It’s not about the technology!
Since September 2013, parents, students and teachers have been working collaboratively to help craft our new Strategic Plan that will guide the educational direction of the school over the next 5 years. Essentially, we are planning how we will prepare our children with all the skills, concepts, values, and attitudes that prepare them for their fast changing future, while continually improving the excellent standards at The British International School of Houston.
As part of that ethos, we have been developing some very exciting collaborations with world-leading organisations designed to enhance learning for our students.
Of course, one important factor in that discussion is the use of technology in the learning process and the impact it has on our students’ lives, now and in their future. Earlier this month, Apple invited us to work with them in Cupertino, CA on our future learning environments.
As we implement our Strategic Plan, we are very cognisant of the fact that recent understanding of educational pedagogy and how the brain actually functions is greater now than ever. In addition, our world has changed significantly over the past decade and it will continue to do so at an exponential rate. As such, schools have a duty to question how they best prepare students for success and to challenge the educational status quo at a very fundamental level.
We believe that the use of modern technology is vital at the British International School of Houston. However, we must remember that its most important role is as a tool that allows us to improve pedagogy. Without this understanding, technology is too often used simply to replace things in a traditional classroom. At school, we are encouraging our staff to think at a more fundamental level so that, along with great teachers, technology can be used to enhance and transform learning.
One example of an area that works well is the ‘flipped classroom’. Traditional lectures and ‘information giving’ can be ‘flipped’ so that it is done at home. This frees up more time in the classroom for more direct feedback, collaborative work and activities that engage students in higher order thinking.
Over the remainder of this academic year, we will be piloting several one-to-one iPad programmes in school. Our teachers have already been provided with devices and, we have purchased several class-sets of iPads, Apple TVs and projectors. In the next phase of this roll-out, we will convert two existing spaces in the current building to mirror the new learning environments at the new facility. This will give our teachers the opportunity to work in these new spaces. The feedback from these pilots will help shape a one-to-one programme for the whole school. We will keep our parents fully informed as this is developed.
As we go through this transformation, we are very aware that the most valuable and worthwhile investment is in professional development and coaching for the teachers. There has already been a clear focus on modern, collaborative and inquiry-based learning environments in our professional learning this year. In the coming months, Apple will be working directly with our teachers. We have also held workshops for parents, with more planned.
Of course, as we roll out our plan, we have a duty to monitor the success and gather data to help us to adapt future developments accordingly. We will continue to collect this important benchmark data, which will include quantitative information such as SAT, IGCSE and IB results along with more qualitative information such as classroom motivation, homework and student engagement.
At the end of the day, we are clear that technology needs to be used appropriately and powerfully. In fact, as we think about technology in classrooms, it doesn’t matter what colour the board at the front of the room is; it doesn’t even matter if it’s interactive or not. If it sits at the front of the room and it is still used to project information, then we have changed very little. Instead, our students will be encouraged and guided to collaborate, through a combination of iPads, Apple TVs and ‘wall-talkers’ (collaborative learning wall for students).
We understand that this can be quite scary for teachers and parents alike; we often feel most comfortable when we recognise schools from when we were at school ourselves. I would argue just the opposite; if you can recognise learning from your own experiences, there is something seriously wrong. You would never want to have major surgery in exactly the same way it was performed 20 years ago, so why should we accept that for the education of our children.
As Marc Prensky points out, we must remember that our children are digital natives while we, for the most part, are digital immigrants.
Our teachers are already examining their own practices and discovering new ways to fully prepare their students with the skills they will need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have a duty to prepare students for the reality of today’s world and beyond. To settle for anything less would be letting students down.
The bottom line is that if technology is not used as a tool to enhance and transform learning, in and out of the classroom, an iPad is nothing more than a $500 pencil!
So, it’s not about the technology, its about enhancing and transforming learning to be as powerful and personalised for students as possible. Technology is a tool that helps us do that.
Andrew Derry, Principal