Better Teaching in the Pilbara: Overcoming Geographic Barriers and Work Demands is a Process and a Group Effort
by MK Ward
Chloe is a PEAC coordinator in the Pilbara region. PEAC means “Primary Extension And Challenge”, so the job of a PEAC co-ordinator is to run an educational program designed to enrich and extend primary students’ academically.
This is no doubt a challenging role anywhere, but it’s an even more challenging job in the Pilbara, where many students are remote. Some students are more than 100km apart from each other, and from the teachers.
Because of the remoteness, when Chloe started her job, she assumed that teachers in the Pilbara would already be integrating video conferencing into their teaching. She was surprised to discover this wasn’t the case. Some teachers can see these types of technologies as an added demand to their already demanding job. In order to support teachers in their use of new technologies, Chloe needed to provide training and to increase teachers’ experience with the technologies. The pairing of these resources with the demands of learning technology is an important balance to strike in work design. Resources that enable teachers to meet technology demands builds confidence needed for testing new delivery methods via technology.
Through a gradual change process, Chloe has been able to embed this technology into the classrooms of Pilbara teachers.
But the change wasn’t easy. At the start, she was overwhelmed with questions from teachers. Chloe’s response was to create a step-by-step guide, and to enlist the help of the students:
'My PEAC kids at Tom Price would say, “Oh, Mrs. Brook, the principal didn’t know how to fix this thing with the video, so we helped fix it…”. (Helping) gave the kids an awesome sense of accomplishment. And all of a sudden, I had these little geniuses at the different schools who could troubleshoot. That was my first step towards video conferencing.”
Next, Chloe extended the engagement to include other key stakeholders:
“(The) second step was to bring in the parents and admin and staff to see what it looked like and what was going on, and get comments and feedback. It was important to keep them involved along the way.”
An important part of the change process was to deal with the emotions that the technology can give rise to. Chloe observed “it’s hard to get the teachers to take the first step - a huge hurdle is that [adopting new tech can be scary]”. But Chloe worked on the principle of gradual involvement: “Once teachers take that initial step, they see it’s not rocket science. And then they can start to experiment and “play” with it.”
In the end, Chloe achieved success with students and colleagues, and videoconferencing is now embedded into teaching in the Pilbara.
As well as the careful consideration of stakeholders during the change process, two key work design factors have facilitated the successful implementation of the new technology.
First is the high level of job autonomy that Chloe has in her work. Her decision-making latitude has allowed Chloe to try out different ideas. She noted: “I’ve had a lot of room to do what I thought was right…”
Second is a high level of support. Chloe has worked extensively with Stuart from Telstra, who set up the videoconferencing. She benefited from his expert technical knowledge and his commitment to improving ways to use tech for learning, something that makes work meaningful for both of them. On our visit, Chloe implemented one of Stuart’s suggestions to make group reflection in the classroom more effective by being more specific to the students’ comments.
Good work design and a highly participative change process mean that changing the way a job is done, can maintain engagement and even improve it for employees and students.