Capacity, Connections and Camp

Another Learning 2.0 event has come and gone. I think I’m finally getting over my conference hangover – after such a full-on weekend my mind just sort of went blank and kept racing at the same time! – and can look back at all that I learned and shared. It’s hard to believe that I was skeptical about this conference when I first heard about the new cohort/unconference format. I’m so glad Simon May convinced me to go to Learning 2.010. Now I don’t think I’ll ever think about missing one as long as I’m in the region!

Capacity

As a member of the Technology Learning Leaders 1 cohort it was great to get to know Charlotte Diller and George Couros. The two big points of emphasis from them were “Start with the why” and “Build capacity.” This really reaffirmed the work that I’m trying to do because, while not stated as eloquently, these have been foci 2 for me over the past year. UNIS’ work on the Learning and Technology Plan, while not complete, is exactly in place to answer the “Why?” question and my focus on coaching and teacher-led workshops is about building capacity.

In our mini-sessions during cohort time, I took part in some great discussions about blogs and portfolios. A school-wide blogging platform is something that I have been pushing for a while and it was great to get so many perspectives at once on how they can be utilized effectively. There is no “right way” and so it is important that the “Why?” is discussed first! I also learned a lot about the various coaching models that are put into place at different schools. WAB seems to have a very strong model of offering skills-based coaching within the school day. IST puts a strong focus on self-assessment of needs and abilities. This year I am trying a system of working first and foremost with the new faculty by identifying one of the NETS Standards for Students and Teachers as points of emphasis. I’m hoping that we can shift the focus from an emphasis on technology skills to one of pedagogy, curriculum and best practice.

Connections

It sounds really corny, but Learning 2.011 felt a bit like coming home. There are so many people in Asia that I interact with online; #learning2 gave me a chance to catch up with a lot of them and meet some of them for the first time 3.

I was really honored to be one of the 20 teachers highlighted in Jabiz’s keynote. It’s amazing to think that it was only one year ago that we met at Learning.2010.

I was really excited to revive Twitter for Teachers with Keri-Lee. We ran this as an impromptu unconference last year and had a good response. We decided to run it as a workshop this year and it apparently was pretty popular: we were asked to run it a second time as well! My Twitter stream is overflowing with all the new connections that I made.

Camp

Thanks to Alec and George Couros for giving rise to one of my favorite hashtags of all time: #summercamp4life. With the ease of communication and collaboration, it is so easy to translate those conference promises of “Keep in touch” into actions. While Learning 2.011 may have officially ended on September 11, the conversations and the learning can go on forever. #summercamp4life.

Images

Welcome! by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA
My Tweeps
by Kim Cofino licensed under CC BY NC SA
#summercamp4life by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA

Notes:

  1. Apparently they use the term “Leader” quite loosely!
  2. Math teacher!
  3. I wish I had the time/space/memory to list out all the great people I got to chat with. It really is an amazing list!

SharePoint Diaries – Soliciting Feedback

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

Now that you know what we’re starting from, it’s time to start thinking about where we want to be.

To start, I asked the Middle School/High School teachers to fill out a shared Google Doc, answering the following three questions:

  1. What functions of the current portal do you use or ask/expect your students to use most often?
  2. Ideally, what would you like to be able to do with your students that cannot currently do easily? (I also asked them to keep in mind the work we did earlier on our Tech and Learning Plan to help guide them.)
  3. Any other comments?

The first question was to ensure that we don’t discard something that teachers find useful. With the second question, I purposefully avoided phrasing the question in terms of “What do you want SharePoint to do?” and instead wanted teachers to focus on the bigger picture ideas embodied in the NETS, such as collaborate, communicate, and create. The third question was included mostly to help keep the first two questions on track!

Once teachers had a chance to voice their thoughts, I asked for volunteers to come together face-to-face and discuss them in more detail, sort of like a focus group. In total, there were 5 teachers present and myself. I shared the objectives of the meeting that I had identified prior to the meeting:

Group Objectives

  1. To consolidate the general feelings of the MSHS staff with respect to their wishes for the new portal.
  2. To attempt to re-imagine what our school portal will/can be used for.
  3. To offer suggestions and concrete examples as to what the portal could/should/might look like on August 1, 2011.

To help us meet those objectives, I framed them in three questions which I will include, along with the collated notes, in their entirety below.

