E-learning, community, and earthquakes might seem an unusual combination. However during 2013, this was the reality for eleven schools in the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch. Termed the Pegasus Cluster, these schools highlighted the importance of schools’ role in the wider community.
While the thought of 1:4 digital devices might send some of us salivating, the practicalities of device deployment, integration, professional learning and development (PLD), and e-learning was not always as exciting, and at times, it was tiring. Despite this, the commitment of each school to their learners and their willingness to work together saw the success of the wider community. Their story, along with recommendations for deployment, is reflected in the recently released Pegasus report. I have put together here a summary (assisted by my colleague Louise Taylor, who along with Merryn Dunmill prepared the report).
The Pegasus Digital Devices Project began at the end of 2012 when 11 schools in the Pegasus Bay region of Christchurch were gifted digital devices at a 1:4 ratio. This initiative was part of the earthquake recovery focus happening in the area, and was a yearlong collaborative venture between educators, the community, and PLD providers. Those involved were determined that students should not be disadvantaged because of the devastation they had experienced. Underlying the project was a kaupapa of transformation and equity, with teacher and student voice being prominent throughout. While this work is embedded in the context of a community recovering from crisis, the findings are relevant for all schools implementing digital devices into their environment. Here is an outline of the project, findings — and some recommendations.
Deploying a large number of devices into any school requires careful thought and planning. Prior to the deployment of devices into the schools, a professional learning plan was designed to support teachers and students with the implementation and the Wi-Fi were upgraded. As part of the rollout, the project developed a mentor network designed to promote sustainability and support within the community of schools, which kept up momentum and was key to devices being integrated more quickly into learning.
Teacher learning and change
The introduction of the digital devices into the classroom challenged practices, not least because many teachers were learning alongside their students. Working with students as co-learners shifted the teacher-student role as teachers and students built their knowledge together. The establishment of teacher networks also supported ongoing learning around the use of the devices in class.
Student learning and change
The introduction of digital devices into the classroom provided multiple learning pathways for students. Students themselves noted how the devices supported them to learn in new ways. The element of provisionality, including the ease of correction, with devices, enabled students to take more risk and try things out because they could restore their work if it was not as they wanted. Self-assessment and peer review provided alternative ways for students to collaborate, to review, and to track their progress, particularly because of the immediacy of replay that the devices offered.
At the heart of this project was the goal of supporting a community recovering from the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes. The shared experiences of the community helped to build a number of connections between the schools, and families. In particular, the Digi-Awards ceremony brought together the community from the 11 schools to celebrate the success of students and to reconnect with each other. Along with digital entries from students, schools performed and presented during the evening with a large number of the community attending.
Recommendations from the project:
- A commitment by school leadership to the changes required will ensure a quicker and smoother integration into classrooms.
- Provide for ongoing IT support — preferably have this in-house and on hand.
- Engage in ongoing professional learning and critical dialogue.
- Share ideas at staff meetings.
- Visit other teachers in their classrooms to observe how they are using the devices.
- Encourage teachers to take their devices home so they can play and learn.
- Integrate devices as part of the everyday classroom and allow devices to be used inside, outside and across the curriculum.
- Allow time to play, especially in the beginning.
- Do not be afraid to learn with and alongside students.
- Be open and willing to change teaching pedagogy and practice.
- Find out what is important to students.
- Encourage students to work on issues that are important to them.
- Work with students on some community projects.
- Plan a community event – with the community.
- Share learning with the community (e.g. blogs, evenings).
- Invite the community to be part of the school.
- Keep transformational change as a goal.
“The Pegasus Digital devices project not only created new pathways for learning, but also new ways to demonstrate care and concern for others. The community came together for a common good, as they did, they helped to rebuild their lives” (Pegasus report, p. 2)
The full research on the project can be read or downloaded here and will be useful to all those considering e-learning. For those schools that are leading transformation through eLearning, we challenge you to think about how you will involve the wider community.
We would like to acknowledge the teachers, leaders, children and wider community at these schools, and the other schools in Christchurch who, despite their significant challenges, remain steadfast in their resilience, determination and desire for learning. Kia Kaha.
We also acknowledge the organisations that supported this project: Greater Christchurch Schools Network, Te Toi Tupu, Ministry of Education and CORE Education.
The following videos are found on the TKI's Enabling eLearning site:
Avondale 1 (Julia 1) — Renewed enthusiasm for reading:
Avondale 2 (Julia 2) — Learning with iPads in the classroom:
Avondale 3 (Julia ) — Don't be afraid:
Rae 1 (Avondale School) — Working together: writing with iPads:
Rae 2 (Avondale School) — Discover for yourself:
South New Brighton — John — Work as a team:
South New Brighton — Ryan 1 — iPad set-up and deployment:
South New Brighton — Ryan 2 — Introducing iPads into the classroom: