Friday, 1 March 2013

An afternoon with @abdulchohan

Hello all,

Sorry about the lag between posts but school tours hit the itinerary recently and I was pretty disconnected.

On my return I was invited to a talk by Abdul Chohan (@Abdulchohan) from the ESSA Academy in Bradford, England. Thank you Apple and Core for the invite.

Abdul was in SA to share his experiences of a one to one roll-out with us and to talk about the ecosystem his school has built to support both staff and students academically and technologically.

A few things he shared really stuck out:

1). The roll-out was not about having the device but rather about connecting student and teachers! He wanted both to be able to answer questions immediately  the device was and is regarded as a tool that the students have access to and not as a reason for the lesson.

2). The schools pedagogy (The method and practice of teaching, esp. as an academic subject or theoretical concept) needs to support the use of a device but should NOT be based on the use of that device. His teachers are encouraged to make materials available as homework and use the time in class to concentrate on cognition and not information delivery. The idea is to allow proper understanding of new material, in any way, before putting pen to paper in a 'test'.

3).As a school ESSA are 'are asking teachers to have faith, to embrace change and therefore transform their teaching'. Abdul made the point that teachers are good at doing the same thing in new ways, ie chalkboard - whiteboard - interactive whiteboard, but not really transforming the way we teach. He defines transformation as technology allowing you to do something you could not do before.

4). And probably most vitally in my opinion he described how the schools technology ecosystem needs to support the device use. His school chose Apple products but that isn't the point, whatever you choose you need to make sure that the systems work to support the devices.

ESSA use iTunesU to make material available as courses, they use Google Apps for mail, they use Edmodo for communication and they use email for submission of work and, thankfully, so does my school (Except for iTunesU, not available in SA yet).

The amazing thing to me is that they decided to start this program and were able to run it fully within 6 months. Teachers were brought on board by allowing them to use the technology and not with hours and hours of professional development. In fact, the ESSA Academy doesn't run professional development days but has rather built them into the school timetable (every week on a Friday).

It was an amazing insight on how to progress with a BYOD/T roll-out.

The issue now is how do South African schools adopt/adapt this model to work for us?

1). INTERNET: When I asked about internet speed issues Abdul pointed out that his school, rather than connecting to the internet, built a robust and functioning intranet that allowed the devices to connect through wireless. The first step was to allow the students access to the schools servers to download worksheets  videos and any other 'storable' material.

Maybe in SA we should rather focus on upgrading school networks? Once the savings on textbooks, paper, printing etc. start to feed through we can use those funds to upgrade or connect to the internet.

2). DEVICES: These are expensive but they could provide savings in other area's.

Maybe the school/district/government/country needs to look at available funds and how they could be re-used to provide this sort of program.

3). THE ECOSYSTEM: Computer software is expensive and short-lived. The ongoing running costs add to the burden a school has to carry.

Not true according to Abdul. Apps are once of payments and never need to be purchased again and, more importantly, there are thousands of free applications that do as good a job as a paid one.

4). WILLPOWER: Probably the most important part of the equation. Without acceptance and investment in a program it will never work. To many have failed due to a lack of foresight or investment.

In my opinion the decision to run a program like this is up to the willpower of the relevant stakeholders in education. Parents, children  teachers and officials need to see this as a powerful and exciting way forward and not as a scary and uncharted territory.

There are so many questions to ask around a program like this however we need to start asking and answering them in order to provide an education that is relevant and future-proof, can we afford to wait?