Reflections from the PPTA ACT committee meeting November 2020

Today I was in Wellington for the PPTA ICT committee meeting. It was the first in person event for the year, after a couple of zoom sessions earlier on due to covid restrictions. Because of this, we had a rather full program with a few specific speakers, as well as a bit more admin type issues that weren’t strictly ICT committee focused but still of interest. As usual, these are my understandings and interpretations and I am happy to be corrected.

And there was an over arching thread through most of the korero today about ‘future proofing’ education, and/or what is the purpose of education moving forward. What parts of education need to change, and what parts need to be nurtured or protected.

NCEA and Online exams: John Oldroyd came to talk to the group about digital exams, online portfolios and portals and all the work being done in this space. There is an awful lot of work (15 different projects) all on the go exploring how assessment can be completed in a digital way. He was quietly relieved that (as yet) the exams had started well (quote ‘anticlimatic is a sign of success). This year there are 35,000 students enrolled in digital/online exams, from 292 schools (90 new this year). Which seems a lot, but still only accounts for a little over 8% of all external entries, as some exams are still paper passed, or some schools do a mixture, and some (like art) have externals without having ‘exams’ as such. So while progress has been made, there is still a long road ahead. Some issues are being ticked off, while others are proving more challenging. The biggest challenge is devices – exams have to be designed for the ‘lowest common’ device. Schools, rather than government departments, make the device choices, so they have to be available. There is a ‘partnership’ with N4L who will check a schools infrastructure before the exams, and some work is being done for trouble shooting on the day – of course a check might work, and work well, but a lot can happen in the 2 months between the check and the exam!. There was some conversation around the new standards – are exams still going to be a thing?? (certainly the proposed changes for science are not exam based). The new standards are being considered, and in this case, the assessments are being planned as digital first, paper second. Which lead into a conversation about how we design assessment…. and how might a assess any time, anywhere look? (currently the barrier to anywhere is authenticity….. and some interesting points about how ‘anytime’ might skew how schools plan learning…. but also might work for schools looking to semesterise. At the moment, subjects like Sci and maths are still preferred on paper – the software to draw a map for geo or a molecule for chem is still clunky on many devices, and the experience needs to be as good as paper/ no disadvantage to digital. In there areas, there is a step back to figure out what are we actually trying to do, and what is the actual problem – rather than hapzardly testing solutions that may or may not fit the criteria. Discussions also around text to speech – especially for priority learners, and for Maori learners who might traditionally have learned in an oral/aural way. This would also help to destigmatize reader writers and other SAC conditions – address equity and learning – win win 🙂 And then some snippets around attempts to ‘train’ algorithms for marking – you need lots of data points/scripts. Most people trust human markers more (I took this as a personal pat on the back as I mark NCEA!!) but perhaps automarking could be used for check marking. And through all this was the real push that this is a service design process – student experience was front and central (students wanted to listen to music and be able to eat but John said he couldn’t give them everything!!. You can learn more about the mahi being done at and this one has more info on the ’15’ different projects on the go (including scholarship, Te Reo Rangatira, SAC, remote assessment tools)

Turnitin, MSFT and Google agreements, TELA and Privacy: Paul Stephens came to take to us about a mixture of digi related things. The initial discussion was around Turnitin, as it has come up in several previous ICT meetings. But it is still pricey, and there are other options becoming increasingly competitive (Including a google one one an enteprise licence – so more expensive than ‘normal’ google, but cheaper than Turnitin). This discussion segwayed a little into a conversation about the need for turnitin – how to we train students to not copy and paste (or how do we train teachers for that matter!!). Can we design better assessment tasks so there is not the same need – but also some assessments the right answer is the right answer, so all will be plagirised to some extent. There was some discussion around MSFT and google agreements (both are up for renewal in the not too distant future) and what might be offered in those. Which lead to Data – where is the data stored. A reality is that everything is stored off shore – which poses challenges for Te Tiriti and Maori IP. As well as is the data stored off shore subject to NZ law. There are some sweeping changes to privacy laws in NZ ( which need to be considered at a governing level (I suspect most teachers will work around/ignore/not notice). Which lead to a small side discussion about what software is needed to run a school compared to what is useful for teaching and learning – what can be bulk, and what is individual to each learning environment. And with the rate of change, once something is agreed on, will it be outdated? Then swung back to TELA – some practical issues like screen size and device use, to more broad issues like private phones being possible data breaches, or teachers subsidising their jobs. (I’m a grinch, I have no Kamar, work emails etc on my phone, if I want to check I’ll check – but other teachers often use their personal devices…. what protections are there in this space). Tela is still pricey for schools – some teachers get no say in device choice, others get the option to pay the difference….. market costs? Surely as a ‘big market’ we should have more buying power – but devices still cost! (and no fancy macbooks this new round – the price point for the devices is too high) And then some final snippets on Te Rito coming in, and how the built in LMS might make the need to other softwares less necessary…. but how might this be managed, or will it integrate? How might this look – no definitely answers yet sorry! But a clear message it is still over to schools to decide the best software and pathways for them – but they might just have to pay extra.

PPTA ‘stuff’: There was a lot of varied info from various PPTA projects.

