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Reflections on successfully implementing sustained, pedagogically driven change in E-Learning

Background
Before we go on to look at the progress of the cluster in implementing change in the various schools' approaches to implementing effective e- learning strategies, a little bit of background information about the schools that are in the cluster is necessary for other clusters wishing to do the same to get a frame of reference and perhaps draw some parallels with their own schools.

The cluster
The cluster is made up of three schools in the Central Dunedin Area. Each school is proactive in evaluating their approach to education to improve student achievement and have shown a willingness to share ideas, strategies and resources openly.


The schools in the cluster include:
St Hilda's Colligate is an integrated school of about 400 pupils John McGlashan College is and integrated school of around 500 pupils Otago Girls' High School is a state school with a current roll of approximately 820 pupils
All schools were in the process of, or about to make, significant improvements in their IT infrastructure via the ministry's SNUP3 upgrade program or off their 'own bat'
Developing a blended learning approach in the City-rise cluster
Blended learning is an educational phrase that is becoming more and more popular so it makes sense to define what it actually means before exploring how the various schools are working towards developing this approach.


Our understanding of blended learning is:
A learning strategy that can involve a variety of learning contexts, be it a physical or digital environment, with a mixture of teaching styles. Eg teacher led, computer aided, collaborative etc. To aid this learning a variety of resources are used including the more traditional to digital technologies like LMS and CMSs, video conferencing, smart phones.

Also blended learning requires active, on-going collaboration between teachers, students and the community in the design and delivery of lessons. One of the cluster’s big goals is the improvement in understanding of the value in the blended learning approach and how e-learning can be used to the development of this approach.


Recently the cluster held a teachers’ only day where the key speaker, Westley Fields, is at the forefront of developing this approach at his high-achieving school, MLC in Melbourne. He regularly speaks on this topic and the reasons behind developing this approach in schools.
One of the most interesting parts of his presentation was how to sustain the required change in a school. He referred to a diagram by Frank Crowthers that he had adapted.


Wesley stated that there were five areas that need to be working together if there is to be meaningful, sustained change in a school’s pedagogical approach to teaching and learning.


Strategic Foundations
1)    All three schools have (or in the process of developing) a distributed leadership model where e-learning is shared amongst various members of the staff. The schools have regular ‘show and tell’ sessions where staff get a chance to share various strategies and skills they have developed.
2)    All three schools make it very clear that while all staff are expected to actively develop their technological skills and knowledge, it can be at their own pace. The staff is also supported by dedicated ICT facilitators who support the individual teacher’s learning.
3)    One of the areas that all three schools are working on is making the vision clearly visible to staff, students and the wider community.


Community on-board
1)    All three schools have groups of staff that focus on the use of e-learning in the classroom. It is a chance for staff to have their say and request funding for new e-learning initiatives.
Another method of polling the staff (and potentially students) is the use of on-line forums. This gives all staff the chance to reflect on the questions being asked and give their thoughtful responses in a less ‘threatening’ environment. An example of some typical staff
responses is shown below. This forum asked staff about their thoughts around smart phones and if the school should recommend students get one.
2)    The various cluster schools regularly inform their school’s BOTs and the wider school community regarding e-learning initiatives. Both St Hilda’s and John McGlashan have implemented ’one laptop per child’ programmes in their schools and consulted extensively with the communities of both schools. Otago Girls’ High School is holding a ‘facing facebook’ evening to discuss social networking and privacy and security.
3)    The culture of no-blame is one that the various schools in the cluster have taken to heart and it has meant that staff has not been afraid to share their ideas as well as their fears with other staff members. The Senior Management teams of all three schools are all on board and actively support this approach.


Pedagogy
1)    Changing the way teachers think about teaching and learning is one of the more challenging aspects of the whole change to a blended learning approach. However, there has been movement by all schools in the cluster to reflect in the status quo model of teaching and learning and how it can be improved to better reflect education in the 21st century.
The ‘one laptop per student’ programme at both St Hilda’s and John McGlashan caused some angst within members of the teaching staff of both schools when it was introduced. However, discussions with these staff during the ICT PD day show that these staff members would now not go back to their previous model of teaching. OGHS has its Technology Prefect sitting in its weekly ICT Lead meeting so she can discuss the issues from a student
perspective. The school also actively polls the students to get their feedback on ICT related issues – the current poll relates to portable electronic devices the students could bring to school themselves.


Infrastructure
Overall this is probably the biggest (and most expensive) issue facing schools when it comes to making any sustained, meaningful change in their approach to teaching and learning. However, the cluster has found that this is also one of the most important. If you are pushing a blended learning approach with e-learning being an integral part of it, it is important that your IT infrastructure and support it. It is difficult to sell the change in teaching approach to staff, students and the community if there is little confidence that it will work every time.
All three schools in the cluster have (or are in the process of) upgrading their IT infrastructure to support this drive for change. St Hilda’s has recently had a total upgrade of the wireless network to support the number of student laptops that are now on the network while John McGlashan is in the process of doing so. It is more of a challenge of a state school, however the Ministry has worked closely with OGHS and the school is currently upgrading its entire physical network via the Ministry’s SNUP3 programme and the board has signed off on funding the wireless network improvements that can be installed once SNUP3 is completed.


Finally professional learning
One of the most important aspects the cluster has found has been the importance of giving the staff meaningful opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge in the use of ICT in the classroom. This means giving them more than 1 hour after school, three times a term.
OGHS has a professional learning group of approximately 20 staff who discuss the pedagogical aspect of e-learning and share examples from their own departments. In the recently held ICT Teachers' only day, general feedback from the staff has been that they found the chance to showcase their own efforts and see the efforts of staff members in other schools valuable and enlightening.
One of the other major drivers in professional development in the schools is to support the champions in the various departments to help drive the change in teaching and learning. It also allows for a distributed model of professional development. Each school has regular PD session where these champions help other staff members develop and improve their own ICT skills and knowledge.

In Conclusion
The first half of the ICT PD contract has seen major changes in all three schools in the cluster. The is a general acceptance and excitement that the status quo for teaching and learning is changing and the staff and students are being actively supported by the Senior Management, BOTs and the community to implement and sustain this change. There have
been hiccups as you would expect from any major change in approach. However, the general mood is positive and the initial outcomes are exciting.