"It's not actually about the technology"
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
My original plan for the opening session of day two at FutureSchools was to attend presentations by Leanne Edwards - Steve Allen - Melinda Cashen - Peter Tompkins - Sally Wood and Simone Segat. However, staying to listen to Sarah Asome's excellent presentation meant that I had missed around half of Steve Allen's time slot. I made the decision that rather than entering with less than half of his presentation to go, and then moving again to a different conference stream straight after, that I would be better served by going straight to the FutureLeaders conference stream so that I would be ready for Melinda Cashen's presentation.
I entered the Future Leaders stream from the rear doors and found a seat in time to hear Chris McNamara talking about how students shape their day through managing their calendar. It turns out that Chris is Deputy Principal of Learning and Development at Melbourne Girls Grammar School (MGGS), so there was a certain amount of crossover and expansion of some of Mary Louise O'Briens presentation. This seems like such an obvious thing to do, to use a calendar to manage your time and commitments, yet it is something that is not only not taught explicitly in schools but is a significantly useful skills in everyday life, as a student and as a working adult. It allows for accountability to others and to yourself for time-based goals like assignments (whether school or work), for appointments, birthdays and other events.
It also plays a role in the structure of student-life at MGGS, where mastery learning and trust are key to the school. Mary commented in her session that students are only timetabled to classes for 70% of their time at school and that it is up to them to self-manage and regulate the use of their time for learning. As part of this, students are empowered to move the due dates of assignments around to suit their mastery; they can bring a date forward if they feel they are going to be ready early and accordingly push another one back that they need more time for. I can see that this system has the potential to be heavily abused, and I would like to hear more about how they rolled out this structure and how they provided learning opportunities to students (and staff) about how to manage their time and track their assignments and other responsibilities.
Things are not completely out of the hands of students as staff do have visibility of where students are up to in their coursework through a mastery report which students are required to complete on their end. This allows teachers to keep an eye on how students are tracking and to address any potential issues that appear such as a lack of progress before it becomes a significant issue.
To track the well-being, MGGS utilise a program called VisualCoaching Pro to track and monitor student well-being, however, an intrinsic part of it is that students have access to their own data and are expected to self-monitor as well. I am intrigued as to how strong the uptake with this program was in the early days, as well as how honest students were then and are now. Are students taught what to look for in regards to red flags or triggers that indicate to them that something is amiss? I am also very curious as to the impact that it has had since its introduction on student wellbeing; has it generated a general trend upwards towards improved student wellbeing or has there been no significant macro-level change? I wonder if MGGS has considered introducing the wellbeing platform for their staff to allow them to self-monitor their own wellbeign and what ramifications such a move would have on stress, workload, wellbeing, and productiveness.
Changing topic, Chris spoke about the analytics behind the school's learning management system (LMS), which allowed staff to identify not only the level of mastery that students were currently at, but also how students were engaging with the learning content that had been provided, often a reasonable indicator of the academic success in a topic.
As you would expect when a school is planning on significant change, the parents were nervous. Fortunately, the school’s relationship with the community was such that the parents by and large trusted the school to do what was right by their children. This attitude may be an unusual one for many teachers who are used to parents complaining quite vociferously about anything and everything, without ever coming to the teacher in the first instance or the school in general in the second instance.
The culture of the school is vastly different to any in my personal experience, and I cannot fathom what working or learning in that sort of environment must be like. If you are a current or former student (or teacher) and happen to (rather randomly) be reading this, I would love for you to comment and share your thoughts on what it was like from your perspective.
Following Chris was Melinda Cashen whose abstract indicated she would be talking about cultural thinking required to embrace ICT across the curriculum. Melinda opened by remarking that the Digital Technologies curriculum is more than just coding. It is a breath of fresh air to hear someone say that in public, as the default setting for many schools when they say they are going to engage more with the digital technologies curriculum is either coding or robotics. This focus on coding seems to create a panic and a stress among a great many teachers who feel woefully ill-equipped to teach in these areas which has resulted in private enterprise filling the void. There are, however, many resources available out there for teachers to upskill themselves in this area, as demonstrated in the below tweet.
This session reminds me of one of the pitfalls of Storify, that it does not necessarily capture all of the tweets under a hashtag. I know that I tweeted more than what I have captured in the Storify from this session, but they did not get picked up for some reason. I may need to look at going back to handwriting my notes, whether by hand or using my wacom tablet and OneNote (more on that in a later article), I do not know.
If you missed any articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them all here.