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Pedagogical Change for Positive Outcome: Notebook Program at St. Cuthbert's College

By Rozanne Donald, Director of ICT
St. Cuthbert's College, Auckland, New Zealand

New Zealand flag2008 has been a milestone year for St Cuthbert's College, having completed an incremental rollout of a notebook programme over the last nine years. All teaching staff and students, from years 5 through to 13, are now equipped with notebook computers. As the programme has evolved the strategy has been to amplify the positive aspects and carefully examine the reasons for negative reactions. During the last nine years we have experienced a variety of reactions from stakeholders ranging from enthusiastic innovation and energetic zeal through to resistance and indifference. While nobody here believes you can please all of the people all of the time, we have found that addressing and responding to concerns quickly, even if that means making changes you didn't anticipate, greatly reduces the angst that arises during periods of change.

The greatest single challenge to making the programme work has been matching the student and staff expectations of what a 1-to-1 program should be. Early on staff were valiantly trying to learn software skills to deliver ICT rich lessons and students were unimpressed by what they saw as the same thing - but without a paper copy. We always knew pedagogical change had to occur but it was then that we realised how fundamental it is to the successful uptake of the programme by both students and staff.

The social aspects of networked communication, particularly the developments afforded by learning management systems with features like forums and wikis, have made an enormous difference to the overall uptake and positivity surrounding the notebook programme. After a number of years developing an st.cuthbert's studentsintranet, which was essentially a static HTML website, we decided to implement a learning management system. We chose Moodle as the platform because it is based on the principles of constructivist student-centred learning and offered tools such as wikis and forums that were easy for teachers to set up. During that time we were aware that many staff struggled with specialist software such as Photoshop or Audacity but that they didn't need any training to shop online! A web based LMS (Learning Management System) that required the same skill set as using E-bay seemed like an ideal strategy to make progress with the greatest number of teachers. Following the strategy of amplifying the positive, we focussed on the time-savings afforded by an LMS and the social fun factor. The vision was to create an online community to complement the face-to-face community in the college. This required a holistic approach and meant directing effort into social features such as student event galleries and staff photo caption competitions as well as curriculum structures. To deliver the most efficient curriculum usage we found that we couldn't use moodle straight 'out of the box'. We commissioned development work to offer customisations such as parent and child file sharing between courses and our own in-house social book-marking network. As is the way of open source, those developments have now been fed back into the moodle development community.

Our LMS is now the hub of online learning within the College with every class represented and the majority of teachers and students using it on a regular basis. Specialist software still has a place in teaching and learning but the virtual hub for presenting, publishing and sharing is our moodle. Our next development is an e-portfolio system integrated with moodle based on the Mahara platform. We are calling this MyStudio and this time the emphasis is on individual ownership and the provision of space to gather evidence of learning and critical reflection. We have begun the process of modelling usage for staff and students and a programme of online citizenship to encourage pro-social behaviour. I have no doubt that this new development will bring with it challenges and unforeseen ripple effects, both good and bad. As we evolve our ICT services at the College, the recurring lesson seems to be that it's vital to have a plan but that it is even more important to be willing to change it to maximise opportunities.

Rozanne Donald is the Director of ICT at St Cuthbert's College. Her responsibilities include curriculum integration of ICTs, development of virtual learning environments and ICT-related staff professional development.

St Cuthbert's College is an independent Christian day and boarding school for 1,470 girls, from Year 1 to Year 13, in Auckland, New Zealand. Integration of ICTs and thinking skills are key focus areas. In addition to the notebook programme, St Cuthbert's College established a school-wide Thinking Skills programme in 1992 that sets out to explicitly teach generic thinking skills and encourage the adoption of a common thinking language.

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