Bringing parents into the digital age
In the early eighties, my primary school had about five computers, producing screens of green or orange text. They cost about $5000 each and although they were in a heavily…
In the early eighties, my primary school had about five computers, producing screens of green or orange text. They cost about $5000 each and although they were in a heavily fortified room, they were probably too heavy to steal anyway. I got to use them occasionally for typing up stories I had written, and then saved my work on a large square floppy disk.
At around that time, I would often cycle to my Grandma’s house and listen to tales from her childhood while I worked my way through her poorly-hidden lolly jar. She told me stories about her father delivering coal around Wellington in a horse-drawn cart and about getting smacked with a ruler at school for writing left handed. I recall thinking, “Wow, the world is not going to change again so dramatically by the time I have grandchildren. I won’t have any ‘olden days’ stories.” Yes, we can all laugh now.
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I can now see the value of technology in the classroom – if it’s redefining what’s possible rather than just substituting technology as a tool.
Never mind the grandchildren – my own kids can’t comprehend a world without the internet (when I got my first work email address in 1997, there was hardly anyone to whom I could send a message). They don’t even remember a world without iPads and smartphones. My four-year-old can open my laptop and pull up her favourite show on Netflix in the time it takes me to find the TV remote.
And then there’s school. My Year 5 son prepares power point presentations at home and emails them to his teacher. My Year 1 son likes to get to school early so he can play learning games on the iPads, and his teacher posts class blogs online with videos of everything from the cross country to the class photo shoot.
This seems ample to someone who can work her way around Microsoft Office (mainly Word) and dabbles in social media (I’m even going to upload this blog all by myself!), but the school is keen to roll out ICT even more. I suspect many schools want to do more, but we Generation X parents are a bit wary.
Late last year the school sent out a BYO device survey, to see whether parents were keen on the idea. We weren’t really. The main concerns reported were around safety and security of the devices, followed closely by appropriate use of the devices and equity/cost issues.
Most of us just couldn’t see the value in a BYOD policy. Our school of more than 400 students already has almost one iPad or Chromebook for every five children, and it’s a constant battle to keep kids away from various screens when they are at home. We want to see our kids writing with pencils, reading actual books, having tactile experiences and running around outside as much as possible. So we said thanks, but no thanks.
But the school’s techie teachers were not to be put off. This term they put on an ICT information evening, so I attended, along with about 50 others.
The teachers in the ICT team talked animatedly about the innovative things they were doing in their classrooms. They explained the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition), designed to help teachers infuse technology into teaching and learning. They explained the difference between substituting technology as a tool (eg printing out a worksheet from a computer) through to Redefinition, in which technology allows for the creation of new tasks that were previously inconceivable (eg. small groups collaborating to make a video). They talked about the right tool for the right task and assured us that devices would not be taking over the classroom, especially in the junior school.
Then they brought out the big guns – teachers from a nearby school who had stood in front of a similarly sceptical group of parents just a few years ago. Their school has had a BYOD policy for two years now and they say the parents would kick up a stink now if it was reversed. In two years there have been just two computer casualties (heart breaking though it was for those two students) and their students have learned to use the internet safely, responsibly and independently. Most significantly for us parents, our nearby high school has been delighted with the Year 9s coming in from our neighbouring school. They are significantly more prepared for independent ICT learning, already know the high school’s operating system and can use it responsibly.
By the end of the meeting, I was feeling equal parts inspired and demoralised. I am a dinosaur, that much is clear. The world is changing faster than I can update my phone (hardly surprising, as I have a nine-year-old Blackberry that I refuse to surrender). However, one thing has shifted. I can now see the value of technology in the classroom – if it’s redefining what’s possible rather than just substituting technology as a tool.
The only real question in my mind is whether all teachers are as ready for this new age as the tech whizzes on the ICT team. Ongoing professional development is going to be essential, and the majority of parents are also still to be convinced.
Next year, the school will trial one or two senior classes with a BYOD policy and has asked for expressions of interest from parents who would like their child to be in such a class. My son thinks it would be awesome and a no-brainer to be involved. I’m inclined to agree.