Earlier this week I attended the Ignition Unconference held at Albany Senior High School. The conference tagline was “helping schools be awesomeness incubators” – so who could argue with that? The attendees at Ignition are the sort of teachers you want for your children or grandchildren. They share a genuine passion for the art of education, and are enthusiastic about becoming better teachers. They are embracing technology as a way to produce better education outcomes. I think anybody that watched the Ignite talks at the end of the day would have come away feeling motivated and positive.
As a supplier of services to the education sector, it was fascinating to listen to educators discuss their successes and challenges. These people are educational experts. If you put an educational challenge in front of them, they are pretty likely to solve it.
The problem is that some of their challenges were technical. The BYOD (bring your own device) session generated discussion around proxies and the short comings of products on different platforms. The e-portfolio session highlighted the variation in capabilities of the different products. Each school was solving their technical challenges as best they could with help from a variety of sources. Through the eyes of a this former IT salesperson, it was clear that many were basing their decisions on advice that was spun for marketing (ie: buy my product) or ideological reasons (e.g., open source is always the best).
Some of the challenges were social. Each individual school serves its community, which creates specific opportunities or challenges for that school. Assuming a one device per child programme produces increased educational opportunities (and there are plenty of advocates for that) – then we’d want every student to have their own device. That’s realistic for some schools, and not for others. Often the schools and communities who most need the assistance technology can bring, are the least able to afford it.
Some of the challenges were organisational. Some teachers were well supported by their schools, whilst others were clearly struggling against the inertia of existing models. Many schools have performed very well with their existing structures and methods. Why would they be in a hurry to change?
At the end of the day, I felt positive about the direction NetSafe is taking in support of schools. The soon to be released NetSafe Kit for Schools v4 includes considerable sector input, is flexible enough to meet the needs of different schools, yet prescriptive enough to definitively answer questions. The NetSafe Cybersafety Assessment Tool (NCAT) that will accompany the Kit will provide useful information for schools, is entirely web based and should be lightweight enough to be used on slow Internet connections. The mylgp site already houses many pieces of content, which are created for educators by educators – and are licensed using creative commons.
It is clear that we have a long way to go in the transformation of the education sector to one that is ideal for the information age, but I’m confident that NetSafe is doing its bit.