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EdTech & Design, Opinion, Promising Practices

A District Wide Blueprint for Change

Learning in the 21st Century is a vibrant and engaging process – one that requires much more than the investment in equipment.

Four years ago, our district focused on “TechEd”, or Technology in Education. Today our focus has shifted to  “EdTech”, Education enhanced by Technology. 

This strategic movement meant that the focus was no longer on equipment – gone was the tech plan, gone was the laptop implementation plan, and gone was the focus on computer to student ratios. The Tech Plan was replaced with an interdepartmental discussion paper – BluePrint for Change – “Towards 2020 Connecting with our Students”.  Symbolically, gone was the Information Technology Department and replaced by the Learning Technologies Department, where the focus would remain on learning, not on equipment. The title, Superintendent of IT, was replaced by Superintendent of Student Success – Learning Technologies. The term ‘21st Century Learning’ was replaced in our Board Priorities with ‘Learning in the 21st Century’. 

We believe that the most important factor in student success is the classroom teacher and the professional relationship with each student in the classroom. As Michael Fullan points out in his book “Stratosphere”, the essential combination of: changes in pedagogy, knowledge of the change process, and technology, will help move an entire district rather than just having a few technology stars staggered across the district. True innovation means doing things differently and not just adding SmartBoards and Wireless infrastructure to an existing instructional model. We don’t want to use 21st Century tools with a 20th Century pedagogy. Content posted on a SmartBoard for students to take notes on their iPad – is not the type of change that we proposed for our Board.  

Content posted on a SmartBoard for students to take notes on their iPad – is not the type of change that we proposed for our Board.  

Our innovative practice included transitioning a traditional central library, to a web 2.0 library management system, and revamping the libraries from quiet locations that focused on the storage of books, to vibrant learning commons that focused on inquiry and student learning with flexible furniture and the availability of high interest print resources and rich digital media via mobile devices.

Changing practice also meant cancelling projects that were not aligned with our key Board priorities of Success for Students, Success for Staff, and Stewardship of Resources. Cancelled was the award winning robotics program, cancelled was the LeadIT laptop cart project, cancelled was the traditional refresh of computer labs. When we opened a new elementary school this past year, innovation meant that we ordered no desks, no reference books, no TVs, no VCR/DVDs, and no blackboards. In their place instead you will find, flexible modular furniture grouped for collaboration, digital resources, SmartBoards, iPads and Netbooks, and most importantly, a staff involved in a professional learning network to improve their teaching practice. Staff use web 2.0 tools to co-construct rubrics and to display exemplars, mobile devices to record student voice and to provide feedback, Google Docs to allow for collaborative writing, Google hangouts and Skype to connect with others around the Board and around the World.  The result is a high level of engagement for both staff and students.

Our District transformation included changing policies to allow the use of social media by staff and students. Significantly decreased filtering practices occurred to allow the use of rich teaching sites including YouTube. Policies were changed to allow students to bring their own devices to school to assist with their learning. Inquiry learning for principals, superintendents, and teachers, focused on areas such as assessment, numeracy, or literacy. Within each of the inquiry questions there was a role for technology to support the change in teacher practice.

Our district of 37,000 students has over 28,000 mobile devices connecting to the wireless network each day. This statistic on its own is meaningless; however, a learning walk through classrooms will witness students using a variety of devices to focus on collaboration, to communicate, and to creatively problem solve.

Our district of 37,000 students has over 28,000 mobile devices connecting to the wireless network each day. This statistic on its own is meaningless; however, a learning walk through classrooms will witness students using a variety of devices to focus on collaboration, to communicate, and to creatively problem solve. Learning in the 21st Century is a vibrant and engaging process – one that requires much more than the investment in equipment.

Meet the Expert(s)

tom damico

Tom D’Amico

Tom D’Amico is the Superintendent of Human Resources with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He has been recognized for his work in education and technology receiving several awards including "The Prime Minister's Award for teaching excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics".  He is a recipient of The Learning Partnership's award as one of Canada's Outstanding Principals and received MindShare Learning’s Canadian Blogger Award in the category of Best K-12 Administrator Tweeter. (@TDOttawa). He has presented across Canada on the use of educational technology as a means to increase student engagement and student achievement.

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