When Tim Ralph first started teaching in the Durham District School Board (DDSB) a little over two decades ago, he had a set of encyclopedias, and would split his class by letter of the alphabet to do research.
This year, Ralph, who was recently awarded the DDSB’s Bruce Mather Award, is part of a team that will launch Mobile Campus, a digital campus that will allow students to connect to learning resources anywhere, any time and on any device.
That’s one of the biggest changes in education Ralph, DDSB’s Education Officer – Technology, has seen thus far in his career: “the interconnectedness of the environment in which we live – 24/7, you can reach out and find information.”
For his work collaborating with others within the DDSB to develop an overall vision for technology use in the Board, creating a comprehensive strategic plan for implementation of educational technology, Ralph received the award.
Bruce Mather served as Director of Education from 1984 to 1989. When he retired, the then-Durham Board of Education established the Bruce Mather Award to recognize his service to education. The prize is awarded annually to a staff member who has made an exceptional contribution to the growth of others.
Ralph was nominated by a colleague, not only for his work on Mobile Campus, but for his role relating to digital citizenship, particularly during 2011-2012’s “Year of Digital Citizenship.” As well, under Ralph’s leadership, schools have benefited from an array of technology advances, including creation of a central library learning commons website, e-books, e-readers, access to online databases and the DDSB’s very successful teacher laptop training program.
“Tim has been absolutely indispensable in helping us meet our goals in terms of using technology in a way that enhances student learning,” said Martyn Beckett, Director of Education. “He has really helped shape a plan that has transformed teaching and learning in the DDSB and the ways technology is integrated and applied in classrooms.”
The award, said Ralph, is a “great honour” that recognizes not only his work, but “a great team, and collaborative work between educators and those in tech services. This award is really a triumph for that kind of collaborative spirit.”
Ralph’s passion for technology is clear as he talks about the role it plays in student engagement. Where once students would take a book out of the library to read about a topic, now they can, through technology, read up on the subject, watch video, and even talk to people – via the Internet – about it.
“This has revolutionized our world, and really allows students to learn from their own angle,” Ralph said.
Students’ ability to collaborate has also been greatly improved, he said.
“It’s magical that you can make a video call to someone in, say, England, and you can do it from a phone on a GO train,” Ralph said. “It allows students to form communities irrespective of geography.”
“The ability to take geography out of collaboration is extraordinary.”
Ralph has also been heavily involved in roll-out of the Instructional Laptop Program for teachers in the DDSB. Under the program, teachers attend 16 hours of training, and then receive a laptop computer, wireless keyboard and mouse, speakers and locking system for their instructional use. Since it began, more than half of teachers within the DDSB have received the training.
“We’ve now reached the tipping point for kids to see teachers using technology in everyday practice,” Ralph said.
Ralph is also active in leading events for parents, to talk about educational technology. He sometimes encounters parents who feel a little overwhelmed and, in some cases, intimidated by the array of technology available to and in every-day use by their children. But he says parents’ role in such things can be more about reminding their children of the character traits held dear in the offline world, and that they should be applied online as well.
“As parents, we’re experts in character and values,” Ralph said. “It’s important to explore new technology with our children, but we don’t need to be an expert in every single device. We can ask our children, ‘Is everyone respectful on there?’ If the answer is ‘sometimes’ or ‘no,’ then that’s a good discussion to have.”