What drew you to education as a career path and what made you specialise in the tech side of things?
[It] originated from really fond experiences during my own education … I have always had an interest in technology and a fairly inquisitive approach to using devices and gadgets. While teaching in the upper primary years, I began finding ways to use ICT to empower students in more personalised, collaborative and creative learning. Years later, I launched a 1-to-1 iPad pilot and following this, opportunities arose to empower other staff with the confidence to adapt and evolve their pedagogy.
How is technology integrated into Radford College?
This is my sixth year at Radford College… Our Junior School students have access to a range of tools and apps to … build conceptual understandings of issues. In Years 4-6, we commence our 1-to-1 program using iPads and, with greater connectivity to their teachers and peers, we see students engage in more reflective and collaborative learning. In our Senior School, all students Years 7-12 utilise their own laptop to actively participate in creating and sharing knowledge online. We made a conscious decision not to recommend a specific brand or platform for our BYOD program, rather take a ‘device-agnostic’ approach ... [We’re] currently reviewing our internal online space to bring together a range of new systems and provide a truly personalised experience for staff, students and parents when engaging with the college digitally.
What does your day-to-day role as director of digital learning and innovation involve?
My core role is to ensure staff have the knowledge and skills to embed technology into their teaching and learning programs and have access to the most suitable forms of technology. [As well as] opportunities to engage with students in classrooms, there are many projects to work on, including the sequenced implementation of ACARA ICT General Capabilities across the High School curriculum and redesign of our intranet and use of Microsoft SharePoint.
How do you find the kids respond to new tech?
Kids mostly respond with excitement and engagement; be it coding Sphero balls, communicating using multimedia or seeing each other’s writing appear on a collaborative document. I’ve had the opportunity of facilitating a Digital Leaders program for two years, which was also a fantastic way to gain insight into how kids respond to particular technologies while simultaneously empowering them to support others – including their teachers. However, exposure and integration of these tools doesn’t necessarily develop the critical thinking skills for students to use them wisely, safely and creatively. There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure students develop ICT skills for the future and technology use supports and enhances their learning.
How about the teachers?
It really varies. I think it’s a misconception that most teachers are not au fait with the latest technology in the same way we often assume all students are. In most cases, both require support and opportunities to grow so that authentic connections can be made between technology and learning. With such rapid digital changes and subsequent applications for the classroom, coaching models, online professional learning networks and collaborative planning sessions seem to be some of the most effective ways of engaging teachers in technologies.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your role?
Learning and working across a variety of environments. Every opportunity I get to support and work with staff, students and parents is a chance to build knowledge, particularly from peers with high levels of experience in their given areas.
And the most challenging?
Switching off. In a role that relies heavily on the use of technology, it can be a challenge to escape the emails, notifications and the tendency to drift into cyberspace in the evenings.
Last year, you became an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE). Tell me about what that entails and the upcoming Worldwide Institute in Berlin?
The ADE program recognises and connects educators from around the world who are using Apple devices in educational settings… The Worldwide Institute will be another energising opportunity to collaborate with teachers on projects, participate in workshops and discuss big ideas around educational technology.
But you’re also a Microsoft Innovative Educator, so you have a foot in both camps?
I do. At the end of the day, the purpose of technology in education should not focus on software or hardware [but] student learning. Microsoft have similar professional learning communities for educators and we utilise tools such as OneNote Class Notebooks across a range of areas of the college. I’m currently previewing the new Microsoft Classroom, Forms and Planner.
What do you see as the next big ICT development in schools?
I’m often sceptical of fads and buzz words that surround education, but advancements in visualisation technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) has transformative potential to engage students in realworld learning experiences. The recent outbreak of Pokémon GO players demonstrates the stimulation of such technologies and potential to learn through gamification. It does, however, also illustrate bothadults and childrens’ lack of hesitation to engage in new technologies without careful consideration of factors such as privacy (and safety at times).
How do you keep up to date with what’s happening in ICT?
Twitter (@MrMattHeinrich) is my favourite platform for keeping up to date with current trends, while gaining ideas from sources all over the world. Most nights, I spend time reading other educators’ blogs, roadmaps of software updates or contributing to chats with other educators.
What’s the most common ICT-related question you’re asked at school?
Parents often ask questions around device use and more specifically, how they can manage/monitor/ control their child’s use. While there isn’t a simple answer to these questions, nor am I the most appropriate to offer parenting advice, I do believe schools have a responsibility to provide support to parents ... We’re becoming increasingly proactive in facilitating opportunities for parents to build capacity through practical workshops, information evenings and forums. It is a really exciting time to be in the profession due to the advancements and accessibility of technology. However, staff, students and parents need to be prepared to make mistakes or for things not to work – as Richard Bach calls them, ‘unexpected learning experiences’. I strongly believe that inspired teachers that are willing to make mistakes, learn from others and experiment with the use of technology, will discover new and powerful ways to cater to and support the children in their classes.