As usual the school year has started in a whirl, but what an exciting whirl! We took the plunge last year and decided that after two years of allowing students to bring their own devices to school on a relatively ad hoc basis and introducing Google Apps for Education, we would make it obligatory for all students to bring an internet enabled device for their learning. We didn’t mandate a type of device that the students can bring, but we did say that it had to have a screen size larger than 10″ and it had to be able to have Google Chrome as a browser. So that means we have classes with a range of devices from tablets, to Chromebooks, to notebooks, to laptops.
The preceding two years were spent enabling our teachers through regular Professional Learning sessions to develop their skills and competency around digital technologies. As well as providing strategies for their use in teaching and learning, some teachers needed to become proficient and comfortable navigating their way around devices on a personal level. We adopted a differentiated approach by offering whole staff training as well as one to one and small group sessions. The administration staff were not forgotten either although, if truth be told, we needed to include them more in the planning.
My role in all of this is as the “Elearning Mentor”. I have some allocated time each week in which I can work with individual teachers when they have non-contact time when they are ready to move on to the next step. I also offer drop in “techy brekkies” each week when teachers can come along for some support and I publish “techy tips” on all manner of things. Usually little shortcuts and niggly things that come up in the course of conversations with teachers in the staffroom or in my sessions with them. Over the last few years as more and more students brought their devices and teachers enabled their use in the classroom for learning we have gradually built the capacity of the infrastructure to cope with possibility of more than 1200 devices trying to connect to the internet at any one time.
I would like to say that it has all been plain sailing over calm waters in the last three weeks. But it hasn’t. However, it hasn’t been a maelstrom either. There has been some choppy water, and the odd big wave but I think that is what might be expected. Our teachers have thrown themselves into the challenge wholeheartedly and positively at all sorts of levels. At whatever level is right for them. And the students too, have taken up the challenge, they are creating, collaborating, connecting (just occasionally too much and not always about what they should be, but that is teenage girls for you!) and learning.
One of the biggest challenges is for our boarding house. As students have come back from the day school with homework to do online, the boarding house network has not been able to cope with the traffic. Another issue is getting a whole class full of students to upload finished products into their portfolios at the same time. And another is dealing with the different types of media that the girls are choosing to create in and them not really understanding how their own device works or how the app they have chosen works.
But they are not insurmountable problems and we have to remind ourselves to take baby steps. We may fall down occasionally but I am heartened by the positive comments I hear and the solutions that are being found. We are all in this together and we are talking and building resilience amongst teachers as well as students. We are “Keeping it Real” and moving forwards, one big stride at a time.