The vision of Lowanna College is to help its students “achieve excellence in their endeavours – whatever that means for them.”
Based in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley Lowanna has around 900 students spanning years 7-12. Starting with 2020’s Year 7 cohort the school is taking a fresh approach to technology and moving away from BYOD (bring your own device) which it believes can compromise, rather than support, classroom learning.
According to Principal Adam Hogan; “Student learning is best supported when all students have access to a consistent device equipped with modern capability (touch, type and write) and the required educational software.”
Working with Hogan on the initiative is Lowanna’s operations manager, Matt Robinson, who is also the co-founder of Victoria’s Educational Technology Consortium. Part of a team of three IT specialists at the school Robinson has crafted an IT strategic plan intended to support students and staff, and optimise learning outcomes.
Hogan joined Lowanna as principal in January 2019. “When I got into the school I saw some passionate IT people and strong infrastructure – but the link to learning wasn’t working. We had got all this capability but it wasn’t impacting learning.”
A root issue was that only a fraction of students used the school’s recommended device, others had a BYOD, and some had nothing. Even students with a device didn’t always bring it to school because teachers weren’t consistently using technology in classes.
When Hogan quizzed teachers why, they told him it was because not all the students brought a device to class. Lowanna was caught in a self-perpetuating loop.
Hogan and Robinson agreed that they needed to take a different tack. BYOD programs they felt introduced too much complexity and fragmentation; if a teacher was to ask a student to create a presentation on their computers using PowerPoint, everything ground to a halt because only some had a device, only some had PowerPoint.
The circuit breaker is Lowanna’s new IT strategy which comes into play early next year which will see all Year 7s use the school recommended device which has both touch screen and digital inking capability along with access to school recommended software including Office 365.
Before settling on the Acer B118 device Lowanna surveyed teachers about how they would like to use technology to enhance learning and also gave deep consideration to the levels of support and insurance for the devices, to minimise any learning interruption should a device be damaged or lost.
Parents were also asked for feedback while Microsoft also provided valuable insights regarding how students learn, how the brain works, ideation and creativity all of which were considered during Lowanna’s device and supplier selection process.
Mindful of public schools’ determination to achieve both excellence and equity Lowanna is offering parents and guardians the opportunity to purchase devices outright, lease them, and will work with students facing financial hardship to ensure they also have access to a device.
Once all the cohort has access to the same technology, teachers will be more confident about designing lessons and content. To support teachers with that Lowanna has crafted a digital literacy learning strategy that it hopes to launch in term one of 2020.
Robinson says that Lowanna is also trialling Microsoft Teams as the communications and collaboration platform to support teachers. The Humanities faculty has been first to adopt the platform, using it to share and navigate curriculum resources.
“One driver is better communications, less emails. Faculty documents in one space – at present they are on a shared OneDrive with massive folders,” says Robinson. In the future he says all the materials needed by teachers will be instantly available in the relevant subject and year Teams channel.
Hogan adds; “If you have seven year 7 maths teachers doing the same thing over and over, it doesn’t really make much sense. We see Teams being a really powerful platform to share and give insights into each other’s classrooms,” sharing photos of whiteboards or worksheets for example, to build best practice.
Building technology champions is core to Lowanna’s strategy. Hogan explains; “When you do things there are two ways from a change perspective – it can be the whole school, which requires a strong rationale. But I’m finding more and more that it’s better to start small with group of people that are keen and let them be champions.”
The same goes for the whole of school device program. Hogan is carefully selecting the teachers for Year 7s, who he hopes will then act as beacons about the learning impact that technology can have when done well.
To ensure students get the most out of their devices Lowanna is also planning to run an “IT bootcamp” as part of the Year 7 orientation that will ensure students know how to use their computers and get the most out of Office 365.
Hogan says that besides enhancing learning opportunities, the use of cutting-edge technology should help develop; “The higher skills around using devices to be creative, innovative.
“There is a sense these days that kids are the digital generation. We find they are good consumers of tech – not necessarily great users or creators.” He hopes that by deeply embedding technology into student learning it will be possible to develop more skills and higher thinking.
That’s because, he says; “There is such a determination here not just to be good but to be great and to put the school on the map.”
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