Sunday, August 31, 2008

Moving Forward - Getting Ready to Begin a New Year

During the past 2 weeks at Qatar Academy we have witnessed a flurry of activity getting ready for students to start the academic year on August 31 (tomorrow). From a technology point of view we are transforming the campus with mobile computing and wireless networking and moving towards a 1:1 laptop program. To do this a massive hardware changeover is taking place with hundreds of older desktops being taken off campus to be replaced with a combination of desktops and laptops. All teachers have now received a new laptop, although in some cases it is not the one they will end up with in a week or 2. We have had to give out many student-allocated laptops (DELL Latitudes) as the HP Tablets arrived with the incorrect OS, and the additional DELL XPS's have not arrived yet (sigh). As part of the standardization of classrooms, all teaching rooms will receive a digital projector mounted on the ceiling.

Our approach is to foster a blended learning environment with students and teachers having choices as to what they want to learn with and where they want to learn. We are continuing to maintain 11 computer labs across campus (having closed 2 labs at the end of last year) as well as PCs in libraries but have now introduced some laptop carts (when the carts arrive) in the senior school as part of the transition to student-owned laptops by the end of the year. All classes in the primary school have 3 student-use laptops, with plans for grade 4 and 5 to have additional class sets of smaller laptops (Asus EEE PC or the new smaller HP - we have yet to decide the final model). We are also blending MacOS with Windows across campus, with some teachers electing a MacBook, and the installation of a new iMac lab (when the hardware is cleared through customs) and a new higher specs 15-unit iMac lab to support the IB Film Studies course (yes, we don't do anything by halves here in Qatar).

Hand-in-hand with the surge of hardware is a push from the administration to take online learning and mobile computing and 'technology integration' seriously. The 'E-Learning for Life' initiative was talked about a lot at meetings, openings and amongst faculty. There is a sense of excitement and empowerment amongst some teachers. There is also a methodical plan to support teachers in the development of skills to improve their own teaching and learning using technology. This professional development plan includes ongoing meetups and sessions during and after the school day as well as 'binge' PD opportunities involving visiting speakers to the school. I am excited to be welcoming Gary Stager to Qatar in November, Kim Cofino to come back in February, and of course the Flat Classroom Conference in January.

A significant change for me this year is the move to an adminsitrative position where I have no classes of my own. As my daughter just said to me on her way to bed prior to the first day back, 'What are you going to be doing tomorrow Mum?', with disbelief that I could fill my day in without teaching a class. Well, a significant amount of my time now will be spent in meetings and planning sessions and organisation of others. However, I am also a part of the TIF team (Technology Integration Facilitators) and will be in other teachers' classes as needed and supporting them with professional development. I am in two-minds about this change in status, the first time in nearly 25 years that I have not had my own classes! Being the pragmatist I am (sometimes) I realise that this now gives me the opportunity to make a difference in other ways, by continuing to plan and promote the use of 21st century learning using technology tools and support teachers in their journey along this road. I will still have many close links with students and keep in circulation with many classes, but will also have the freedom of a more flexible schedule and be able to flex a leadership muscle.

Here is the slideshow I presented to the whole faculty earlier this week. This was the first time since arriving in Qatar that I have had the opportunity to speak to the entire school. I remember a couple of weeks ago reading Jeff Utecht's blog (can't find the exact post just now) and how he was skyped into the start of a school year staff meeting in the USA and how he tried to make the session interesting and stimulating because really all the teachers wanted was to either be back on holidays or getting their rooms ready.....that's what I like about Jeff, he always hits the nail on the head. So, I aimed to be light-hearted, show some tools, try to inspire and create excitement for the year, as well as encourage everyone to be on the same page as we start our adventure again. I created an animoto of my holiday, played Taylor Mali's 'What a teacher makes', quoted Henry Longfellow, and attempted to relate the E-Learning journey of Qatar Academy - where we had come from, where we are now and where we are going to in terms of E-Learning and information technology. I also invited my colleague, Mike Boulanger, Head of IT in the Primary School to talk about the TIF initiative and how primary classes in particular did not have scheduled IT classes anymore. (I will talk more about this later).

[The orientation workshop sessions run for all staff last week are detailed on our e-Learning wiki.]

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etalbert said...

Great slide show with valuable messages. Sounds like your school has all the best tools.
I will be keen to follow your work on the TIF team. Elaine

Jeff Utecht said...

Great presentation! You're doing great things in Qatar and around the world. Looking forward to bouncing ideas off you in Shanghai in a couple weeks.

colingally said...

First time commenter here, long time reader. Thank you for the fascinating and informative blog Julie. Now to my comment!
Why oh why are schools implementing these mini laptops. Our primary school has them and they are really cool for the kids and they like them for the novelty at the minute. But they are almost worthless for image manipulation, flash animations on some websites go off the page and require scrolling and it's all just plain too small. Keyboards are fiddly, the left and mouse buttons on the HP model are in a weird configuration aswell adding to the learning curve.
I don't see the point of not just using normal laptops or indeed static desktops in each room?
Is it a cost issue with most schools?

Julie Lindsay said...

@etalbert Thanks Elaine, yes we are working through some issues here that include the nervousness of some teachers when they realise they need to take some responsibility for developing and integrating IT into their curriculum and using it as a professional educator.

@jutecht Thanks for your support as usual...I know you know how hard this job is in international schools

@coling Thanks for posting a comment and for reading my blog! OK, good points made about the smaller laptops. Yes, it is partly a cost issue as we now know we can purchase 'more' laptops and spread them further than ever before. We are being careful about this and have not made a final decision yet, however for younger students normal laptops are big and unwieldy and minimize the mobility we aspire to. To achieve true ubiquity we need to downsize and promote mobile learning in its many forms. I will certainly let you know what we do and how it turns out!

colingally said...

Thank you Julie and thank you for replying. I will also keep you informed about how our laptop system is progressing. On a similar topic, how do you store the laptops? We have this electronic cart where each student has to scan their card, unplug laptop and close door. Very lengthy process and takes up a good chunk of time. The powers that be MUST keep track of laptops! I am fighting it. I believe if the technology is not readily accessible then integration is a long way away.
Thanks for your reply yet again,
ps. I met you briefly in Duesseldorf at ECIS IT07. I worked there under Pat and helped organise it all. Now branched off to Hong Kong to try and spread some I.T. loving!