In schools today, everything is ‘on the table’

Mr Shane Skillen, Co-Director of Technology Studies
Shane Skillen, Co-director of Technology Studies
Mr Shane Skillen, Co-director of Technology Studies

What computing ‘model’ do you use at home? If you can’t answer that question without thinking, you are not alone; most of us just use what works for our situation. Increasingly, our homes have an abundance of technology: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, phones, phablets, smart TVs, media players and home automation from countless manufacturers, most of which nobody had heard of two decades ago. Technology in the home has been normalised; it is just there. A broad sweep of the arm across the kitchen table in many family homes would result in a pile of such devices.

This tech-saturated environment leads many parents to believe that their children are techno-whizz-kids who traverse this digital world with systematic curiosity, wielding their prodigious skills with subconscious ease. A key consideration, however, is that schools are not like homes, and the transition from home to school has always had its differences. Your child usually does not perceive their technology wizardry, and rarely aligns their ability to apply those skills to a life-wide learning attribute. However, the kitchen table and the classroom may be closer aligned than you may think.

Recent advancements in consumer technology — all those devices on your kitchen table — have highlighted a key issue regarding technology provision in schools. The struggle to keep pace with rapid change means that, as soon as a system is chosen, installed, training completed and curriculum adapted, it is obsolete. The pressure to be responsive to technological change means that a technology model never has an opportunity to mature, is susceptible to faults and is, inevitably, unsustainable. For some time, in the context of technology, the conditions have been conducive for evolutionary change.

Students using technology
‘Students today have a unique attachment to their mobile technology’

Professor Roger McHaney, an expert on business use of technology, discusses in his book The New Digital Shoreline that education is at a ‘tipping point’ (McHaney, 2011), This viewpoint was also espoused by Microsoft founder Bill Gates earlier this month in his keynote address for the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas (cited in Ngak, 2013). Using a technology adoption metaphor, McHaney cites Gladwell’s book of the same name stating that, for a technology to gain traction in education, it needs three critical roles to be fulfilled: mavens, connectors and advocates.

Long before the term BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) was being touted in educational circles, a shift was beginning to occur in our student body. The advent of mobile Internet, affordable software and increasing portability of laptops saw students deciding to bring their own technology to School. Some enterprising teachers welcomed these devices into their classrooms and facilitated their use into classwork.

These were our unwitting mavens. They were the ones attuned to change and other ways of working and, with the hindsight and privilege of Web 2.0 and cloud technologies, they have no allegiance to or perceived reliance on an institutional computing network. Notwithstanding the exceptional resourcing of Brisbane Girls Grammar School, it is this generation’s desire for the personalisation of technology, the familiarity of devices they are using at home and the control of that environment that necessitated the introduction of BYOD to optimise their learning at School.

Students today have a unique attachment to their mobile technology; for many, it is an extension of themselves and an important communication tool that provides them with a certain level of comfort. They know what to expect when they turn the device on, they know what programs they have installed and they know how to use them. Using the same device at home and at school fosters an important link between formal and informal learning. As life-wide adult learners, we can acknowledge that the information age has permitted significant autonomy when it comes to knowledge acquisition. As a School, we can embrace the normalisation of technology by embedding the presence of these devices into our classrooms along with the structure and rigour of our curriculum.

Student using iPad
‘The advent of more student brought devices prevailing in class permits a greater range of engagement in student learning’

As curricula, networks, teachers and students all begin to embrace new ways of working in the classroom, we see the burgeoning of Gladwell’s second agents of change: connectors. From a technology viewpoint, these are the people who recognise which apps would be good for a task and can transform learning opportunities with their fundamental understanding of technology usage. Teachers do this through facilitation, innovative practice and embedding technology into daily routines; networks do this by being adaptive and open; students do this through sharing of ideas, role-modelling and dispersing their knowledge and expertise with applications.

When walking around the campus, it is impossible not to see students engaged in the use of technology, from the library to the lunch table. Increasingly, the vast majority of devices being brought to School have the ability to be turned on instantly and a battery life which lasts longer than the traditional school day. Whether a slate-type device like the Windows Surface (ThinkPad, iPad, et cetera.) or a laptop/tablet-like device with solid state hard drives (SSD), they provide an immediate, active environment for learning, irrespective of where they are.

What makes portable devices so powerful are applications. No matter whether they are made or supported by Google, Microsoft, Apple or any other developer, apps offer a plethora of free or inexpensive learning tools that promote judicious engagement and assist students to map, reference, graph, record, film, edit, compare, read, take and organise notes, and — perhaps most importantly to them — collaborate. Apps essentially transform these devices into universal and ubiquitous information, education, and entertainment portals (Anderson, 2009). They develop our girls’ ability to integrate technology in a meaningful way, improve digital literacy and foster positive digital citizenship.

Student using a laptop in a classroom
‘Schools will always cater for specialist learning areas however the strength of BYOD is the normalisation of a technological workflow in all learning environments’

While schools will always cater for specialist learning areas, the strength of BYOD is the normalisation of a technological workflow in all learning environments. In core learning areas, BYOD will positively impact learning and assessment items. A class doing a video task will no longer be restricted to a particular piece of prescribed or provided software. Mandating software for a task raises an equity issue, which forces class time to become solely allocated to project work as many students do not have access to the same software at home. However, in a BYOD environment, the focus is on the product. This allows students to appositely choose the software they have at their disposal to complete the task, freeing up classroom time to focus on content and knowledge development. It also builds autonomy by allowing students the flexibility to practice creativity and develop their own learning strategies.

Our School has long resisted the idea of a ‘model’ computing environment which is device specific. The Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution saw the advent of many schools adopting 1:1 laptop programmes; a model which is already being relegated to the history books as antiquated and restrictive. Our goal to be ‘device agnostic’ — using the right device for the right task — is evolving somewhat organically with the natural evolution of technology. Our communities are the advocates of change needed to complete Gladwell’s three predictors of a tipping point. Parents, friends, teachers and students all have a crucial role in how learning must evolve (McHaney, 2011). The environment is ready for students to bring their devices into classrooms and make school a richer learning environment. And when they take them back home and use them
at the kitchen table, they will be a step closer to becoming life-wide learners.

References

Anderson, T. (2009). Foreword. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile learning: Transforming the delivery of education and training. Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Gladwell, M. (2001). The tipping point. UK: Time Warner Books.

McHaney, R. (2011). The new digital shoreline: How web 2.0 and millennials are revolutionizing higher education. Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Ngak, C. (2013, March 7). As SXWS Interactive winds down, Grumpy cat is clear winner. CBS News. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57573676/as-sxsw-interactive-winds-down-grumpy-cat-is-clear-winner/

 

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