Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home

Written 5th November 2017 ( originally 2015)

Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home sheds insights into theological ideas as well as incisive understanding of social, economic, scientific, educational, technological and environmental issues for our common home. 

The Pope refers to technology from the point of view of creativity and power (Paragraph 102). Creativity is a product of technology which assists humans in a range of areas including medicine, engineering and education. Alternatively, when technology is concentrated in the hands of a few, through the power that may be exerted, some people are disenfranchised and consequently inequalities, inequities and social injustices might occur. This is often expressed as a digital divide.

As a school we are mindful of this tension between technology, creativity and power. Along the path we walk our goal is to hasten slowly and develop our understanding and skills of learning technology in a positive way to support learning. 

To this end IT services have planned and now implemented a range of cloud based applications to enhance the teaching process for teachers and the learning of the students. By way of summary:

1. Canvas: –   Staff have undertaken professional development in using the key functions of the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS). Initially Canvas is being used as a portal for the provision of files and resources for students.  A selection of the advanced functions have also been used such as the digital submission and marking of assessment tasks and the use of quizzes and modules.

2. Google Apps for Education (GAFE):- We are making selective use of the features of this platform.  It is currently being used as a platform for students to back up their work and this has been implement specifically with the updating of student laptops.  The GAFE elements have been trialled by teachers with their own accounts for a number of years.  Now teachers and students have access to a school hosted domain which means, for example, we make use of google sites for the production of webpages to present student work in an enclosed school digital environment.

3. Other Platforms: – Edublogs, Office 365, OneDrive for Business and a range of web 2.0 tools are a few more examples of the IT Services we provide students.  Their use is specific to their function.   Edublogs is for authentic blogging to an audience, OneDrive will be useful for the cloud storage of the popular OneNote application which students use and Office 365’s use is planned so students can access their Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files at any time, on any device in any location.

Loreto has a well-established platform for ethical use technology to assist student learning.  The uptake and degree of deployment is still evolving as teachers undertake professional development to create authentic learning experiences. There is no expectation that all the services will be used, rather the goal is to use what works best for learning. As we embark on this process over the coming years we are moving cautiously and in partnership along a path with the whole school community.  

There can be potholes on any path we walk. We should be careful how we use the technology; recognising it’s potential, be cognizant of its pitfalls and open to future opportunities.  For example, the concerns of social media are well documented as are the benefits. The often discussed information overload can be managed through critical thinking and the prudent selection of data. 

Students have to be careful to not identify themselves when they use open access digital tools and still be digital citizens in a digital world. They have to understand the web tools they might use, so they can trouble shoot when issues arise and hopefully help others. Finally in terms of basics they need to be proactive in backing up their work, learn how to be digitally organised because at the moment this is what is important in their current world of learning.  

To conclude with words from His Holiness:  

“Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads. (Sic)” (Paragraph 102)

Often this expression is also referred to as Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift or colloquially as ‘game changer’. What does this crossroad look like? For example, are we at a crossroad when students will not be allowed to bring their watch (due to the iWatch) to assessment tasks? This is current practice at some universities. 

If we are at a crossroads then Loreto students are well positioned to embrace what the path offers.  Alternatively, if not at the crossroads, we are on a path of growth and evolution; preparing for what the future of learning with technology holds for our students.  

Martin Pluss Dean of Learning

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