issues or expensive professional learning offsite. While it may take some time for all schools to reach the level of resourcing required, a short term solution may be in outsourcing the hardware, but not the knowledge. Our kids need the access now if we are going to address the drift in less students choosing science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) based careers.
As APPA president, I will continue to work with our National Advisory Council (NAC), representing each State and Territory principal associations, to push for the national strategy and identifying positive strategies to support the teaching and learning around digital technologies. We will also work with our national bodies, ACARA and AITSL to build strong and informed learning frameworks that will assist schools, principals and teachers in bring our schools into the digital (Mars!) world of our students. I hope your school is talking about the new Digital Technology language and how it can bring everybody onto the same planet, so our world is moving in the same direction and keeping together.
President, Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA)
Dennis Yarrington has been the Principal of Harrison School, a new and expanding Preschool to Year 10 School in Canberra, Australia. The school caters for 1500 students. Dennis has a Masters in Educational Leadership, Masters in Special Education and a Bachelor of Education. He has been involved in education for over 30 years, including the positions of teacher, executive Teacher, consultant and Principal of a small country school, a large regional school, Special School and establishing a large metropolitan P-10 school. Dennis has been involved with concept designs for new schools in the ACT. He has presented at State, National and International conferences on leadership, school culture and implementing learning communities. Dennis was Vice-President of the Australian Government Primary Principals Association and is currently the President of the Australian Primary Principals Association. He has experience in developing leading schools in the integration of technology, 21 Century learning tools and structures and an inclusive school community. This includes teaching and learning communities and a coaching culture to improve teacher performance.
Wagner, T. 2014. The Global Achievement Gap, Perseus Books, New York.
Photo: Students at Mt Kuring-Gai public School demonstrating their programming skills.