ONSchool Innovation – to renew or alter

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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(This article will feature in The Guardian Teacher Network Blog)

I recently had a magical conversation with Eylan Ezekiel, an ex-primary school teacher who now brands himself as an Instigator. A single ten-letter word that I am not keen on, as it has aggressive connotations that would not necessarily match the captivating content of our banter.

Eylan is the Instigator for ONSchool, a Free School proposal in the south of Oxford city. The chosen specialism for the school is Innovation, which is something I could advocate. Even though I use the bog-standard web 2.0 innovations, that some teachers still may find taxing in today’s classroom, I am still conscious that a small handful of teachers in every school cannot define ‘innovation’ or what is means for tomorrow’s classrooms.

The term innovation derives from the Latin word innovatus, which is the noun form of innovare “to renew or change,” stemming from in—”into” + novus—”new”. (Oxford Online Dictionaries)

I ploughed through the ONSchool website for evidence that moved me from interested, to a skin-tingling sensation that can only be described as inspired. Scrolling quickly with my mouse-pad, past the vision, ethos and conceptual-polices – all vital for setting up a Free School – I found a post on the website blog called “ICT – ONSchool will be switched ON!“

‘This is what its all about’ I thought and as I write, a new post on the ONSchool blog was published. “Why not open a Virtual School?” discussing the benefits versus a need to maintain physical relationships with students and all the social and emotional learning that comes with it. It was innovation by definition: ‘renewed, altered.’

Schools face a swarm of challenges – we all know that, but do we know the ingredients needed to achieve innovation? We have no clear national policy for whole-school ICT. Every school does it differently, and so they should; but in terms of originality, with no clear framework, we are all left clutching at straws buying-in any successful business model or (now) trying to replicate the Free School movement from the USA or Sweden. Why are we not leading education for others?

So, how can ONSchool in Oxford change this? Well, Eylan and ONSchool represent a small part of what we all hope to achieve and I really hope he does it! The school will be placed in one of the most famous educational cities in the world. So, given all the tradition and stature of learning in the city, is ‘Innovation’ needed here, and is it possible?

Referring back to the original reasons for being captured by this particular Free School movement, can “ONSchool be switched ON” for us all? Students are streets ahead of us with use of social-media and the skill-set they are all accumulating through web-technology, together.

We know this should be harnessed in schools. We know teachers should be at the cutting edge of pedagogy and practice, and that guidance is always changing. So, a key concern and barrier for ONSchool achieving ‘innovation’, as Eylan has already identified, is the bludgeoning ICT costs and the moral dilemma of sustainability.

Should we redefine the term sustainability and our expectations of this convention; particularly in reference to ICT, where the physical hardware and software directly contradicts the purpose that derives use of ICT?

Some innovative (remember the definition) ideas proposed by ONSchool are highlighted. Of course, the online VLE goes without saying, using open source tools and user-generated content. The concepts to transform a start-up school are all listed, but there is one particular idea that takes encapsulates this article and our phone-call in its entirety. It was solving one of the most critical issues currently faced and ignored in most school classrooms and playgrounds across the UK.

Bring-Your-Own-Devices (#BYOD) to school allows all school children to attend ONSchool secondary with a web-enabled mobile phone. This concept can be achievable using locked-down wifi-zones enabling or deactivating sophisticated applications in various subject zones across the building. Examples include Futurelab’s ’Social Software’ report and a personal example of ‘Rewarding Risk’ with the Technology Education Research Unit (TERU).

Eylan says, “Given the right boundaries this can and does work” and this is where I believe the ONSchool model can reach its innovative potential. This ‘model’ clearly needs to be defined into a framework as a prototype for everyone. It’s certainly not a new idea, but some schools continue to deny this ideology by embracing Apple Inc. through the purchase of their devices for all students! An example is Longfield Academy purchasing 1200 iPad 2’s.

If ONSchool want #BYOD to be a success, the moral issue that will challenge any socially-deprived area across the country, will be that every student has access to a device, and that those carrying dissimilar handsets do not have restricted functionality.

I rediscovered the concept of ‘desktop virtualisation’ recently via an article in Leader Magazine, published by the school-leaders union ASCL. The article by Clive Bush, writes for Learning Point UK. Clive explains how a virtual school can be established online, saving considerable costs, whilst also allowing the physicality of a school to co-exist for students.

The concept of ‘cloud’ reiterates on the lips of the general public. Using mobile-phones in your pocket has never been so collective. The point of encompassing this technology is also supported by ICT and Twitter guru, Professor Stephen Heppell. As Clive Bush highlights, Stephen argues that we were faced with the same challenges when calculators entered the classroom. “Why would a school provide a network and all the computers when kids have already got the stuff in their pocket…?”

Consequently, if embraced perfectly, money can be saved and the tarnished image of using ICT and the hardware that comes with it, can be revitalised. Some years ago, I was filmed trying to establish the beginnings of innovation, desktop virtualisation and thensome, at a school stuck in the ICT dark-ages. You can observe Steve Warburton and I, working on a Teachers TV programme, ‘Saving Money, Using ICT’.

If you’d like to support Eylan and the collective ‘Instigators’, to establish ONSchool becoming an innovative institution for the children of Oxford, as Clive Bush said in his article, “let’s demisitfy the cloud” and let teachers give the instruction, “OK, get your phones out and switch them on!”

The ideology to innovate is ours to interpret and make what it truly is, instigated.

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