Teacher Staffroom Episode 33: Technology supporting schools

This podcast from Teacher is supported by the Reframing Teaching and Learning Environments model, also known as ReLATE, a research- and evidence-informed model supporting schools to create the preconditions for improved teaching, learning and wellbeing, delivered by The MacKillop Institute. Visit mackillopinstitute.org.au to learn more.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action in education. I'm Dominique Russell.

As we’ve seen demonstrated time and time again over the past two years, school communities have been innovative with their technology use to ensure a continuity of learning for students throughout the disruptions to school. In our first episode of Teacher Staffroom for 2022, I’m going to be sharing with you some recent pieces of content from us that demonstrate how technology is supporting schools in Australia and beyond.

In today’s episode I’m going to get you up to speed on all of these stories, and also some more of my highlights. And, like all episodes of Teacher Staffroom, I’ll be posing some questions throughout the podcast, so feel free to pause the audio as you go, gather some colleagues and discuss together how these stories might be relevant to your school context. Let's jump in.

Over the past few weeks, here at Teacher we’ve been busy bringing together content to help support you for the year ahead. We’ve looked at topics like early years, student welfare and digital technology throughout this month.

A highlight for me though was a recent podcast episode of ours. It was our first episode of The Research Files for 2022 and, in the episode, our editor Jo Earp spoke with Dr Joseph Ciarrochi from Australian Catholic University.

He is the lead researcher for projectHOPE, a program where at-risk students are matched with an adult mentor for two years. Mentors meet with the students for 15 minutes each week to give students the opportunity to speak about how their week has been with someone who will listen.

It was initially thought that mentors would physically visit the students at school, but when the pandemic hit the program began relying on technology to keep things going. And, moving online actually turned out to be a huge benefit to the program. Here’s Joseph explaining the advantages they found.

COVID just forced us to change because schools weren’t allowed to have visitors during COVID. So, we had to come up with an alternative. And so, we decided to try this online version of it. And that turned out to be a real breakthrough I think, because it proved to us that this can work; and it doesn’t take two years, and you don’t have to be face-to-face; and maybe it would be better, we don’t know, that’s unknown. But the point is we could (via Zoom) standardise everything we do – so you could have a mentor who helps the young person, goes through a protocol, for 15 minutes – and we could go into rural areas, we could go into the city, we could go into Queensland if we wanted to, or the Northern Territory, or the United States if we have to; it doesn’t matter, it’s just a phone call, and still be in the same place. So, the efficiency … we’re talking about – let’s say two-and-a-half hours of travel, is now nine mentored kids. That’s the difference, that is shockingly efficient. And they responded, it was fantastic, they responded. It was a challenge sometimes, but it worked. And so, I’m pretty excited by that.

So, that brings me to a question for you to think about. ProjectHOPE work with students who were starting to disengage. As a principal, think about your own school: Do you have students who are struggling, who are still attending school but are starting to disengage? What support systems do you have in place to help them get back on track? How could technology play a role?

We also published our first edition of Researching Education: Five further readings this month. If you’re not familiar with this series, each month we take a look at some further readings available on a particular topic, including open access research papers from various online databases, and also some Teacher archive content you might not have come across yet.

February’s edition was focused on transitions to school. We shared five resources on this topic which included an ACER literature review which looked at transition programs for Indigenous students and an OECD report which compares the transition to school strategies of 30 countries. You can find the links to these open access resources in the full article. I’ll leave a link to that in the transcript of this podcast, which you can find under the podcast tab at our website, teachermagazine.com.

Staying on the topic of early years for now, and I’d like to bring you to an interesting story from my colleague, Zoe Kaskamanidis. She shared the details of new Australian research highlighting six key features of high-performing school playgrounds.

The research focused partly on the positive relationships that can occur within school playgroups, which I found particularly interesting. They focused on two main types of relationships– bonding relationships and bridging relationships.

To give you a clearer idea of what these are, we can think of bonding relationships as occurring ‘horizontally’ between likeminded people, like children and families in a playgroup. Bridging relationships though occur ‘vertically’ with people outside of the likeminded group, such as between playgroup families, and the local school community. Here is how the lead researcher of the study, Professor Susan Edwards, explained their findings on this topic.

