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Georgina Gallagher talks about how involvement in the Tech Angels programme at Wellington Girls' College has provided opportunities to develop the key competencies outside of the classroom.
Published December 2010
A group of senior students at Wellington Girls’ College volunteered to work with deputy principal, Anne Coster, to review and discuss issues relating to The New Zealand Curriculum. As a result, they discovered how their school’s inspirational Tech Angels programme develops the key competencies.
'We believe we were able to offer a unique student perspective on the curriculum. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to voice our opinion on the way the curriculum currently works. One of the focus points, presented to us by Ms Coster, was the role of the key competencies in the curriculum. We were encouraged to investigate this further and after reading over the key competencies it became obvious to me how these were demonstrated through the work of the Tech Angels at Wellington Girls’ College.'
Georgina Gallagher, student
The Tech Angels are a student-run group at Wellington Girls' College that aims to develop the use and integration of ICT into the curriculum.
The philosophy behind the Tech Angels programme is not simply to promote ICT but to challenge how both students and teachers utilise ICT, providing them with the skills, knowledge, and ability to continue the transition of knowledge from year to year and to a range of learning contexts beyond school.
Since its start in 2005 the Tech Angels programme has grown and developed, and is now entirely student run. In 2010 the leadership team was made up of seven year 12 and 13 students and 20 students from other years. The Junior Tech Angels are trained by a group of year 13 students who volunteer to help teach the younger students. Guidance and support for the Tech Angels programme in 2010 was provided by Wellington Girls’ College teacher, Alex McNabb.
There are five key competencies identified in The New Zealand Curriculum, which are capabilities for living and lifelong learning. As an extension to the curriculum, the Tech Angels programme demonstrates how the key competencies are developed outside of the traditional classroom environment.
Successful learners make use of the competencies in combination with all the other resources available to them. These include:
As they develop the competencies, successful learners are also motivated to use them, recognising when and how to do so, and why.
Opportunities to develop the competencies occur in social contexts. People adopt and adapt practices that they see used and valued by those closest to them, and they make these practices part of their own identity and expertise.
'The competencies continue to develop over time, shaped by interactions with people, places, ideas, and things. Students need to be challenged and supported to develop them in contexts that are increasingly wide-ranging and complex.'
New Zealand Curriculum, p.12
'From a leadership perspective the decision-making and planning processes teach us many valuable lessons including how to properly evaluate and think through ideas; improving our thinking skills. We are constantly questioning how we can be more proactive, creating a stimulating environment that will encourage other students to come and question how they can use ICT to their benefit. We always want to do things better; get more people involved, and expand both our skills and the things that we offer.'
At the beginning of each year the students meet as a leadership committee and make decisions about how they are going to run Tech Angels for the year. This requires everyone involved to reflect, be critical, constructive, and use their research and decision-making skills to plan the programme for the coming year. They need to be flexible and able to change and adapt their plan to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Technology is always changing so students need to have their finger on the pulse to keep things fresh and engaging.
The Tech Angels programme gives students the opportunity to come along, in their own time, to learn about different ways to use technology. It encourages both students and staff to think about how they can improve their own learning and make the most of the opportunities offered to them. This develops and encourages intellectual curiosity, a key theme of this competency.
'We need to encourage our peers to challenge the boundaries and move outside their comfort zone. This is something that students will inevitably have to do; we provide a safe environment in which to do this.'
Achieving and performing to the best of their ability means students must problem solve to overcome the boundaries and restrictions placed upon them. As a group they discuss and devise their own technical and organisational solutions to issues ranging from time clashes to how to create the missing link in a piece of coding.
'Throughout the year we are faced with such decisions. One of our major focuses for this year was maintaining and increasing Tech Angel membership as well as trying to diversify; in an environment which is forever evolving, we must ensure that we still meet the needs of both the teachers and the students.'
One decision made was to create a leadership structure for the extra-curricular and leadership ICT groups. This enabled everyone to collaborate, share ideas, and problem solve across a range of tasks.
Languages, symbols, and texts are a crucial part of information technology and thus Tech Angels.
'We cannot communicate using computers in the same way that we communicate face to face, but we can use computers to communicate in new and exciting ways which open up new opportunities.'
