Education Nation | Day Two Session Three | Olivia O’Neill

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It’s only when  every student has a laptop, the power begins.”
– 
Seymour Papert, quoted by Olivia O’Neill at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

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Olivia O’Neill presenting in the Digital Dimensions stream at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

Following the lunch break for day two of Education Nation, I settled in to hear Olivia O’Neill, Principal of Brighton Secondary School, speaking about Engaging Gen Y Teachers. This was a session I was looking forward to, as I knew a reasonable amount of about the reforms that had occurred at Brighton Secondary School through my interactions with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLecornu), through both FlipConAus in 2015 and FlipLearnCon in 2016, however, I had about it from Jeremy, whose perspective is that of a teacher. This would be an opportunity to hear about the same journey from the perspective of the Principal.

 

Olivia explicitly said that it had been a slow and deliberate process over an eight-year period that was strongly influenced by Seymour Papert and engaged parents and students through a series of forums.The school chose iPads for pragmatism and after demonstrating they were in a position to make appropriate use the technology, earned a grant under the Digital Education Revolution, and soon discovered that though they had sufficient wireless coverage, their wireless capacity needed substantial work (see here for a rough explanation of the difference between coverage and capacity), with up to one thousand devices online at any one point in time.

We heard that the school was using a combination of Citrix Xen, Verso and Showbie to support their learning management systems and that they have, across the staff, won a number of awards for the innovative approaches being tried, which has been guided, partially by the SAMR model, but largely by the TPCK model. Olivia also spoke about the use of challenge-based learning as an important component of the pedagogical approach in the school. It is not, Olivia made clear, the be all and end all, but it does play a significant role.

Olivia then spoke, in passing, about the use of flipped learning as having played a significant role in the reforms at their school. If you are not familiar with flipped learning, you will find this article useful as a starting point to understand flipped learning. Formative assessment is now conducted using Kahoot and Socrative, with overall assessment philosophy guided by Dylan Williams’ research on assessment.  A number of teachers also record their feedback on students learning output to provide more detailed and contextual feedback to students, which has seen positive reactions from students and parents. Whilst the challenges that can occur in a room with technology do  still occur, the focus is on the pedagogy and the why of its use.

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Photo from Olivia O’Neill’s presentation at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

 

The school also focuses on character education and providing a large variety of opportunities for students to share their learning in non-traditional ways, which has the flow-on of creating a situation where the students are active participants in their learning, producing as much as they consume, and this is driven by a questioning of the purpose of education (again, this seems to be a pattern!) and why the model of information dumping is still followed when there are so many other options.

There was some interesting information in Olivia’s presentation, and I can only assume that others in the audience gleaned a lot from it. I did enjoy hearing about a story I knew from an alternate perspective, however, I feel like Olivia went for breadth, rather than depth. I would have liked to hear more about the challenges faced in the early days of implementing the reforms; how were parents brought on board? Students? How did the senior teachers react and cope with the changes? How did she gain staff buy-in Olivia mentioned that technology pitfalls still occur, but made no mention of any strategies used to circumvent these in a technology-heavy school. I had hoped to hear more about the challenges faced from the perspective of a Principal, as opposed to what I have heard from the perspective of a teacher (Jeremy LeCornu).

I am looking forward to attending FlipConAus16, which Olivia and Brighton Secondary School are hosting, and learning more about the journey taken whilst I am there. I would like to hear feedback and thoughts on Olivia’s presentation from others who were in the session and did not already know about the changes that have occurred in Brighton Secondary School.

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