The yellow brick ICT road

November 2011

 

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ALLANAH KING describes how ICT became an integral part of her teaching practices and her life.

 

The cursor blinks at me as I sit here reflecting on my journey as a teacher over the last decade. How much things have changed and how they continue to evolve. I have moved from private to public, from closed to open, from narrow focused to expansive.

I didn’t know many people outside my own circle of colleagues, family and friends. I didn’t realise that I knew stuff that other people would want to know about.

I have been teaching pretty much exclusively in small, rural-ish primary schools at the bottom of the North Island and top of the South Island for all of my teaching career. I have always worked hard at being the best teacher that I can be and have struggled at times as new waves of ‘best practice’ have come and gone. Professional development for me has come from one-day courses and my own reading.

In 2005, we started on a journey that was set to change my teaching practice and open my classroom and my teaching reflections to the world. My small rural school near Nelson joined the Waimea-South ICTPD cluster. I thought it was just the right time to join a cluster. Earlier clusters had focused on in-computer applications and how to do great presentations with desktop publishing. The mass use of the internet was newish and we got TELA laptops.

I had won a 12-inch iBook laptop from Kerre Woodham’s show on Newstalk ZB and I set about personalising it and following all of the menu trails to see where they led me. Like a child, I was no longer afraid pushing buttons on my computer. I realised that I couldn’t damage it by clicking on stuff to see what happened. By the time I got my TELA laptop I knew how to tinker with it and make it behave like I wanted it to, because I was now familiar with its workings.

The principal and I went on a LMS/SMS seminar and heard about blogging for the first time. I learned that through blogging, ordinary folk like me could put words and photos on the internet. That concept captured my imagination – learning management systems and school management systems didn’t!

I taught myself to blog and extended that process to blogging with the children in my class. We started a class blog towards the end of that year. We made some progress and were rewarded with some regular viewers and comments. Some of that audience was in the classroom next door and some were on the other side of the world. I felt encouraged to continue.

A friendly teacher from South Wales,
Paul Harrington, helped me learn to podcast and we often skyped each other to share our learning and practice with each other’s classes. I later visited that class in Wales and was heartened to know who the children were, because I recognised their voices. It was a bit like what many New Zealand teachers do now: meet up at ICTPD conferences like ULearn and Learning at School. There is much jubilation, hugging and sharing of experiences – friendships aren’t being started as though we’ve just met. We already know each other.

Word got round that we knew how to blog, and I was asked to present a blogging workshop one afternoon at a local school. I agreed and went home and spent ages preparing what I was going to say, sprucing up our blog and delving more deeply into blogging so I would know more about it in case someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to. Teaching is the best way of learning for yourself. By doing this I felt I really knew what I was doing and could share my new learning with others. I was very nervous, but found I actually enjoyed the experience.

In 2007, with a little encouragement, I started a grown-up educational blog. I blogged about the things that I had learned along the way, reflected on how far we had come, what did and didn’t work and generally shared the learning in the classroom.

I was modelling to my students the sort of learners that I wanted them to be: confident, creative, connected and actively involved. I found that I was no longer a consumer of media but a creator of it.

I was always mindful that what I wrote reflected on myself and my school. Later, when Twitter came along I embraced it as well, as a way to form relationships with others and make connections. What is more important than anything are relationships with people. People say that Twitter is just a place where people can share, via a tweet, what they had for breakfast. And yes, sometimes they do that, but it’s those personal conversations, shared globally, that give you a mirror into the personality of the person tweeting. Having a sense of humour is important. Being willing to share is crucial. That’s what it’s all about. Sharing our practice and learning from one another. No one knows everything and every day I am learning new things from my colleagues online and in schools.

In 2008, I applied for a one-year position as ICT facilitator for the 13 schools in the Tasman ICTPD cluster. This was a turning point in my career as, after all these years of teaching, I got the opportunity to step out of the classroom and see what other people were doing. I was in awe and disbelief at the range of ICT hardware and capabilities of people that I was charged to help with their ICT needs. Some were overjoyed when I helped them add photos to an email, animate a PowerPoint slide or create a blog for the first time. Others were confidently connecting with others via the internet.

In 2010, I again had the opportunity to be part of a cluster. This time a regional one, with 32 schools spread geographically across the Nelson plains. This model of delivering ICTPD is, I hope, more sustainable, with lead teachers being supported to work with their staff instead of my going into classes and actually teaching classes. Lead teachers are supported in developing capability within their schools. We are fortunate to have vision and leadership from Charles Newton, our cluster consultant, to make sure that as many of us as are able, have access to ultra-fast broadband in our schools. Our cluster is humming along.

We are looking to sharing our resources and our learning with a number of teachers actively reflecting, by publishing online with blogging. This is a valuable step, as these teachers are also modelling. We are encouraged to regularly check our RSS feeds and keep up with what is going on in other classrooms.

The Virtual Learning Network is now proving to be a valuable place for teachers to come together to discuss and share their learning. Anyone can join and add to the discussion. We have our heads in the cloud and are well placed to surge forward to learn to use the power of the internet. Teachers are developing a personal learning network of educators who can regularly contact one another to support and learn from one another via lead teacher meetings, blogging, RSS and Skype.

Over the last year, mobile technology and cloud computing has taken off, with an increasing number of schools ready and looking to take advantage of the new technologies. Google Apps are proving to be valuable tools for collaboration and communication. I know that using Google Docs has meant that I spend less time on administrative tasks in my current job and children quickly grasp how to use the apps for their learning and often use them for work and play at school and at home.

Schools are making important decisions about how mobile technology fits with their school vision. Tablets, iPod Touches and iPads are going to make more and more of an impact on the way children learn because of their cost, portability and ability to personalise learning. I didn’t realise the power of these devices until I actually had one of my own and now some sort of internet-enabled device is always nearby to refer to.

The use of ICT and the internet has allowed us to work together in new ways and to collaborate in a way never possible before. It is a bright new world and I commend teachers to make the most of the opportunities it provides.

 

Allanah King is a part-time regional ICT facilitator working four days a week for the Link Learning ICTPD cluster based at Richmond Primary in Nelson. She teaches a mixture of classes at Appleby Primary School. She is a newly-fledged Apple Distinguished Educator and enjoys incorporating innovative technology into her classroom practice and sharing her learning with others.

 

Websites referred to in this article:

Classroom blog:
moturoa.blogspot.co.nz

Educational blog:
http://allanahk.edublogs.org

Virtual Learning Network:
www.vln.school.nz