The further into this journey we go, our school has increasingly determined a number of significant non-negotiables in terms of digitizing our students' learning and our wider community's learning for academic and holistic benefit now and in the future.
1. The wider school community needs to be aware of Aorere College's digital vision, progress and intended outcomes/destinations.
When we set up our digital learning lab Year 9 pilot class, information was readily available online, in person, in print and via phone. One communication sticks clearly in the mind when we had sent out the invites for students to join the class. One mother was dead against the idea initially, worried that her child would be removed from learning the core skills (Literacy, Numeracy etc.). During a phone call of approximately half an hour, the aforementioned fear alongside concerns re cybersafety and digital competency and curriculum coverage were all addressed to the satisfaction of the parent. We also quickly realised that the best "sellers" were not us the staff, it wasn't the "evidence-base", it was of course the students. This is why we delayed a parents Q & A session until a few weeks into the term and at this event, it was the students themselves that showed & explained the merits of a digital learning context. One of the best pieces of advice I have received regarding communicating to parents is that it is nearly impossible to inform them too early. In light of our 2016 student & community digital expectations, we are releasing the information at the end of the month, with at least two public meetings to be held early next term, with one to be held-off site and in collaboration with a contributing school.
2. Students are fearless digital learners and have the capacity to upskill rapidly and on multiple digital fronts simultaneously.
To be completely fearless is arguably reckless and dangerous, to be completely fearful is to be retrench, become isolated and in many cases withdraw. In my Year 13 English class, it has been fascinating to observe the progress of the initially least-capable digital learners. The affirming peer pressure within my student collective and the ability of my students to teach, coach & empower each other is on a scale that I genuinely could have coming at the beginning of this year. When students understand the "how" is at the very least as important as the "what", their engagement and motivation to engage, skyrockets as does their confidence to "recommend" to their teacher, alternative learning methods and/or pathways. Once again as in 1., the students' confidence and aptitude is taken into the home in a safe and localised manner and the "one drop of water becomes a waterfall".
3. Fail forward, fail fast and fail up.
Our wonderful student and family community is naturally averse to being seen as "failures" and is for the most part, our teaching community. Such an existence is obviously seen as culturally, academically, personally (and in a teacher's case, professionally) demeaning and embarrassing. This has been one of the biggest challenges we have faced in our digital journey. The first time, I went to email to email our student community, we found that our SMS wasn't sufficiently set up for a volume of communication. I personally initially sent numerous #googleclassroom assignments proudly as announcements, much to my students' delight. Students forgot their logins, complained that work had been lost in #GoogleDrive because they hadn't saved it, our internet upgrade made online access slower, you name it, it happened! Never-the-less, the school and community believed in Winston Churchill's wonderful refrain "Never, never, never give up" and as a result, made it through the digital darkness to some level of warm, empowering digital light. Teachers increasingly are prepared to "fail" appropriately and safely. Increasingly students are becoming aware that failure is a prerequisite for success and at the very least builds resilience, critical analysis and self-reflective learners. I know in my classroom and many others, the collegial willingness to walk new paths have removed the summative assessment & endpoint focus to still obviously essential but less a perpetual focus and narrow obsession. What has increased dramatically however is the students' and this teachers' use of formative assessment and subsequent reflection. In making it clear to our wider community that our digital advance was targeting student academic achievement as a priority and that student achievement in no way, shape or form would be allowed to be harmed, our community for the time period accepts the need for certain "fails".
4. Device choice matters in terms of learning, achievement, communication & finances
Orewa College has for a number of years successfully has iPads as the preferred device in their junior school, with a preference for laptops in the senior school. Pakuranga College is device agnostic, Westlake Girls High Schools specified high-spec laptops from one specific retail chain. In our context Aorere College is in the final stages of confirming our specifics for next year and more and more, we are becoming firm believers in the prescription of one device for all, thus going above and beyond, one set of specifics for all. When we allowed portable smart devices in the classroom for educational purposes, the most obvious device was cellphones, way more than any other. I am a firm advocate of the benefits of using cellphones in the classroom as an introductory device, and as an effective learning tool just like pen and paper, however it became quickly apparent that the phones were limited in terms of being production devices. Thus it is most likely we will advocate being a 2:1 device institution with a smart phone being for consumption and portability and a second device being for "static" consumption and more formalised production. We also want to ensure that any device is cost affordable for our community but is still sufficiently capable for digital now and in the future.
5. Prioritise compulsory digital competency for all teachers & staff
The best teachers see themselves as learners and teachers. The worst teachers.... ( for more, see my blog post "The most dangerous teachers in the world"), you get the gist. In any academic institution, you need your "road-runners", your fearless, your brave, what I call them your "nutty professors." These are the digital citizens who like me are "over-excited" (direct quote from our business manager) about the benefits of modern learning & digital and pedagogy. These are the best teachers to be around, their courage, innovation and enthusiasm empowering and transformational, the ones needing obviously the least "prompting". The non-road runners (including all support staff) take a little bit more work. We quickly realised very early on that the teachers and staff we saw as "middle-roaders" were the key to getting widespread institutional buy-in and forward sustainable, action. At Aorere College, we therefore:
- Talked to the staff in a public forum late last year, and surveyed the collective,
- Answered any questions about our #aoreredigital initiative openly, respectfully and from an evidence base,
- initiated and still run twice-weekly what we call "Aorere Digital drop-in sessions" where teachers can receive digital tuition or even just digital clarification or affirmation,
- Implemented a digital professional learning group that has timetabled space weekly (key to this group's success is that members are from across all departments and levels of the school)
- appointed in each learning area, a "digital coach"
- formally appointed a digital learning coordinator
- enrolled every staff member in GAFE
- cut our email over to Gmail
- prioritised digital communication over paper communication (newsletter, student & staff notices), and
- encouraged student & teacher use of digital learning by vastly improving our digital infrastructure (e.g. bandwidth, number of access points, filtering software).
As one can see, by taking a holistic and integrated approach, we have ideally left as fewer stones unturned as possible. We have tried to ensure that staff are confident, capable and curious but also in many cases, have removed all other alternatives, such as paper notices. In doing so, personal choice has indeed been restricted but the end result is that students now receive a consistent base level of digital presentation and teachers have a reduced workload through digital "adoption.
In closing, #aoreredigital has come to realise that not every person in our school and wider community is accepting or supportive of our digital intent and desires. We also realise that consensus is not needed, but a willingness to try, fail learn and advance in various forms and contexts is needed and is indeed non-negotiable!