There's A Lot You Can Learn From This Passionate Tech Savvy Educator


Passionate Tech Savvy Educator

We have Sabba Quidwai with us to talk about the 1:1 program at Fairmont Private Schools; share the reasons and best strategies behind success of the program.

Sabba is a passionate educator with a love for technology. She is currently a teacher and educational technology coordinator at Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Orange County, CA. Three years ago she launched a 1:1 technology-enhanced curriculum initiative. She creates professional development programs that support educators as they transition to 21st century learning. And she is also a featured writer for iPadEducators.com.

We all know that the first step towards 21st century education is creating a vision. What was the vision for 21st century learning at Fairmont? What were the major needs to adopt that?

We pride ourselves on being leaders in academic excellence and providing a holistic experience for all students, so when we reevaluated our tech initiative back in 2010, we wanted to provide the students the skills which they would need 5 years or 10 years from now.

We actually don't know what the jobs of the future will be. Times are changing today rapidly, we know we cannot give every single thing the students need for what it is that they may want to know, but we can give them the skills they need, to go out and be able to do whatever they want to.

You mentioned about the need of PD in one of your piece. What did professional development training for your teachers include? What were the PD models?

When we reevaluated technology initiative at Fairmont we really involved all stakeholders our parents, our teachers and our administrators. We did a pilot program to decide within our school on which device should we choose.to accomplish what we want. We waited for a year before we rolled out devices and did a full year PD training, where our teacher came together and we met once a month. During that day, we developed iTunes U course, and we created things via theme. Our goal was to make our teachers app-enabled, where they saw the iPad not as a storage device for apps, but rather looked to it as a creation device where the possibilities for what could take place in the classroom where limited only to their imagination. 
Big part of our PD was that we had lot of time for creation and collaboration as we wanted to model what we wanted them to teach. In fact, this year we are moving to Flipped PD, so that all the instructional part is done at home and we get the full day to create and collaborate.

Before you would have decided on iPad, you must have evaluated different devices. What were the key challenges in selecting iPad as a final Go-To device?

We did not go with iPad right from start, but we did market research and we evaluated the top devices such as Kindle, Galaxy and iPad at that time in 2010. What we did was we chose teacher from each department and rotated those devices, we told them to use it, experiment with it, do their lessons with it and kind of see which one are they comfortable with. We did weekly reflections and came together and shared what we did - the good, the bad and what we thought. And at the end of the 6 months we kind of decided on iPad unanimously.  We wanted a device with ease of creation, and I guess iPad still is the leader in that.

Take us inside Fairmont classrooms, how do you use apps and tools to enhance and develop the 4 Cs?

It's such an amazing experience. It is a community of learning now, and it has empowered students to connect and collaborate with ease. A lot of times students are so self sufficient they adapt the new tools and apps so easily, and this helps the teachers too. This is empowering for students, this is what we want to see, we want students to be leaders and take initiative in their learning. The best thing for me is the community learning growing out of it.
It is valuable for students especially because they can share what they learn with the world and it's no more shared only with the teacher or a single classroom.

A common issue across the globe is having reluctant teachers. How do we go about best Helping Reluctant Teachers Embrace EdTech? What are the best strategies?

I believe it's natural, the important thing we try to do is to meet people where they are. I don't think anyone is a a bad teacher because they are not familiar with technology. I have seen that if you have the support and open mind to learning, you are the best any student can have. This is why we moved to flipping PD, so that they can learn at their own pace, so that when we come together we are more in a group setting. We want to be able to give the best support to all the teachers keeping in mind that they are the ones actually going and teaching in the classroom.

We all do realize that with this growth of technology, the role of an educational technology coordinator is not easy. What are the guiding principles/What are the key things that tech coordinators and leaders should keep in mind?

I think just having a passion for what it is helps a lot, and when you love doing something, you don't think of it as work and challenge. But the biggest thing you must have is patience. I believe different things take different amount of time for different people. As long as you are willing to work with people on individual level, I think you are going to see a lot of success. There's been a lot of pressure on teachers due to standardized testing and doing things a certain way and they have found no time left for new initiatives. I believe when you give teachers time and lead by example, the teachers see  the genuineness in the new initiatives and how exciting things are. Flexibility with technology is one the important skill as well, we should not be a lot dependent on the technology.

From students’ perspective, how is learning differently with technology in comparison to without technology?

Biggest difference is student choice. It is actually giving control to students. A lot of times it's like me coming in the classroom and saying "lets talk and discuss about this today, let's have a discussion, this is what I would like to see, but you decide how you want to get there." We also practice app smashing, which allows for student choice. App smashing is awesome because these are different tools you have, so now which ones you want to use and work with to reach the end objective and demonstrate me your knowledge is your choice. I believe MCQs are not the single indicator of what it is the students know, there are so many ways to demonstrate their understanding and that is the reason we are able to engage so many learners through this as this builds their confidence and they have desire to try something else.

There is always a debate over are we making any progress in making good use of technology in the classroom? What’s your take on that? “Do these mobile devices really enhance the student learning experience?”

Before you decide what are you going to assess, you have decide what you are looking for. When you walk into the classroom, and when you think about learning, you should be clear about what does it look like for you. And when you know and you have that vision about this is what it looks like, "I want student collaborating, we want to see them exploring, creating", if that's the vision and when you see that happening in the classroom , see that collaboration and interaction happening, it shows that effort are working and we get to know about the right direction.

I am sure there are various apps that would be serving the teachers and student but which tools and apps are mostly loved and enjoyed in the classrooms?

Any app that allows us to create is the one we absolutely love. The one at top of my list is "Explain Everything", it allows students to take their learning to the next level, helps in how you are going to present information. There's abundance of information, so having the ability to evaluate and compare a good source from a bad source is an important skills students should have. And apps like Book Creator and Explain Everything help in the same.
Another app that students just love is Tellagami, which again gives students a voice and the power to create.

Schools are always bothered about safety issues. What are the policies for internet filter at Fairmont? What do you decide to block and what not? 

Yes some typical sites are blocked and anything explicit is blocked. We have a very secure filter that is monitored and a lot of our different devices run on different networks. I must admit that we have an amazing IT team who can also crack a device with HotSpot on. But the most important element is that the relationship we have between edtech coordinators, IT team and administrators is so "in sync" because of which we are able to solve various problems beforehand.

What Are the Real Benefits of a 1:1 Program to Students and Teachers? What Are the Biggest Challenges? 

Biggest benefit is students' and teachers' choice. We already have a tool or app almost for everything that we teachers wish we had.
The benefit is of being able to connect with people and students across the globe, as now there is no border, no wall. And as a teacher when you bring that to classroom and your student see the possibilities, it is a magical thing and a great learning experience for all.

The 4Cs are not new things/skills but the way in which they can be achieved today, is really remarkable. Technology helps students take control and helps teacher to be there to guide them.

I would say that "Giving people the time they need to be able to grow and develop at their own pace and being able to meet them where they are is what's going to get you get to a successful 1:1 program."

About the Author
Author: Utkarsh LokeshWebsite: https://twitter.com/utkarshlokesh
Passionate about community building and lifelong learning. Working to improve education by advocating 21st Century Learning and the effective use of Technology.
21st Century Education Advocate, EdTech Enthusiast, Co-Founder and CEO, EdTechReview

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