IT’s about the students – Reflections

As one would expect, many of the Ontario Association of School Board Officials (OASBO) ICT meeting discussions centre around core IT challenges such as work load, work flow, infrastructure, drive imaging, costs, sustainability, integration challenges etc. and the list goes on. These discussions are valuable and critical for learning, planning, and some sense of provincial alignment. Over the course of the last few months, more and more of these discussions cross into the instructional realm. There is an increasing understanding that all of these core IT functions are intertwined with important instructional ICT needs.

This year I had the pleasure and opportunity to contribute to the planning process of the OASBO ICT Winter Workshop. In order to move the collective IT and ICT agendas forward, there is a need for critical understanding of each other’s (traditional IT and instructional ICT) needs. To this end, the decision was made to begin incorporating an ICT instructional strand into the annual winter workshop.

21st Century Classroom – IT’s about the Students!, this year’s workshop was held Feb. 25th, 2010. Mary Jean Gallagher, Chief Student Achievement Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister – Student Achievement Division of the Ontario Ministry of Education delivered the keynote address. I thought the core message of her address was right on the money.

Mary Jean began by reviewing educational goals of  the provincial government and goals the Ministry of Education. She continued by making the point that IT is a strategic part of every thing we do in both the learning and business sides of education. From a philosophical point of view, there are perhaps only two roles in education:  the front lines work of teaching in the classroom and figuring out how to make this happen easier and more effectively.

In IT, our work certainly falls to the second category. The work that has been done to facilitate data driven decision making is absolutely critical as it drives the analysis and planning processes. This work includes assessment data collection, the OnSIS process and reporting. The impressive result of this work is that, based on international standards, Ontario students have collectively made significant gains over the last few years – and yes, Ontario is being noticed in these international circles. It is important to note that these international tests do not have 100% alignment with EQAO testing. As a result, these improvements are not seen as strongly in the EQAO results. The bottom line – this could not happen without the detailed work of IT supporting the process.

On the instructional agenda, student achievement in the 21st century is all about the work we do together: Dream, Inspire, Achieve. Fundamentally, technology must:

  • be embedded in strong instructional practice
  • enable more powerful pedagogy
  • drive changes to instruction and assessment practices

The important question is how do we make this happen?

  • we need to have more events like this one to keep the discussion alive
  • IT personnel need to embrace conversations of change and accommodating needs
  • teachers and ICT need to clearly define their strategic needs
  • IT needs to deliver on the enablers, such as wireless, guest network access (etc.)
  • collectively, we need to establish an approach to funding, sustainability, support and PD/training

The balance of the winter workshop day had at least one ICT session available within each breakout session, and most importantly, provided opportunities to cross fertilize the IT/ICT discussions. Feedback about the format from participants was extremely positive. During the debriefing session at the business meeting the following day, a motion was made to continue with the instructional ICT strand as a key component of future OASBO ICT workshops.

From my point of view, this was a very successful event with an excellent keynote address and forward thinking discussions. I look forward to keeping this discussion going!

~ Mark

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