Creating, learning, playing, and being are recognized as strategic pillars that guide much of what we do at Brighton Grammar School (BGS). Having access to fun, straightforward, and engaging technology helps with these values. As an ICT director, I try not to settle for the tools that are available, but to implement the tools that will be useful. While learning at BGS is not driven by specific technologies, our Effective Learner model, which is used by all staff and students, ensures that we have the flexibility to use a variety of different technical tools depending on the age, subject matter, and outcomes desired in that lesson.
In IT, we try to communicate constantly with our teaching staff to ensure that, together, we provide the tools they require (or desire). I think of it as settling in at someone else’s house and trying to figure out which of the five remotes will turn on the TV. Simplifying the way we use technology has enriched the students’ classroom experience by promoting problem-solving and collaboration.
Choosing Tech Tools to Fit Teaching Goals
BGS is an all-boys school and we use technology to help promote our values in different ways for different year levels. For example, our youngest students race each other in math concepts. In music, they compete through online Star Wars battles using an interactive whiteboard to hit the right notes. Middle years students film themselves on a green screen and edit their movie, maybe adding a roaming dinosaur in their backdrop. Our most senior students complete homework by seeking feedback from their peers via cloud-based project teams. These activities facilitate collaboration, no matter the year level. The critical-thinking aspect of our students’ education is more a product of the teaching techniques and their skill than a specific technology tool.
Each year we refresh the online library of apps that we make available to our staff and students. Key amongst these is our Microsoft Office 365 platform, which provides the core basic apps, and our Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. Our learning management platform continues to be the central hub through which our staff and students communicate, share work, upload learning tasks, and submit student assessments.
We try to understand how our students think and learn, and especially how they concentrate best. If a student is focused on typing notes in class, they aren’t really digesting what they should be learning. By not wanting to miss a single thing, they’re missing most of everything. Now, using the screen mirroring tool Vivi, they just screenshot what’s on the boards using their tablets. They can sit, listen, and comprehend what’s being taught without diluting the experience with excessive note-taking.
Screen mirroring also allows our teachers to be more immersed with their students, rather than anchored to their desk up front. Students anywhere in the room can present their work, fostering a culture of teamwork amongst the class. Problem-solving in the world beyond school is not always a solo experience, so learning to work together early is essential to developing critical-thinking skills. Plus, when students are given a problem to solve, and a partner to solve the problem with, they’re less likely to use the time to talk about the weekend if they know they might be required to share their screen with the rest of the class after 15 minutes!
With universal technology, the students can take it and run (quite literally). I was walking out of school one day and saw students testing the relation between speed and distance by using their iPads to record videos of themselves doing the long jump. Technology allowed them to look back at themselves and recognize that the faster they run, the longer they jump, and vice versa. It helped them prove the science behind the sport. Then they went into class and made a compilation video of test runs, and put it up on the big screen to show the rest of the class.
Making Teachers’ Jobs Easier
My prior work experience in global, multinational law and accounting firms included walking into large conference rooms where the AV usage was perfect. So, when I got into a school and saw the challenges that teachers were facing around collaboration, I was scratching my head a bit.
Cables were constantly being snapped, getting lost, or didn’t fit the various laptops and tablets. Wirelessly integrating a screen mirroring solution with the ability to stream across devices solved that problem because everything was universal. Teacher’s aren’t walking into a new room and saying, “Oh goodness, where’s the remote? How do I connect my laptop?” The hassle is eliminated because they now connect wirelessly to the screen using an app. To make their tech setup even easier, all our classroom screens are controlled by simple wall controllers rather than remote controls to eliminate confusion, flat batteries, and lost remotes. We have 150 or more classrooms at BGS, and any teacher can walk in and teach using their own resources.
Keys to a Seamless Implementation
In this fast-paced world where everything changes constantly, IT directors are under more pressure than ever to deliver stable and fast WiFi into every corner of sprawling campuses. My advice is to become familiar with your teachers’ challenges, frustrations, priorities, and the ideas they have. Then work with them to ensure that whatever you are delivering is making their lives easier and more efficient. The hardest work is architecting solutions so that they become really simple.
The most successful tools are the ones that are intuitive to use. If staff or students need to sit through training and can’t just pick it up and start working, good adoption is challenging. Teachers and students are time-poor, and taking up time with too much technology overhead tends to frustrate and disengage them. Do a small number of things you can focus on really well, rather than throwing a lot of things at them and hoping something works.
Sandra Maher is the IT director at Brighton Grammar School in Victoria, Australia.