How we embrace edtech progression at St Anthony School, Ottawa

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is ​a retired educator in Ottawa area. He has a keen interest in promoting technology as a ...

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Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood. You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital programme without a really good implementation program. Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person. If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.

Here’s what I suggest schools should do about it.

Implementation is a long game. To successfully introduce such a programme, you need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers. If we use the SAMR Model as a measuring stick, I think that most teachers are still at the Substitution level. At this stage, with all the technology available, we should at least be working at Modification – ‘Tech allows for significant redesign’ for at least part of the day. My main theory for why this isn’t happening is mainly because teachers do not have sufficient time during the day to explore the tools already out there that would allow them to transform their use of technology.

 

Here in Canada, teachers spend an average of 800 hours in the classroom per year. In contrast, Japanese teachers spend 600 hours in the classroom (Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators). The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education suggests that teachers need at least 10 days a year be set aside for in-school teacher training supported by coaches and mentors. In “You need a multi-year plan for professional development and support for your teachers.”Sweden, teachers are allocated 15 days or 6% of a teacher’s total working time to professional development (How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, August 2010).

Timely, well-supported PD might help us to move towards Modification and eventually, Redefinition.

As part of this process, it is really important for staff to have access to excellent digital training resources. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning. I consider this a great investment. You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs. They need sources of curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers. Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, it’s works really well.

Discovery Education, especially in the United States and Great Britain, is also providing excellent online and person-to-person PD. The personal touch, in my opinion, is really important. Discovery spends a significant amount of time encouraging teachers to meet and share ideas. They also feature innovative teachers on their blogs through the DEN - Discovery Educators Network. The element of ‘teacher voice’ is a very important aspect of their approach to professional development.

Discovery Education puts a great emphasis on connecting with other educators


Pockets of innovation certainly do exist, but to me, the implementation of digital technology has been painfully slow. We seem to still be willing to invest in text and print resources rather than make the leap to digital texts and resources that allow for greater innovation and creativity.

In our school - St Anthony School, Ottawa - we are actually seeing a reversal of our 1:1 efforts. It is really hard to do 1:1 without support from the district, and we are not receiving enough support. It is important to purchase more Chromebooks to replace the ones that inevitably break down. Currently, we have two left in reserve. When we run out, students will not be able to keep the connection between “The personal touch, in my opinion, is really important.”home and school which has been so important. We have not received any machines this year and our district actually has gone with a more expensive chromebook making it impossible for us to purchase our own.

A vital 1:1 programme requires investment at the district level. It simply is not practical for individual schools to sustain a learning environment where every student has access to a computer. To have a vital 1:1 programme, you also have to have excellent digital content. This year we had to purchase our own licenses for Mathletics, and the future of our relationship with Discovery Education is in doubt.

Beyond that, we have not been able to focus clearly on developing teacher expertise in digital technology. Eric Patnoudes has produced a great video on the need to develop teacher capacity with digital technology:

YouTube link


I totally agree with his philosophy. Having the technology is not enough: you really need to give teachers the tools and the training to really transform teaching.

The tools are certainly out there, but the the vision is often lacking. 1:1 requires a significant financial commitment, and we need to move in a more deliberate fashion towards the adoption of these tools at a much more meaningful level. Time, resources, vision, commitment - all of these are necessary for us to continue moving towards a more advanced learning environment.

How do you handle edtech evolution? Let us know below.

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