Saturday, September 4, 2010

'Rattling the Cage' - Stimulating A Staff Meeting Debate (or perhaps 'A Stimulating Staff Meeting Debate')

Recently I was asked to open at a school's Staff Development Day, not an uncommon event in itself, but this time the Principal and myself wanted to 'rattle the cage'. It's a nice school, with nice kids and nice staff in a nice suburb. However, a comfort zone is not necessarily a hotbed of innovation and dialogue around contemporary pedagogy.

As part of the Australian Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution the school currently has 1:1 laptops (Macbooks) in 2 year groups. The teachers each received a Macbook 2 years ago in preparation for the first 1:1 deployment last year. Teaching with 1:1 and other technologies varies at the school as it does in most schools.

I wanted to stimulate (possibly provoke) discussion around teaching practices plus a few fundamental ideals and ultimately for the staff to take ownership of any decisions made for progression. My vehicle for such an exercise was a 10 question Google Doc Form issued at the beginning of the day. The reasoning was simple, the Google Form:
- forced teachers to get onto the wireless at the beginning of the day (not a regular practice for everyone)
- allowed for anonymity
- was quick to complete
- provided a complete profile of feelings and opinions for the whole staff
- provided the data almost instantaneously to then be analysed as a group to stimulate discussion

The ten questions asked (on a scale from 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree') were:

1. I like to integrate technology in my teaching
2. Students would like to use technology in their learning
3. I would like my own children to utilise technology in their education
4. We are obliged to integrate technology in our teaching practices
5. eLearning opportunities have been integrated into every teaching program in my KLA(s)
6. I think using technology in the classroom can lead to better student performance and examination results
7. I prefer students to sit in rows and work quietly
8. I regularly photocopy/print resources for my students
9. Have you signed up for or completed the Web 2.0 course?
10. Do you own an iPhone?

(A copy of the survey file can be obtained here, please make a copy before editing/distributing (you don't want me to see your staff responses :).

It was a risky approach as I had no true idea as to the profile of responses the staff would generate or how the subsequent analysis and discussion would go.

The first 3 questions have to be looked at together. If there is a difference between #1 and #2, particularly if #1 is more negative, then there is tension in the classroom - the students want to use technology whereas the teacher doesn't. If #1 is more negative than #3 then we have a moral issue - teachers want their own children to utilise technology in their classrooms but do not want to undertake such practices in their own classroom with other people's children that they as teachers have responsibility for regarding their education. Fortunately, as a collective, the 3 question profiles were similar for the staff so I was able to draw attention to this and affirm accordingly. However, the conflicts of interest were highlighted should any individuals have responded as described above, hopefully giving them food-for-thought...

Question 4 really got the discussion going. What are a teacher's obligations? This is delicate ground as of course all teachers have contracts with terms and conditions as negotiated by the unions. However, as we discussed, there are many obligations to use technology in the classroom:
- Board of Studies requirements
- any new Australian Curriculum requirements
- the fact that some year groups are already 1:1 with more to come over the next few years
- with the Board of Studies et al looking at online examinations from 2013
- many teachers include eLearning in their Personnel Performance Planning and Review Record (PPPR)
- it is now part of any teacher's workload
- PD has been provided
- students are arriving in secondary schools with a high skills set and expectations from primary school
- as mentioned before, a moral obligation to the students we teach

The age old chestnut of "we don't have enough time" popped up as it always does. My answers are a) to provide schools and teachers with time through release for PD, b) replace any tired or defunct teaching activities with more contemporary ones (rather than add more on top), c) use technology to save time e.g. Google Doc Forms for tests and evaluations, Delicious for accessing/sharing resources and finally d) teachers need to be proactive in their learning - they cannot simply wait to be spoon-fed or released from class to learn.

#5 was interesting as most teachers recognised that eLearning opportunities should be provided for 1:1 classes but many forgot their obligations to provide such activities for the rest

#6 is always interesting as one often hears "the exams are hand-written so using technology in class will affect our exam performance". This is where a lot of the latest research comes in handy such as Chowdry et al 2009 (quoted in Becta 2009) stating

After controlling for KS3 results, the availability of a computer at home is significantly positively associated with Key Stage 4 test scores. This association amounts to around 14 GCSE points (equivalent to 2 GCSE grades in a single subject)

or Bebell and Kay for JTLA, 2010 stating:

this unprecedented two-year improvement in eighth grade Math pass rates across 'BWLI' settings corresponded with the years students’ participated in the 1:1 laptop program


after two years of 1:1 computing in school, 7th graders participating in the computer writing study wrote both longer and more highly scored open response essays when using their laptops than students responding to the same prompt using traditional paper and pencil.

#7 stimulated the whole debate about learning spaces, the flexibility offered by 1:1 and the fact that a teacher does not need to remain at the front of a linear class as the focal point (see BER Research Paper)

Similarly #8 helped highlight that schools could and should dramatically reduce their photocopying. If the resources are made electronically then is it far more efficient and less damaging to the environment to disseminate and view the resources electronically were possible.

#9 was more of a plug for some online PD, highlighting the flexibility of this format

#10 was a cheeky question with 2 hidden agenda. It turned out that 30% of the teachers own iPhones. I pointed out that every teacher at Martin Levins' school has been issued with an iPhone. At this there was a collective "Oooohhh!" This provided me with the springboard to ask why did that get such a response yet when teachers all received Macbooks 2 years ago some treated them like they were an anchor and chain - a Macbook is better than an iPhone! My follow up to #10 was "How much PD have you received on how to use your iPhone?" Of course the answer was nil. This helped highlight that teachers as well as students learn from trying and playing and teachers do not have to simply rely on limited PD to learn how to use modern technologies - just give it a go!

In conclusion, giving the staff the survey stimulated the discussion for the following 90 minutes. It allowed people to get things off their chest but also allowed everyone to see the profile of sentiments across the whole staff. The feedback from the session was positive, particularly from a traditional Maths teacher which pleasantly surprised me. Hopefully exercises like these will help a nice school become great school of contemporary teaching and learning.

Postscript - As a model, for simple (yet important!) tasks, like deciding where to go for the staff Christmas bash, I would again recommend a quick survey at the beginning of a meeting to prompt a collective debate.

Winning the Digital Education Revolution

Below is my prezi on 'Winning the Digital Education Revolution' as presented at the Fourth National Leading a Digital School Conference in Melbourne, September 2010.
In 2007 the Australian Federal Government announced that it intended to give secondary schools a 1:1 ratio of computers to students in 4 year groups over a 4 year period. As an organisation we bit the bullet and got involved straight away such that currently all of our secondary schools have 1:1 laptops in 2 or 3 of their year groups. The prezi goes through the key elements of our successful implementation. Please contact me if you wish further details.