A Vision for the Future: NSR Think Tank

Last Thursday and Friday I had the privilege of attending the second annual Northern Sydney Region Think Tank. The focus this year was on the ways in which schools in our region have implemented the Digital Education Revolution, as well as looking towards the future for our region as champions of blended learning.

The program line-up was appealing, featuring a keynote by Professor Martin Westwell – a prominent academic in the field of education and technology and currently director of the Flinders Centre of Science Education in the 21st Century. I was also looking forward to Friday’s program featuring Stu Hasic and Ben Jones – both very active contributors to DER in NSW, as well as valuable members of my Twitter PLN.

It was flattering to be given the opportunity to attend the NSR Think Tank as I am not technically an ‘executive member’ of my school. I am not a principal, deputy or a head teacher – I am an English teacher who has been given the role of leading DER in our school. Being of such ‘lowly’ status scared me a little, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone was equally keen to share their experiences and learn new things, regardless of their status. The two days for me were characterised by networking with great educators, thinking about education in new ways, witnessing how other schools have implemented DER in their own idiosyncratic manner and thinking about where I am heading in the future with DER within my own school and beyond.

The journey to Macquarie University’s Graduate School of Management was arduous – bumper to bumper traffic when you’re new to driving manual is a tense time. I arrived with a cramped right calf muscle and shaking hands – but the clutch survived! I will briefly diverge from my intellectual path to get out of the way what most people look forward to at a two-day conference – food and amenities. Both were fantastic – the food was beautifully presented with plenty for everyone and the Graduate School is gorgeous. There were no issues with technology and we were all pleased (for the most part) with the speed of the internet. It really was a delight to be there for the two days.

Over the course of the two days we heard from representatives from six different schools in our region. Each speaker focused on once successful aspect of DER within their school. This was a really important inclusion for the program and contributes further to the breaking down of the ‘edu-walls’ between schools in the Northern Sydney Region. All too often schools become education islands floating in a sea of syllabi, curricula and standards.  Listening to the wonderful things happening at other schools in the Northern Sydney Region, it became clear that strengthening connections between us all would contribute significantly to the implementation and success of DER.

I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to the attendees on the Friday and chose to focus on our school’s use of edmodo as a virtual learning environment and a communication platform for teacher and classes, teachers within faculties, teachers within the school and teachers in different parts of the state. I demonstrated how to quickly and easily register as a teacher and to join a group – I set up a NSR Think Tank group that I hope will become a hub for communication and collaboration in the future. (Yes, I have high hopes for the connectivity of NSR in the future!) I also briefly spoke about the ‘DER: Lunch and Learns’ that I have run this term to help teachers with their use and integration of technology into the classroom. Other school presentations included:

  • a TSO speaking about buying tablets, webcams and headphones for classroom use
  • a TAS teacher speaking about his new Food Technology unit that required students to use Audacity to create radio ads for their food product,
  • an English HT reflecting on his collaborative projects with other high schools to create OneNote based boys education units of work
  • a Visual Art teacher speaking about her new unit on Portraits that requires students to use digital cameras and Adobe Premiere Elements to create video poems using ‘found’ words
  • a deputy principal speaking about their student mentor program in which student ‘DERmentors’ meet weekly to investigate digital technologies to be used in the classroom and share this knowledge with teachers
  • a teacher who created weekly ‘From the Helpdesk’ newsletters to keep teacher informed with the latest news on DER, ways of integrating digital technologies into the classroom and organising teacher technology mentors and mentees
  • technology leaders who organised a program to prepare Years 7 and 8 for DER by focusing on programs, applications and skills that they will need in Years 9 and 10
  • a principal explaining his focus on ensuring there is not an uneven use of technology across KLAs through a series of teacher interviews and program rewrites with DER in mind

It is easy to see how the above range of experiences and ideas can be readily adopted by other schools in the region. I for one am excited about developing our school’s DERmentors program with a colleague as well as continuing with the Davo DER eNewsletter and organising for more of our keen staff to participate in formal and informal professional development.

The best thing I got from the two days was the new connections with other teachers in the region. I have connected with a number of these educators already via edmodo and hope to seek others out to do so also. Taking inspiration from the wonderful work or Roger Prior and Phillipa Cleaves in the Hunter Central Coast Region, I am enthusiastic about the prospects of developing a region that functions as a connected and collaborative unit. Fingers crossed – watch this space.