eLearning Coordinator. That’s my job title.. after “teacher” of course. My job description is fairly detailed, about 30 dot points in total for the role not including those listed for all teaching staff in their daily duties. Having a person with this title at a school suggests that the school is investing in eLearning – ICT – digital innovation – technology – whatever you want to call it. And this is true. It was the first time my school had had a person in such a role and I am very grateful they gave me the opportunity to be the first to give it a good crack.
Before I launch into a little philosophical rant as I so often do (sorry) I thought I might describe a few of the changes that my school has gone through in the last year. This is not only my doing – for nothing at a school is every thanks to the effort of just one person – but the combined effort of our unfailing IT team, our supportive executive, my wonderful teacher colleagues and support staff, as well as – always – our students.
The last year has seen us launch head first into several projects relating to the digital world:
- Digital textbooks for several year groups in several subject areas is, I feel, a good step along the SAMR model towards redefining the resources we curate for our students.
- iPads (BYO) for Year 7, with excellent Mobile Device Management apps AbsoluteApp and AbsoluteSafe have allowed us to have students bring their own device, but benefit from school software/apps and settings so they have easy access to the wifi and their email (amongst many other things).
- Launching a BYOD program for our students after an appropriate consultation period has resulted in a small wave of change to student-owned devices which are still supported by out IT team in terms of connectivity and basic advice on appropriate use and maintenance.
- Adopting and implementing a School Management System – iWise Professional – to house all our school administration data has been a godsend for many teachers sick of having to go through the Front Office for basic information such as student location or timetables. Being able to use the system on any device – yes even smartphones – has shaken loose the chains of branding that kept some teachers lashed to their desk (although their ultra-thin Acer M5 laptops are still pretty schmick – and even have a DVD drive!!).
- Teachers are now able to create blogs, wikis or other spaces with their students (such as Edmodo) to keep the learning going regardless of timetable changes, interruptions or absences.
A lot of that stuff isn’t actually eLearning at all. Most of it is to do with stabilising and growing the infrastructure. However, I’d like to argue that this is an essential part of eLearning, like prehistory is to history – without the deep historical layers to build up capacity and trust, the more innovative classroom practices will fail.
For someone in my position, it’s thrilling to be able to be a part of – and lead in some cases – the projects above and others not listed. But what, exactly, should we be aiming for? Should we mandate particular apps or specific tools so that teachers are on a level playing field? Should we adopt school-wide practices and processes so that students have the same experience in every class? To be honest, I’m torn.
On the one hand, having school-wide products and processes do give a sense of consistency about how we do things. It shows parents and other stakeholders that the school has a strategy and a vision. It shows that we can make decisions, engage students in communal experiences and offer teachers appropriate PD to service these.
On the other hand, it can restrict the innate creativity and diversity that the school has in abundance. Walk through any staff room and you will see desks piled high with different resources, and laptops filled with worksheets, presentations and potential experiences of all pedagogical stripes. Walk past classrooms with an interested ear and you will head teachers explaining, students questioning. You will see teachers hunched over a difficult problem with their students, and others pointing out key parts of readings or – in my case this week – trying not to sing along to Les Miserables. No educational leader worth their salt would seek to walk in to those classrooms and tell the teacher to change their approach to be more consistent with the teacher in the next room.
So what, then, does an eLearning Coordinator do? Am I to coordinate all tools, processes and experiences to be consistent? Some would like me to. Am I do blast ideas constantly at my colleagues and hope some stick? Or should I find a happy medium where, as a school, we provide some base load of eLearning consistency whilst promoting a culture of professional choice and pedagogical experimentation?
If I am to offer some advice to teachers, some hint at a vision of what teaching and learning can look like with the help of technology.. I would say this: that every educator who wishes to help their students be prepared for this globalised, rapidly changing, diverse and exciting world MUST:
a) be professionally engaged to the point where they are aware of new methods, tools and trends that may be of benefit to their students’ learning;
b) provide a digital environment suitable to the needs and desires of the school community (and one that students can engage in learning beyond their lessons)
c) implement engaging and valuable teaching and learning strategies as much as humanly possible
Two of these ideas may not, in fact, need technology all the time. And I suppose that’s my point. Though I might be the eLearning Coordinator, the main purpose of my existence is to enhance teaching and learning – not technology. Anyone in my position who thinks the opposite isn’t getting the point. People need to be empowered to live and learn better by using technology in creative and positive ways. There’s a reason that “teach” and “learn” are verbs, and “technology” is not. WE do the doing. We, when it comes down to it, are the most important hardware and software in the room.