[Bridging relationships] provide rich opportunities for families to connect with school staff, such as the playgroup facilitator, junior school teachers, the principal, and school support staff. Weekly attendance at a school playgroup builds these connections into strong relationships through which schools can learn more about children’s strengths and interests.

So, that point there brings me to some questions for school leaders to think about. As a school leader, think about what you might need to be able to run a playgroup in your school. Who would be the key staff involved? Where would you hold it? What would the benefits be for children, parents and school staff?

Coming up, we’ll bring you more stories on how technology has been supporting schools in Australia and beyond, but first, here’s a quick message from our sponsor.

You're listening to a podcast from Teacher magazine, supported by the Reframing Teaching and Learning Environments model, delivered by The MacKillop Institute. Our model is research- and evidence-informed and supports schools to create the preconditions for improved teaching, learning and wellbeing. The MacKillop Institute provides a suite of evidence-informed programs and services to support students and educators who have experienced change, adversity, loss, grief and trauma. Visit mackillopinstitute.org.au to learn more.

A highlight story for me this month was also hearing about how Australian Christian College run their online learning platform, which has been a permanent feature of the school since 2007. Because they have been offering online learning for so long, they brought a really interesting perspective to the topic, and they shared many advantages of the teaching and learning method.

Online learning is offered to a range of students who have specific needs – for example, those who live rurally, are living with a physical or a mental illness, or have been bullied. In the article, Australian Christian College Assistant CEO, Jeremy Kwok, and Head of Teaching and Learning at Australian Christian College’s Marsden Park Campus, Su Temlett, also shared their tips for schools wanting to get started on offering online learning permanently for their students.

Jeremy Kwok says ‘you have to have a consensus as to what online learning looks like at your school. And then everybody has to buy in to the vision… There needs to be a team effort and there needs to be broad consensus over how to improve’. Here is what advice Su Temlett had.

Have a short-term goal of having all of Year 7 courses built for next year. And then roll it out year on year, so that you’ve got that consistency – it’s not like a kid in Year 7 will have something and someone else in Year 9 and a bit in Year 10. It’s actually like we’re doing a phased approach and I think then, even though that’s going to be a longer roll out, it still means that you’ve started and then you’ll learn from the iterations as you go.

So, reflecting on what Jeremy and Su had to say – as a school leader, think about the online learning initiatives your own staff took during periods of remote learning over the past few years. Is there room to make some of these initiatives a permanent fixture at your school? How could this improve student outcomes?

Another source of inspiration on the topic of using technology to support student outcomes could be our latest edition of Teacher’s Bookshelf, where we share an exclusive excerpt from the book, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer Forward 50 edited by Dr Gary Stager. That name might sound familiar to some of you because he was a guest on an episode of The Research Files in August last year where he reflected on 30 years of laptops in schools. To catch up on that episode if you missed it, search for ‘The Research Files Episode 69’ wherever you get your podcasts.

And finally, I’d like to bring you one last story which looks at how technology that has been used as a training tool in the military could be utilised to support teachers, too. The findings come after researchers at the University of Virginia in the United States spent the last five years looking into ways to supplement traditional teacher training methods with simulations.

The simulations are administered through a mixed-reality platform which features a virtual classroom with student avatars, paired with live coaching and feedback from the research team.

Their findings suggest the use of classroom simulators can support pre-service teachers to provide equitable and effective teaching from day one. A nice example is how simulators could support early career teachers prepare for parent interviews. Here is what the lead researcher, Dr Julie Cohen, has told us about that.

I always ask [pre-service teachers] “what are you most excited about?” and “what are you most nervous about?” …Across the board, they are nervous about parents… no one is really going to give a teacher in training the chance to lead a conference with a parent, because it’s an infrequent interaction they have a couple of times a year. They’re very high stakes … So that’s a perfect kind of target for something to simulate.

So, that point there brings me to some final questions to pose for this episode. Thinking about your own school, how do you support pre-service teachers in the classroom? Have you asked them what they are most nervous about? And, as a principal – do you have a mentor program for teachers at your school? Do teachers have opportunities to engage with supports, feedback and coaching even past the pre-service period?

That's all for this episode, and you're now all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. Links to all the content and the resources I’ve mentioned will be in the transcript of this podcast available over at our website, teachermagazine.com.

You've been listening to a podcast from Teacher, supported by The MacKillop Institute. Visit mackillopinstitute.org.au to learn how we support schools through our Seasons for Growth program and ReLATE model.