Welsh educators have created a compelling vision. Can the politicians deliver?
Welsh National Assembly, CardiffWelsh National Assembly faces digital learning opportunityWelsh Assembly minister for education and skills Leighton Andrews AM has today (Thursday, March 29) been given a unique opportunity to set Welsh teachers and learners on a straight keel for their digital future with the publication of the “Find it, make it, use it, share it – Learning in digital Wales” report.

At the heart of its recommendations, from a team of educators led by Cardiff headteacher Janet  Hayward, is the suggested concept of a vibrant new national organisation, a “Hwb”. More than just a hub for sharing digital resources, it will also reflect the other meaning of the Welsh word – “push” or “spur”.

With the Welsh Assembly's Digital Wales strategy already in place, Leighton Andrews commissioned the “task and finish” team in September 2011 to work out “which digital classroom delivery aspects should be adopted to transform learning and teaching” for learners aged 3 to 19. The group was made up of educators and representatives from the private sector, including IT and broadcasting, from across Wales.

It was chaired by Janet Hayward, who is widely recognised for her expertise in learning with technology and was given a special commendation at the recent Naace ICT impact Awards (see video below).

Leighton AndrewsLeighton Andrews AM: key to digital HwbThe key points the team was given to consider included: how to create and share high-quality digital education materials in both English and Welsh; the future role of the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) Cymru and whether and how it could work with cloud-based services like the ‘iTunes university’ model); and how the workforce can develop the digital teaching skills to use ICT to transform schools.

What has emerged is a report with 10 clear recommendations (outlined below) and the exploration of two themes – “Supporting and sharing” and “A national digital collection”, each with their own detailed analyses and recommendations. The ground covered is extremely broad but they plenty of clear, common-sense objectives, For example the ICT capability of teachers, which disappeared in the Coalition Government’s reforms for England.

The Welsh team favours a combination of a revised Self Review ICT Framework and Unesco’s ICT Competency Framework for Teachers. In fact the raising of the professional profiles of teachers is central, and they are encouraged to join professional organisations like Naace and ALT.

What’s also interesting is the embracing of relatively recent developments for CPD like TeachMeets, the personal learning networks made possible by the likes of Twitter and the collaborative “hang-outs” available on Google+.

Here then are the report’s 10 headline recommendations:

  1. Establish a powerful organisation (working title ‘Hwb’) to manage, oversee and develop these recommendations. Its remit will be to lead, promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers, and create and develop a national digital collection for learning and teaching in English and Welsh;
  2. Establish a group, including representations from existing practitioners, as well as other bodies both public and private, to govern the implementation of these recommendations;
  3. Ensure that a substantial difference is made to educators’ digital competencies and skills, and how they apply them to learning and teaching, by prioritising training and sharing good practice;
  4. A national digital collection should be created by acquiring English- and Welsh-language resources through commissioning, purchasing, obtaining licenses, and also through actively encouraging contributions from learners and teachers;
  5. Give all users their own individual logon ID, potentially for a lifetime of learning. This will take them into their personalised user experience and will be accessed from anywhere;
  6. Ensure that learners and teachers have the freedom to access rich learning and teaching resources from anywhere, at any time and from any device;
  7. Manage intellectual property rights in learning and teaching resources to ensure maximum access by teachers and learners and create income from external licensing;
  8. Commission new resources in English and Welsh and procure national licences for existing materials and tools, to ensure economies of scale when building the national digital collection;
  9. Use existing tried and tested web-based products and services to disseminate existing and new content;
  10. Ensure that a culture of digital citizenship is encouraged and developed by teachers and learners. In addition to key digital skills, this will help learners develop the competencies and values to use digital technologies responsibly, ethically and safely, with an understanding of the security and legal issues surrounding the ‘digital space’.

Headteacher Janet Hayward explains the pedagogies and purpose behind Cadoxton Primary's success

The success of the next stage of the Welsh venture will depend on engaging communities across the country, each with their distinctive needs and challenges, to buy into the concept of the Hwb. This is envisaged as “both an environment and an interconnected organisational structure – representing the best in digital learning and teaching”. And it will provide all learners and teachers with “the culture, support, infrastructure and resources to inspire teachers and learners to develop what they need – the vision, competencies, skills and knowledge – to be creators and active participants in the fast-changing digital landscape around us. It will help improve educational standards, prepare learners for life and careers, and support the Welsh economy.

“Our starting point for this vision is the belief that teachers and learners now live in a world where communication and knowledge are routinely digital, ubiquitous and highly interactive, and that the processes of learning and teaching can, and must, take advantage of what digital technologies offer.”

A bold national plan with plenty of hwyl and ambition

It’s a bold national vision with plenty of hwyl (spirit) and ambition, and recognises the importance of the Government’s Digital Wales agenda as well as the flexibility needed to pull in technology as and when it is being developed, such is the rate of progress. It also recognises the crucial role of the Government in supporting professional development for teachers and the creation of the Hwb itself.

This a great opportunity for the Welsh Assembly to develop a creative and dynamic national strategy that can take its schools into the next phase of learning with technology. And all the lessons required can be found in the successes and failures already experienced across the UK.

While many teachers across the UK are happily embracing developments in pedagogy and technology, there appear to be issues with policy, and international interest is switching to bolder developments in places like Australia. At home, politicians rather than educators appear to be the element holding back developments.

The Department for Education in Westminster has closed its Technology Strategy Unit and appears to have turned ICT policy and strategy over to English schools, and although Scotland has its Curriculum for Excellence, it seems to be backpedalling on Glow and the kind of innovation it pioneered through initiatives like the Consolarium. So it’s a good time for bold moves, like Northern Ireland’s deployment of phase two of its C2K national network, one of the biggest education networks in the world, as it moves schools on to web and cloud technologies.

'As a nation Wales must harness this vast open learning potential'

The appetite for change is certainly there among school leaders. And Hollywell High School headteacher John Putt expresses it well in the introduction to the report: "Learning throughout the world is standing at a very interesting crossroads and this is in the main to do with the ubiquity of access to information anywhere in the globe. The information accessible to educators and learners is vast and the potential to collaborate, co-construct and learn with others has never been so great.

"As a nation Wales must harness this vast open learning potential and put in place some of the necessary principles, frameworks and processes to tap into this in order to ensure a place at the ‘top’ table of learning futures but more importantly to equip its educators and young people for the exciting and creative challenges that lie ahead.

"In such a world learning will be more dynamic and we need to switch our learners and ourselves on to this by understanding that the ability to learn and use new skills and technologies in a collaborative way will be key to the future."

The Welsh Assembly has managed a wide consultation and pulled together a strong team for its report, and it has certainly delivered. Now it’s down to the politicians to implement that dream for future generations of learners in Wales.

“Find it, make it, use it, share it – Learning in digital Wales”

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