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St Margaret’s College – Dispositions for learning

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"We actually take time out of the content of the curriculum to teach the pedagogy around being an administrator to their own machine... to learn about being good cybercitizens." Angela White, head of middle school, talks about teaching with technology in the classroom, and the shift in approach that involved teaching intellectual dispositions necessary for learning with IT.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Pedagogy and e-Learning

  • e-Learning and collaborative/co-constructive pedagogies appear to be linked.
  • The dynamics of classrooms change when e-Learning is part of the regular learning environment.
  • Using these pedagogies – that also foster interaction and co-operation - appear to lead to effective learning and better teacher/student relationships.
  • Preventing access in schools to mobile technologies or firewalling some sites does not teach effective and critical uses of these technologies that students have ready access to outside of school.
  • Learning in an e-Learning-rich environment may make peer and collaborative learning opportunities easier, thus supporting students’ cognitive, affective and social interactions. These ways of working also appear to suit many New Zealand students, including Maori (as outlined in documents such as Key Evidence, Ministry of Education, 2008; Bishop and Berryman, 2006) and Pasifika (Franken, May, & McComish 2005). These ways of working may lead to improved educational outcomes.
  • The prevalence of e-Learning technologies as natural ways of working in technologically-rich New Zealand schools point to ways in which traditional learning (literacy, numeracy) can be achieved in highly motivating ways. Some of these schools demonstrate both the power of an authentic audience for students’ work, and how a school’s prevailing ethos about the social and pedagogical frameworks important to learning, becomes a critical factor for success.

e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: A literature review (2010)

  • How are you teaching dispositions such as thinking interdependently, persisting, questioning and problem posing, and critical thinking in your school context?
  • How could you extend e-learning pedagogies across all learning areas?
  • In what ways does the independent use of ICT enhance learning outcomes in your school, especially for Māori and Pasifika learners? 

e-Learning community discussions

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The Virtual Learning Network (VLN), He kōtuinga ako ā-ipurangi, is an interactive resource provided by the Ministry of Education for all New Zealand educators. Join these e-learning groups to participate in discussions with other teachers and educators.


My name’s Angela White, and I’m head of the middle school at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch. St Margaret’s College is a trinity of schools – we have the junior school (years 1-6), middle school (years 7-10), and the senior college (years 11-13) all on the same campus in Christchurch.

In the middle school at St Margaret’s [when] the girls move from year 7/8 through to year 9 – in year 9/10 the girls learn with laptops, so they all have one-to-one laptops. What we have found once we began to teach with technology in the classroom is that there was a subtle shift needed in the approach towards teaching and learning. That subtle shift involved a trans-disciplinary approach to teaching some dispositions necessary for learning with IT.

So the girls have access to the Internet, and we come from an approach where we don’t block websites. There are one or two that we block – social networking sites – but apart from that we don’t block them. We actually take time out of the content of the curriculum to teach the pedagogy around being an administrator to their own machine. So we teach the girls explicitly intellectual dispositions, such as thinking interdependently, persisting, questioning and problem posing, critical thinking etc, and that goes across all the subjects and year levels in the middle school, but specifically year 9. That empowers the girls to make decisions when they are administrators to their own machine for learning. For example, they will decide themselves whether they will download certain software. What we have found is that by teaching them what the software is and what the peer-to-peer networks are and how they work, we have found they make decisions that are appropriate, and that’s not to download it and risk losing all their work. So our approach is slightly different in that way, but we have found it goes across all the subjects and all the levels.

In EnSS, which is English and social studies joined together in year 9, we teach the girls what a peer-to-peer network is. We have a technician from the technology department come in to show them exactly how it works and operates. We even go so far as to talk about what the Internet is and how the Internet actually works. When the girls realise how it operates, we no longer have to police it because they know full well that it is inappropriate to download it. They risk their work being stolen or their files being lost, so they simply don’t do it. So it feels like we are empowering them in that way.

In science, for example, the girls do a lot of work with the digital microscopes and they learn how to save their work and back up. Backing up is difficult for everybody, especially for teenagers. So we talked to them about what happens to their work if it crashes, how you can lose your work etc. Then we give them a range of ways they can back up their work. So in science they offer them CDs and show them how to back up on CDs – we do an entire lesson on it, a series of lessons on this. We show them how to back up onto hard drives. They have limited space on the school server and so we show them how to do that and then we allow them to be the administrator to their machine and they do it in whatever way is appropriate for them. They then go home and teach their parents that a lot of times as well.

We have also found we have had to do a few parent evenings, where we invite the parents in and they use their daughters’ laptops and we teach them a little bit about how it operates as well.

Some of the challenges to that involve teachers having to make a subtle shift in their thinking, to perhaps where they are no longer the fountain of all knowledge and they don’t have to know everything about it. [Moving] towards having open-ended discussions with their students about what experience have you had on the internet, what have you found to be challenging etc? How can you apply the problem-solving and critical learning we have learnt to those situations? So where the teachers might not have experience in every situation the students might come across, they can teach the critical thinking necessary for the students to overcome it. So it’s a little bit scary for teachers to start to lead conversations that they may not understand what some of the girls are talking about – Twitter, Facebook and things like that. But once they start letting go of needing to know everything about that, what they are finding is they can apply their knowledge to the dispositions quite easily and in a relevant way. The girls really seem to appreciate that – they seem to know when the teacher is teaching authentically and when they are trying to know everything about, [for example] computing, they can see quite quickly through that. I think they appreciate the time we take – we call it ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’ of the curriculum. We take the ‘time in’ to learn about being good cybercitizens.

Published on: 29 Oct 2010