Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
After the lunch break, it was into the ClassTech conference stream to hear Blake Seuferten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Education_Revolution talk about managing a large network and rolling out a school-wide Chromebook program. The number of schools that have implemented various laptop or tablet programs in a school-supplied, BYOD or BYOT context has increased significantly over the last decade as it has become more fashionable to do so, pushed in part by the drive for laptops through the Digital Education Revolution program.
Blake spoke about his school's context, with a current enrollment of around 2100 students and 185 staff. Four years ago things at the school were going well with good NAPLAN and HSC results and so the decision was made that while things were great (echoes of Prakash's message) the next big change would be embarked upon, a school-wide roll-out Chromebooks,
Underpinning educational change management, from a teaching and learning perspective, should be pedagogy and the impact on students of the change. The schools had been using a particular model of laptop and had faced numerous reliability issues which resulted in significant downtime, negatively impacting students and after consideration of various options, Chromebooks were the option that was taken up and rolled out.
One of the considerations for the school was the ability for students to collaborate when using the laptop. For Blake, he clarified what he meant by saying "when I say collaborative I mean web ready because that's where most collaboration happens now."
Teacher self-efficacy is critical when it comes to gaining buy in for new learning tools or resources, especially when they are mandated from the school leadership. You can see from the above tweet that self-efficacy is fed in large part by the provision of professional development opportunities which need to include not only how to use the teaching and learning tool, but how to implement it pedagogically as they are two very different skills.
Blake spoke next about investing in something that will have an impact. For them, at that point, investing in the internet infrastructure in their school was, according to Blake, an easy decision to make as it would have a positive impact on the whole school. I have heard a number of schools indicate that part of the process of implementing any sort of school-wide laptop or device program has been investing in their internet infrastructure. It is important when looking at this to understand that coverage and density are two vastly different concepts. You can have fantastic coverage across a school network at any location with a device That is WiFi coverage. WiFi density, however, is the capability for a WiFi network to cope with a large number of users drawing upon its resources without a significant drop in performance. An example of this is the difference in the demands on the network before and after school when there are only staff onsite in comparison to during class time when you will have staff members as well as a large number of students drawing upon the network at the same time.
The Chromebooks are a prescribed item for students along with regular items like the school uniform. This keeps things consistent and reduces the pressures on the staff for managing devices and maintenance. it also reduces the pressure on staff who are still adapting to technology in their pedagogy. The device management license they have also allows them to hold operating system updates from pushing out to the fleet until the subsequent patch comes through that addresses any resultant instabilities or issues that may occur.
Prior to the decision being made to implement a Chromebook roll out, staff were surveyed about the types of teaching and learning activities that were being undertaken in classes. Blake said that when they looked at the data they could see that 99% of the tasks being completed in class either was already being achieved online, or could easily be achieved online. He did not give an indication as to what types of activities fell into the 1%, although I would not be surprised if practical tasks such as those found in PE, Science, TAS subjects, made up the bulk of that 1%.
Another benefit in the school's view was that the Chromebooks were easily used offline. Any documents or emails sent while offline sync or send when the connection is re-established. It is worth nothing that you can change the settings within GDrive to make files available offline. This allows you to edit those files, which then re-sync when you are next connected
Blake brought up the topic of professional development again, speaking about the process they went through to ensure that teachers had the necessary skills to leverage the functionality of the Chromebooks in class. Part of that process entailed developing a list of basic skills that were seen as essential to using the laptops. Training resources were made available to staff and it was incumbent upon staff to access the learning that they needed to ensure they could do those tasks. Once they returned the document, signed off for each skill, the expectation was that they would then be able to complete those tasks and so I don't know how to do that was removed as an acceptable response when being asked to complete tasks.
To change the focus of the PD, the training resources spoke about the why of the skill, why you would need to be able to use it pedagogically, as much as the how of the skill. I believe this is an important issue and we should talk about the why more often when it comes to PD; not just the superficial why of accreditation or it's good for the students' learning, but the why of this is why you would want to use it in class as that in itself can create engagement with the learning task.
Blake's session was interesting and I particularly liked the focus on staff self-efficacy and providing professional development opportunities to improve that self-efficacy. For those who are interested, Blake has kindly made available the slide deck that he used for this presentation, which you can access here.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed any of the articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them all here.