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ICT in the RE Faculty: Reflective Journey

Background and Context


Baradene is a 7-13 girls’ Catholic school in Remuera. It is part of the Baradene/St. Peter Cluster and we are in our last year of our cluster contract. Religious Education (RE) is a compulsory subject that every student follows throughout the 7 years of education at Baradene College. There are 6 classes of year 12 RE. This reflective journey with the RE Faculty is indicative of the journey which other Faculties at Baradene College has gone through.


Aims and Purpose


We have always struggled to get our RE faculty on-board with using ICT tools in their teaching and learning. However this year while collaborating with the HOFs of English and Social Science, the RE HOFs at Baradene decided to create an assessment for a new module introduced to Year 12 that included an ICT component.  This is an NCEA internal assessment that carries 6 credits, entitled Justice and Peace and the Integrity of Creation.


Method, Interventions and Actions


As lead e-learning teacher I held a meeting with the RE HOFs to get an understanding of where they were heading and what type of assessment formats they had in mind. Prior to our meeting the RE HOFs had already discussed possibilities of using ICT in senior assessment with the HOFs of English and Social Sciences and hearing about the success which these departments were having with their students, prompted them to include more ICT in their senior level assessment. Our initial meeting indicated that they still wanted to offer a traditional format of presentation, but in comparison to previous years, they also wanted to introduce an ICT element to this new module. In the end they opted for an assessment task that required the students to choose between three formats, one of which was ICT based.


Following this discussion, I spend around a week researching possibilities for students who were already IT savvy and came up with two ideas: as our LMS is Ultranet, one possibility was to give students the option to present their work in the format of a class page; the second possibility was to allow students to present their work in the form of a website via WIX. WIX is a free online tool that lets students build their own website. It has a user-friendly interface, which allows the users to take total control over their web design without knowing anything about coding and programming. Besides informing the teachers and students about the two possibilities, I also set up step-by-step notes on OneNote for easy access to students and my colleagues regarding the use of Ultranet and WIX. As of 2012, OneNote has been a crucial source of shared ICT information for Baradene teachers. Setting up step-by-step notes about using WIX and Ultranet has acted as support for teachers if students had further queries.


As RE is blocked and all Y12’s have RE at the same time, I booked all 4 computer labs for about two weeks and teachers took turns using these ICT labs. Students were invited to bring their own devices, if they had them, and to connect to the Baradene wireless system. This in turn freed up desktops and allowed teachers to send students who did not own their own device to the computer labs. In this way, those students who did not have any sort of device at home could spend more time doing research during class time. We also made use of the several notebooks that were available in the 7/8 faculty.


Summary of Key Results


Considering that this department has struggled throughout the previous years with the use of ICT in teaching and learning, it was great to have teachers approach me with ICT questions and interest in setting up their Ultranet class pages to support the year 12 students with their internal assessment. While some students opted to present their work in the form of a written essay, other students chose to stand up and present their work using PowerPoint /Prezi to support them. None of the students chose to present their work in the form of a website, but many of them were curious about the tools needed to do so. As I also happen to teach year 12RE, I spent some time showing the students the possibility of presenting one’s work using this technology.


Future recommendations


* The availability of computers: this was dealt with as efficiently as possible as students started bringing their own devices which in turn freed up desktops that could be used by students who did not own their device. In the last two years, as PD around the use of ICT in teaching and learning has increased exponentially at Baradene and teachers are becoming more excited about using this technology in their classes, the e-learning team often faced difficulties in accommodating teachers and students in computer labs. For this reason we created an online booking system whereby teachers could book their own sessions in computer labs. However, this was on a first-come, first-served basis and hence teachers new to Baradene and to the system often found themselves excluded from using technology as the computer labs were already pre-booked by others. In the end, the solution to this pressure on computer labs has led the BOT and SMT to introducing a staged roll out of student owned devices for 2013. We have communicated this decision to parents and students through regular ICT updates in the newsletter and weekly e-mails that have gone home to parents. Once the decision was made to let Y9’s in 2013 bring devices, a letter was posted home to all Y8 students with the Mid Year reports. The letter outlined our ICT journey and what we were doing to investigate the best machine that would support their learning. Once the HOF’s had been consulted and suggested the best machine we held a parent meeting and again outlined our ICT journey and the reason we chose a specific device. We have sent another letter home with our suggestions and recommendations and options of how to go about purchasing the suggested device with the latest set of reports and also e-mailed the letter to our parents. We have also set up an ICT page on our website which we hope to keep updated so that parents can access any information as they need it. This was a request at the parent meeting. 


* Using more technology in RE classes: It is likely that students will use more technology for assessment purposes if this same technology is already used in classroom situations where students are not under the pressure of examination conditions. Under examination conditions, students tend to make use of technology with which they are already familiar. The implication of using more technology in RE classes would mean that more ICT PD is required for teachers and students. Currently, teachers in the RE faculty ask for ICT support as the need arises. My suggestion to the RE HOFs was to include an ICT component to the Faculty meetings. This will increase the frequency of ICT PD for the RE staff and will also provide the FLP (Faculty Lead Person) and/or the lead e-learning teacher with opportunities in which new technologies could be discussed.


* Assessing the ICT content in Presentation: If the ICT component was included in the assessment, this would add more weight to the use of technology and provide a bigger incentive for senior students to familiarise themselves with it. Including ICT in assessment could occur through incorporating more technology in teaching and learning and through introducing the idea of internal examinations in the form of e-learning portfolios. Currently, Baradene aims to increase the use of technology in the classroom by introducing student owned devices in 2013. All year 9 students are expected to bring their device to school and teachers are currently being supported to include more ICT-based activities in their year 9 teaching and learning programs. This ICT support is taking place in the form of one to one PD and whole school PD during Friday morning’s briefing and during Staff meeting time. We are also looking into ways in which we could incorporate use of e-learning portfolios (Ultranet Uspace) in the classroom.


* More PD for RE staff: In light of all these ICT development, during one of our teachers-only days and with the help of the RE HOF, I organized and led a PD session with the RE faculty. The aim of this PD was to think about ways in which RE pedagogy could be changed from a traditional teacher-centered teaching to student-centered learning. It also focused on ICT apps that could help with this transition. It was very successful PD that made RE teachers aware of different approaches to the teaching of RE. In delivering this PD both the RE HOF and myself wanted to avoid the traditional pitfall of standing in front of other teachers and delivering the information. Instead, through the use of a class page, which we set up on Ultranet we created PD that was student-centered: teachers were expected to work through a set of activities facilitated by me and the RE HOF. This PD was spread over 4 periods: the first two were dedicated to 21st century pedagogy as opposed to traditional banking education. Once teachers got their heads around the change in pedagogy that technology required, we spent another two periods discussing the Windows apps and learning how to use them in teaching and learning context. These apps included SpicyNodes’ ‘Eclipse Crossword’ ‘My God Search’ and ‘Free documentaries’. 


This PD created a great learning space for both the facilitators and the teachers as we were sharing ideas about ways to create a more student-centered, ICT-based, year 9 RE program.

The RE faculty has now planned a day off school grounds during term 4 to continue planning our year 9 RE program for 2013.


Student feedback


* This is an interview I held with a sample of two students from each of the six Year 12 RE classes.


HOF of Faculty feedback


This is an interview I held with one of the RE HOFs, Catherine Everitt.