By Paul Campbell
Identifying a need for technology in the classroom
The introduction of 1:1 devices is the next natural progression for us on our ICT Pathway which began back in 2018. From 2018 to 2023 we accomplished a great deal with a full infrastructural upgrade (network, WiFi, server), staff devices and wireless data projectors in every teaching space throughout the school. During this period, we provided extensive CPD to staff, introduced Microsoft TEAMS as our learning platform and used the Microsoft Office Programme to create a bespoke Curriculum on Digital Literacy for our 2nd and 4th Year students. The BOM were always supportive throughout the initial stages of our Digital Journey. The BOM continue to support all aspects of our Digital Plan.
In May 2022, we used the EU SELFIE tool to conduct a whole school survey with all our stakeholders to assess how we use and further enhance the use of digital technologies to support student learning. One of the main findings was that 77% of our students would find it easier to complete their work on a tablet or laptop device. Our second-year students, in particular, felt the introduction of devices would support them in creating their CBA work but also the introduction of the project element to Senior Cycle Economics, LCPE, DCG, Computer Science, History and Geography all provided a catalyst to bring about this move.
We are on introducing 1:1 devices with our first years in September 2024.
Learning from others' digital journeys
Wriggle have been a huge support to our school in helping us plan our digital journey. We began working with them back in 2018 when we created our staff Digital Leader programme. Wriggle provided the devices and training to our Digital Leaders and this laid a great foundation for digital programme to grow and develop. Over the intervening years we have purchased devices for all staff and complimented this with the purchase of some class sets for students. We have also availed of the opportunity to visit other schools and talk to colleagues in leadership roles about their journey to 1:1 devices. It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn from the challenges and opportunities other schools have had and to adjust our roadmap and planning accordingly.
Key steps in planning
A key aspect of the planning since 2018 has been a clear vision for Digital Learning shared at every opportunity with all the stakeholders. We also communicated our feedback from Wriggle events, school visits and the challenges and opportunities ahead. Having a clearly articulated vision, but also listening to the concerns and apprehensions of staff, parents and students has meant it has taken us 5 years to get to this point. It has been time well invested and for the most part, staff, students and parents are excited about the next step. We are conscious that school routines, our Code of Behaviour, Anti Bullying Policy and Acceptable Use Policy will all be reviewed to incorporate this next move.
An additional major step was the establishment of our staff Digital Leader team. Developing and training a teacher in each subject area was key to the success of the plan to date. The Digital Leaders are a fantastic group of approachable staff willing to help any staff member struggling with an aspect of their use of ICT in the classroom to enhance Teaching and Learning.
I have always been very positive about the ways technology can augment and support student learning. It can provide limitless opportunities for self-directed and inquiry based learning, critical thinking and collaborative work. In 2023, I see the introduction of 1:1 devices for our students, as ensuring equity of access and equity of opportunity for our students. We have an enviable reputation as a highly academic school will almost 100% of our students transferring to Third Level and further study both nationally and at European institutions. In order for our students to fully experience and compete in Third Level, it is vital that we provide them with the critical thinking, research and collaborative skills necessary. The use of educational technology in school levels the Third Level playing field for our students, opens them up to endless opportunities and possibilities and prepares them for both the workplace but also to contribute as active, informed, and engaged citizens.
We started working with Wriggle back in 2018 with the training of our staff Digital Leaders. Key for us was that Wriggle were not just offering devices. They also offered us support throughout the process from deployment of devices, to training to management of the devices. Many of the schools we visited or colleagues we spoke to recommended Wriggle as the “one stop shop” to support us on our Digital Pathway but more importantly to ensure the success of the plan to date.
Wriggle provided us with the opportunity to access not only their own expertise in the Irish market but also access to other schools and other school leaders to share their experiences. The team supported us at each step in our journey and helped the process run more efficiently and transparently.
My initial concerns we began the technology integration process were around the infrastructural developments that needed to take place and also how to develop the Digital Leaders role with staff. These concerns were diminished vert quickly. My ongoing concern is that not all staff will “buy in” to the vision and rationale behind our plan. By taking tentative steps and time and negotiating and listening to the concerns along the way I do believe that we have the critical mass of staff on board to bring about this change. In a very large school, with also 1,100 students and 84 staff, it is impossible at times to get consensus on everything, but we are mostly ready, mostly willing and mostly able for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Take your time. Every school context is unique and you are best placed to know your staff and school community best. By taking the time you will ensure you bring a critical mass of people along with you. Embrace the sceptical voices and allow them to be part of the process and visits to school.
Be sure to not put the cart before the horse – the school IT infrastructure piece is key. A good network and Wi-Fi are essential, as is providing staff with devices which can cast directly to the projectors in the classrooms. Create a safe space where teacher worries and concerns can be aired and addressed.
Above all else, have a clearly articulated student-centred vision for your school context and take every opportunity to explain the why.