LearnBop Community Blog

This Time – Technology Matters but Teachers Still Matter More!

Posted by Tom D'Amico

Mar 18, 2015 9:00:00 AM

A Goal of Computer Literacy

It is now clear that one of the major goals that education must add to its list of purposes is computer literacy. The world of the very near future requires that all of us have some understanding of the processes and uses of computers”. What strikes me about this quote is that it was delivered by a Minister of Education, Dr. Bette Stephenson, in 1981!  


Over 34 years ago education leaders were proposing the need to learn and teach computer literacy. It’s safe to conclude that as education leaders, if it’s taken 34 years and we’re still debating access and looking for evidence-based results to support education technology, we’ve failed drastically.

Shifting to a Tech Curious Culture

As an educator for over 25 years I’ve seen sweeping changes in the Ottawa Catholic School Board over a mere 5 year period. It was back in 2010 that the “EdTool” of choice was still the overhead projector. What has changed is much more than the technology. The change that made the difference was a cultural shift across 82 schools in a district that serves 40,000 students as we moved from a culture based on fear and caution, to a culture based on curiosity and exploration.

Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”. This quote resonated with us and we opened our eyes to recognize that our students were learning via technology outside of school, but only minimally within the walls of our traditional and institutionalized schools.

In his book, Stratosphere – Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge, Michael Fullan makes reference to four criteria for Drivers of Technology Success:

  1. Technology must be irresistibly engaging
  2. Elegantly efficient and easy to use
  3. Technologically ubiquitous 24/7
  4. Steeped in real-life problem solving

What We've Done Differently

So what’s really different this time round in our district? Our district’s BluePrint for Change – Towards 2020 Connecting with our Students was not focused on acquiring enough devices for a 1:1 environment, but rather it was focused on creating a digital ecosystem that began with a simple premise:

Changes in teacher practice will lead to increased student engagement, and this will result in increased student achievement. And guess what – it’s working!

Enabling Success

Our implementation plan has included the key drivers as outlined above by Fullan. We’ve built on the power of learning networks and personal connections to impact system change.

As a high performing Board we continue to focus on District and School Improvement, and technology has been a key lever in achieving our priorities of Success for Students, Success for Staff, and Stewardship of Resources.

We created multiple entry points for staff, recognizing that by creating differentiated professional development for all staff, in all roles, we would begin to create champions throughout the system. We use the SAMR model as a natural progression to allow everyone to see themselves on a personal journey of improvement.

We did have a need to improve our infrastructure with increased broadband, WiFi in all 82 schools, access to more devices, increased access to quality digital resources, and expanded access to tools such as SmartBoards and LCD projectors for staff and student use.

Using Teachers to Model Digital Citizenship

The infrastructure would have been a “white elephant” had we not simultaneously focused on pedagogy with inquiry learning and project-based learning as strategies to help differentiate instruction and learning. Our Governance model needed to change restrictive policies to allow for teachers to model appropriate digital citizenship by actively participating in social media and modelling the appropriate use of online tools and the need to create positive digital footprints. Every student in our Board receives yearly instruction on digital citizenship, integrated into the curriculum.

Learning and Leading For Innovation

We’ve moved from “21st Century Learning” as a mantra, to a focus on leading and learning for Innovation through skills including: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Our Board’s adoption of Google Apps for Education was not about moving to a free email system for students and staff, but rather it was about providing a tool that would allow for collaboration and remove physical learning  barriers by transitioning to cloud-based infrastructures.

We disagreed with Prensky’s notion of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Instead we recognized the importance of putting tools in the hands of skilled teachers, and supporting teachers to help guide students from social networking to social learning. Yes, our teachers have shifted their instruction practice, but the shift has been through a focus on assessment and differentiated instruction using researched-based practices, and not by dumping students in front of a computer or a mobile device.

Looking at What You Cannot See

Today in our 82 schools you’ll see LCD projectors, SmartBoards, Skype, Google Hangouts, iPads, Chromebooks, Green Screens, MakerSpaces, and more... but what makes these effective instructional tools is what you won’t necessarily see when visiting a class.

You may miss seeing the many Google communities online where teachers share practices and ideas, and you may miss seeing our principals and superintendents learning alongside our teachers in our New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning network; you may miss our literacy networks or numeracy networks or French networks, or principal learning networks... all leveraging technology to focus on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

So yes – it is different this time round. We’re dismantling our computer labs and converting our libraries to learning commons, and building new schools and innovative learning spaces all which are influenced by the strength of our learning networks. We embrace digital resources, mobile and social learning, game based learning, blended learning, inquiry learning... and another individualized approach that is needed to ensure that all of our students learn.

Building through Relationships

Almost 35 years from the date of the Ontario Minister of Education imploring the need to focus on computer literacy, we’ve now got it right, not by focusing on the technology but by focusing on relationships and the power of scaling personal networks throughout our district.

I can’t wait to see what our educators, administrators, and students create next!

In our globally connected network of Educators I’m confident that both Canadian and American Districts can learn from one another, as we transform our Districts to meet the needs of today’s digital learners.


tomdamicopictureTom D’Amico is the Superintendent of Human Resources with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for 25 years. He has received several awards including being named as one of Canada's Outstanding Principals; received a Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence, is the recipient of The Canadian Blogger of the year in the category of Best K-12 Administrator Tweeter. (@TDOttawa) Tom was also named as one of the 50 Global Edu Leaders to Follow on Twitter.

Tom D’Amico is a strong believer in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social networking and leveraging technology in a globally connected society.

Topics: Differentiating Instruction, Teaching & Learning

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