What drew you to pursue a career in education?
I was actually a chef before I retrained into education, and throughout my training loved working with others to teach them about cooking, food and nutrition. I had a passion for sharing knowledge and seeing others improve in their skills. The move into education came at a time where I had two choices for my life, and the rest is history. I have been at McCarthy Catholic College now for 18 months, 12 of which I have been leading the IT department as Learning Technology Coordinator.
You’re currently a PhD candidate, tell us about your research and what excites you about it?
The research I am working on questions selected programs, frameworks and practices within Vocational Education and Training. These programs shape the transition (successful or otherwise) of students from VET courses into full-time employment (such as work placement and the implications of teacher training practices). It’s exciting because it has the potential to provide a deeper level of understanding about the effectiveness of such programs on students and their employers, which may in turn inform future policy and program development. It also looks to create a nexus between two philosophical perspectives regarding forms of capital in economics and education. On a more practical level, I hope it makes these programs more applicable for teachers and students, with some implications for employers (of which, under this system, I have been all three).
You’re also an Apple Distinguished Educator, how exactly did you earn this title? How does it influence your approach to tech education?
The Apple Distinguished Educator title I achieved in 2009. The application process asked us to submit a video and range of other documentation on how we use technology, our pedagogical practices and how we integrate the two to create successful student outcomes, which was reviewed by a panel. I have been lucky to attend numerous conferences, events and learning experiences with Apple through the ADE program. There are some amazing educators in this group, many who are much better than me at what we do. I admit I am a bit of an Apple fanboy, and although I am pragmatic enough to know all technologies have benefits in certain areas, I do use Apple products primarily. I find they are the best for our students and just tend to work. The ADE program has provided learning experiences in Challenge Based Learning, programming (software), access to resources and more. Each of these has influenced the way I teach. I always seek new, interesting and innovative technologies to integrate into my teaching and learning practices – probably to the point of saturation, at times!
As a lead teacher in learning technology at MCC, what does your role involve?
My current role has two main facets. The first is technology integration, where I try to improve the technological practices of teachers in their day-to-day. Simplification is a major part of this (minimising the number of different technologies being used), as is training, writing tutorials, assisting staff in classrooms and running workshops for students. The second is to lead a team of three in the library, two of which are Systems Administration employees, looking after network systems and ensuring the infrastructure is future-ready (or just working, some days!).
How has your school embraced the technology age?
The uptake of technology is generally slow, though I am a very progressive person, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge! Things get better all the time, though, and as they get more confident in one area, they gladly move on to the next. Moving away from old technologies has had a major part to play in this; they are starting to see the benefits of simplification, as it removes much of the double handling and complexities.
What ITC initiatives or projects at the school are you most proud of?
How do they enhance teaching and learning? The greatest initiative is the ongoing development of our HackLab – a place where our old equipment goes to die so students can pull it apart for motors, gears, sensors, other parts, etc. Students will learn to re-task these parts to robots and other machines, using Arduino technologies. Second to that, I have implemented a first-in approach for technology, so as our core organisation provides us opportunities, we tackle them as part of our simplification process. One example was the move from Moodle to Google Classroom. Whilst in its infancy, we had already partly moved to Google Apps, so the logical progression was to move away from Moodle (and other secondary tech) in preference for Google. This has paid off greatly, as staff and students are working more efficiently with the suite of apps every day.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
The most rewarding part of my role is teaching – I get to practice so much of what I preach and build resources for others. I also get to fight for the needs of our special needs students, which technology plays such an important role in improving their learning.
And the most challenging?
The most challenging is all the little things – worrying about printers and AppleTVs, ensuring staff can use their devices and that their data is safe. It’s challenging because there is no “best” answer to any of these problems. Each person has their own specific needs, which we need to cater for each day.
You also have a black belt in Kung Fu, can you see any parallels, however abstract, between your professional life and the sport?
