At the start of the year, Orewa College required Year 9 students to have their own personal computing device – and recommended an iPad 2. Mark Quigley explains why they came to that decision and how it’s gone so far.
Many schools say they’re implementing a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programme but I would contend that they’re not. Without saturation coverage and expectation of a different approach to
teaching and learning it’s probably just digitising existing pedagogy.
Three years ago Orewa College was one of the few state schools that said to students that they could bring a laptop to school, any laptop, and log into the school’s network, just as you would if you were staying in a hotel or using free Wi-Fi at a café.
Three technologies had finally become available to the college and the wider community.
What happened? Students ended up not bringing them; teachers didn’t change their pedagogical approaches. However, there remained an increasing demand through the curriculum for access to computers and computer technology. Budget wise, this was a demand that the school could not meet by increasing the number of computers in the school. And yet the world our students will move into will predominantly use computer technology
A brave decision for this state school was needed. So, in 2012 students were required to bring a one-to-one device at Year 9 – and our recommendation was an iPad 2.
Coming to the decision
The digital revolution, high-speed internet, Web 2.0 technologies, and anywhere anytime philosophy has been the talk in education for the last 10 years. We started with the desire to leverage emerging ICT capability and the rich information environment of the internet with a student-centred learning approach. Here was the technology that at last would help us be the ‘Guide beside’ rather than the ‘Sage on the Stage’. Orewa College undertook an extensive PD programme with its staff, including, in 2005, gaining a Ministry ICTPD contract. We built a capacity and expectation amongst them with a vision of a digital educational future. The school purchased COWs and PODs of computers to go alongside the existing labs, we put four computers in most classrooms but it was still not enough and access to technology was still piecemeal. Some teachers were trying the much more student-centred, interactive type pedagogy using the Learning Management System. They dabbled with this, perhaps setting homework based on the web or some sort of digital task. However, five days a week while at school, students got little access to a computer and the web.
So, teachers were often faced with resistant learners and barriers to learning and teaching because the students have been conditioned to the teacher-lead type teaching. This, of course, is more passive for the learner and thus requires less effort. It’s the pedagogy of the 19th Century albeit digitised a little.
Access to a long sequence of lessons in a computer lab was not possible, so changing the students’ habitual approach to education was difficult without more consistent access. What if we could give them true anywhere, anytime access to the web, and a device to work, publish and share resources and completed work? We could then change our teaching approach from day one of schooling, so that the students know nothing else and a digital classroom in all subjects was the norm, the modus operandi.
Identifying a way forward
Just imagine if students had laptops, they could learn to use these wonderful learning tools as a default rather than the three periods that a teacher has ‘managed’ to get booked in a lab every second month.
We had two options:
We felt we needed at least six months lead in for parents and staff. We talked first to our HoDs, then our staff and got an agreement. We had made a wiki available to all staff and parents in order to
keep them informed and allow them to gain information about the plans and background research (www.fizurl.com/orewawiki). Then we explained our plans to the Board of Trustees and a parent panel – and got them on board.
With everyone in agreement, we direct mailed the parents with what we were proposing and arranged a series of small meetings, painting the big picture, allowing parents to play with the devices and see what we were intending, as well as giving the opportunity for discussion and questioning in small groups or one to one. Yes, we got some criticism from a few, but in general most were cautiously supportive.
Questions that needed to be answered
There was resistance and concerns from parents. To start with, they wanted to know why what we were doing now wasn’t good enough. Why had we chosen the iPad? Had we thought about security and health (related to the wireless network)? We had to reassure them that students wouldn’t be spending all of their time on Facebook or playing games. And, there was the cost!
From our perspective, we also needed to know how the technology would stack up:
Choosing the students and the device
Year 9 is the first year at our school that students are out of a homeroom situation and this is the predominant way our school is timetabled through to year 13. So, if BYOD is going to work it has to work at Year 9 before it rolls through the rest of the school.
We researched and trialled a variety of netbooks – priced from $499 to $1500 – the Apple iPad 2, and Acer’s Tablet running Android 3. (Incidentally, at the time of the decision, the Acer Tablet was the only decent tablet but since then others have become available that may be worth a look at.)
After looking at the various options, we came to the conclusion that the iPad is the most suitable machine. One of the main reasons is battery life – 10 hours, compared to maybe five hours from a typical netbook, which reduces very quickly after 12 months to about two or three hours. iPads had instant start up, were easily backed up, and had no virus issues. Also, there’s the massive advantage of the applications (Apps) that Apple offers that can be downloaded from iTunes.
Android and alternative tablets were on the horizon but they were not yet there. Did we wait or act now? The fact is if we wait with regard to technology we’ll always end up looking at what’s coming over the horizon.
How has it gone so far?
It’s early in the process to make any definitive statements on how it’s all gone. Objectively, in comparing this year’s results with those of the same students in Year 8 in 2011, across the board they’re slightly improved, the boys more so than the girls. Is this a result of BYOD or other factors, such as being a year older or being in a slightly different class environment (such as out of the homeroom) we don’t know. It’s too early to tell.
If we compare this year’s BYOD students in Year 9 with last year’s Year 9s, we’re seeing the same: the results on the same assessment are slightly improved across the school, with boys more so than
girls. Perhaps this is just a cohort difference – this year’s Year 9 cohort is slightly better than the 2011 Year 9 cohort.
What these results do tell us, however, is that we’re doing no harm in this inquiry based approach. Other objective data like attendance rates are up on last year for this cohort, and compared to other cohorts this year and last year, as well. We’re getting little or no bad feedback from parents and, in many cases, quite the reverse. We’re hearing anecdotal stories of students being totally engrossed in subjects that they previously have shunned. Staff will tell you that students are more engaged and enthusiastic than ever before. We’re hearing stories of boys writing work in social studies classes with the word counts working and actively competing with each other for output, where previously to get them to write anything was a mission.
Staff are more excited about teaching and the work students are producing, or neat lessons and ideas they are able to deliver, and are still found a year on in the staff room in little groups sharing ideas and experiences.
The plan from here
The project will encompass Years 8, 9 and 10 in 2013, so all staff are now undergoing PD with iPads and teaching in a new pedagogical approach. The staff that have been teaching this year are stepping out into new areas. We have a group working with iBook author and another learning how to make short instructional videos relating to curriculum content and concepts, so that they can teach other staff and we can start producing content – both audio video and text/web-based – that can go on our learning management system.
This will all mean that we can head down the path of the flipped classroom where teachers will truly become the guides and tutors for students, who can work independently on any unit of work or level they are capable of. Then we can fundamentally transform education.
Mark Quigley is Deputy Principal at Orewa College.
© INTERFACE Magazine, July 2012
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