The ASB Unplugged Conference in Mumbai last week, was a great chance to meet up with fellow educators and to recharge one’s professional development battery. I have found the first six months of my new job very interesting, but desperately needed the chance to step back and think about the big picture and chew over some issues. Whilst we always sweat the small stuff, the big stuff is really important in schools.
Here is a couple of my thoughts and conversation snippets from the dusty sidelines of the conference.
It was great to meet with so many Tech Integrators who “speak the same language” as we have such weird jobs.. influential in so many areas and dealing with lots of change. I enjoyed many a deep and occasionally meaningfully discussion with Jeff Plaman (UWCSEA Singapore), Clint Hamada (UN International School in Hanoi), Aaron Metz (Canadian International of HK), Adrienne Michetti (AIS, Singapore), Simon May (Shanghai American School), Jay Atwood (Singapore American School). These are the people with so many good ideas and who are problem solvers.
Teaching Resources – Mine or yours?
At each of our respective schools, teachers are encourage to put hours and hours into developing online resources, curriculum documents, assessments and blogs all which sit on unique platforms and systems and are often locked down. How many resources that teachers create can be exported out of the existing platform to your new school? Can you download and export your Google Site, Collection of Google Docs, shift ownership of your blog or export your resources from an Online Learning Environment? We decided that in most cases this is really difficult if not impossible.
School leadership teams love these new systems as it puts a ring fence around “their” intellectual property. I have no problem with this as long as teacher can have a copy of their work when they leave. Also how rigorous are schools leaving processes to ensure the handover of digital assets and ownership of sites. Does your school have ghost accounts on Google Sites and Blogs to ensure succession to the next teacher?
The suitcase curriculum is a unique issue to education, but if teachers are locked into eLearning platforms which do not allow you to export your work and take with you to the next school, there is a huge disincentive to develop resources which you will lose when you leave. An interesting questions then to people shifting schools…. How portable are you teaching resources?
Staff Changes – Revolving Doors
The annual ebb and flow of teachers is a benefit to some 1:1 schools as these teachers provide an infusion of new ideas. The battle is figuring out how to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. So it was therefore fascinating to hear other schools approaches to new staff orientations.
My colleague Jeff Plaman has another 50 odd teachers beginning work at his new campus next August so he is keen to ensure his staff settle in quickly. Each international school now has such a complex array of IT systems to become familiar with as well as different software and even hardware. Gone are the days when you could walk into school with set of photocopied handouts and “teach” to the masses.
We also discussed ideas for possible new staff orientation, including ideas from Aaron Metz about teachers completing online modules ahead of arriving at the beginning of the school year to approaches of developing screencasts covering the typical school systems by Simon May. There is such a fine balance between covering the essentials with new teachers within the first days of arriving and then giving staff the overview of your schools approach to technology in the classroom. You also need to differentiate your training to these teachers who usually come from a vast range different schools, some of which will be very familiar with core systems such as Google Apps.
I think Shanghai American School, take staff away for a two day tech retreat in the months after they have arrived and settled in. Other schools build the training into staff orientation sessions throughout the first term.
New students arriving is also an interesting problem as lots of students are slotting into classes with very deep embedded use of technology. They will struggle is they have come from a school without the same level of technology. A few schools use the existing buddies also as tech mentors when they arrive. Tech coaches provide training to the students in the first few weeks. At the beginning of the school year there is also lots of new students entering into the first grade of laptop programmes. The orientation of these students needs to be organised across subjects, so that each teacher and subject takes responsibility to develop the students digital skills. Does Science introduce Google Collections and set these up? Does English establish students blogs and ePortfolios, do the Humanities teachers ensure that students can use Google Search effectively.
Measuring Success – So what are we doing exactly?
Measuring the effectiveness or success of our iLearn initiative is one of my big focuses at the moment. Through our planning we have some good ideas of what success would look like, without having any specific metrics. Overall, we want to see the professional growth of staff towards transformational learning experiences and also out students developing 21st century learning skills as mentioned in the ISTE, NETS Standards.
How you exactly measure this shift is a little vague and I didn’t feel this question was really addressed that deeply at the conference. It’s seems like lots of schools are grasping with similar ideas but have yet to get beyond using surveys. (see some great exemplars here, from Dr. Damien Bebell) What I do know is that we need to develop a series of surveys the triangulates the teaching approaches of staff, the learning experiences of students and the attitudes of parents. If our surveys match we will get a good picture of our growth.
We also want to determine and measure how effective our teachers are in providing an engaging 21st century learning experience. I don’t think appraisals by senior managers can measure this and make a valid judgement on whether a specific use of technology will enhance the learning in subjects such as Higher Level Chemistry or History.
As a school, I think we will move towards a model of self assessment using something like the Florida Technology Integration Matrix (Like the SMAR model, but bigger and better). Self assessment will allow teachers to illustrate growth as they shifted though the levels of integration. They will be encouraged to use artifacts from class and reflect on these alongside thier personal goals in a Professional Learning Portfolio. If they struggle to show any growth or shift then the teachers we be provided with more formal guidance and support. Alongside this teachers will work in Professional Learning Communities with mentors and will hopefully grow as a group of teachers.
The Technology Integration Matrix
All of these ideas are very theoretical at the moment, but next year we will aim to put some of these pieces of the puzzle together. Any change initiative needs to be supported by good professional development and measurement and hopefully we get embed this practice next year.