Notes From Mal Lee Session @ National IWB Conference

Although, like Lauren O'Grady, I felt a bit underwhelmed at the sessions at the National IWB Conference, one leadership session that I found very valuable was held by Mal Lee, Digital Schooling Consultant and creator of Here are my notes from the session with my thoughts in italics.

Author of a book "leading a digital school" which was due out this week. Mal was also involved in the 2003 research into IWB's at Richardson Primary School, Canberra, ACT. His talk was about achieving total teacher usage of digital instructional technology - preferring the term DIT to ICT. (Not sure if I like the term instructional - has a lot of connotations about methodologies being used. Where's learning?)

It doesn't matter if the technology is there if it is not used. The paper based mode has been maximised (Treadwell says that it peaked in the mid-60's) and it is time to move to a new paradigm. This move should also enhance the prductivity of the nation. In developed nations, the majority of teachers use technology for preparation but only a small number use technology for instruction. Singapore, Korea, UK and NZ have significant investments in this area but Australia hasn't done so - now there is a big divide between the home and classroom, and between the proactive and the reactive teachers. The onus is on schools to address the human and technology variables simultaneously, not one then the other.

The Variables.

1. Teacher Acceptance. This is anyone who teaches in your school as the teacher is the most powerful person in the education equation when it comes to technology. In NSW, all secondary kids will have a laptop under the DER scheme (they don't get a choice, and it will be an el-cheapo) but whether they get used will be decided by the teacher in the classroom. So, they need to see the educational value and how it assists their teaching.

2. Working with the givens. We teach classes, not individuals, have to manage that class operating in classrooms with physical limits, a crowded curriculum that limits the time to go off elsewhere like a computing room - so the tools need to be in the classroom.

3. Teacher training & teacher development support. Teacher release within the school is the most valuable, give them time to do things. Amazing statistic - 64% of UK classrooms have an IWB, Australia has got 5%.

4. Nature and availability of the technology. Needs to assist teaching, not oblige change, integrate with teaching. IWB's were designed by companies started by ex-teachers while most ICT tools were designed for other purposes. Not a fan of laptops in schools because of the high tech support needed, one private laptop school now wants to get rid of them - the future will probably be some iteration of the iPhone.

5. Teacher acceptance of IWB's. (Can IWB's change pedagogy or just entrench it?) The important feature of the IWB is it is a digital facilitator (not the native software) and now there are early signs that key areas (IWB + broadband) can improve literacy - quoted Balanskat 2006 (can't find link via Google). IWB numbers have grown from 70,000 in 2002 up to 603,000 in 2008 with predicted numbers reaching 1.371 million by 2012.

6. Appropriate content and software. 85% of Australian schools are severely restricted by filters, and that means less access to Web 2.0 tools.

7. Infrastructure. The best bandwidth available is what's needed - Korean speeds in schools are around 100MB while Australia does well to get 1.5MB. Technology needs to be operative 100% of teaching time even though education has unusual demands - peaks between 9 - 3, 5 days a week.

8. Finance. Successful schools have leaders who go out and find the money. Must consider Total Cost of Ownership which includes teacher PD but schools are still funded on a paper based model. The average school budget commits 2.7% to ICT but 85% to staffing. If schools have a chance they must capitalise on the DER funding.

9. Leadership. This is crucial in order to unlock time, money, to put pressure on certain people and overcome hurdles. Australian preparation of principals is not geared towards this future - but they are the architects of the digital school.

10. Implementation. It is a historic pattern that we are focussed on equipment, but department restrictions can be a problem. Eventually schools that have their act together won't want to play by their department's rules.

Mal says that he disagrees with Peter Kent's eTeaching pedagogy, just believes in good teaching. He believes that we have reached a decline in teacher preparation time thanks to technology (or has it just shifted that preparation?) He doesn't care what brand of IWB schools buy - that will depend on the user.

Overall, an interesting session that allowed me to compare his advice with my own school's journey. I don't think I agree with him about the potential of laptops in the classroom but much of what he said made sense to me.

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4 thoughts on “Notes From Mal Lee Session @ National IWB Conference

  1. Lauren O'Grady

    Hey Graham,
    I didnt go to that session and it sounds like I should have went to it. I had a great lunchtime discussion with Mal on the first day and felt like he really had a good grasp of the limitations of current practice and I would have liked to hear more about the opportunities for student content but I ran out of time.

    I spoke to a group of schools this week who are looking at running their own iwb conference with view to create content with students over the two days. I cannot wait to work with this group and will keep you posted about how it is going.

  2. Robert Barden

    Hi Graham,

    I think we might have ended up in the same room at the IWB conference once or twice, but didn’t get the chance to walk up and say hello.

    I went to Mal Lee’s session two years ago at the Sydney conference and also found a great deal to think about. I particularly liked his reference to the tipping point that you notice once “critical mass” is reached in your school. We’re about to hit that this term and I’m excited to see what change will result.

    I think there’s a very careful balance that needs to be found with IWB technology; it is very, very easy to become a “sage on the stage” of the 21st Century. What’s missed of course is that the “sage on the stage” doesn’t exist today like it did in the past.

    I was also interested to see you felt a little underwhelmed. This is my 2nd conference, and I do think the first one grabbed me a little more than this one did – I did find myself doing a lot more Web 2.0 stuff then. I went with two colleagues who now want to present here in Sydney next year because they believe they can do just as well, if not better. If nothing else, the motivation and learnings they’ve brought from the conference have motivated me to push all of us further, and that can’t be a bad thing.

  3. Bryn Jones

    Hi Graham,
    If you want to follow up the Balanskat reference, it is a pan European summary study. Below is a summary I made for a literature review. I found some interesting stuff in it.

    Balanskat, A., Blamire, R., & Kefala, S. (2006). The ICT Impact Report – A review of studies of ICT impact on schools in Europe. Brussels: European SchoolNet.

    Balanskat, Blamire, & Kefala (2006), in a study for the European Commission, drew on evidence from 17 recent studies and surveys on the impact of ICT on schools in Europe and found that: ICT impacts most in primary schools in native language and science; the evidence for mathematics is less compelling though longer use of ICT by young people is linked to improved mathematics scores; there is a growing gap between high and low ‘e-confident’ teachers and schools and there were large differences between European countries. A “clear finding” of the study is that teachers’ practice is not changing much when they use ICT (Balanskat et al. 2006).


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