Centres of Innovation – Aussie Style

Clarence Fisher posted a few days back about the concept of Centres of Innovation and lamented the demise of this concept in the Canadian education system.

At the national level, the Canadian government does almost nothing to support innovation in education and my provincial government (who is responsible for education) designs resources for schools to use, but does not monitor their use or support and promote centres that are using their tools in innovative ways. At bestin Canada, we have lab schools that are hooked to schools of education and are centres of new ideas, but their overall "effect" on education is regional at best.
We need to find ways to do better.....

This got me thinking about parallels in my own education system here in South Australia. We are a small state population wise and one initiative created in the mid 90's was the Technology School Of the Future - a place where computing initiatives were trialled, a lot of crystal ball gazing was involved and high tech education solutions were funded regardless of the barriers of practical implementation in mainstream classrooms. I remember going on a staff training session there when TSOF (the popular acronym) was out at The Levels and thinking that it was a real ivory tower. Everything they showed us was too expensive, too complex and required too much technical knowhow even for our newly appointed ICT Coordinator.

Eventually as schools became networked and the department made educational technology a focus, TSOF gained relevancy and a new address at Hindmarsh. When I-Movie first came out, TSOF had rooms full of Macs where you could spend the day editing footage with your students. Even up to a couple of years ago, if it was new to education, TSOF had it and the expertise to teach it to you. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II got the royal tour of this cutting edge facility. I remember being involved in a Quality Teacher Program there, taking my class there for a day to use Audacity to add soundtracks to our Milestones In My Life projects and attending or presenting at the annual Exciting Learning Expo.

But the edge has gone from the place. Courses and professional development are now excessively expensive for the average teacher, it costs you a fee to book a room and the number and quality of presentations at the Expo has dropped. I've even heard of it being referred to by a colleague as "The School Of the Past". Ouch!

Obviously, TSOF is suffering from budgetary cutbacks and is being expected to "pay its own way ". But being a DECS site, why shouldn't it subsidise teachers to attend their courses? So Clarence's issue is an international one - even in the so called lucky country.

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