Sunday, 10 March 2013

UPT Digital

On Thursday four members of our teaching team had a Skype hui with Renea and Rachel from UPT Digital in Christchurch. UPT Digital is part of Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, a very student focused state high school in Christchurch, NZ.

UPT Digital began four years ago as an ICT class that was looking for a more inspiring name and way of operating, and now operates with a flexible structure that allows students to spend 3 or more hours a week working on self-directed IT projects in small teams with input from local and international mentors.

It was fantastic to meet with some others who are using a similarly project based approach to us, and we were simultaneously affirmed and challenged by the approach they are taking. We covered a lot of ground in the 30 or so minutes we talked, but two of the things that stood out to me are:
  • UPT Digital is tailored very well to the particular context they are working in, both in regard to the students at the school and the commercial environment (IT industry) they are working with. Their projects are student-passion driven. They collaborate with industry, and are building a direct route for students to move from the school to the workplace. This lead to some interesting discussion with our teaching team after the Skype session as we considered how this approach could be applied in the context of visual arts and music, which are in some ways quite different to the IT industry.
  • Renea Mackie (the project director) takes an admirably up-front approach (I hope you don't mind me writing this Renea!) to making contact directly with industry for the benefit of her students. "We were Skyping the other day with Rod Drury about Pacific Fiber"; "We were working on an event, and school wasn't open, so we talked to Vodafone and used their offices". These industry contacts act as both mentors and collaborators, and are a central part of the UPT Digital approach. This has provided great encouragement for us to strengthen the our current contacts with people in the commercial world, and work to develop many more relationships.
If you are interested in what UPT Digital are doing, and think it might be something you'd like to bring into your own school there are already a number of 'pods' operating in New Zealand and overseas. 

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