Friday 23 June 2017

Keeping up with digital demands

The digital environment is transforming teaching and learning in our schools, and students are increasingly required to work online at home. A new programme aims to address the digital divide that can make this difficult for some students.
As classrooms go digital, students are increasingly expected to blog, utilise online shared spaces and do homework on platforms that require broadband.
Hornby High School in Christchurch is a Manaiakalani school with a goal of being fully digital and for all students to have their own device.
Teachers’ resources and assignments are increasingly digital and students are expected to record their learning on a blog, rather than an exercise book. The school is well on its way to meeting its objective with more than 90 per cent of year 7 and 8 students having their own device.
“For any student who is not connected, and I mean at both the school and at home, their learning is so much more difficult,” says Deputy Principal Jon Rogers.
Educational trusts around New Zealand such as Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru (NPeW) are working towards the same end goal: to support students’ learning both in class and at home.
Rotorua-based NPeW aims to build the capacity of teachers to engage children in their learning through the use of digital technology. The trust engages with more than 40 Rotorua schools, building relationships between schools and whānau, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the value of whānau engagement in raising student learning achievement.
Getting families on an even playing field
With schools increasingly setting expectations for students to learn online, lack of broadband at home means some students cannot keep up with homework and parents are not able to engage with their child’s learning.
While roughly 85 to 90 per cent of families at Hornby High School have broadband connection at home, the school has turned its focus to the 10 to 15 per cent of families who were going without.
“If our aim is to become a fully digital school with every student having a device, then it is important we support families to have broadband at home as well because we are looking to have learning both at school and at home,” says Jon.
Director of Technology at NPeW Adam Ellis argues that statistics are misleading as not all forms of connectivity are the same or enable learning at home.
For example, data from a mobile phone technically counts as connectivity, but “doesn’t cut the mustard” for homework.
Therefore, a number of students are unable to meet expectations to complete digitally based homework.
NPeW identified a need to serve families that were transient and therefore couldn’t maintain a broadband account or just couldn’t afford the broadband service on the market.
Both Hornby High School and NPeW signed on to Spark Jump, a programme for families with school-aged children and no current broadband connection. Families receive a free modem and a wireless broadband connection and pay $15 for 30GB with no fixed-term contract. As a pre-pay service, the modem can be topped up at any time in the same way as pre-pay mobile phones.
The service uses the Skinny Broadband platform and provides wireless home broadband via a 4G mobile signal connecting with the nearest cell tower. The Spark Jump wireless broadband programme is available anywhere there is a good quality Spark 4G mobile signal.
Engaging and connecting families
In order to identify students who did not have home broadband, Hornby High School conducted a survey. The first port of call was families who had been unable to provide an email address.
Getting to know students within the school and classroom environment, as well as talking with parents one-on-one now plays an integral part in getting families connected.
The programme opens up the opportunity to broaden families’ understanding of the world their children now live and learn in.
Fifteen Hornby High School families have joined and the majority use it regularly.