Macs, Schools, Pedagogy and Australia

This morning my school were lucky enough to be visited by Barbara Stone and Westley Field from MLC School in Australia. They talked us through their use of technology. It was very impressive. Westley showed me photos of children in the playground busily chatting away over their macbooks. It’s an independent school and every pupil is required to buy a macbook when they join the senior years.

website

They relayed the importance of WiFi to their technological development. They moved from PCs to macs as a school, all at once. They just worked better. Their budget is not as big as the equivalent state school in the UK. They have been creative. A flavour of this is that all school bought macs are replaced every two years. They sell the used ones with one year warranty remaining so they are still worth some capital cash to be invested in the upgraded equipment. Similar to what any tech savvy does with their personal kit.

They embrace creativity. Lessons are given to an entire year group with all timetabled teachers present. Pupils then turn to their tables (in the same large, relaxed open-plan space) and choose their tools to get on with the work where they decide is best for them. Teachers jump from table-t0-table (not limited to just their class) providing help and guidance where needed. Mobile phones are actively encouraged in class (facilitating photos mainly as all comms are available on their macbooks). Books play a huge part in the school and the libraries are seen as the hub of all knowledge and learning.

Inspiring classroom (or a new word) practice.

They have done quite radical remote work with the Broken Hill (<— great school site, pictured above, worth a read – check the planning section, there is even a ‘Teacher voice’ link)  outback school (where MadMax was filmed).

Before they left, Westley asked to update the schools twitter account with a comment: http://twitter.com/mlcbrokenhill.

Now, I am not saying blueprint for the future. They are an independent all girls faith school, and, consequently, have many things blowing in their favour. However, Barbara has been a Headteacher driven by vision for 20 years and the work they are doing looked very impressive. What can I (we, you, me) learn from it?

Westley left stating five key things to sort out that encompass every problem he has ever encountered:

  1. vision
  2. pedagogy
  3. community buy-in
  4. professional development
  5. and one other… do you know what it is?
  • http://jamesmichie.blogspot.com James Michie

    This is great Dai. Really interesting model of learning through tech.

    My first response is that this shows if you have vision, passion and a willingness to take risks, embracing a technological ethos/pedagogy across a whole school can have a positive impact on learning.

    However, the challenge remains for many of us who are fighting to bring about a culture shift and meeting head on with the resistance. How do we turn the tide in our own schools to make room for this level of technological engagement and where will the money come from to deliver this sort of technological change on a mass-scale?

    Their approach sounds so exciting. I would love to mine their knowledge and experiences in how they met the challenges of “community buy-in” and “professional development” because I feel that these are the two biggest factors that hold back a technological culture shift within many schools.

    There are lots of teachers out there with the vision and who understand the pedagogy but can’t get their peers to buy-in and don’t have the time, resources or expertise to deliver/source the necessary CPD.

    I guess I am raising more questions than providing answers. As for the fifth key thing I would take a stab at ‘student voice/involvement’. :-)

  • http://daibarnes.info daibarnes

    Interestingly James, they did not mention, and I forgot to ask, how they measure the value added by the use of technology. We know why, and we can give a cohesive educational argument, but do the pupils benefit from learning? Our school gets very good results – could get better but is doing well – so why should the teachers learn a new way of teaching? Why fix was isn’t broken?

    I will ask Barbara if I get the chance and update the post.

  • http://jamesmichie.blogspot.com James Michie

    Point well made.

    I have to say though that while it is important to consider how the technology enhances the learning I don’t believe that it always must. I am not suggesting that we should use technology for technology’s sake. I am the first person to turn the IWB off, pull a board marker out and get to it with some old fashion discussion, note making.

    However, I do believe there is an argument to be made for the fact that many tasks are now worth doing either on a computer or a mobile device because that is how they are done in the real world.

    I try to offer my students as realistic an experience as possible when it comes to applying their learning to real life situations. There is no point getting them to write a blog on paper (I know you can still assess the spelling and grammar etc) because by doing so it is no longer a blog but a diary.

    Some tomes the tech is there to enhance and other times it is there because it is natural. It is the way that it should be.

    I would be very interested to find out how they have measured the impact though. As a protagonist for change, I do the most damage when I have the hard data to back up the blue sky evangelism!

  • http://jamesmichie.blogspot.com James Michie

    Had additional thoughts on the way home from the office.

    To clarify, I suppose that tech will naturally enhance learning when used by teachers that “get it”. For example mind mapping can be done on paper but there are many excellent web based tools to do mind mapping now that I would choose to get my students to use one of those. What does it add, well it adds value in that a paper and pen are permanent whereas the digital version is temporal and can be re-manipulated with little fuss. Moreover, the movement from the mind mapping to say the writing of an essay is also made easier by “copy and paste”.

    Now, is it the fact that I can see that because I am good with the tech and therefore it enhances the learning or is it the tech itself that is causing the enhancement to take place? I think it is the former and there in lies the problem, bringing me back to my original point that “community buy-in” and “professional development” are key.

    If they don’t “get it” the tech won’t enhance the learning, no matter how good it is!