Covid – reviews, future proofing and future support featured. Some of these are coming from different angles – eg wellbeing. This was hotly contested in some ways – personally I had a positive lock down, felt valued and like I made a real difference to my students and supporting my staff, so my negative well being was going back to school. But others really struggled – and there was little consistency between schools – some were time tables as normal (so 5 hours of online learning a day) while others had 20 minute check in type sessions… and a whole range inbetween. The PPTA is currently seeking submissions and feedback from people on the wellbeing aspect – sing out if you want some contact details to participate – with an eye to make some ‘best practice’ recommendations for any future lock downs and online learning strategies. There was some discussion that muddled teacher well being with student well being – the main idea coming out of this was a lot of schools focused on students rather than staff, or the pastoral care fell to few shoulders who could ‘drive’ an only systems better than others for online learning, which had both positive (making a difference) and negative (the workload!! and feeling helpless when families/whanua were really struggling) impacts.

There is also a ‘plan’ to follow up in a similar way on possible best practice for online/lock down learning and techie pedagogy stuff, which is tied into a greater idea of equity and access to ICT support. Hopefully more on this soonish!

There was an update on the proceedings with the teachers council. TBH, some of this went over my head, and I got a little confused around judicial reviews and consultations. But, as I understood it, there is a serious challenge on the teachers council fee increases, as well as what service the Teachers council provides. I can find out more, or point you in the right direction if you are interested

There were some notes around the accord – which has moved from being a document to a process. Upsides were all parties were more open to discussions and conversations appeared more productive. Some good has already come (changes to appraisal, but more on the later) and increase in funding for EPA councilling support and well being initiatives linked to lock down. Other positives are in the pipeline….. and some ideas might get ‘sucked into quick sand’ but there seems to be some positive movement.

NCEA teacher only days – to be used NCEA only (I put my foot in it and said I was doing some techie stuff and hastily had to explain it was with our yr 7&8 teachers….. which lead to another side shoot about what options are there for area schools etc). Cost aside, having the material online means it can be revisited, used for teachers new to teaching next year and beyond. There are many professional bodies involved in the ToDs, and the NCEA changes, and it is not always smooth sailing… so it was stressed it is REALLY important that teachers engage and feedback when the options are there. With covid and other delays, the time line is increasingly tight. So buckle in and watch for the info. There was also some brief discussion around how and where the support will be coming from – I am a tad concerned a LOT will fall on subject assocs (even with NeX funding a lot of these run on very large amounts of good will, and many assocs didn’t get NeX funding either…. will this lead to imbalances/inequity of prep???). There are also some more imminent changes (like the no resubs for M and E) and an additional achieved recognition for passing a course…. talk to your Principals nominee for more info!

Te Rito – progress slowed slightly due to covid, and some SMS not being ready to integrate (Not sure which ones, the update was very professional!!) There have been some inconsistent messages, especially around the LSC roles and registry, and perhaps how far away the whole package still is. Data security is a big deal and being taken very seriously, and there is a real effort to have the learner as the main focus. Again, lots of groups involved, and so some challenges to adapt to accomadating requests.

Appraisal and ‘growth cycles’ came up – concerns that growth cycles from the Teachers council is just inquiry and appraisal in another name. I struggle with this sometimes – I like having inquiry and focuses – but also agree they should not be linked to appraisal or attestation. And that they might not go for a year, or they might drift into several…. Anyways the PPTA have put together some resources (, including a possible evidence template ( that is worth a look, and possibly a share with who ever is in charge of this at your school. The PPTAs stance is that almost all teachers are good – so treat them that way, assume the best and have a high trust model (my paraphrasing, I’m not as eloquent as some of them 🙂 )

Running through all of these discussions was some ‘provacations’ thrown in around the future for teaching and learning. Collective bargaining processes will be starting to form ideas and processes next year – what needs to happen in this space. Lots of schools have shifted or are shifting to alternative timetables and cross curriculum projects – how does this look? With the ‘success’ of lockdown, are classrooms really necessary? With the acute shortage of some specialised subject teachers, and then increase in online learning platforms, will teachers become more generalist and specific content delivered online. What is the role of specialised content? As teachers/schools – do we have pre-reqs for classes? How do we teacher both just in case and just in time learning. As someone who was WAY out of my depth in a new curric area this year, this conversation tears me to shreds. Part of my wants to be open, to learn new things, to support students interests and diversify learning. But another part of me is already frustrated at the misconceptions students bring to a L3 chem class that they have because they ‘mislearned’ an idea as simple (or actually really hard) as dissolving in yr 9. A chem teacher would ‘teach’ dissolving quite differently to a biology botanist…. so where does the need for specialisation fit in? Or will university start to set entrance exams for subjects, and so that will determine what we teach?? There was also a discussion around equity – I’m frustrated more has not been done to get more support for teachers in schools around devices, digital learning strategies. As well as infrastructure and all sorts of pieces to online learning puzzles. Along with this discussion, I shared my increasing frustration at the hierarchical structures in place in many schools. If you are a classroom teacher, often many pathways to make change are blocked unless you become an HoD etc. Apart from career progression, there is such a waste of potential of some many teachers ideas and skills – simply because they don’t have a ‘unit’ so don’t get to make a call. And then, there was a brief discussion about how many students are simply opting out of learning – seemingly more so this year than last. They got here 54 credits sometime in term 3, and that was that. I think this shows more than anything that the ‘systems’ needs changing…. but to what, I’m not sure. I’m definitely not sold on a complete shift to online, but then something needs to change?

And so what will that look like? I’m going to be pondering that for a while I think.

And as I am on leave from school in 2021, this was my last meeting for a while (unless I can find a way to bend some rules……ideas welcome!). So I want to take the time to acknowledge all the awesome and diverse people I have meet – we haven’t always agreed (and I have got quite ‘ranty’) but we have always had thoughtful, respectful discussion of some quite meaty topics. I am still proud of my initial work with the changes to the TELA scheme, and will keep pushing for more equitable access to ICT support in schools. It has been an absolute privilege. Thank you. Arohanui.

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