Integrating digital technology - One school’s great GAFE journey

April 2015


CRAIG McDONALD and BEC POWER share how the integration of digital technology is supporting their school’s transition to modern learning environments and is helping to enhance and redefine learning.

Since Tahatai Coast School was established in 1997, it has been a leader in using digital technology innovatively for learning. The integration of ICT has been central to the ethos of the school and at the forefront of classroom practice. However, if you were to compare the school now with how it was in its earliest days, you would find it vastly different, though the ‘song remains the same’ and the ethos of digital integration and innovation is strong. The school vision of ‘Learning Today for Tomorrow’s World’ is integral to decision making, and we believe Hapara [Teacher Dashboard] to be a useful tool not only to help us adopt a streamlined pathway forward as a group of learners together, but also to act as our kete of digital artefacts and help learners to meaningfully collaborate in real time.

Introducing GAFE

The move into using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has been a key component of our recent evolution, although this is just one aspect of the school’s shift away from traditional, single cell classrooms towards a modern learning environment.

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Between 2010 and 2012, Tahatai Coast School underwent a massive rebuilding project due to many buildings being leaky. Despite the chaos at the time, it created an opportunity (architecturally) to modernise our learning spaces into modern, fluid, creative, innovative, relationship and communitycentred spaces.

Whānau/syndicates are now encouraged to teach and plan collaboratively, and Google Apps really enables this to be done creatively and efficiently. In fact, it is difficult to imagine being able to take this approach to teaching without the built-in collaborative opportunities that GAFE provides.

One of the biggest changes in practice has been in the way devices are used in relation to the user. Until quite recently, the model has tended to be one of a child (or small group of children) engaging with an isolated device. There were plenty of opportunities for creativity, yet its use was relatively stand-alone. An exciting development over the past 12 months in particular, has been a shift towards using digital devices as networked tools, and as networked tools enabling the networking of the users, both within and beyond the classroom.
The introduction of GAFE was staged incrementally. Our first use of Google Apps was administratively, as leadership, teachers and administrative staff increasingly used Google Docs to share and collaborate on documents. As well as proving a much more efficient system than having multiple copies of documents floating around at varying stages of editing, it also gave staff an opportunity to familiarise themselves with how the different Google Apps work, and to start imagining and investigating how this could be applied in the classroom.

One barrier that stood in the way of introducing Google Apps, for children as well as teachers, was the sheer logistics of how document sharing, viewing and marking would work with a class of 25–30 children.

Hapara – making sense of change

Teachers’ inboxes are busy enough places already without bulk notifications pouring in! As many schools in New Zealand and overseas have discovered, Hapara Dashboard provides an elegant solution to this issue. A number of staff had seen Hapara in action whilst on the Apple Bus Tour, at ULearn and through connections with other teachers on social media.

Hapara enables the teacher to have a bird’s-eye view of each child’s Google Drive, most recently edited documents, and also enables easy sharing of documents with the class, or groups within the class. One thing we did notice was that, when we went to source information on how schools had introduced Hapara and moved to GAFE with students, there were no previous practical examples that we could locate. We undertook to record our journey, so that others could see the practical and pedagogical implications that we purposefully planned, and also what was unplanned – those important roadblocks or celebrations that we may not have foreseen.

We also assigned roles within our e-learning team and created a subset GAFE team. Deputy principal Bec Power led the strategic and pedagogical overview, ably assisted by Nicky Klinkert, the GAFE lead teacher, and Shona Poppe, the technical leader. Craig McDonald was a GAFE pilot teacher, and is now also an e-learning leader. Having clear roles and responsibilities enabled a collaborative team approach to the many tasks to be undertaken, which is also sustainable should any of the leaders move on.

We decided to spend the first term using Hapara initially with two year 6 classes, in order to clearly identify what needed to be in place, what difficulties might arise, and also what kind of activities lent themselves to showing the students how to use Google Drive and what it could do. At the same time, we could share with children some of the built-in features of Hapara that help to create a safe online learning environment. When children see how easily teachers can check their work and revision history, it can make them more conscious of their digital citizenship responsibilities.

