HWDSB Creating Policy that is Working to Enhance Learning with Technology

My teaching partner, Chantelle Davies, and I have begun to use technology in our classrooms in a more regular manner.  This trend is happening across our entire school board.  In the following guest post, Chantelle outlines some of the changes in polices in regards to technology and some of the pros and cons to these changes.

The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board has been making technology a greater priority over the past few years with an effort to change the learning environment in its schools. Expecting teachers and students to move to a 21st Century learning approach where technology is embedded into practice regularly is a enormous task. Currently, they are working at moving all of our schools to a wireless environment; they have created a role called ‘instructional coaches’ to support schools in their learning; and they are attempting to bring social media into each classroom by investing in devices and designing platforms for teacher and student use which resembles social media tools such as twitter or Facebook. Another part of the change that has come as a way to support the move to this new learning environment was the shift from an IT team to the ‘21st Century Learning Team.’ While the IT team was connected to computer services and provided technical support for teachers; the 21st Century Learning Team are now part of HWDSB’s Leadership and Learning Department. This team is in place to provide interdisciplinary support to school, so as to work with staff or students to increase knowledge around 21st Century tools and support inquiry based learning through technology.

The Hamilton school board has made the decision to evolve because “change is constant.” They are looking to move away from old thinking, toward new thinking that uses technology as a way to enhance learning, rather than using technology as an add-on.

The board has implemented a 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy that is intended to:

  • Increase understanding of how the use of technology can enhance learning and working for all
  • Increase understanding of blended learning
  • Provide pathways to systemic adoption of tools 
  • Enhance teacher instruction and assessment, educational research, and professional development
  • Provide pathways to understanding the importance of authorship and ownership, of managing identity in digital spaces, of recognizing credible sources of information, participating in positive ways, and respecting the privacy of self and others
  • Develop skills for students to critically evaluate information technology, tools and resources
  • Develop the 21st century learning skills of all students and staff

One of the challenges with implementing this policy will be educating staff on mass to the extent that is required for these skills to become a regular part of their practice. The board has been great at providing a platform (D2L) for teachers to access self-directed learning videos and reading materials. This is useful because with such great changes come a vast amount of new learning for everyone; meaning such a great number of topics that make it difficult to cover everything in a face-to-face PD session. The drawback to this support and thus to implementing the new policies is that this self-directed learning requires a certain degree of comfort and knowledge with technology. Many of our boards teachers are still very unfamiliar with how to navigate using certain technologies and many are intimidated by learning these tools; thus easily overwhelmed by such a plethora of self-directed ‘digital’ learning instruction. In relation to that, HWDSB is looking to increase student use of social media. Before students can be taught how to use social media sites like twitter safely, our teachers must first be comfortable with using this and understand how to be safe. With a goal of one-to-one learning by 2019, I wonder how the board will go about ensuring all teachers become comfortable with 21st Century learning tools, so as to ensure the money spent on devices isn’t wasted as an ‘add-on’ technology?

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