Rob Clarke, principal of Te Kura o Tiori Burnham School , explains how and why they use Google Apps. He discusses the implementation process and the benefits to staff and students.
At Te Kura o Tiori Burnham School we chose Google Apps because we needed a system that was user friendly and easy to implement. We chose Google Apps because it has a whole series of tools within it such as email, calendaring sites and Google documents and it also has Google video included as well, so it was a one stop shop. One of the advantages is that it’s free and it also is very scalable; so you can use it with staff obviously but also with children and in the future with parents and community.
Google docs is the site that we use for the student leadership council so we can share and create documents within Google docs and be able to edit them from anywhere using our password and login. We do things quite regularly throughout the school so I have to be able to create the documents to post to the teachers and share with the other members of the council. So it’s easy to access at home or when you’re out and about using the iPhones or anything.
The initial stages of implementing it involved just the staff so it was important to look at existing systems in the school and look at how they can be simplified. So for staff it was very much a case of using it for a couple of key tasks. For me coming in as the new principal of the school it’s made life a lot easier because new and for subsequent new staff it’s made it easy for people to know where things are. Now we have one place that people can find the relevant organisational information that they need whether it be planning or contact lists or whatever. One of the key fears that some staff had initially was that there’d be just a focus just on digital communication. You cannot have just a focus on digital communication because the quality of how we communicate determines the quality of our relationships. The quality of our relationships determines the quality of the learning that can happen. So nothing will ever replace quality face to face interaction. Really digital tools, in my view, will only ever supplement that. If they’re used improperly, (it) could detract from that.
So I would suggest that schools consider events where their community already come in and events that already engage their community and use those events as opportunities to get feedback and to get information that can help with development work. And this aspect of community engagement is particularly important for our Māori community where we need to be able to engage face to face in a way that is respectful and that works for them and enables our children to find success. We use Picasa web albums extensively for sharing learning to our community and to the wider world. So our school website has got links to every class blog and every child’s ako blog which is part of their e-portfolio. Our website also has links to the community calendar so that people in the community can subscribe to the calendar and be updated by email or SMS if they wish. In terms of opening up doors for community engagement that’s one of the real strengths that e-learning, in my view, brings to the NZC.
Community engagement is really a critical part of strengthening our school and so the next big stage is looking at leveraging feedback between children and between children and family. One of the things about Google Apps in our school and e-learning in our school is that we haven’t made it the focus, the focus has been on a review of curriculum and pedagogy in the school. So e-learning is obviously one the key elements to a future focused learning and modern learning environment that can support that. The focus has very much been on pedagogy and the development of our own localised curriculum. We’re now at a point in the school where we have got our own vision for student learning and e-learning is just a natural part of that.
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