27 Aug 2013
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Student engagement drives technology use

By Rebecca Wood

A cluster of schools in Auckland’s Eastern suburbs has found a way to enhance student engagement with digital technology.

The Manaiakalani Cluster, a group of 12 decile 1A schools in one of Auckland’s oldest state housing communities, initially started as an ICT professional development cluster. In 2007 the schools involved made a more formal agreement to look at schooling improvement from a digital context.

Dorothy Burt, professional development co-ordinator for Manaiakalani, says in the early years a lot of effort was placed on proving that students could be engaged to learn the literacy skills they need through the use of digital technologies.

And as the programme has developed the focus of the cluster has changed. It now works with the community as a whole – not just the students but the parents and whanau – to get them engaged with digital technologies.

Allowing each student in years 5 to 13 to have their own device has been crucial to student engagement, but it also required buy-in from the parents and whanau.

“We felt that if every student had their own device, then they would have the same opportunities as students in more affluent areas,” says Burt.

After discussions with parents as to what they could afford ($3.50 per week) the cluster arranged a bulk purchase of devices that could be paid off over three years so that students could each have their own device to use in all subjects.

“We intentionally involved the parents and whanau. We have had more than 300 parents trained in the use of digital technology. That has many benefits in terms of them getting jobs and participating in their children’s learning, much of which was not possible prior to this. We are empowering them and it’s making a difference to the learning of our children.”

This year the cluster made the move from using ASUS netbooks to Google Chromebooks.

“Our students are Google App users, they can be online and accessing their learning with a minimum of clicks and searching. It’s also easy for teachers to manage with the Hapara Teacher Dashboard,” says Burt

“It doesn’t matter if the teachers is there or not, students can access the resources they need and they know their own learning path so they can take charge of their learning.”

And this has brought about many benefits, not least of which is the student engagement factor which, says Burt, is enormous.

“The digital world is where they want to be and we have highly engaged motivated students. So when you’ve won the hearts and minds of your audience you are most of the way there.”

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