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Tech Angels

I suddenly realised today while I was eating my lunch at my desk and reading online Google News New Zealand and Stuff that I have changed.

I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper in hard copy. All my news information now comes from the internet, the odd TV news programme I manage to see, or from the radio as I drive to and from work. Sadly, there isn’t a piece of newsprint in sight. Part of this shift is related to time or more explicitly the lack of it. No longer can I afford the luxury of lying on the floor, spreading out the newspaper and reading it from beginning to end. Now what I do is read news headlines in between doing everything else online and then decide whether or not I want to click on the hyperlink to read the full report. I suppose this is what I also did before when I read the hard copy paper – I scanned the pages, made a decision and turned the page if I didn’t want to read the articles – but I wasn’t aware of it.

Somehow reading the news used to be a very different experience – there was the black ink that rubbed off, the messy crumpled pages that never folded up again as neatly as when you started reading, or the soggy paper you had to dry out before you could read it, the smell of the ink which always made me sneeze and the overall visual sensation of seeing these big sheets of paper spread out before me packed with text and images. Everyday I would read the Births and Deaths columns and now I rely on receiving this news via telephone, email, text, possibly an electronic card and even through online chat. Things have definitely changed. Can you imagine having your fish and chips wrapped up in a laptop!

Now to the real purpose of this posting…

One dark winter’s evening last year as I was driving home from work I heard a report on the National Programme on the Tech Angels initiative. Today the Tech Angels crossed my path again as I read an article in the Education Gazette (Volume 85) entitled Where angels tread :

Tech Angel logo

When teachers at Wellington Girls’ College want to use ICT in their lessons they know exactly who to turn to – their students.

Wellington Girls’ College is a state secondary school for girls established in 1883 and it happens to be the school I went to for my secondary schooling. I am proud to say that they are taking a professional development lead role in using information and communication technologies (ICT) within the school.

Tech Angels are students who offer their time to coach and support teachers in their use of ICT, mentor their peers and attend to computer-related problems in class or across the school. In return, the angels receive extra ICT training and technology support from a tertiary education provider, Natcoll Design Technology, and staff at CWA New Media.

The initiative is based on a similar programme the principal Margaret McLeod learnt about in a British corporation where younger staff passed on their ICT expertise to older colleagues.

McLeod says the college is committed to providing the best education for its students, and central to this is teachers’ ICT support so that technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning.

This made me think about how this model could be applied to the professional development of teaching staff in the tertiary sector. This is not your typical coaching and mentoring relationship because there could be a very significant age difference between the two parties involved and the person with all the expertise is the younger of the two. It depends on what your personal teaching philosophy is as to how an older teacher may cope with this situation. I believe as a teacher I learn so much from my students and I never think of myself as the all-knowing being that is going to spout a whole lot of information that students are required to digest and process. At heart I am very much a social constructivist and that is probably why I find the web such an exciting teaching environment. As you may have picked up from my blog entries I am interested in how we can create a meaningful “human” learning environment online.

I am constantly reminded of all the things I have learnt from my students and my own children regarding technology. For example, I’ll never forget the day some of my students taught me all about Napster and what I needed to do to download it. In no time at all I joined them as an avid downloader of music files for as long as this opportunity lasted. I was really disappointed when Napster was shut down.

Tech Angels also fits in with the traditional Maori concept of ako which places both the teacher and the student at the centre of the learning process. Hemara writes in his investigation of traditional and contemporary Maori pedagogies:

The processes of learning were reciprocal – both teachers and students learnt from each other. Teaching/learning, experience and experimentation were co-operative ventures in which everyone involved learnt something new.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It makes sense doesn’t it? One of the things I see so often is the fear many teachers feel in tackling the challenges of using technology in their practice. We should always be thinking of how we can work together to share what we know with others so they too can feel empowered and supported as they practice these new skills.

At the moment Wellington Girls’ College is considering including provision for wireless access to the LAN and it is actively considering encouraging all their students (approximately 1,300) to use laptops as an integrated aspect of their learning activities.

Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Maori Pedagogies: A View from the Literature. Hemara, W. (2000).

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