Saturday, 20 July 2013

BYOD in schools - Part 5: What we need from Digital Leaders

So last week we finally interviewed our first set of digital leaders. They will have a huge role in the roll-out of our whole-school BYOD scheme (SMART Learning©) as and when it happens. Specifically, we are expecting them to support our students and our staff as we experiment with using digital devices to enhance teaching and learning across the school. We want teachers to be confident about this process, and we want the Digital Leaders to act as their safety net and inspiration, having explored digital teaching techniques, apps, websites, and ironed out any potential technical obstacles which often put teachers off experimenting with newer technologies. Which is quite a big ask for any 13-14 year old.

Our initial rationale for introducing a BYOD scheme was based around the type of students we have at Finham Park. They are generally motivated, achieve well, looking to be well-taught, and looking to succeed. However, we have a lot of students at the top end whose strategy is to "succeed through obedience": "Tell me what I need to do, and I'll do it" style of thing. It sounds ideal, but it encourages people to coast rather than to think for themselves at a more profound, inquisitive level, and we really wanted these students to break through the glass ceiling and start a life-long journey of discovery and self-motivated learning. These were our key aims:

- Increase student motivation
- Stop students relying on teachers
- Promote independence and inquiry
- Allow for personalisation
- Get students ready for the demands of the future workplace

So what exactly are we looking for in our Digital Leaders? How will they contribute towards these SMART learning aims? Some of the key qualities we need from them are:

* An understanding of the needs of students and, more importantly, scared reticent adults!

Innovation - Departments which are linked to Digital Leaders want to explore innovative teaching and learning strategies, but they often don't know where to start. It's important to remember that, if you're reading this and thinking you know exactly where to start in this quest, then you're probably in a minority of 10% of the teaching profession who are currently connected, be it via Twitter, Google Plus or blog-reading. For the rest who really want to try something new but don't know where to start, the innovation and inspiration have to come from the Digital Leaders.

One of the interesting questions we asked them at interview was this: You are asked to bring in your own tablet or smartphone to school in order to assist with your learning, but your parents refuse to let you. How would you convince them that there is a good educational rationale for allowing you to use your devices in school? I think the best student leaders we interviewed were able to understand and articulate how far-reaching this change to our normal educational landscape might be, and saw what a game-changer BYOD potentially is. Implicitly, they also understand the significance of their role in this context. They know that they will need to lead the way in this revolution, and think outside of the box. Already we've been surprised by the quality of some of their ideas for educational technology solutions, including writing bespoke apps for departments, so we're confident we've made good appointments.

Problem-solving and lateral thinking - Another area which often puts teachers off trying new technologies is the fear of the technologies going wrong in front of an entire class, and chaos ensuing! We have to train these student leaders to be able to deal with the simple but frequent technical problems which might impede progress, and hopefully give the teachers the confidence to try new things knowing that there will always be a safety net for them. Digital Leaders will be the superheros to the rescue! As Scott Adams has wisely said, the students who learn to master the new technologies which will dominate our society in the future will eventually become the alpha males and females of the future, on an evolutionary level.

Already the training we're offering is based around problem-solving, and our students seem to be eager to show their problem-solving abilities. Our tech wizard has asked if any of them fancy coming in over the summer to learn to put a computer together for themselves, and they were well up for it. It's that level of inquisitiveness which will stimulate their problem-solving abilities further.

Good communication skills - Having the confidence to deal with teachers and other students is probably the most important skill our Digital Leaders will need. Being able to ascertain what someone wants when they're to exactly sure themselves is hard. It involves really perceptive questions, clear understanding and excellent listening skills. In many ways, it requires them to understand that they are putting their skills forward as a service to others, but that others define what the parameters of that service are, and that takes a level of both confidence and humility at the same time, paradoxically.

Patience and enthusiasm - In spades. Enthusiasm will be the torch that lights the way for our staff and students. They already want to know how they can be better at what they do, and they will look to anyone who can show them great ideas. But once the enthusiasm and the great ideas are there, the Digital Leaders will also need the patience to be able to explain them to a variety of different people who will understand them in a variety of different ways, and at different speeds. Essentially, the Digital Leaders will be developing the subtle skills teachers use every day. And at their age, that will be an impressive feat!

E-safety awareness - Finally, this is one area which any school wishing to go down a BYOD/iPad/1:1 route will need to tackle. We are letting students access the devices with which they connect to the world, any time, anywhere. While we will always treat attempts to use social media in appropriately in class as behaviour issues rather than technology issues, we need to be aware that students will nevertheless quite naturally be accessing social media around school at other times, and we need to educate students about the problems this might create for them. Frankly, I'm not sure teachers are the best people to do this, for a number of reasons:
- They are not the digital natives that the students are.
- They are not necessarily listened to when they take on a "moralising" tone on any issue.
- And more often than not, their own knowledge of e-safety issues is far from adequate. 
I know people who are otherwise extremely professional, but when it comes to their social media presence, seem to have very little awareness of the reach of their comments, and the potential to cause offence. As such, we are reliant on our Digital Leaders to help train the rest of our students and indeed our staff, to ensure that we operate in a community that takes full advantage of the enormous benefits of social media, without leaving ourselves vulnerable to its pitfalls. The DLs have already offered to lead staff training, to take assemblies and PHSE sessions on Internet safety, and we think they'll do a far better job of it than we will.

There is also a sense of competition between the new Digital Leaders, which when they are in their pairs and teams has been very good natured, but also made them try to be as helpful as possible. They really are trying to push themselves individually and as a team, and that tells us that we've made some good appointments for the future.

We have now attached them DLs in groups of four or five to the three core departments for next term. Already they have contacted the Subject Leaders, and been given areas to research over the summer, so that by the time we come back in September, they will be ready with their latest ideas on teaching and learning.

And we are SO looking forward to this journey...

For this summer, on our BYOD journey, it's over and it, but we'll be blogging more as the scheme develops next term. Until then, if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The DL Team (@FPS_DL).