Staff Spotlight - David LaCumber
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to eLearning coordinator and Computing teacher David LaCumber about his teaching career.
Why did you begin teaching?
I first started out doing an IT degree because I was young and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and my dad said “Do an IT degree, it’s gonna be big!” While I was doing the degree I was thinking “This is interesting, but I don’t really want to just sit behind a computer and I’d like to do something that makes a meaningful impact on people’s lives.” I had a few friends who were beginning to teach at that time, and I saw it as a path that gave me the opportunity to travel and see the world, have a well-balanced lifestyle, and have clear career progression. I also went abroad because at the time there weren’t many IT teachers in Ireland, so I had to travel to the UK for my teaching qualification in ICT and I then went on to teach in UK curriculum international schools in Asia.
What makes teaching coding and other digital technologies exciting for you?
Technology is always evolving and changing. It plays an ever-increasing role in our lives; entertainment, socialising, working, learning. Instead of just being a consumer of this technology, I was curious about the process of creating technology. Coding is a creative process which allows people to use technology to invent and innovate. Coding in today’s world is almost as important as learning to read or write. The fundamental coding languages have stayed the same, but instead of typing boring texts, coders get to apply their knowledge and use fun gadgets to code. Just this week I was using drones with Junior School students, while preparing for an upcoming LEGO Robotics project with Senior School students. A physical return to the IT room in Alex this week also gave me time to dust off our Digital Embroidery machine in preparation for coding patterns and designs after the Easter break.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
Having taught Computer Science abroad in British Curriculum international schools for the past 7 years, I was carefully watching Computer Science developments back in Ireland. The recent introduction of Coding for the Junior Cycle and Computer Science at Leaving Cert level in Ireland really sparked my interest. The opportunity came up to introduce Computing to the curriculum in Alexandra College and I thought it would be the perfect place to return home to. Taking on an eLearning role at the school was also very exciting; we had loads of brilliant teachers using all sorts of technology, but there wasn’t any centralised way of using that tech. I love looking for opportunities to help the school work better digitally and to have a positive impact on the Alex community. The leadership and ambition at Alexandra College was a huge draw for me. Alexandra College has high expectations, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
Having taught IT and Computer Science for many years, the transition to remote teaching and learning due to Covid-19 was challenging, but not an alien concept. Throughout my international teaching career I have worked in schools that use the Google for Education suite, and so I was very familiar with how these tools could be used to enhance teaching, learning and communication within a school, especially the development of Google Classroom. This suite of applications made the transition to remote learning much more natural. The fact that we had rolled out Google Classroom to staff and students well before the pandemic hit was a real success. Upon first joining Alex, my main goal was to embed Google Classroom as our Learning Management System. This was aided by the creation of an eLearning @ Alex training website for teachers, containing Alex-specific tutorial videos. The fact that Alex already has some very tech-savvy teachers and IT support staff made the introduction of Google Classroom all the easier. Teaching IT/Coding to all students from 5th class in the Junior School to TY in the Senior School gave me the perfect platform to help students to learn the platform too.
Due to Covid-19, our greatest challenge was the live-lesson element of remote teaching. Sitting in front of a computer and trying to get your ideas across when you can’t just stand at the front of the classroom and pick something up to demonstrate was a big challenge. Choosing the right tools and figuring out the right setup was key to adapting our teaching. Google had some possible tools like Google Meet, but it was still in its infancy and not really developed for an educational setting. Zoom were streets ahead with their platform so it was the obvious choice. After some early teething problems with security and scaling issues, Zoom offered an excellent solution to our live learning problem. Again, our eLearning @ Alex training website was used to share tailored tutorial videos with staff. Having supportive leadership that acts with agility to changing circumstances is crucial, and that’s what allowed all of this to take place.
What types of digital technologies do you think are going to be most important for students to learn in the coming years?
The reality of it is that the next big thing is already out there; although it’s not an entirely new concept, working with data is our big challenge. I think for our students starting to look at computer science and coding, the ability to be able to process huge amounts of data is really important. With so many smart devices and sensors creating enormous amounts of data, it’s really important to understand how they can harness it and make something useful with it. Being able to take incoming data and figure out what’s useful and how to interpret it is going to be an important skill.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
I’m really happy with how things have gone during Covid-19 at Alex, especially during the first lockdown. That’s when myself, Erwin, and a lot of other people were put to the test. If there was ever a situation when an eLearning coordinator has to show their worth, it’s when a whole school goes digital. That was a real challenge from last March all the way up to the summer, and it was definitely the hardest I have ever worked anywhere. We really had to rethink the physical environment and make it work in a digital space. The fact that we came out of that first lockdown in really good shape and were able to put together a system that allowed us to continue teaching online is something that I’m very proud of.