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.
“Moving to BYOD as a financial choice, is a financial choice for the school, not the parents.”
At the end of session one, I was genuinely excited to go back home and test out some of the ideas that had been discussed, so knowing that Simon Crook was the first speaker for session two, with the presentation title BYOD, mobile devices and apps in K-12 schools had me champing at the bit to get back into the venue.
Simon started out by saying something that I have observed, that many implementations of BYOD are in actual fact, implementations of BYODD, or bring your own designated device. Schools either give a list of acceptable devices, sometimes with one device listed, sometimes with multiple devices listed, or they give a list of minimum specifications that need to be met for the device to be acceptable. This came about due to the end of funding for the DER (Digital Education Revolution) program, and saw schools wanting to continue with the use of devices, but without the funds to do so. The choice to move to a BYO program is therefore a financial choice. Simon strongly believes that it is a financial choice for the schools and not the parents. Simon also discussed that the move to a BYO program as a drive for pedagogical change is a contentious factor for some people.
Simon posed the question to the audience is BYOD for everyone? Of course the answer is not quite as simple or straightforward as a yes or a no, but is a combination thereof. BYO programs are not for everyone if the teachers within a school are not ready for it. Teachers need significant professional development and support to move to a BYO program to facilitate high quality teaching in a different pedagogical framework and utilising a different infrastructure. It is not enough to simply move everyone to devices, they need to be used appropriately and teachers need the professional development to understand how to best achieve this. I’ve written previously about the SAMR model and its application for BYO programs and believe that it plays a significant factor in genuine use of devices in classrooms.
At the very least, Simon pointed out, teachers need to have devices of their own to utilise. I have known a school who rolled out a device to each teacher for twelve months to use as they were able to, with support, in the classroom before opening up the door to BYO programs. Only one class went ahead with a BYO program, and that teacher was highly engaged with using the provided device and worked to learn how to gain best results from the BYO program.
Three other questions were listed that need to be asked, to determine if a school is ready for a BYO program:
“Using technology in school should be about using it to complement the already excellent pedagogy going on, not about the ‘keeper of the kingdom’ saying no to ‘protect’ the school systems. The pedagogical needs should inform the IT decisions, not the other way around.”
Buy in from the school leadership is critical, as those schools where the leadership is on board and directs the IT team to find the solution often see more success than those schools where the leadership are ambivalent and simply ask the IT team if it is doable. There are factors to be considered, such as coverage v capacity as previously mentioned, and a genuine need to consider the security and protection of the students from undesirable content on the internet, but it needs to be considered intelligently, rather than simply whitewashing the internet en masse. Additionally, part of the conversation should be about teaching digital citizenship, which may form part of the conversation around Communicating and interacting for health and well being and Contributing to healthy and active communities, both of which are part of the Australian PDHPE curriculum and for which a variety of age targeted resources are available on the Cybersmart website.
Following on from this was the discussion of ‘equity’ which can often be a cause for consternation around BYO programs. Simon made his position clear – equity is not about the lowest common denominator, it is not about making one software suite dominant and that cloud computing is the way to go. Simon indicated that decisions about hardware and software are going to vary from family to family and that where possible, utilising cloud-based storage would facilitate engagement as it would remove the problems of “I forgot my flash drive” or the issues of “I don’t think that’s the right version, there’s a newer one on my computer at home” that teachers often hear, from both students and colleagues.
Ultimately, BYO programs are for everyone. Hardware prices continue to drop and there are an increasing number of options for those families who are price-point sensitive. The critical thing to remember, however, is that a dialogue needs to be opened up, early in the thinking about BYO programs to address concerns from parents, students and teachers, and that the dialogue needs to be ongoing.
If you are curious about implementing BYOD, there are a growing number of schools who have implemented it, and many of these schools are open to visitors to find out more about what it looks like in practice. Some online resources that Simon provided include the NSW DEC website BYOD Sandpit and the Sydney Boys High BYOD page.
We had a few minutes after Simon finished speaking to stand and stretch, while the second speaker for session two, Matt Richards, set himself up to present Makerspaces.
Matt Richards spoke about the phenomenon known as Makerspaces which are student centered spaces where students are able to utilise technology in various forms to create objects. Matt talked about how he took a disused space in his school and transformed it into a student-owned space by allowing groups of students to paint the walls with differing images, and the leveraging of the tech-savvy students, who ordinarily hide away, as mentors for others wanting to learn more about technology. His aim, he said, was “…to create a space where kids learn how stuff works.”
Makerspaces doe not require large amounts of cash to get started, and Matt related how he started simply with a number of old defunct computers, and the students were dismantling them and attempting to repair them and get them to work again. These achievements generated confidence and a buzz of accomplishment in the room which led to an increase in student self-efficacy as they experienced success, even if it was in the creation of ‘useless devices’ such as the one shown below.
Beyond utilising defunct computers, Matt spoke about a range of low-priced resources including Goldieblox,Osmo, Littlebits, Raspberry Pi and Unity amongst a range of small kit computers. Matt said that the Makerspace movement changes teachers roles from content leaders, to relationship facilitators.
Matt’s final point was significant, and I believe ties his, Simon Crook’s and Richard Byrne’s talks together: “We need to evolve learning spaces from teacher-centric to student-centric, and getting there is going to see different paths taken for different schools.” This sentiment can be applied to BYO programs, as well as game inspired learning.
That is the end of day one, session two from my FutureSchools ClassTech wrap up. The next article will include the brief lunchtime session with Richard Byrne and Sue Waters which took place in the expo hall, as well as session three of the ClassTech conference Stream, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom
See here for the list of articles in this series.