“Technology can transform learning, taking students beyond the textbook and into the real world where authentic experiences can take place with those who live there.” – Ann Mirtschin, Austalia
There was a time when students in remote, rural communities were at a distinct disadvantage to peers in big city schools. But technology has changed all that, and teachers like Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Ann Mirtschin are a big reason why.
Mirtschin, whose first experience teaching with computers involved Commodore 64s, is part of a new breed of educators committed to breaking down the walls of the classroom.
“Technology and computers have had a big impact on my students, classes and the general community over the years,” Mirtschin tells us. “Technology has allowed us to connect and collaborate with others globally, enabling the world to be our classroom. Skype lets us experience the world outside a textbook, learn about other cultures, experience virtual tours, bring in global expert speakers and much more.”
Late last year, one of those Skype connections introduced Mirtschin’s students to a rural classroom in Japan. The cross-cultural exchange not only opened her students’ eyes to the larger world, it provided a perfect opportunity for them to practice important technology skills.
“After the link-up,” says Mirtschin, “students were highly engaged to share the learning on a collaborative OneNote. Students also produced a Christmas calendar (collaboratively and synchronously), drawing pictures for each day of December using a stylus. Questions and discussions then took place often through an interpreter as the Japanese students spoke English as a second or third language.”
Mirtschin’s leadership goes well beyond her own school. She’s also the co-Australasian Chair for the Global Education Conference, Communications Officer for ISTE Global PLN and a Flat Connections Lead Teacher.
In spite of the day-to-day challenges of teaching in her rural community – one that doesn’t even have mobile phone service – Mirtschin is optimistic about technology’s role in her students’ future.
“My biggest hope is that students will have a global learning network,” she says, “know how to use technology for enhanced and customized learning, and to be able to solve the most pressing global problems as they see them.”
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Ann Mirtschin.
What inspired you to become an educator?
In my final years of secondary school, I was fortunate enough to have two passionate, caring, hard working teachers who inspired me and motivated me to do well. As I had always enjoyed working with children (and as I was too short to be an air hostess – my preferred option!), I became a teacher.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
After 10 years of absence from teaching due to family leave, I walked into my first classroom to teach computer studies to year 10 students using Commodore 64s. This was my first sighting of a computer.
Needless to say, I felt very, very nervous and quite anxious but was “hooked” on computers from that day. I was proud to survive that day, find that students did not think less of me and be able to facilitate learning in fields of personal inexperience. Over the years, I went on to become innovative in the ways that technology can be used in the classroom.
Some of the most memorable experiences have been connecting with Asian classrooms and watching my students patiently and, with determination, communicate with students who speak English as their fourth language.
Another high point was participating in the TED Talks conference in Canada 2015, virtually, when my Business Management students were able to converse with musician Mark Ronson and Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes, and to be part of the MS World Skypeathon.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
Innovation is required to push classroom learning in new directions, to engage students and give them skills for a future workforce which will be immersed in technology. The innovative use of technology can transform learning, taking students beyond the textbook and into the real world where authentic experiences can take place with those who live there.
Students love to use Skype in the Classroom for connecting, collaborating and playing “games” like Mystery Skype. We had a series of link-ups with a university professor, Mariko, in Japan who also wished to bring real global learning to her classroom in a Japanese rural school. She spoke to us from her university and also took us on a tour of the classroom. We learned about student access to technology, their typical foods, typical classrooms and the school canteen.
Our last connection was near the end of our school year in December 2015. A formal session of questions and answers was pre-planned by the two teachers. We used Skype to link up with the class in Japan, and had some typical Christmas decorations to show, like a decorated Christmas tree, stockings etc.
The girls had arranged (coincidentally) to have a Kris Kringle (gift exchange) that day, so they decided to open up their presents in front of the Japanese students. Students then thought and taught “on the fly.” Two girls had disappeared on me (without any prior arrangement), but promptly returned with one girl dressed as Santa carrying a sack with the Kris Kringle presents. The Japanese students stood and applauded as our Santa entered. The presents were duly given out and opened to the web camera, much to the curiousity of the Japanese students. The formal teacher plans were dismissed and students took the lead in their learning.
My students were curious about the fact that many of the Japanese students were wearing masks and using blankets over their knees. I felt it was politically incorrect to ask why, but it got too much for my students, so they asked the questions. Again we had to wait to be interpreted and found out that masks were worn so that they did not catch a cold. It was snowing and hence the blankets. Yet here in Australia, it was a hot summer’s day. The learning was interactive, conversational, visual and collaborative and well beyond the realm of a textbook.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
Access, in its many guises, is a challenge to quality education for all — locally and nationally. The size of Australia also means that many students live, and are educated in, remote rural areas where access to quality education and, a choice of curriculum, is a challenge. Access to the Internet, sufficient bandwidth to engage fully with multimedia, video and web conferencing have been a problem in our local school region. There is no mobile phone service in our local community. Poverty also presents problems in accessing quality learning.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future?
I continue to be most excited about the place of technology in the classroom and its power to allow both synchronous and asynchronous connections and collaboration in classes throughout the world. The world is becoming increasingly global and our students have the ability to be able to learn about other cultures, religions and spaces, to increase their understanding of each other, develop greater empathy and potentially solve many of the problems that currently exist.
About Ann Mirtschin
ICT Secondary Teacher
Hawkesdale P12 College
- Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia
- Educational background: Bachelor of Commerce, Dip Ed, Global Teacherpreneur
- Website I check every day: Twitter
- Blog URL: http://www.murcha.wordpress.com
- Favorite childhood memory: Holidays on my grandparents’ farm.
- Favorite book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype, OneNote
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “Never give up!”