Having this term to strategically plan our way forward, while building our own knowledge and capacity in the technical, pedagogical and administrative tasks that GAFE offers (TAP into Google Apps – Tim Gander www.timgander.com), was essential. This allowed the GAFE team to inspire, motivate and, most importantly, model an energetic, practical way forward. This was strategically based on the leadership model of ‘pull’, rather than ‘push’. During this term we also planned how we would introduce and communicate this change to staff, parents, and students. Each launch was collaboratively planned by the group then created and led by Nicky, with presentations, activities and written communication for each group. We planned the launch for the two classes, and what activities they would complete to introduce GAFE/Hapara, and for a letter to be emailed home that week explaining Hapara and inviting parents to an evening meeting. During this time, a similar yet more technically based presentation was delivered to staff, explaining our way forward. We found this worked especially well, as it was fresh and new to the children, and they were able to provide further explanation around the dinner table to their parents.

After a term, this was widened to other classes in the school (year 3 and up) who wanted to opt in. The presentation was again delivered to the wholestaff, with the invitation given to come on board. The financial cost of Hapara was met through the generous contribution of the school PTA. With increased teacher buy-in, there was also a need to provide the professional development opportunities to support this.

In addition to twice-weekly ‘techie brekkies’, and incidental learning and sharing between teachers during the course of the day, we also provided Hapara elective workshops, which were a part of our Tuesday afternoon professional learning and development. As one of our e-learning leaders, Nicky was also released for some time each week to provide in-class support to teachers setting out on the GAFE journey. This allowed teachers to come on board at all different stages over the next two terms. To assist us in this, Nicky developed a flowchart of how teachers could get started, and the process that they would follow in respect to technical, pedagogical and administrative skills and knowledge for the teacher and students. This meant that teachers were able to come on board at any time, and we continued the same model of ‘introduce to class, email parents, run parent meeting’ as the communication model. This allowed teachers to begin at their own pace. Some early adopters launched immediately in term 3, while others spent some weeks attending PLD workshops before having soft launches of some administrative tasks within their classes.

A chance to redefine learning

We realised early on that to keep doing what we were doing without much change would be a big mistake. Along with the use of powerful apps that GAFE and Hapara provide, there is a need to use them well and take the opportunity to do new kinds of learning that were previously not possible.

To help steer thinking in this direction, the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition) model was reintroduced to staff. The SAMR model was developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura as a framework to assess how well technology is being integrated into learning. To achieve the most success, we wanted our GAFE use to aspire beyond mere substitution of existing tasks, increasingly beyond augmentation and from modification into redefinition, doing things with the technology that were not previously possible.
Community buy-in for new initiatives like this is essential. The letter sent home to parents outlined what we were doing and why we considered this was a worthwhile initiative. Even better was to discuss this face to face at parent information evenings. These have grown in size over time, and have become an opportunity for those in the parent community who want to learn more, to do so.

Some of the challenges we experienced with introducing GAFE included making this accessible to children working on iPads. We were often frustrated by the lack of basic features in some of the iOS versions of Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, such as not being able to insert images.

In 2015, the use of Hapara has become even more widespread, with the option given to whole whānau/syndicates to adopt Hapara, rather than single classes. All year 4–8 whānau have opted to use Hapara immediately from the beginning of this year, and although we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what this tool can offer us, we are heading in the right direction, together, as a learning community.

Over the next terms we will continue to utilise our capabilities to inquire into GAFE/Hapara’s best practice, using teacher-led opt-in workshops and teacher
inquiry. From having the idea, to being embraced by teachers across the school, that journey has developed with the encouragement of innovation by the leadership of the school, developed by the enthusiasm of a small group and then embraced as the benefits to teaching and learning became more obviousand evident.

Bec Power hopes to present the Tahatai GAFE/Hapara Odyssey at this year’s ULearn Conference at SKYCITY, where she will unpack the practical details of leading implementation and discuss and demonstrate the tool at a classroom level giving examples of innovative practice.

 


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