How do you go about empowering a learning community in the digital age?

It’s no easy task, but it is one the Wellington East Girl’s College has tackled head on. Fergal Harrington is the school’s ICT SCT who has managed to bring key initiatives together to engage students, staff and parents.

Facebook and the classroom – it’s a tumultuous relationship, isn’t it?

And while it might sound as unlikely as Mark Zuckerberg wearing a suit, in a relatively short period of time, teaching and technical staff at Wellington East have gone from banning the wildly popular social networking site in the classroom to embracing Facebook as a way of creating good digital citizens of the future.

Used by around 750 million audiences globally, Facebook has changed the way we interact with each other and with the world. In 2012, Wellington East took the radical step of introducing Facebook groups for subjects, sports and cultural activities within the school. What’s more, Facebook is now accessible within the school environment. Fergal says he frequently sees students utilising Facebook to engage and share interest in their subjects with others. “They also lead their own learning, often tangential to the topic, which is something that wouldn’t be covered in class.”

It’s up to individual teachers to decide whether to use Facebook groups, but by getting teachers to “step outside their comfort zone into areas where they are less confident, we are shifting teaching culture”, says Fergal. With support in terms of professional development for staff and internal support groups they are supporting a digital pedagogy, something Principal Sally Haughton (a founding Wellington Loop trustee) values highly as part of the school’s future focus.

“At Wellington East we have developed a digital pedagogy that supports traditional teaching and opens up opportunities to learn in new ways” says Sally.

The college set out clear guidelines for the project. Facebook pages fall under the school’s cyber safety agreement and the professional context of the school environment is reinforced with teacher profiles not personal profiles such as ‘Mr Harrington’ or ‘Mrs Milne’ using the school’s colours and logo. The fact that students realise these groups are an extension of school and that staff can see the comments they make in these groups has meant that “the culture of online use has changed for the better”, says Fergal. “We are teaching responsible ways to behave online and the students themselves are now
self reviewing and supporting each other.”

Fergel admits having access to Wellington Loop and taking part in cluster meetings has connected him with other ICT teachers. “It has given me the opportunity to brainstorm and learn from others,” he says. As part of the project, Fergal is creating professional resources for staff which he aims to share back with the Loop Schools. Look out for our upcoming Social Networking event in Term 4, 2012 at which Fergal will be presenting.