What I found, or rather what was reinforced, through this process were some major takeaways:

  • Our SharePoint implementation must be student-centered. As you can probably tell from my previous post, it currently is not. Students need spaces and permissions to create and collaborate. They need ownership and control and an audience.
  • Whether through SharePoint or some other means, we must address the issue of portfolios.
  • Teachers are concerned about the proprietary nature of SharePoint, both for themselves and for the students. Can the work that they put into SharePoint be exported? Can it then be imported into something else? Our community is highly transient and this is important. Portability is an issue.
  • In order to teach differently, we need the tools/access/flexibility to do so.

This, of course, is only the start. Now that we have an idea of what is needed/wanted, the question becomes: how can we meet these needs/wants? Environments matter. And currently, our virtual learning environment is, to some extent, shaping how we teach because of its limitations.

Later this week the Redesign Task Force will be meeting to discuss the feedback given by teachers across the school and to come up with some ideas of what that might look like. What can we do to create a learning environment that allows us to teach the way that we would like to teach? That allows us to fulfill our mission statement of encouraging “independent lifelong learners”?

I anticipate that this is also where we will begin discussing the different add-ons or modules that have been developed for SharePoint as well as think about how any changes in the structure will affect the migration of existing data. Exciting, isn’t it?

What do you think of our takeaways? What have you done to make your VLE student-centered? How does your VLE encourage innovative teaching and learning?

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Below is a copy of the notes from our small ‘focus group’.

Questions:

1. Looking over section one, what are the two most important features to be kept?

  • Wiki
  • Storage
  • Dropbox
  • Portfolio – bucket of work

2. Looking over section two, what are the three most recurring themes of the comments?

  • editable/collaborative spaces for students (wikis, blogs, whatnot)
    • student centered
  • Portfolios – defining what it means, how it is accessible, what goes in it
    • This goes beyond the current repository for all summative tasks.
  • Permissions
    • if you don’t allow common spaces, then more people will go off the reservation.
    • Allow for spontaneity.
    • “get out of the way”
  • There is a difference between a CMS and learning environment
  • Portability of work – 3.5 years average length of stay
    • For teachers
    • For students
  • Dynamic, embedded content
    • Locally hosted
    • internet access

3. How can we address one or two of those recurring themes?

  • Separate the tools: find the best tool to do the job well instead of relying on one tool to do things mediocre
    • Define acceptable external alternatives if SP cannot do what we want/need.
  • Class blog, discussion board, teacher controlled wiki, student based wiki – basic tools that need to be accessible (one example)
  • personalized dashboard
    • Can front page be different for different populations.
    • Create shortcuts w/in the portal
  • Sharing – local and global collaboration
    • Interactive learning spaces
    • External permissions
      • Scaffolded approach to open access
  • “We have to teach differently” – We need the tools/access/flexibility to teach differently
  • Class activities within Moodle
    • anybody create wikis
    • anybody create discussion boards
    • various activities
    • change the views; teachers can turn elements on and off

It’s All Connected

A few weeks ago, we had an in-house PD day here at UNIS. At the beginning of September, the staff were surveyed on which of the whole-school goals they would like this day to focus on. The big winner (surprise!) was technology, followed by coaching and professional learning communities.

I spent a lot of time working with our Curriculum and Professional Development Coordinator on the plan for the day. We decided it would be an excellent way to introduce the entire staff to the Technology and Learning Plan that was developed (I was on the task force) last year. This plan consists of three goals: one based on the NETS for Students, one based on the NETS for teachers, and one focusing on our technology infrastructure.

Our goals for the day were:

  • To learn more about the school’s vision regarding technology;
  • To learn from each other about technology use;
  • To think about goals for teachers and students regarding technology use;
  • To facilitate discussion across the school divisions

So what did we do? I stole a page from Learning 2.010! Teachers were carefully grouped based on division, subject/grade level, gender, and comfortability with technology. After the MSHS principal introduced the Tech and Learning Plan, each group was assigned a strand related to one of the NETS-inspired goals. They discussed what they felt that strand meant to them as a way to generate some ideas. Then, they were given until after lunch (about 2 hours) to come up with some sort of presentation to the entire staff that introduced their strand.

