Students and Teachers working in Partnership on ICT

We are two students from Murrayville in the Mallee district and are currently studying Year 11 at the Murrayville Community College. We are members of the Country Education Projects Rural Youth Ambassadors initiative. Stephanie and Anna are our names.

My name is Anna Thomas, I’m 17 years old and a TESA coordinator at Murrayville Community College. Growing up and completing my education in an isolated country town has brought with it  many benefits but also many challenges. One of the most significant challenges is that we simply don’t have the access to educational opportunities that other students (and teachers) routinely enjoy. I believe the best way to overcome this is to develop our school’s application of ICT. Our school doesn’t necessarily have new release technology and  what we do have isn’t being adequately utilised. This means that government funded computer software goes largely unused, and that teachers struggle to persevere with unfamiliar programs. For some staff members who have taught their entire career with pen and paper, the implementation of technology has proved to be too hard to tackle. I envisage TESA being a self-sustaining program that will continue running strongly even after I finish school. I believe that TESA will be instrumental in overcoming this generational barrier in rural education.

When we attended the first get together of the Rural Youth Ambassadors recently, and the CEP Rural Learning Summit,  it was realised that issues of rural isolation, and ICT inefficiencies had been identified as major concerns for our students in rural and remote communities. In our conversations we began to understand that these were concerns not just for Victoria’s most isolated schools, but for many rural schools. It also became apparent that there were various ways of addressing these problems. One school principal shared her experience of using students as mentors in her school to increase her staff’s knowledge of ICT applications. With encouragement from CEP board members, and particularly mentors Adam Smith and Phil Brown, we are exploring TESA as a sustainable way to overcome rural isolation, and staff skill shortages in ICT areas in our school.

TESA (Technology in Education Student Aides) is a program that aims to create student-teacher partnerships to work on the issue of solving ineffective technology use in classroom. It works on the basis that both sides of the partnership have a large knowledge base that can be combined to support teachers in using technology effectively in their classrooms by involving students who are prepared to make a difference in their own education, by sharing their ICT knowledge.

TESA comprises two levels

The first focuses on a mentor/mentee relationship, where the student teaches in an area elected by their staff partner; such as teleconferencing, educational gaming, podcasting or interactive whiteboards. It aims specifically to better the teachers ICT skills in these areas.

The second stage is reached when the staff member has a similar level of ICT skills to the student, and the partnership transitions to focus on developing and sharing their skills by contributing to an online forum, a resource that will be accessible to all TESA participants, or working together on a mutual area of interest e.g. developing educational gaming in schools, or any project that they feel is an effective use of their skills and knowledge.

One of the greatest benefits of TESA is that it is by design self-sustaining and self-renewing.  Students, as digital natives,  will be have the opportunity to share their skills with the teachers who will integrate it into classrooms, developing the next generations technology skills, who will hopefully join TESA, upgrading their teachers skills. This cyclical model ensures the program remains relevant to current and future students. Also, the program aims to change the perception of roles in education, breaking down current barriers between students. Over a period of time, the students will begin to think in such a way that when they see a problem with the way they are being taught, or can see a solution to an educational problem, whether related to technology or not, they will feel comfortable to go to their teachers with a solution.

Eventually, when teachers feel that they are not teaching effectively, or there is a weakness in their classroom, their first port of call will be their students. TESA partnerships are intended to result in more honest and closer relationships between teachers and students.

Anna and Steph provided a professional development activity for all the school staff on the TESA concept and encouraged staff to become involved in the partnership with students. A copy of their presentation can be seen on Prezi

The outcome from their professional development activity was the commitment of all staff to be involved. As the principal reflects:

“Emerging technologies are, more than ever in the past, having a profound impact on our day-to-day interactions. The intuitive nature of these technologies allow students to become prolific users of personal devices, devices that tend to quickly become part of our life to the point where we wonder how we ever managed without them. These technologies offer a number of undeniable educational opportunities. The use of technology in the classroom cannot reach its full potential unless a partnership is established between those who are already prolific users (often the students) and those who can see the potential for these technologies but are not confident in their use (more likely to be the teachers). As the Acting Principal of Murrayville Community College I am committed to ensuring this partnership between teachers and students at our school becomes a success through TESA. I foresee this partnership having a profound and innovative effect on our school and its community.”