Two senior Tech Angels went on a course to learn how to use Adobe Flash – a programme that allows the user to create simple as well as kinematic animations. This is a unique programme with a complex language. The students were taught by a professional and then spent time with a course booklet extending their knowledge and investigating how it could be used at school.
The students then came back and taught the Junior Tech Angels the skills they had learnt. Students are now using Flash to create animated characters and animals, combining their design skills with Flash. There are also students making a rotating solar system using Flash and life-cycle diagrams to supplement their science courses.
Selected students are upskilled in the expectation that they will also learn how to pass on knowledge they have acquired.
Tech Angels also offer seminars for teachers. These include topics such as Microsoft Office (covering PowerPoint, Excel, Word) with the aim of giving teachers the confidence to understand and transfer the 'language' of the Office suite to other contexts.
The Tech Angels' website was redesigned by students in 2009.
Tech Angels is an entirely student-run programme. With minimal teacher input the student leaders, in particular, must be organised, motivated, and willing to continue to learn new things, and to lead others to new learning.
The teacher supervisors and student leaders are there to support and guide other Tech Angels. As students, they must manage their time and encourage their peers to self-manage, being self- directed learners. Once they have taught the basics of any programme it is expected that people will go away and investigate further for themselves.
An important aspect of everyone’s learning experience is to try to instill a ‘can-do’ attitude. Tech Angels do this through positive encouragement no matter what the achievement. They rely on all the leadership students stepping up and taking on individual responsibility. As a team, they set goals, both group and individual. In keeping with the Wellington Girls’ College ethos, they set themselves the highest standards; however, they make sure their goals are attainable.
The Tech Angels programme offers a perfect opportunity to learn how to problem-solve and deal with complex situations while developing important life skills. Tech Angels, like other groups, creates and nurtures life-long leaders. They 'know when to lead, when to follow, and when and how to act independently' (Managing self, New Zealand Curriculum, p.12).
It is important that Tech Angels learn to work together as a team, particularly the leadership group. Tech Angels encompass a wide range of people with diverse skill sets, and together they must determine how to make the most of the resources available to them.
Most importantly, they must consider how to communicate at all levels in order to achieve the best results possible. Through Tech Angels, students work to develop new language and are always looking at ways of passing on information and working together.
The Wellington Girls' College motto of 'Lumen Accipe et Imperti', 'Accept the light and hand it on', has been a main focus of the programme through the teacher mentoring system. The relationship between students and teachers through this system is an important one.
'The Tech Angel becomes a teacher, using her knowledge and expertise to support her teachers’ ICT learning. Meanwhile, teachers have the opportunity, not only to learn how to use new technologies, but to see students in a new light, recognising their expertise and capability in a domain that may be less familiar to the teacher.'
The Tech Angels Project: Inviting teachers into the world of digital learning, Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, NZCER 2006
The sharing of knowledge between students and teachers is a bringing together of different generations on the same playing field. Both teachers and students show that they are 'open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations' (Relating to others, New Zealand Curriculum, p. 12).
Tech Angels aims to make a generous contribution to both the individual and the collective life of the school. Their aim is to be 'hands on' in helping the school community. Students can be involved in as many aspects of school life as possible. Tech Angels is promoted as an open and welcoming group with participation being its key function. Wellington Girls’ College has a diverse range of students and it hopes to emulate this within the programme.
The Head Tech Angel was recently on the organising committee for Tech Hui. Tech Hui is an annual technology conference run entirely by students for students across New Zealand. Through this the head Tech Angel worked closely with secondary school students from Wellington to create a unique and innovative conference that provided a forum for like-minded people to collaborate and share ideas.
'We are the future and to have the opportunity to understand the importance of balancing rights, roles, and responsibilities and of contributing to the quality and sustainability of social, cultural, physical, and economic environments at first hand and in authentic contexts is an invaluable lesson.'
A recent goal has been to initiate ‘Computing for the Community’ courses. These courses will be run one night a week for three weeks by the Tech Angels and give the Junior Tech Angels an opportunity to be involved in teaching others, from the school’s parent community, some basic computing skills.