Lisa Finch is the Director of Technology at Dubai English Speaking College, where she also teaches Computing and ICT. Having lived in several different countries, she is a keen observer of the various ways in which people use technology. As well as being passionate about educational technology, she loves to experiment with cooking. She values spending time with her family in Dubai.

Why did you become a teacher?

I was employed in industry prior to becoming a teacher. My work was, however, largely unrewarding, and I realised that training to become a teacher might offer me a more fulfilling career path. I had collaborated with internship programmes and students in London and really enjoyed the interactions with young people, so I knew I would enjoy it. At that stage, I didn’t have a suitable degree, so I pursued a course on a part-time basis (working during the day and studying in the evenings). I then completed my PGCE teaching qualification at St Martin’s College in Lancaster, UK. I have never looked back or regretted my decision to switch careers – moving into education was the best career choice I could have made. It was life changing in every way. Despite not having completed a conventional journey into teaching, I feel content. Every day is different and having a positive impact on young people is an extremely rewarding (and sometimes humbling) experience. I love what I do.

Who or what inspires you most?

I am inspired by students and by my colleagues. The students never cease to amaze me, especially when I discover their hidden passions. I love to see young people succeed, perhaps against the odds. Education should be an empowering experience. At times, fellow teaching professionals inspire me, whether they are musicians, scientists, artists or sportsmen. At DESC, our teachers work extremely hard in supporting the whole community and ensure that stakeholders are happy and fulfilled. We are much more than just a series of different departments. As a team, we strive to dare, excel, share and create.

Why is it important for children to learning coding?

Coding is a skill that allows students to refine their creative problem-solving skills. It can be carried out and mastered independently or in collaborative teams. Coding enhances logical thinking and encourages students be productive, industrious individuals who have real-world skills. It is inventive and unleashes the imagination. Above all, it is preparing them for a future workplace where computerised skills and mastery will be important and valuable. However, students should not be limited to engaging with code. They must also interact with emerging technologies that can work hand-in-hand with programming – such as 3D Printing, Robotics, Drones, etc., and do this safely, as responsible digital citizens.

What are some of the ways in which you use ICT to help other educators to improve in their practice?

Tech Fest is an annual, non-profit celebration of all things technology. It’s not a slick, corporate event. It is an organic, hands-on, series of flash learning opportunities. This includes volunteers delivering workshop sessions to teachers. I believe it is vital that educators are given the opportunity to take risks and try to learn new skills. We should be resilient, life long learners who lead by example.

If we tell our students that failure is fine, we must also be willing to live by that code of conduct. Providing teachers with the opportunity to take part in learning activities for free, and in their own time, is very important. Events like Tech Fest can support CPD processes and hopefully ignite a self-propelled learning journey that the teachers then steer themselves. At DESC, we have just set up an in-house CPD hub where my colleague, Malachy McGrogan and I deliver technology-related training. I hope to roll this project out further, including the parental community later in the year. As a recently approved Apple Certified Trainer, I can deliver free of charge courses to our staff. Empowering our teachers to integrate more technology into learning and teaching should have a positive impact on our students.

Share with us two successful ICT projects that you ran in the school.

We started to use Minecraft in the classroom about twelve months ago. I was a little wary at first. This was, after all, a rather simplistic game that looked like digital Lego. However, I soon realised that the students found it liberating. Within the Minecraft environment, they can be architects, engineers, builders, historians, scientists – and there are no limits to what can be created. Even the quiet students, who sometimes lack confidence, can express themselves freely in digital format. It is a truly powerful tool that can be used to support learning in any curriculum area (from understanding how medieval castles are constructed, to making the inside of a computer that actually functions). We now use Minecraft in Computing and ICT to engage students with difficult concepts. We ask them to build structures that solve problems.

A successful project that involves ICT is our Year 7 superstructures STEAM project. Students must work collaboratively to create the design and prototype for a new structure. It must have a real purpose and should solve a social problem. Students must first investigate existing superstructures from around the world – examining location, weather conditions, building materials, design and architecture. They then apply their knowledge to the design of a new structure. This prototype is created in Minecraft and/or 3D printed. Students have evaluated and refined ideas, as per the Design thinking handbook. We want them to experience iterative design processes, harness their creative skills and enjoy working on a project as part of a team. Our students thrive on creative freedom and this project allows them to express that openly.

What were some of the surprises that these projects revealed?

A surprise was that students could be creative in many different ways. I now understand that they should not feel boxed in by the teacher. Look at the learning outcomes and then try to imagine the different ways that the students can achieve them and demonstrate progress. Allow them to make choices – don’t dictate to them how a project should be completed. Let them try to reach conclusions for themselves.

How can other teachers implement similar projects?

Teachers can plan similar projects if they think of the bigger picture – in other words, think about how the global community is connected, and how those links can be exploited via educational pathways. This can be achieved in many different ways as long as access to the internet is available. The most important resource is the student and their willingness to learn. Creating an innovative learning project takes planning and time. Staff need to embrace the idea of collaboration and project management, especially if we wish our students to do the same. Push the boundaries and generate challenges that are exciting, real world and meaningful.

What project do you have next?

My next project is a student innovation competition – “The Next Big Idea”. We launched it in the third week of November, to coincide with Hour of Code and the recent Innovation Week in the UAE. Free to work individually or in small teams, our students will be able to suggest innovative ideas that could change the way the world works. The shortlisted finalists will be showcasing their ideas at the KHDA’s What Works event in mid January, which is dedicated to STEAM. They will also be participating in the first DESC Innovation Jam that will be held in February (“24 hours to change the world”). I am hoping to persuade some local entrepreneurs (or even DESC staff) to help mentor the students and provide advice to them as they formalise their innovation ideas. The Innovation Jam will allow students to develop their concept and generate a 1-minute video that explains their innovation idea to the world. These will be posted online for the DESC community to view and experience.

What is the best advice that you would give to teachers who are nervous about integrating technology into their lessons?

Don’t be afraid to fail – failure can be powerful. It can be transformational, just like technology. I would not advise any teacher to use technology all the time in the classroom. Consider the pedagogical outcomes first and then think about how the technological can be transformational. That is when the magic happens!

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