I was part of a staff meeting at my school this week on the topic of 21st century learning. One of our leading teachers spoke to us about a PD she had attended which talked about the move from traditional learning to student centred learning. We were given a handout highlighting the differences between the two states of learning although I see it as more of a continuum. While few of us would consider our style of teaching to be firmly ‘traditional’, a number of constraints work against us to adopt a truly student-centred approach and thus we end up being somewhere in the middle. The pressure for students to achieve high scores on NAPLAN weighs heavily on most classroom teachers’ minds and makes it difficult to allow the freedom needed to let students explore according to their own interests in diverse areas. The large class sizes that most classrooms are subject to also make individualising learning challenging.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. While there certainly are obstacles to be overcome, we are not restricted to the ‘traditional learning’ end. As part of this staff meeting, I also presented information recently gained from Release 2 Ultranet training. Release 2 focuses on learning tasks and the ability for teachers to create tasks online for students to complete, then being able to comment on and assess them. Parents can then access their student’s information to have a ‘real time’ reference as to how they are progressing. Putting aside the multitude of technical glitches and a clunky interface (which is a blog post in itself!), this functionality can be used to provide more individualised learning. Some teachers have already been doing this for years, using learning management software such as Moodle however the Ultranet makes it mainstream and will push all teachers towards this more student-centred approach. Obviously technology does not change poor teaching by magic into great teaching but the tools are there and accessible to all – let’s hope teachers take advantage of them to deliver the type of learning our students need and deserve.
Becoming an ICT specialist has been an interesting and very fulfilling journey, although not without its own brand of frustrations. Probably the biggest stumbling block I found when leaving my role as a classroom teacher and moving schools to take up this job was the isolation. They’re definitely a friendly bunch at my new school and there is always someone around to direct my silly questions to but being the only ICT teacher can be a lonely business. Luckily for me, a week before starting this job, I attended ACEC 2010 and took the first steps towards developing a PLN.
The idea of a Personal Learning Network isn’t new – networking and sharing ideas is something teachers have been doing forever. However technology takes the concept a huge leap forward, reducing time and geographical constraints. An example of this recently was my first steps onto the Ultranet. This has certainly been an isolating topic at my school. Classroom teachers, already weighed down with a long list of other priorities, don’t have time to play and discover the benefits of this new learning environment and, at the moment, just see it as one more thing on their long list of ‘things’. Knowing it is up to me and the other lead users to sell the benefits isn’t easy as, to be honest, I wasn’t necessarily seeing the upside myself. I forced myself to go on and play, in preparation for my Grade 5/6 students coming on board. Enter the PLN. I didn’t know how to do something and tweeted to this effect, receiving replies explaining exactly what to do from several people and links to different samples of Ultranet spaces to further inspire me. All of a sudden, I’m not feeling so alone. I might be the only ICT teacher at my school but I’m not the only on in the state, the country or the world and I really appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and make connections with others interested in similar topics to me.
So, thanks 🙂
Yesterday I attended my first Ultranet training session and had a fabulous opportunity to ‘play’. I’m excited about the fact that all teachers, all schools and all students will be moved along the technology continuum. Previously there has been a big gap between schools conducting innovative programs and those who lacked the skills/equipment/ambition to do so. There will still be gaps but the Ultranet will force many schools to incorporate technology and, hopefully, give them the resources to do it well. Obviously, like any new piece of technology, there are bits which I’m not so happy with but look forward to seeing how it will evolve.