USA Tour – Day 5 – Inglewood Junior High Visit

During Day 5 we also had a chance to venture over to a school named Inglewood. Over the past two years Inglewood has begun a journey of innovation with the introduction of a district supplied netbook in year 9 and year 7. The first year group in 2010 – 2011 (the academic year in the USA) to have the one to one netbooks were the year nine students. The specifics of this implementation related to:

–       All students were issued a netbook with the understanding that it was going to be used over the next three years (so they need to take care of it)

–       The main focus for use was in the core learning areas in the initial implementation

–       They were administrators of the machine and needed to maintain the device

The year 7 Program in 2011-2012 focused as a one to one device with it being taken home. The autonomy over this program was higher for students. Important in this process was that the implementation was detailed over three years, first a pilot followed by two larger implementations. I will attach a PDF document later that shows the specific details of their planning.

From a district level the school was provided with a new high-speed Cisco wireless system to allow for fast connectivity. The network was completely open and only filters on explicit content were applied. In discussion with the group the principal Tim Patterson, talked about the filtering and how it was somewhat hard to influence the websites being blocked but noted that they had just implemented a newer solution and this was still being setup. It was clearly evident that like most schools, the disconnect between what the district office saw as being educational uses of ICT and what the school interpreted were different… not unlike our system back home before 2012.

I would like to observe here yet again the sheer willingness of Internet access without authentication. It really is apparent that in both the USA and Canada they have stepped away from the interent being a tool to the interent being just something that exsist in society… it has no more or less privileges than anything else with no more or less restritions. I would note at Inglewood the filter was a very strict with facebook, twitter, afl.com.au (trevor checked..) and many others being blocked.

We also had the chance to hear from students in both years 7 and 9. Again I am always humbled by the ability of students to engage with devices that extend both their learning and their engagement in eduction. After hearing and seeing this in both Australia, Canada and the USA I also think that we underestimate the ability of ICT to provide more than an education.It also allows these young adults to grow into something more than what they were.

Exploring this futher, over the past few years I have begun to notice that ICT is often a undertualised tool to solve social difficulties students have. I would even go so far as to say it is a tool that its not just about helping students but extending the possibilities of our high ability students to be more creative. I had worked with and have seen where students, that many teachers have determined to be poorly behaved; not well spoken and rude, be the best advocates for a school when presenting to others. It is hard to put into words but I think what I am trying to say is that, as schools we need to put students in front of real world audiences. At Inglewood the students, as ambassadors to us, showed us their engagement, their passion and their appreciation for getting the opportunity to be part of this program.

Now remember students in Seattle have Microsoft in their back yard and Inglewood has a high-income bracket cohort. Over 60% of the students going to Inglewood had a parent working at Microsoft which then only highlights the disconnect previously between school and home life. I asked the question of why not BYOD for this group then? The answer.. was actually one of the best I have heard… perhaps not something I entirely agree with but in the beginning of a program I understand the issues. The simple truth was that if they allowed students to bring in any device then their students would bring in devices that ranged from $400 to upwards of $5000. The school was very cautious about not causing social issues by creating a technology arms race.

Inglewood had three important factors as I see it in what I would call a successful implementation.

Leadership

Tim was as passionate about the program as any person I have met. In presenting to us, he was directing the conversation and being fully involved in the working of the program. He had very clear visions for his staff and utter support given to his key personnel. On top of this the school had done critical research into the use of netbooks in special needs which earned the two teachers, teacher of the year awards for the school district.

It is my firm philosophy that the difference between a job and a career is the person you work for. It was very clear that the staff and the students had a great appreciation for their principal and the opportunities that he had fought to secure for them.

Information Services

A growing trend I have noticed in the USA and Canada has been a strategic difference in the way that libraries are used. In nearly every school the librarian has been key to the success of the programs. They have been involved form the start and all services towards ICT were directed from this location. I think this is because schools have not had the money to spend on other expertise and more importantly they still hold the library in high regard. Librarians too have taken on the role and been trained specifically to allow for continued development of both traditional and contemporary learning goals.

This comes to the core of my belief, and indeed my strategic direction to move into a library role. It is not feasible in the future to operate both extensive library services and ICT services separately. Sure some services will always be separate but if the goal is learning and the support of that learning then by keeping the two departments separate, the ICT department has no qualification to direct or help in this area. Libraries are run by teachers and staff that deal with students on a day to day bases. It makes sense, like in the USA and Canada, that these places be the areas which INFORAMTION is sought through TECHNOLOGY and then evaluated, curated and COMMUNICATED to an authentic audience.

Personal Investment

The final area is that of personal investment. In the both the USA and Canada it has been extremely evident that the people we have met have a personal drive and investment to improve the quality of education being delivered. Not all have been IT savvy individuals but many have worked to better themselves through their own professional development and that which is provided. Many districts have started to recognise this and provide structured professional development that allows targeted outcomes to be reached from a systemic level.

Finally, more and more we have started to see that there is a real lack of flexible resources to deal with the specifics of a management system for learning in schools. In three districts now we have heard that having something in place that allows for a backbone of digital work being accessed and submitted is something everyone is looking for. The key here is that is has to be flexible enough to pull content from other sources. It is not to be the best at video, text, blogging, Facebook etc… to do this would be very difficult and expensive… but harness these into a ‘portal’ that allows connections.

I really enjoyed going to Inglewood and I commend the work of their staff. It is very humbling to hear from students and teachers with a passion that I know gets lost often in the day-to-day grind. In Australia I think also we must remember how blessed we are in what we have and the autonomy of our schools in some regards.

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