Making a digital difference in education

October 2014

 

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FRANCES VALINTINE says ‘eureka’ moments and shrieks of delight are common at The Mind Lab by Unitec as teachers embrace digital and collaborative learning.

mind lab

It is a very committed teacher who gives their own time to enhance their teaching practice, but at The Mind Lab by Unitec, every week, 100 such teachers head to Newmarket to participate in a four-hour workshop as part of their postgraduate certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning.

These dedicated teachers are not necessarily digitally skilled or even technically confident, but the common factor between them is their knowledge that their role as a 21st century teacher has changed significantly since the day they left teacher’s college.

While at The Mind Lab, these teachers are surrounded by the technology that is so second nature to their students, the focus is more about facilitating active learning and collaboration in their classrooms where devices and software are merely contemporary tools of engagement and communication.

The teachers in the group represent the full cross-section of the school community, from private primary schools to decile 1 schools, to large 3000-student colleges to 70-student rural schools. At face value, the groups’ diversity could be assumed to have little commonality in their education world but it is a hive of activity. The discussion and the elevated noise levels suggest there is a lot of talking going on – very active talking.

Each week, these teachers cross the city from their schools to attend one of four weekly sessions. There is no rigidity around which of the four sessions the teacher attends as they are open to pick and mix which workshop week by week based upon their availability. Now in late September, the teachers are ten weeks into their course and as the students arrive onsite they greet each other as long lost friends.

Each weekly session starts with learning a new digital skill or capability. This might be stopmotion animation, augmented reality, 3D modelling, or design thinking for creativity in the classroom. There are high levels of sharing knowledge and shrieks of delight as new tools are navigated and conquered.

The last three hours of each workshop is spent exploring new ways to engage students through new approaches to learning. Here teamwork and collaboration between the teachers is commonplace as they discover teaching practices such as flipped learning, integrated online discussions, agile methodologies or project based learning. Much of the discussion is based around global best practice examples and robust debate about challenges that teachers can expect to face as new learning processes are applied.

‘Eureka’ moments are often shared during these face-to-face sessions as teachers talk through the process of ‘letting go’ dated teaching approaches and the adoption of new methodologies that capture the hearts and imaginations of their students. Here in these discussions, the positive effect of meaningful student engagement is core to conversation and to the evidence and research used to inform these new practices.

To provide the teachers with a robust 24-hour resource, a purpose-built online teacher portal was developed providing a video library of resources, interviews, and teacher uploaded videos that are shared with all to showcase the implementation of new approaches. This portal is like YouTube for the teachers as it provides them with the ability to look inside a wide range of classrooms, school environments and to see varying education approaches from across the Auckland region.

The teachers are now ten weeks into their 32-week part-time course, and in six weeks, the teachers will move from the blended programme to complete the last 16 weeks online from the comfort of their classrooms. Just as these 100 teachers transition to the fully online mode of delivery a further 150 teachers will commence their studies at The Mind Lab in the November intake of the course.

By the end of 2015 the number of teachers commencing their studies on the postgraduate programme will grow to over 1000 and class by class, teacher by teacher, the community of New Zealand educators will be empowered, motivated and excited by a new sense of possibility for their students.


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