For Tauranga Boys’ College, the journey from old school to new began when the school’s Board of Trustees decided to make the transition to a digital learning environment, writes Paul Brislen.
“The brief was to help with what we called ‘e-learning’ and to look at a BYOD policy that would meet our needs,” said Rob Gilbert.
The school had settled on ‘bring your own device’ as a standard rather than providing devices for each student because with 1,900 boys on the campus, the cost of buying and maintaining such a fleet would be onerous. However, before it could even begin to think about deploying so many devices, it needed a network that would cope and discovered pretty quickly that the existing Wi-Fi network would need upgrading.
“We’d been SNUPped [School Network Upgrade Programme] but for various reasons we missed out on the wireless SNUP, so we had to do it ourselves.”
With the physical infrastructure in place, the school could turn its attention to the devices themselves and how to roll out a BYOD policy that made sense for the school, the students and for their families.
“We started with a Year 9 class, which carried their devices on to Year 10. We then added another Year 9 class and now we’re looking at all Year 9s – 422 students – as the next phase of the rollout.”
On paper that would mean a full school deployment would take up to five years, but Rob says that’s unlikely.
“I’d be surprised if it took that long. I think we’ll start to see other classes taking it up much sooner than that.”
In previous years Tauranga Boys’ had been known as a “bit of an Apple” shop but for a BYOD policy, specifying the device too closely wasn’t going to work.
“So long as the device is larger than a phone, has an internet connection and a battery that can last all day, they can use it as part of the programme.”
That means some bring in an old laptop from home, others a Chromebook and others still go out and buy something new.
“We work in conjunction with our largest feeder school, Tauranga Intermediate, who has a policy of providing one device per student, so our students are familiar with the Apple iPad and Google environment.”
As part of the digitisation programme, the College tendered for an outsourced management partner to run the school’s IT needs.
“We went out to four IT firms looking for someone to help us and chose Cyclone. What they’ve been able to provide is revolutionary in terms of service, responsiveness and helping us to manage costs. I don’t think we’d have been able to do so well without Cyclone.”
Many of the teaching staff already lease laptops, Apple Macbooks usually, as part of the TELA scheme run by the Ministry, so Rob knew they would have devices. But how prepared were the teachers for a digital learning environment?
“It’s fair to say most were eager and wanted to get stuck in and try new things.”
Ensuring all teachers had access to professional development around digital learning pedagogy was essential to helping all teaching staff embrace the change. Some was done in-house; Cyclone also provided Google experts.
Today, those students who are bringing their own devices have access to the Google suite of applications, and also use Office 365 and Education Perfect. The school leaves it up to the individual teachers to determine what works best for them.
Engaged and supported
“We didn’t want to direct them at this point, it’s up to each teacher to find the way forward that works best for them in the classroom.
So, the students are fully engaged and the teachers are supported to develop digital teaching skills and new pedagogy – but what about the parents? How did Tauranga Boys’ win over the families?
“I just have to show them my English class, for example, where you’ll find students engaged in group discussions, doing online activities, researching and learning for themselves. They’re not on their devices all day every day, but they’re a tool that helps the student engage and learn well.”
Ownership of knowledge
Rob says the changes to the way the students learn, and think about learning, is self evident.
“In a class of 30 Year 9 boys I don’t get questions about spelling or basic information. They can access all of that on their own and we focus instead on developing critical thinking, on a true ownership of knowledge.”
And no, the students aren’t sitting around playing games all day, adds Rob. Far from it, but if using Minecraft to get through to them is what it takes, then why not?
“It’s no different to getting them to write essays about rugby or what have you. You tap into the things they love and they learn along the way.”
The school’s next steps, once it has deployed BYOD to all classes, is to look at new classrooms. Tauranga Boys’ College will receive additional funding to deliver nine new classrooms and Rob is looking forward to engaging with Ministry designers to see what that can bring to the school.
Paul Brislen writes for INTERFACE Magazine.
Founded in 1958, Tauranga Boys’ College is a state secondary school for boys. It has a roll of about 1,900 students.
Available to teachers through the Ministry’s TELA programme, the MacBook is Apple’s high-performance and stylish laptop brand. It’s a thin and light device, with a wide range of features. apple.com/nz/macbook/
Cyclone is a New Zealand owned company providing bespoke procurement, implementation and support for education. From BYOD solutions to staff training across Apple, Google and Microsoft systems, to its new leasing services, the company offers a varied and comprehensive range of solutions and services to schools. cyclone.co.nz