Innovation & eLearning at St Andrew’s College in 2015

2015 is shaping up to be another exciting year at St Andrew’s College, as we welcome a second cohort into the 1:1 Computing Programme that debuted in 2014. A number of things have been done to support the growing numbers of students with devices at the College including:

  • The creation of a new role called eLearning Integrator, that has been filled by Mr Tom Adams. Tom’s focus will be supporting teachers and students to use technology more effectively in the classroom and the role is a logical extension of the 1:1 Computing Programme that was first planned in 2012.
  • The hiring of an additional ICT help desk staff member, Mr Brodie Dickinson. Brodie joins the team from Adelaide, Australia and his appointment means there will always be quick and friendly ICT support for students and staff when they need it.
  • snapA second fibre optic internet connection has been installed, with support from our ISP Snap Internet. This means the College now has two diverse internet feeds available, so in the event of a fibre cut or outage, the College internet connection will automatically fail over to the secondary connection, ensuring almost seamless internet access for students and staff.

I can see that this year there will be a number of trends that the ICT team will focus on supporting in the classroom and growing the confidence and competence of a wider range of our teaching staff.

Creating An Environment Where Innovation Can Occur:

RectorOne of the themes from the Rector in 2014 was to help create an environment where innovation can occur and in her opening address in Regulus she noted:

I am always mindful that we cannot sit still and simply enjoy the benefits of success. William Pollard (Episcopal priest and physicist) wrote in the 1960s “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

In this light, we have adopted the theme for St Andrew’s College in 2014 of Innovation and Collaboration – two qualities that are at the heart of 21st century learning.

To support that goal, a Research and Innovation Group was set up that has laid the groundwork for the 2015 Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) that will drive teaching staff Professional Development once again this year. Furthermore, to help create an environment conducive to innovative teaching practices certain things need to occur:

  • Innovators need to be encouraged, rewarded and celebrated. At St Andrew’s this has been done in a number of ways, including creating a new billboard area in the very busy pickup/dropoff zone celebrating teacher excellence. This is the inaugural poster in this area:

Jac and Ben

  • Innovators need to be closely supported – provide them with access to the latest equipment, software and professional development as it becomes available. Ensure that when they experience frustrations there is timely support, as the classroom can be a very lonely place for teachers when technology fails them!
  • Monitor closely what is happening at the “bleeding edge” of technology in education – what’s happening on the fringe today will quite possibly be mainstream in a number of years.
  • As a school, settle on “innovation within parameters” – there is now so much choice available, that there must be some rational decisions made about the broad direction a school is heading in. (I touch on this in my #CENZ14 blog post comparing the choice of Google Apps For Education vs Microsoft Office365)
  • Support innovation at all levels – even the aspirational “first steps” by teachers, and then provide a framework for them to grow their attempts e.g. the SAMR taxonomy
Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

Pulling The Majority Forward:

Innovation Adoption LifecycleSt Andrew’s College is lucky that we have a number of teachers that are routinely trying new things in their classroom. We celebrate this in a number of different ways, including postings on this blog, whilst occasionally these teachers are also recognised externally for their innovative teaching practices. This was the case with Mrs Jac Yoder and Mr Ben Hilliam who were recognised for their innovative work with Microsoft products towards the end of 2014.

Additionally, we are now starting to get requests from other schools, teacher training institutions, subject association groups and other organisations for our staff to present or facilitate professional development in the education sector. Whilst this is very pleasing, the staff involved represent a relatively small subset of our wider teachers – as the diagram above shows, they would be seen as innovators or early adopters. Amongst the remainder of our staff, the early / late majority, most are very keen to try new things but may lack the confidence or support to try new things in their classroom, particularly when it comes to technology.

For this reason, our new eLearning Integrator has the goal of growing the size of our staff innovating and who could become early adopters of technology and best practice in the classroom. Sharing the successes (and challenges!) of these innovative attempts is imperative as it will encourage all of our teaching staff to give it a go.

Tools To Help With Innovative Practice:

An important point not to lose sight of: it's the teacher, not the technology, that makes the difference!

An important point not to lose sight of: it’s the teacher, not the technology, that makes the difference!

I recently saw the image on the right retweeted by one of our staff and it is a timely reminder that for successful learning outcomes the teacher and the student are the critical components in the process. Technology, as great as it is, merely facilitates the learning, as I mentioned in this earlier post:

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

With this in mind, there are some tools that I expect to see heavy usage of from our staff this year, including:

  • Pro 3 WritingThe Microsoft Surface Pro 3building on our earlier trials, this year we will see over 20 staff using a Pro 3 as their primary device, no longer having a school issued laptop, but instead the excellent Surface tablet. I am personally excited to see what innovative practices come from this relatively new technology in the classroom.
  • notebook creatorOneNote Class NoteBook Creator – this is a big step for St Andrew’s as a largely Microsoft school, and is something I’ve blogged about before. What is especially pleasing is the responsiveness of the developers of this product who have now added the major feature requested by teachers: the ability to have multiple teachers sharing a class notebook.
  • moodleMoodle – freshly upgraded to the latest version (2.8.2) this will continue to be a key platform for teachers and students to access course content, share ideas and submit assessment.
  • Skype – Whilst a number of classes have now enjoyed skype_logothe fun of a Mystery Skype session, the call to Alabama and kapa haka to Singapore among my favourites, I would like to see more collaboration going on between these classes – the logical progression from simply connecting.

