According to the Foundation for Young Australians, the demand for digital skills, combined with creativity and critical thinking skills, has risen exponentially since 2012. So, as we teach and prepare our students for life beyond Wenona, we must equip them with the digital skills and competencies they will need to thrive in the complex world they will live and work in.
As part of the Digital Learning team at Wenona, a leading girls’ school in North Sydney, I’m at the coalface of new and emerging educational technologies. My aim is always to leverage the latest in technology in order to better support our staff and students to keep pace with change. Harnessing appropriate technologies to amplify our teaching is also a great way to motivate and engage our students, and deliver better teaching and learning experiences for all.
Not so digital natives
The current generation of young people are often referred to as ‘digital natives’. However, in my view, this term is misleading as it implies that our young people already understand how to use technology effectively. While many students are competent when it comes to using social media or playing games on devices, they require significant instruction, support and guidance to use technology in a way that enhances their learning. Looking ahead at the global job market, it is clear that people with advanced digital skills will be highly sought after. We need to be developing their ICT skills and competencies, within our curriculum to prepare our students for the workplace of the future. In doing so, we can also enhance, enrich and extend their learning, enabling them to better embrace creativity and innovation.
Developing explicit skills
Utilising technology to build soft skills such as communication and collaboration, will prepare our students to flourish in an evolving job market. It is imperative therefore, that across the curriculum, we include the development of explicit technology skills rather than viewing them as an ‘add on’ to teaching.
Increasingly at Wenona, we are utilising digital technology and skill development to enhance and enable interdisciplinary learning. Skills that may be developed in one subject often can be utilised and built upon in other subjects. Collaborating across the curriculum and being aware of skills they can leverage, allows students to develop richer more relevant content.A great example of this is perhaps in our approach to working with data and spreadsheets across a range of subjects, supporting them to analyse, interpret and present their findings in new and compelling ways. Taking an interdisciplinary approach allows staff to set more authentic tasks, which in turn, increases the depth of skill development and improves soft skills such as communication.
Learning by creating
Empowering students to create their own content helps them to achieve deeper learning. In order to create content, students usually need to demonstrate a higher level of understanding in a set topic in order to be able to explain it. Therefore, giving them opportunities to create their own content is a logical way to engage them, as well as building a greater sense of pride and responsibility in their work. As technologies continue to advance, content creation is evolving to enable multiple forms of input and output. This includes taking advantage of touch, gesture and voice capable devices. Creating content using technology encourages students to actively engage in their learning, and also helps to create exciting new resources for the School, which makes it a win-win situation all round.
Exploring what’s possible
Access to new technology tools and platforms is constantly evolving. Being aware of what is available allows for greater teaching and learning outcomes, as well as giving both staff and students the chance to be more creative. A great example of this is ‘green screening’ or chroma keying. This technology has long been a staple of special effects film studios, but at Wenona, it has become an exciting classroom addition for our students. By using cameras, a green backdrop and simple movie editing software, students have been incorporating this technology into their work to great effect. It has been awesome seeing students literally become part of their chosen narrative or interact with the characters within particular settings. I recently conducted a Year 11 English master class to help the students explore different ways to create multimodal presentations for their HSC. This included exploring the advantages of green screen technology to layer their content and achieve greater communication by promoting emotional connections and engagement with their intended audience. I also showed them some innovative ways that other students had used this technology to achieve outcomes that were previously unachievable, and they were most enthusiastic in their response.
Similarly, there has been a highly positive response to exploring Virtual Reality(VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). These technologies enable students to travel to places that would not otherwise be possible in their day-to-day Science or PDHPE classes. It has given them an opportunity to explore inside their own bodies and see the layout of their bones and organs. Or scuba dive in the ocean and watch tropical fish swimming around the Great Barrier Reef. Technology like this gives students a more visual and tangible way of understanding the world. And rather than simply absorbing knowledge, it involves them in it.
While exploring these technologies, we have also been able to expose our students to exciting new Australian start-ups such as Awe.media and JigSpace, which enable them to interact and create innovative content using VR and AR. Developing a wide student skillset, along with exposure to emerging products and ideas, helps todevelop their creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.
Making it happen
Using new and emerging technologies enables us to immerse our students in new experiences, expand their creativity and bring the curriculum to life in new and exciting ways.
While explicit ICT skill development can extend and enrich their learning, as educators we must seek to bridge the gap between what we teach our students at school and how they will need it in everyday life.
As educators, we must stay ahead of the curve and continue to nurture our own digital fluency. There is a wealth of support and resources available to help us with our professional development, including Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) on social media, and many great blogs and websites. Attending ‘teachmeets’ and other events sharing and showcasing great learning is also a great way to extend our knowledge and skills. Staying relevant and appropriately skilled is challenging, but the pay-off is worthwhile. Enjoy!