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New school rules

Radical new learning spaces equipped with flexible communications and computing technology and are reshaping schools and empowering students.

Primary school students learning next to wall

Delany College in Granville, western Sydney, is providing a glimpse of what education and learning could look like in the future, and elevating student engagement, confidence and ability.

An 18-month collaboration between Delany and Telstra is resulting in innovative learning programmes at the high school, which is located in a relatively low socioeconomic area with over 90 percent of children coming from non-English speaking backgrounds. Last year, the high school launched brand new open-plan learning areas equipped with communications and computing infrastructure to support a new way of learning. Initially introduced for years 7 and 8, the facility is now also being used by the Year 9 cohort.

Instead of bustling around the school to attend six separate periods, students rotate through the learning space to work through three 100-minute learning blocks each day. The approach has reduced the number of classroom teachers required for the cohort from 13 to five.

While Sydney University researchers are currently conducting a formal review of the programme, Dr Miranda Jefferson, teaching educator in the Catholic Education Office’s Parramatta diocese said that early results are promising.

Jefferson said that students entering Year 7 generally lacked confidence and exhibited low literacy and numeracy. “Now they are starting to comprehend the world around them in a far deeper way and communicate with it,” she said. And while there had been a massive cultural change for teachers involved in the initiative; “There is no going back. Once you see a change in students it’s a moral imperative that you continue in this learning.”

Susi Steigler-Peters, Telstra’s national general manager, education industry business development, explains that Delany’s key driver for the initiative is to, “Make sure no one falls through the cracks, and that everyone reaches their potential … That resonates very strongly with our philosophy.” By encouraging small team collaboration among students there is less chance that children will be able to hide at the back of the room, rather they will be drawn into their group.

Telstra is the lead technology partner involved in the programme and worked with Steelcase and Cisco to create the 21st-century learning space for Delany.

“This is a shift from stand-and-deliver (teaching) to a more democratic approach to learning. There is different furniture and the walls are broken down to create a huge open learning space with cubby-like zones,” says Steigler-Peters, adding that new pedagogies and a fresh approach to learning are key to the success of the initiative. Supported by 4G and LTE communications networks, a range of cloud-based services, and infrastructure able to support a diverse collection of end-user devices, the learning space has been designed to promote collaboration, co-operation and communication among students and to “liberate learning”.

Students and teachers can harness whatever technology they want – from connected mobile devices to interactive whiteboards or traditional pen and paper.

“Make sure no one falls through the cracks, and that everyone reaches their potential … that resonates very strongly with our philosophy.”

- Susi Steigler-Peters, Telstra’s National General Manager, Education Industry Business Development

Telstra is also developing a series of analytic tools to provide educators with a deeper understanding of the progression of students, so any issues can be identified early and remedied.

“We have analytics to track engagement but we now want to track the depth of the learning experience,” says. She adds that the feedback from parents of the first cohort of students has been astonishingly positive, but the real value has emerged in terms of the “impact on student self-worth and how they value learning”.

Telstra plans to work with other schools to replicate Delany’s success and Steigler-Peters says the approach is proving both highly sustainable and repeatable.

Researchers from Sydney University are studying the project to provide an independent assessment of its benefits. “Telstra is delivering thought leadership to help provide an evidence base to schools to persuade them of the benefits of a changed dynamic,” Steigler-Peters says.

The next steps in education
  • Telstra will host Australia’s most forward-thinking educators in March at Education Now, an event designed to explore the rapidly evolving education market and also the role technologies such as cloud and collaboration, mobile devices and applications, wi-fi, digital content and learning analytics, can play in learning
  • Education Now, to be held in Sydney, is focused on the emerging “freedom of learning” approach to education and how it makes possible the migration from classroom-only teaching to anytime learning, by harnessing a range of supportive technologies and adopting pedagogies that move beyond the sage-on-stage motif
  • A range of international speakers will present keynotes, including Susan Mann, the chief executive of Education Australia; David Price, from the UK’s Open Learning initiative; George Siemens from Learning Analytics in Canada; and US educator Nelson Gonzalez.

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