It has been several months since I last contributed to Fractus; but I have what I consider to be an excellent excuse. In October of 2014, my wife and I moved from the bright lights and beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast to rural South Australia. We now live in our nation’s premier wine region, the Barossa Valley (sorry Margaret River) but that was only part of the attraction. I have taken up the position of eLearning Manager at a well-known school and so far it has exceeded by expectations; in all but one respect.
The school has a population of fewer than 700 students and they are easily amongst the most impressive I’ve encountered in 34 years of teaching. The young people in my classes are polite, welcoming, enthusiastic and have an ingenuousness that, in my experience, you only find in country schools. The students show a genuine respect for the school’s exceptional facilities and I’ve never before been part of such a “joyful community.” (I know, I know; you’re waiting for me to start prattling on about butterflies, rainbows, unicorns and fluffy bunnies!) The school’s IT set up is all that anyone could ask for; 1:1 iPads in Years 8-10, a BYOD program in senior classes and three well equipped computer labs. The two former students who run the IT Centre have a level of technological expertise that I truly envy and this has enabled them to build an excellent school network. The staff too have been quick to welcome me as some sort of B Grade superhero. Perhaps I could become “iPad Man” or maybe even his sidekick “Learning Boy” (BYOD: Bring Your Own Disguise.) Thankfully, for all concerned, no one has suggested the need to wear Lycra!
Teaching is one of the few professions where individuals do not see it as imperative to keep up to date
The teaching component of my workload is comparatively small and my main responsibility is to mentor students and staff alike in the latest learning technologies. I am fortunate to have found myself in the kind of job that others dream about (BYOD: Bring Your Own Dream.) So, you might reasonably ask, what is the problem? Well, I will get to that, eventually. As the (aging, grey haired) “new kid on the block” I have devoted a good deal of energy over the first six weeks of Term One to learning the “lay of the land.” I surveyed the teaching staff about various aspects of technology and there was nothing too surprising in the results. However, two particular results did concern me. The first was the fact that the most commonly employed teaching tools remain YouTube, ClickView and PowerPoint. I have long advocated the death of PowerPoint and I’m no great fan of the other two tools either. Perhaps the only true surprise was that teachers admitted a lack of proficiency in their use of “required apps” such as “Explain Everything” and “Book Creator” in the younger grades.
So, finally, to the first part of my dilemma (BYOD: Bring Your Own Dilemma.) Clearly, as in so many other schools, there is a genuine need for effective technology based professional learning for staff. But, teachers are “time impoverished” and the school week is crammed with all matter of other commitments. Often, the only professional learning opportunities available are at a staff meeting. I’ve never been a fan of “fire hose” sessions where you let fly in the hopes of “hitting” as many teachers as possible. As a first step I have created a fortnightly eLearning Newsletter for staff in the form of a password protected website. I endeavour to include the latest research, app reviews, examples of inspired technology use, new trends and “How To” videos. Three issues in I have had a fair amount of positive feedback but of course I can’t know how many teachers are actively using the material. Well, I could find out but I’m not sure I want to.
Now, to the second part of my dilemma. Staff told me, all but unanimously, via the survey, that they would prefer small group professional learning. However, only around 50% were prepared or able to commit to voluntary after school technology learning sessions. I fully understand that teachers are entitled to work/life balance; their own children have to be taxied to dance lessons, there’s grocery shopping or a well-deserved rest. But, it would seem to me, that teaching is one of the few professions where individuals do not see it as imperative to keep up to date with the latest trends. Just yesterday I visited the dentist for a filling. How would I have reacted if he had performed dentistry without anaesthetic and wielding a rusted, nineteenth century implement? (BYOD: Bring Your Only Dentist!) The teachers at my school are by no means in a unique position; I have come across this same dilemma before. But, by the same token, the claim “I don’t have time for this” simply no longer holds … My day has the same 24 hours gifted to everyone else.
The school also has a new Principal and a new Director of Teaching and Learning. I am pleased to say we are three like-minded individuals; committed to improving student learning. Certainly, there will be changes; both immediate and long term. One change I am expecting will be a shift to a full BYOD program (BYOD: Bring Your Own Disaster). Now, I am guessing you have all at least seen, if not used, the “BYO Disaster” label at some stage. But it doesn’t have to be a disaster and I believe (or at least hope) that the answer is to be found in the title of this post. In his now legendary TED talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution” Sir Ken Robinson used the term “professional disenthrallment” to describe the need to do away with our narrow, dogmatic view of education in order to embrace creativity and innovation. I prefer to think of the need for “personal disenthrallment” whereby teachers embrace the fact that they can no longer be the expert in the classroom but need to become the “lead learner.” Transforming a school is, in my opinion, all about attitude and mindset. Only teachers who have truly disenthralled themselves can welcome the myriad possibilities inherent in a technology rich-school environment.
Recently, in a Year 9 class, I ran into a problem with students being unable to open a map on their iPads. My attempts at a quick fix had failed; but then, I was approached by a student who had devised a work around. He was reluctant and most apologetic because he didn’t want to “upset” me or tell me” what to do.” However, he was absolutely delighted that I welcomed his contribution and then told the whole class that I’m always prepared to learn from students. This is the personal disenthrallment that teachers need to demonstrate; an acknowledgment that the teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage.” But before that disenthrallment there needs to be one tiny, formative step, BYOD: Bring Your Own Desire; the desire to change, divest yourself of old paradigms and welcome innovation with open arms. This desire leads to disenthrallment, with disenthrallment we can do away with the “teacher disguise” and instead dream. A dream shared school wide will ensure the very absence of dilemmas and disasters, and then; well then, it will become… MYODD: Make Your Own Digital Difference.
*Please Note: This post was written in a single, relatively short session and I have, quite deliberately, not edited it. I wanted to simply get down on (digital) paper all the ideas bouncing around in my head. I apologise if you find it sentimental or sensationalist but either way I would welcome your feedback.
Simon McKenzie @connectedtchr
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, “PictureYouth”.