What’s in your digital toolkit?

Innovation; Online Learning; Technology
What's in your digital toolbox?

In just over a decade since the term ‘Web 2.0’ was first introduced, technologies for collaboration and sharing have grown and been adopted at an exponential rate. In this interview, educator and author of Educating Gen Wi-fi, Greg Whitby, talks about the impact of digital tools, particularly Web 2.0 on the work of leaders and teachers in schools.

Q: What digital tools should school leaders use and why?

Greg Whitby: They should be using all the tools young people are familiar with and the tools are that available now e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blog tools. It’s not a prescriptive or definitive list, but how young people connect, collaborate, cooperate and learn - these are the tools they need to know.

Q. What is your advice to leaders and teachers who haven’t engaged in Web 2.0 before, where do they start?

GW: Go to the kids. Listen to the kids. It’s providing a powerful challenge to teachers and schools but that’s why we need to really rethink the whole nature of schooling and the assumptions that students are coming in fresh, ready to start their learning because it is not true. They are actually coming to school well on their way. If schools don’t respond to that, they will be increasingly more irrelevant. This is only the beginning of the technology revolution, it’s not the end point. So if you’re frightened now, strap yourself in and get ready for the ride of your life because what is coming is going to be even more challenging! Although we have to remember, digital tools are only enablers and are only as good as how people use them.

Greg Whitby with students
Greg using technology with students from St Monica's Primary, North Parramatta

Q. How do you think today’s technology has changed the role of leaders and how do you think it should in the future?

GW: It has challenged every assumption that school leaders have operated on. When you think about it, the shift from the Agrarian revolution through to the industrial revolution took a century; the shift from the industrial to the digital has only taken 10 years! You have gone from the early 1990s before we went digital, knowing how everything operated and you had the certainty that you could move to any school - government or non-government – and know the job; now those certainties have gone.

The point I want to make is, that we make a grave mistake if we say that our leaders aren’t capable of new ways of working or don’t want to do it. The answer is we need to constantly learn and relearn and we need to work with teachers and leaders to help them. They also need to be open to finding new places of learning and they can’t do this by going to the experts they used to go to at the university or their peers who were principals before them; because they’re in the same boat. They have to go to young people to find new ways of working, that’s where they’ll find the answers.

Q. What’s your future prediction – where is this all?

GW: We are heading to a place where school is going to be very different. Schools are going to be more connected to the world, have greater choice and greater diversity.

I think the way forward is in much deeper collaboration and we are going to see a big shift from thinking about principalship and leadership more in terms of collaborative processes than leading - so it is in what people are doing that we will see the leading, not the characteristics that are ascribed to it. That is a very different approach and the challenge will be how we recognise, reward and share it, because when you can find a curriculum on the net and when you can access tertiary education from a brownstone ivy league school via the web, you’ve got to be able to react and respond and I think this will become increasingly more important for leaders to consider.

The other thing is that it is very, very important that we have schools and that we continue to have schools. Not because we’ve always had them, but because they are good, in and of themselves, and do a whole range of other things for students. The most important thing they do is provide a teacher as the mediator in the learning process - to guide, encourage, coach, mentor – that is what good teachers do. They help facilitate, lead and establish an inquiring mind-set and model what good learning looks like. This is crucial for learning.
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Greg Whitby leads a system of 78 Catholic Schools in Western Sydney. He is the author of Educating Gen Wi-fi: How to make schools relevant for 21st Century learners