Invariably, other tools, websites, apps and services will emerge throughout 2015 as teachers at the College try new things. With the first Mystery Skype session scheduled for February 5th with a class in Oklahoma City, the year will be underway before we know it.

I am looking forward to sharing the stories on this blog for others to read and comment on, with readers having visited the blog from over 100 countries in 2014 (the top three being New Zealand, USA and Australia):

Map

Introducing Tom Adams – eLearning Integrator at St Andrew’s College

StAC Logo WhiteStarting in 2015, St Andrew’s College has created a new position to support teaching and learning with technology both in and out of the classroom. This role, called eLearning Integrator, has been filled by Mr Tom Adams and reflects the College’s continuing commitment to ensuring both staff and students are equipped to maximise the opportunities presented by technology.

To ensure this happens, Mr Adams will be teaching a single class (senior Geography) and using the rest of his time supporting teachers and students both in and out of the classroom. The interview below introduces Mr Adams and his role.

Tom, you have joined St Andrew’s College from Christchurch Girls High School. Can you provide an overview of how your role there supported eLearning initiatives?

My role at CGHS was twofold. The first aspect of the job was to oversee the continued development of a strong infrastructure; both wired and wireless. We all know the futility of trying to make meaningful progress with e-Learning without this aspect falling into place. The second aspect was to oversee the actual teaching and learning aspect of e-Learning. The main initiative predominantly involved the conceptualisation and development of a Moodle site which has, pleasingly, became relatively engrained in the teaching and learning programmes of most staff and students.

Of the various initiatives you introduced at CGHS, which were you most pleased with and why?

On reflection it would have to be the way that the Moodle site became ingrained in the learning culture of both staff and students. Our average hit rate of over 1000 site visits daily was evidence that students and staff were using it as the basis of their online learning needs. Early in 2015 the site will record its 2 millionth site visit!

You have experience with both Google Apps For Education (GAFE) and Microsoft’s Office365 (which StAC uses). Do you have any thoughts on the relative strengths and weaknesses of these products and how they can assist teachers and students with learning in the classroom?

I feel that this is an area that a number of schools are going to really struggle with over the next few years as both GAFE and 365 continue to develop their competitive capabilities in this growing market of eLearning. I personally feel that GAFE currently has certain advantages such as its ease of use and smooth integration between its complementary products, however, the new developments within 365 in the last 18 months have certainly brought that package into line, and 365 now offers greater functionality and the incredibly exciting potential of OneNote in an education setting. OneNote is a product that GAFE currently does not match. With 365’s impressive, recent developments it will be interesting to see GAFE’s response in 2015!

StAC has seen massive uptake amongst staff of Microsoft OneNote in the last 12-18 months. Some schools are now using this as their Learning Management System, whereas St Andrew’s remains committed to using Moodle as the primary LMS. Can you share your thoughts on the value of Moodle to both teachers and students?

I believe that the separation from 365 that Moodle allows is an important aspect. By using the Sharepoint platform as your LMS there is the risk of becoming insulated, self-congratulatory, and ultimately too reliant on 365 to provide a one stop e-Learning platform. Using 365 in the classroom should only be one aspect of a teacher’s e-Learning commitment. By having an intermediate platform, itself with many great features, allows a teacher, and their students, to have a central platform to feed other learning experiences into. It also allows the school to more fully involve its wider school community in the e-Learning process by making use of the public functionality of Moodle, as appropriate, to help give a more personalised feel than is provided by most school websites.

You’ve come to a few events hosted by StAC over the last couple of years and have had a chance to see how the College is resourced and the direction we are moving in with respect to eLearning. What excites you the most about this role? 

This potential of this role is incredibly exciting. I am in the privileged position to be at a school that is committed to offering effective e-Learning to their students, and a school that is willing to create a position such as mine. The fact that, in the position, I have been allocated the time and freedom to really help shape the future of e-Learning in the school is something which I am really looking forward to!

The College is quite different from other schools you’ve worked in, being co-educational and also Year 1-13. What are some of the personal goals you’re hoping to focus on when you start?

The ability to work with staff and students Y1-13 was one aspect of the job that really attracted me to it. I have so much to learn about teaching at a primary level and that will be great fun. The other aspect of the position that will be an initial goal of mine will be to gain the trust and confidence of as many staff as possible, as quickly as possible! This will be a massive undertaking as it is a privilege to be allowed into someone else’s classroom, and it is not something that all teachers are comfortable with.

Finally, what other interests do you have outside of technology and teaching?

I am currently enjoying the pleasures of having a young family. Cait and I have two boys, Ollie (4) and Sam (1), who currently provide the entertainment at home. Outside of my family, I am an absolute sports tragic. As well as passionately supporting a number of, predominantly unsuccessful, teams across a few different sports I am a lower grade cricketer (who is a bit susceptible to an early straight delivery), and an ageing, and slowing, central midfielder for a local football club.

Moving forward, I anticipate Mr Adams will be posting blogs directly, sharing some of the eLearning stories emerging from his work with staff and students at St Andrew’s College.