This is an interesting question. One of the greatest people I know is SiFu Stuart Brooks (SiFu is translated to ‘Master’), who has taught me much about the art. Beyond the physical aspects of the art, though, is a world of philosophy for which I have developed a great level of respect. Kung Fu doesn’t just teach us about fighting, although this is obviously part of it. Really, it teaches us discipline and control; when to stand your ground and when to walk. It teaches us how to respond and how to ‘disarm’ verbally before allowing our emotions to control our reactions. Every day, dealing with students and people brings its challenges. Kung Fu has taught me to respond to many situations differently, and to teach others how to respond. Often, I can use these skills to reach difficult students by talking, responding or just reminding them to respond, not react. There is great depth to Shaolin Kung Fu, for which I am grateful every day.
Looking ahead, what are some of the school’s major ICT goals that you are working towards?
Our major goal is to continue toward simplification. First, I would like to improve the way our BYOD policy works for various students. Currently, 7-10 bring iPad and seniors optionally bring a laptop. I would like to see 7-9 on iPad and 10-12 on laptops. The point of this is to limit technology in some ways in junior years – there are a great many number of skills they still need to master beyond technology, though the iPad provides a number of powerful ways to learn with technology, without the complication of laptops and their operating systems. As students progress, the software requirements get more complex and as such, the physical technology needs to. It also improves the life of the devices and ensures the technology isn’t too old. I also want to provide greater levels of staff training in use of technology, particularly on the balance of using and not using technology. We have an obligation to ensure students can write by hand, read a real book and experience tactile learning. We also need to teach them self-regulation with technology. The better we all get at developing balance in our classrooms, particularly thought modelling these behaviours, the more diverse learning experiences can become.
What do you think is the best way for educators to stay abreast of tech trends and innovation?
Staying abreast of technological change is difficult. The problem is it changes so fast, and often as teachers the limited time we get to learn one technology is barely enough to master it to teach it, and then the next thing moves in. In my experience, get on board a couple of things that offer diversity; robotics and 3D printing, for example. Both are cheap (now, in their second or third iteration on the retail market) and easy to learn. The community is massive and there are always people willing to help. Also, we don’t need to know every aspect of these! One of the greatest mistakes I have made as a teacher is thinking I needed to know more than students; this is rarely the case (and often a powerful teaching process). Having a student teach me about the tech is awesome – it shows me where to look for the best solutions! And they get the enjoyment of being in control for a bit. To keep on top of it all, I use an app called Flipboard – it’s basically a news aggregator. I can read about all the upcoming tech, save it to lists and keep it for later. Then, as I re-read and gather more information, I keep track of how applicable it is becoming for education. Once the costs, applications and community reach a certain point, I know I can consider integrating it into my classroom. I won’t use them all, but I will use some. One example is 3D virtual reality. Once a very complex and expensive tech, it is now simple enough to take the images ourselves and load them into software for viewing. The headsets are also now available in cardboard, which makes them $17 each (don’t get the really cheap ones – they’re rubbish). Kids love to create 3D viewable artworks for assignments and share them with the class! Also, the NMC Horizon Report is invaluable. Being a part of the panel was an amazing experience (I worked on the Australian Tertiary Education edition), as I really got to see what’s happening at the forefront of technology in education. It’s a free publication, and worth a skim (http://cdn.nmc. org/media/2016-nmc-technologyoutlook-au.pdf).
Are there any traps that schools sometimes fall into when looking to update their ICT programs or infrastructure?
The biggest trap is thinking more is better, or that more expensive will last longer. Sometimes, the cheap, simple technologies are the best. An example is Raspberry Pi. A very powerful technology with diverse applications, they are easy to move about, run a full version of Linux and have an HDMI output. The software is free for the most part, and linux has an active development community. Over investing in one technology is part of this too, such as buying whole class sets of Lego. Not all students will be interested in robotics – some might want to make art, some might want to put time into making Minecraft worlds and some might want to build Lego robotics. The costs of some of these are massively high and won’t suit everyone. We really like our core + expansion sets of Lego plus a few other parts, and we bootstrap the brick with a version of Linux (Ev3Dev, which is free) which means we can write Python for it. Those who aren’t into it, do other things – a perfect application of diverse learning and differentiation. That said, the best place to invest money is in wireless and internet infrastructure. When one of these aren’t working or there is an outage, they are the most disruptive. The infrastructure needs to be robust, platform agnostic and workable for the average person. Complex networks are a thing of the past – keep it simple and working.