The iCentre at St Mary’s School, Waverley: fit for the 21st century: part one

| September 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Anneli Silvennoinen

The new iCentre at St Mary’s School, Waverley, in Johannesburg, takes us into the 21st century to facilitate teaching and learning in an interactive and interconnected world.

Our learners are now being taught not only how to access, store and present information, but also to evaluate that information and the importance of information ethics, such as acknowledging resources. School libraries should now be considered learning laboratories (‘labraries’) that should develop students as independent, informed digital citizens. In our iCentre, learners are encouraged to consider conflicting points of view and diverse information sources to discover new ideas and form new personal perspectives. Investigation, exploration, search and research challenge them to go beyond the mere answering of questions and finding the correct answer.

We recognise that the world is in a transition phase and so we incorporate both new technology and print formats as and when required.

Training in the new technology Our iCentre is well-staffed to cater for the training needs of learners and teachers. Rosinah Mosoeu, the information technology (IT) teacher, and Linda Bradfield, the IT coordinator, are both located there with Anneli Silvennoinen, the librarian, and Olivia Douglas, the library assistant.

Mosoeu teaches regular formal IT lessons to all learners. She is aided by the librarian when dealing with topics such as the eLibrary, wiki online book club, the resource centre Facebook page, bibliography compilations and searching the online library catalogue. Mosoeu also runs workshops for staff and manages the IT training of our pupil resource monitors.

Bradfield is responsible for integrating technology into the curriculum. She has a number of mobile iPad laboratories that the teachers can book for their lessons, enabling each learner to work with an iPad. St Mary’s is a Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder School,1 forming a part of a global community of schools that work closely together to develop a culture of innovation whilst transforming the way schools operate. The school has supplied each teacher with a laptop and an iPad. All classrooms have interactive whiteboards.

Wireless connectivity enables the librarian and resource monitors to run Podcamps, which are casual groups of learners and staff who join together to learn new IT skills in the iCentre. Interested teachers and learners bring their own mobile devices to connect with the group. Regular Podcamps are held in the centre on various topics, mostly at break times. Teachers and pupils may request Podcamps in their areas of interest.

Print and eLibrary collections

Our print collection of over 12 000 items will continue to include both teen and adult fiction to cater for our learners and staff. The non-fiction section will remain fairly static, as the internet has taken over most of the fact-finding aspects of research.

The print collection works together with our eLibrary, powered by Overdrive, the globally dominant eLibrary system in the current market. We have had much interest in this eLibrary from both young and old. The eLibrary makes it possible for patrons to manage their own accounts, choose their issue times, do their own renewals, compile wish lists for future use, recommend and reserve items and search by author, title and subject. Each item has a photograph and a short description to help in choosing eBooks, audiobooks and videos. Overdrive also has the facility to include music, but there are so many free downloads on the internet that we have not included this aspect in our eLibrary collection.

All of these items are downloadable onto iPads, laptops, desktops and smartphones. The system is controlled by every user having a unique library card number. Access is gained via www.stmaryschool.co.za/Quick links/Internal links/eLibrary or www.stmaryschool.co.za/Senior School/Resource Centre. We have a reading period every week for grades 8 and 9 learners, and teachers are battling with a new challenge: how to ensure that learners are truly listening to audiobooks on their earphones!

Teachers may view the eLibrary Market Place to find items they would like to use, and e-mail the information to the librarian for purchase. There is a facility to buy multiple copies for a year-long use, making prescribed texts and other items available to a whole class for an extended period. The students think it is very ‘cool’ to find eLibrary titles on their recommended lists for assignments. Teachers can also ‘teach’ a book by downloading copies for themselves while each girl downloads a copy to her device. These copies or extracts are also easy to place onto the interactive whiteboards.

Wireless connectivity

The entire school has wireless connectivity, and it has been extended to include the new iCentre. This enables all teachers and learners to bring their digital devices to the iCentre and work, whether individually, in classes or small groups. Pods or desktop computers are interspersed with books. Apple Macs as well as Windows computers are available, ensuring that pupils become familiar with both platforms. Every learner and teacher has her own e-mail address, which ensures that interactive and collaborative work is within everyone’s scope. E-mail also ensures that one can move between the Windows and Apple Mac platforms.

Apple Mac is on the cutting edge of graphics and technology. The iLife Suite is very popular. Our learners and teachers thoroughly enjoy utilising iMovie, which enables them to make movies for assignments or presentations of any kind. These student-made movies form an integral part of our assemblies, and much laughter is generated when staff agree to perform their antics as well. Last year, the drama department learners produced a full-length crime movie and had an Oscartype opening night for the school community with red carpets, photographers and ball gowns.

The art department often uses iBook Author, a free download that allows teachers to compile an interactive eBook including text, images, widgets, multichoice questions, videos, galleries of images, etc. of their lessons for the learners. Learners and teachers attend the workshops run by our local iStores2 and find them very useful. Last year, one of our art pupils, Katherine Krone, won second prize in the Apple in Education3 national competition for her artwork, made by using iBook Author. Sue Heydenrych, head of the art department, likewise won second prize in the same competition for teachers, with her interactive book on artist Vincent Van Gogh.

The music pupils use Garageband, which helps them to learn to play an instrument, write music or record songs. The school’s rock band and jazz band entertain the school at events and breaks. The musicians showcase their talents by performing their original compositions. The photography club uses iPhoto on iPads to manage and edit their photographs whilst out scouting for photographs. Wireless connectivity blurs the boundary between iCentre and the classroom. The virtual world aspect also blurs the boundary between school and home, as the facilities are available globally 24/7.

Computerised catalogue

The library has had a computerised online catalogue, OPAC, since 1995. The main computer catalogues are available in the iCentre, providing detailed information about all items such as subjects covered, number of items, shelf numbers and who has a current issue of which item. The entire management of the iCentre is computerised. A newer feature is a mini-OPAC, which is now available on all computers on the school network. This physically brings the iCentre to the user, thereby making information available from anywhere and at any time.

References:
1. See, for example, http://www.microsoft.com/education/ww/partners-inlearning/Pages/innovative-schools.aspx.
2. See, for example, http://myistore.co.za/.

Category: e-Education, Spring 2013

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