1. Robust and future-proofed digital infrastructure
At Aorere College, we are very fortunate that we now have exceptional Wi-Fi coverage that literally is "beyond the gate". This has enabled students and teachers to see physical classrooms as merely one option for learning spaces. It is not uncommon to see Aorere students working on their digital devices in the middle of our fields or on the other side of our school fence. I can have school Wi-Fi connectivity in my car 150m from the school environs. How cool is that? The only complaint I have had about our Wi-Fi is that it fails just short of one student's house!
To be honest, I stole the idea of Wi-Fi "beyond the gate", from Tamaki College, a leading digital school in New Zealand and beyond. By offering such awesome connectivity, the students have no excuses. We have built the stage so to speak, the performance (as it should be) is now up to them. Last year alone, we installed approximately 60 new Wi-Fi access points (including 7 external ones, yeah baby, see dreams can come true!). I don't present these figures to boast, I do so to highlight that before such a dramatic upgrade, when teachers and students said they'd love to do more digital, connected, modern learning but couldn't due to network, bandwidth issues and reliability concerns and failings, they weren't making excuses, they were being honest and accurate! Even we had installed a 500MB fibre connection, only fails occurred as the accompanying filter set-up was set up outside of the school and out of our control, thus rendering our super-fast fibre a bit of a white elephant.
Thankfully our principal and governors jumped on this constraint immediately and approved the installation of Fortigate filtering locally-located and locally controlled, albeit at the costs of tens of thousands of dollars. Such significant expenditure took significant courage and to a certain extent, a gamble on behalf of our school leaders and this deserves to be acknowledged. However, to say the effect has been transformational would be a severe understatement. The effect has been insane. The students love the connectivity, the trust and ability to use the devices when and where necessary for student learning, the teachers love the lack of worrying about Wi-Fi drop-off and the ability to use on-line video without fail and parents love the fact that their students are present in a learning institution that is preparing them for the outside world, in a way where they can be confident connectors and hopefully, digital leaders and contributors.
Upgrading digital infrastructure is neither cheap or particularly glamorous but in so many cases, what you don't see has a huge impact on what you can do and what you want to do in a learning space. What you don't see also has a massive impact on teacher and student aspirations and the ability to exist as legitimate digital, global citizens. Digital infrastructure has a way greater influence on student and indeed teacher education and pedagogy-in-play than device choice. Infrastructure gives freedom to device choice, learning choice and #bigthinking."
As the lead on Aorere Digital, our infrastructure and most particularly our dramatic upgrade to what what is now an exceptional set-up, is the single biggest contributor to transforming our school into a legitimate modern learning environment that can access the world as "one classroom." Many schools in my opinion focus too much initially on device choice rather than prioritising the building of the stage. Many students tell me that if we didn't offer the digital platform that we do, there is no way they'd bring their own devices to Aorere College or even have a device purchased for them by their parents.
Now, we all know that not everything is best delivered or should be delivered digitally but now we have given choice and freedom to our students and teachers through a integrated, logical and planned approach. It may seem rapid and innovative and in the perception of many external observers, somewhat risky our dramatic infrastructure upgrade. However at Aorere College, we saw it as pretty simple, non-negotiable for student learning and to be blunt, simply the right thing to do for our community.
Trust me, build it. Build it strong and they will come and come big! Good luck!