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Using ICT to enhance personalised learning for secondary students

Our cluster consists of two co-educational secondary schools in Dunedin: Logan Park High School and Kavanagh College. This is our second year of the contract and one of our current areas of focus is supporting teachers to use ICT to enhance personalised learning.

The New Zealand Curriculum seeks to make students confident, connected life-long learners and the document outlines effective pedagogy including teaching and learning as inquiry and evidence based.  The curriculum  also acknowledges that our learners’ experiences should be at the heart of all teaching, hence the flexibility accorded to schools to develop their own curricula to suit their own students. There is an abundance of research including Hagel and Brown, The Big Shift, Dave Orphal, and numerous education research articles featured in ASCD publications, Eudutopia, and Education Week which clearly demonstrate the benefits of utilizing technology to connect, engage and extend students in accordance with their own individual needs.  Our intention is to personalise learning more effectively through ICT so that we are supporting, extending and enhancing students on their own individual learning journeys. As  Ruth Deakin Crick has described, personalising learning means valuing student experience and choice.  This year we have used several different ICT strategies to allow student experience and choice to play a bigger role in our teaching.

Strategy 1 – Getting student input on how we use ICT in the classroom and in the wider school.
We have surveyed our students about how we are currently using ICT at our schools.  The results showed that our students have been pleased that more of our teachers have been embracing ICT in their teaching, but that some students still want to have the option of using traditional methods for their learning (such as note-taking on paper rather than online). This is something that both schools are now very conscious of and teachers are endeavouring to provide choice to students (Strategy 2). The feedback from Logan Park indicated that there was a significant problem with the school’s website and that students did not find it of much use at all for their learning. Logan Park is now in the process of redeveloping its website so that all subjects are represented, with teacher contact details available and links to all online resources from each subject page.  At Kavanagh College the website has been developed in 2011 to include much more subject specific information and also to make it much more user friendly. While the Kavanagh Moodle (Koodle) site has been set up as the link for students to access work and subject specific materials as they require it, the website has been developed to provide the community with information relating to the school.

Strategy 2 - Giving students choice about how they access resources and keep track of their own learning.
Both the schools of our cluster cater to a wide range of students who often have vastly different levels of access to technology at home. We are committed to offering our students the opportunity to supplement their learning through using ICT at school and accessing online material at home, but we are very clear that this is not the way all of our students prefer to learn, so we make sure that other methods are available and supported.  For example all teachers at Kavanagh must put resources online but they also support students through paper copies of notes if required. In some Logan Park classes where computers are available every lesson, students have been given the option of taking notes and preparing practise essays online (using Mahara My Portfolio) or of handwriting their resources.  About eighty percent of students opted for the online option but 20 percent chose to use pen and paper and manage their notes this way, and this was often not because of computer access being limited at home but because they liked working with paper notes, highlighting the students’ awareness of their own learning preferences.  We have also discovered that rather than always dictating which ICT programs that students must use, allowing students choice in the platform can result in greater learning outcomes. This was seen in Logan Park’s Year 9 blogging project where students eventually rejected Mahara in favour of sites such as Wordpress and Weebly.

Strategy 3 – Empowering students to reflect and share their interests and learning experiences through e-portfolios and blogging.
We are encouraging our students to be reflective learners and to articulate their thoughts about their learning to their teachers and peers.  At Logan Park we decided to experiment with getting our Year 9 students to do this online (therefore also allowing learning about digital citizenship).  The project initially involved working with a Year 9 class and supporting them to create an e-portfolio about their own interests using Mahara.  This was a successful exercise for some students, but not for all; the feedback we got from students ranged from it being a fun and useful activity to it being boring and pointless. We were, however, able to use these e-portfolios to identify five students who were gifted in areas outside classroom subjects. As Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, an associate professor at Boston University’s school of education has said of e-portfolios: “Digital portfolios also offer an opportunity for students to showcase skills and kinds of intelligence that often are not measured on standardized tests. A lot of kids are quite bright in multiple ways, and until we use a collection of their work in a portfolio, we can’t see that, and we really misjudge them.” The areas of giftedness of our students displayed included leadership, community engagement, advanced research and outdoor adventure. These students then began working individually with a teacher to develop blogs dedicated to those passions and this has been very successful.  We have also had senior Media Studies students develop an online magazine in a Wordpress format – this was borne out of student demand for such a media product that was the voice of the student body. Media Studies teachers moderate the blog but the students have so far been very responsible digital citizens. Next year we will offer more of our students this opportunity to reflect and share their learning journeys online.

Strategy 4 – Using ICT to support students with specific learning needs/challenges.
Because ICT offers a wide variety of different pathways for learning it can be of particular benefit to students who have specific needs and challenges as learners. We are committed to using these ICT pathways to create personalised learning programmes for our students who have high-needs and one example of this has been a collaborative use of PowerPoint at Logan Park to enable students with literacy issues to improve their writing skills.

The teachers of English, Social Studies, Science, Maths and PE met to discuss the specific learning needs and to identify effective strategies for addressing the literacy needs of students.  They decided to work in a collaborative way and to make netbooks available for classwork and specifically to use the powerpoint programme for writing tasks.

Teacher reflection on this project can be seen here:  Excerpt of teacher reflection: “Used Powerpoint Presentation with 9R - drawing on fairly solid pedagogy that this is a way to engage reluctant writers. Very successful - draws on the class's generally sophisticated visual interpretation skills and their IT savvy. Building on the creative work they did with the Yug-io Cardmaker site last term. Extended it by including a class presentation - most did this very well reinforcing general staff analysis that they are skilled and articulate with literacy issues (being addressed by their increasing levels of performance and confidence). The Powerpoint set-up helped. They took time and trouble, sought help with their captions and text because it was being presented - some sophisticated work. When I get a chance I'll set up a class G-site where they can see these and show them to friends / family.”