James Jenkins poses an important question for teachers: “If digital technology can make your lesson either more engaging more effective or more efficient why wouldn’t you include it?”
Jenkins is a science teacher at Queensland’s Canterbury College, and also head of the school’s digital pedagogy initiative that has him supporting teachers as they implement digital technologies into their teaching, or working directly with students.
“That’s generally working on fun, exciting, innovative type projects – in augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. It might be robotics or drone aviation, down to the best use of our suite of common digital tools – Office 365, Teams, Sway, Forms, Class Notebooks,” says Jenkins.
He believes that most classes, no matter how engaging they already are, can be enhanced in some way by technology. Even health and PE lessons, which generally engage most students, can reach a new level if a drone is flying overhead, taking video that can later be analysed in a theory class.
Greater integration of technology has also enhanced the connection between home and school says Jenkins – offering a more blended learning environment thanks to Class Notebooks which ensure that lesson information and resources are available to students who may be absent from school for some reason.
Canterbury is a Microsoft School and Jenkins is a Microsoft Innovation Educator (MIE) Expert. All 100 plus teachers use Surface devices (Pros and Books) which were selected for their digital inking capability that Jenkins recognised as important in terms of providing instant feedback to students.
The school, which has 1,500 students across K-12, runs a BYOD technology program, with Windows 10 and touchscreens as the base specification. Jenkins also runs the school’s digital hub, which is equipped with a range of additional equipment including Surface Studios, 3D printers and half a dozen HoloLens systems that are available for teachers’ and students’ use.
What you are doing with HoloLens?
It’s still early days – when we first got them we loved the idea of being able to use some of the apps such as the periodic table where students can click on different elements and compare electron configurations. In biology there was an early heart app where you could get the heart beating and stop it beating – peer around and look through the aorta or vena cava.
In Year 8 we run an integrated project bringing together science, English, maths and the humanities about conserving minerals by designing renewable products. This year we have used Paint 3D for sketches and textures on those products which can be saved to One Drive. Then using an app called 3D Viewer we can put the models in a realistic environment using HoloLens.
Students can see what they look like, take pictures to use this as evidence for their portfolio which is kept in OneNote.
We have also done things like art galleries – in visual art, students did paintings and gave me the digital photos – then we created an augmented gallery using these.
What other technologies are proving most valuable?
We talk here about personal learning environments – the go-to software applications that students and teachers need to be across, Office 365 makes up a large part of that. Word, PowerPoint, Excel –and we are keen to keep up with new features. For example, PowerPoint has changed a bit this year, with 3D models. Students have the flexibility to put their 3D models either into a mixed reality environment or put it on their PowerPoints for presenting.
How is the school using Microsoft Teams?
Every class in the school now has a Microsoft Team. We were very early adopters of OneNote Class Notebooks; it was originally somewhat cumbersome to populate those with names. Now a straightforward way to create them is to create a Team and then the Class Notebook within that.
We are BYOD from 4-12 – and that’s going down to Year 3 next year - this year all our classes from Year 4 to Year 12 were created as a Team to generate the Class Notebook.
I also use Teams for a staff digital learning group. When I come across new digital tools, or innovations I will put the information into the Team. This is a good place for people to start a conversation around the information.
And your use of Class Notebook?
Our teachers are using Class Notebooks to present their resources, students to keep their notes digitally – some students still like a paper notebook, but a lot are now realising that with the good quality stylus they can keep digital notes more effectively than paper.
For myself as a chemistry teacher, I often get the students to record the experiments they are doing – so for example a couple of reactants are exploding or changing colour – once that’s recorded they can do all the digital inking – all the annotations and bring that into their digital notes in OneNote – you can’t do that with paper. It makes learning much more effective.
What impact is this innovation having?
It is hard to measure – but you see it. Today multimedia presentations are a common way that teachers are setting assessments instead of the 1,000-word essay - students can bring in different types of media and we use Sway as the go-to for that.
Some students are producing Sways that are very similar in quality to National Geographic, set out with pictures and captions and videos – and they are of such a high quality because they have these tools at their disposal. Their content still needs to be high quality – but presentation skills are now one of the top requirements for business in the future – this gives them great tools for doing awesome presentations.
Is it easy to mesh digital pedagogy with the curriculum?
If digital technology can make your lesson either more engaging more effective or more efficient why wouldn’t you include it?
There are some lessons where technology does not necessarily have a place – but in the majority, it can be used effectively in some way.
I don’t like the idea of students on devices typing things in all day but there is so much more that can be done with digital technology in the classroom today. For a science teacher it could be about getting the students to record the experiment and then spending five minutes annotating with the stylus to describe what is happening.
I met with a languages teacher this morning who wanted to make a lesson more engaging. Perhaps using a robot to talk to students in Japanese, or setting up OneNote with pictures of Japanese items that students could move around the page. It can also become very collaborative using shared pages on the big screen.