Nothing is impossible

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hand and lightby George Drivas

George Drivas shares his experience of introducing and implementing 1:1 (1 tablet: 1 student) in a school with a century’s tradition in education.

Impossible: The word itself means: ‘I’m possible’

As recently as 2008, with the information and communication ecosystem rapidly changing, Doukas School was a traditional, demanding, yet forward thinking and creative pen and paper school. The feeling, however, was that this was the time for change. The gap between why, where, when and how our students had access to information and the skills the teachers were providing training in, was widening. We ran the risk of failing our mission, especially in the sense of educating and training global citizens for the 21st century. The decision was taken to adopt learning technologies and equip each and every student and teacher with their own netbook to enable them to function in the new environment.

As with all major decisions, implementation required careful research and planning. First, we needed to identify our goal: an educational environment which would be creative, pleasant, useful and effective, with each individual student taking centre stage with Information and Communication technologies widely applied and used. Remember: That was the time before the influx of tablets and smartphones along with the myriads of applications available for different platforms. The iPad had not been launched yet.

Second, we needed to ensure that every teacher and student received ample training for both the hardware and the software they were going to use: word processing and presentation software, spreadsheets and other digital information manipulation programs. Include interactive whiteboards into the equation since they were all the rage at the time and you get a picture of where we stood.

Third, the use of hardware and software had to be intricately linked to instructional and learning goals which would still form the backbone of the educational process and the benchmark of the learning outcomes. Our students and teachers needed to be part of the system and still perform in radically different ways.

A road map was needed. At the time the best one was offered by MICROSOFT experts. In their overview of the School of the Future Project, they listed the following principles – which are still relevant today.

Learning first … technology later

In other words, an educationalist’s primary goal should be the provision of knowledge, such as described and analyzed in the learning outcomes documents of any course or institution. Technology was the medium. It described and defined the environment in which students and teachers would operate; it described and defined our daily lives beyond the classroom. It affected the goals and the content, but it did not change our learning priorities.

Language is paramount

We all needed to know where we were going, how and when we would reach our destination. Surely, this was a journey of discovery for all stakeholders – teachers, students and, occasionally, their parents. However, they should all share a common route and set of instructions, a map with the necessary stops, the foreseeable risks, and the list of supplies to take with them. More importantly, they all needed detailed information about their destination. All these should be available in a form and language they all understood regardless of their ICT proficiency.

Lack of process impedes success

All involved needed to have access to the processes indicating the steps of the project, detailed knowledge of everything concerning the implementation of new technologies and teaching practices. In short, we needed to have a plan. A plan, which was preceded by an overview of the most appropriate methodology and pedagogy, by research of appropriate practices, by collaboration with stakeholders who could influence the effort to implement the program and, finally, by a review of the results and by the necessary adjustments to the new data.

Be comfortable not knowing

It was a fact that the whole effort raised more questions than provided answers. There were no ready-made recipes that would suit all situations and all stakeholders. Every teacher knows from the first day of his professional career that even the more detailed manuals offer only suggestions for effective teaching. Detailed application of them is in the hands of the students and teachers involved. What really helped was discussion with experienced colleagues, individual or group experimentation and research. The main ingredient in every attempt to introduce the desired change, however, was to look at the problem straight in the eye and ask for the expert advice and assistance necessary to achieve our goal.

Identify the questions and the answers will come

It was vital to focus our attention on issues that concerned us: the students, the teachers and the subject matter involved. The questions we asked ourselves usually referred to the nature and the characteristics of the student group, their needs and goals. The more specific the questions we raised, the easier it was to find the sources and the help required; the more suitable the answers to our concerns were.

The introduction of new tools into the learning process followed two stages (Puentedura, 2009): Enhancement and Transformation.


Drivas chart

In the first stage, an electronic tool was used in the place of a traditional pen and paper tool, e.g. a dictionary (substitution). A further step forward was when an electronic tool was used which allowed the use of features such as sound, that were otherwise not available through the traditional means (augmentation) pop over here. In our case what this meant was that we had to identify the ways that electronic devices could be used instead of the traditional, yet very effective tools, i.e., books and notebooks. In addition, it meant that we had to identify specific electronic tool features that were not traditionally available and encourage learners and teachers to use them in the educational process. This is easier said than done, considering that the technology available at the time was limited in this respect. It was also important to take into account the fact that any change generates resistance. It involves moving stakeholders away from their comfort zone and their established habits and routines, creating a new comfort zone and the necessary sets of patterns while maintaining the same level of perceived educational value and success. It entailed feeling comfortable taking risks and experimenting with a new range of learning strategies. Achieving confidence at this stage was a major milestone and regardless of training and planning could only be attained through hands on experience. More importantly, regression at this stage was a major risk that could broaden the gap between enhancement and transformation. The novelty of introducing electronic devices in a school environment wears thin quite rapidly if it is not supported by effective pedagogy. This was our major struggle and the essence of change.

In the second stage, learning technologies allowed for the significant redesign of tasks. Instead of the teacher controlling the audio input from the front of the class, each student had the ability to listen to the audio input as many times as needed to perform the assigned activity (modification).  Both the teacher and the students had to be ready to release and assume responsibility respectively in order to benefit from the possibilities available. The second step in this stage involved the students using an electronic tool in order to rework the audio input to produce their own version of the content, i.e., adapting, interpreting or personalising it (redefinition). In this stage teachers and learners had to be made aware of another risk involved: shifting. Every task had to be driven by and geared towards specific leaning outcomes which justified and required the use of electronic devices. Otherwise everybody involved could be very happily and productively familiarising themselves with the device and the software, without any real language learning taking place.

The transition to the new model was not effortless or seamless. There is a place for digital technologies to facilitate learning. They will not make teachers or learners more effective automatically. The introduction of 1:1 computing requires major methodological and pedagogical changes that everybody should be willing to embrace and own. It also involves independence and choice in order to make learning anything, anytime, anyplace a reality. It can be simultaneously considered the result or the cause of responsibility and accountability. Our students and our teachers have excelled in both these areas and the adoption of technology has impacted all aspects of the school operation.



Bio: George Drivas studied English Literature at the University of Athens and Theoretical Linguistics at the University of Reading, UK. He has worked in Foreign Language education since 1981 as a teacher and a teacher trainer. He is Director of Studies at the Department of Foreign Languages at Doukas School since 1994. He is an inspector for the European Association for Quality Language Services and a certified assessor for the European Foundation for Quality Management. He is the author of Education, Learning and Training in a Digital Society (Express Publishing, 2011) and Presentation Skills Practice Book with Chryssanthe Sotirou (Express Publishing, 2014)

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