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Virtual reality, mobility driving future of learning at Port Macquarie school

Rebecca Merrett | June 5, 2014
The days of school students copying notes from a chalk board and reading straight from old textbooks are long gone. This is the view of Matt Richards, director of e-learning at St Columba Anglican School, which is using technology to change the way students learn and interact with teachers.

"We are also really happy with Google's final statement about privacy with student data," he said.

The Samsung Chromebooks wipe students' Google Account details when they shutdown, with their work saved in the cloud, making it easy to share the notebooks between different classes.

Richards is also going through a revamp of the school's library. He is trying to "Google-fy" the library so it looks more inviting and fun for students, where they can work more collaboratively using a range of devices and technologies.

"Learning doesn't have to be a quiet 'hush' activity in the library. Learning can be fun and sometimes it can be loud. I've been trying to do it for a couple of years and we finally had the money to do it," he said.

A Makerspace is being developed as part of the library revamp for students to tinker with computers and create their own projects.

"Kids can experiment and put together Raspberry Pi computers and play with the Oculus Rift — basically be makers. We are using some [Chromeboxes] in that space, so the kids can log in and have a computer to muck around on if they want to," Richards said.

"I'm utilising the Oculus Rift, virtual reality, with my Year 9 information software technology class. They are building virtual maps of our classrooms and they are building games for virtual reality or the Oculus Rift. They are now are working with virtual reality headsets, building something that's amazing that people on the other side of the globe can experience and give them real-time feedback.

"We don't need kids to repeat the same knowledge of previous generations; we need innovators. So the way to do that is by giving them 'green fields' to innovate; a place where they can be creative and feel like they can work outside the box."

Richards has also set up a group of student ICT experts who assist teachers and other students in learning how to use new technology introduced in the school.

"We call them 'tech ninjas'. The thing that's great about it is that it challenges the old paradigm of teacher and student, and it makes teachers realise that it's OK to learn from the kids. Most of the time, they know more than the teachers anyway, so why not utilise that skill to enhance the entire learning community."

The student 'tech ninjas' have their own badges or stickers on their device for people to recognise them and call for assistance if needed. Richards said this also gives the student group a sense of pride and recognition among their peers.

"It gives me a real kick, the most fun I have in my job is working with those kids. They are super excited. And I just wish school was like this when I was a kid," Richards said.

He said in 10 years' time, school is going to become more of a place for collaboration to build upon the lessons conducted through online platforms.


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