Along the way, we modeled some different technology tools that could be used in the classroom. We used a wiki as a means of distributing information. We used Wallwisher as a parking lot for questions and concerns that weren’t directly related to the discussion. We used surveys on our SharePoint portal to quickly gather information from the group. We used Wordle to display our staff’s response to the prompt “How do you feel about technology?”

The presentation tools were varied; groups went with what they were most comfortable with – natural differentiation! There were movies, powerpoint presentations, a Prezi. One group tried to use SongSmith to emulate We’re All Connected; lot’s of groups used humor. The two Tech Facilitators (myself and my ES counterpart) were available to help troubleshoot but mostly groups just got on with it!

After lunch, we watched all the presentations and voted for the top two. We had created a very simple rubric (we are an IB World School, after all!) prior to the creation time to help guide the groups.  Not everybody was thrilled with the idea of a competition, but I really wanted to encourage groups to put in that extra effort!

During Learning 2.010 I was really struck by the enormous stress that we felt when trying to finish our group artifact. It made me really empathize with our students as we ask them to do this all the time without truly (I believe) thinking about what it puts them through. I hope this day helped to reinforce that with our teachers as well as highlight the amount of time these types of rewarding products take up.

Overall, I am very impressed with how these 100+ teachers tackled the day. It was extremely difficult trying to find a format that would suit the enormously varied needs of this large group of individuals in a way that they would find interesting, engaging and useful. We certainly asked the staff to be risk takers and to go outside of their comfort zones. They did so and then some!

Next up: Unconferences!

Some selected feedback:

“I really felt as though we each came away with SOMETHING interesting – even if it was not something practical to use for our own teaching, it may just have been a greater understanding of some things that go on elsewhere in the school, which also contributes to developing a whole school ethos.”

“I found the actual task and the working with teachers that I normally do not work with, very satisfying and I learned a great deal from them. Finding out things by ourselves was a great mirroring of how we should teach.”

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to actually ‘work’ to make our learning happen.”

“I would prefer to learn about technology through direct instruction.”

“I found the presentation method very interesting, especially in observing the behaviors of myself and everybody in the group, how the decision were taken.”

“It really got us all involved and not only discussing technology but we were teaching each other new technologies that we used.”

“I liked the fact that it ‘demystifyed’ the use of technology in class and made it clear that it can be used, with basic knowledge, as long as you are ready to use your imagination and you’re are open to make use of others (students included) knowledge and imagination.”

“I thought the idea of familiarizing everyone with the school’s technology goals in smaller, mixed groups, and then using a technological presentation to give feedback was great.”

Classroom Walkthroughs for Tech Integration

One of the main focuses of Coaching Heavy is gathering and analyzing data regarding your work to make decisions about your effectiveness and how to proceed.

As a Technology Coach (not my official job title but this is what I’m lobbying for), I’m not sure what sort of data I can be gathering and/or analyzing. There are no test scores or formative/summative assessment data to collect. We, as a school, have not systematically implemented any sort of standards or performance indicators – a la the ISTE NETS or the AASL Standards – yet.

How does one measure the level of technology integration in a classroom? How does one measure the impact of that integration on student learning?

Towards the end of the last academic year, we were fortunate enough to have Bambi Betts on campus for a series of workshops with administrators and department heads related to improving teaching and learning. One of her recommendations was to implement classroom walkthroughs – short, frequent visits to various classrooms with a specific objective in mind to gauge the climate of the school and to get the ‘big picture’ of what is happening.

I think this is my way forward. Actually, I have already conducted a few. But I have a some problems:

  1. Other than the few hours that I spent with Ms. Betts, I don’t have any sort of training on how to actually conduct these walkthroughs. Sure, I’ve done my internet research but it’s not the same.
  2. I don’t feel (yet) like I have an all-access pass to classrooms. I feel like I’m invading or over-stepping my mandate. I’m pretty sure this is not the case, but that’s how I’m feeling at the moment.
  3. Most importantly, I’m not sure what I should be looking for during these walkthroughs. I can’t find an example of a tech-based walkthrough form. Without specific standards at our school – for teachers or students – how can I make an objective observation? (My initial form includes a description of activities that I observe, the skills required by students and teachers and any classroom management observations. I then plan on matching what I saw with the NETS for Students and Teachers after the observation.)

Do you have any advice as I look to implement this on a consistent basis? Any ideas for observational data that I can collect during these brief visits?