Moving to a Networked School Community using ISTE Standards, Australian Curriculum and an Edublogs platform.

It’s been a busy year. Really busy. Not only have we opened a new library, and dealt with moving and fitting out new learning spaces, but we have been leading change in our school around information fluency understandings and enabling our students’ growth as digital citizens.

What’s become apparent to my staff and I, is the pressing need for our students to become information fluent for the age they are living in. This means addressing all of the traditional information literacy understandings we have always concentrated on, but also helping our students have an understanding of new technologies and how to use them effectively, understanding the ethical use of digital resources, and knowledge of the importance of creating and maintaining a positive digital footprint. It’s not only the students who need this knowledge base; our teachers need to be well versed too.

So, what are we doing about this?

At the end of last year, with the support of our Head of Learning, we presented what we called an Information Fluency Initiative to our Heads of Faculties and proposed we begin the introduction of this for 2011. First up, we introduced to staff the idea of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge – the TPACK model, developed by Koehler & Mishra.

Source: http://tpack.org/

When using this with staff, I see a lot of nodding heads. They understand the need to integrate technology to support their content knowledge and pedagogical practice. They don’t always know how to do this using new technology tools that support meaningful learning, and aren’t just gimmicky add-ons. As Teacher-Librarians, we work hard at staying on top of new ideas in this arena. We have committed to work closely with our staff, both in the library and in classrooms, to help staff and students come to grips with new ideas using technology to support their learning.

When looking at existing and new ideas for curriculum offerings, we are encouraging our staff to use the SAMR model to inform their planning. I first saw this last year at the AIS Conference, where Martin Levins was leading a sandpit group talking about how to use it to modify learning tasks.

Again, when explaining this model, I see heads nodding in agreement.  Teachers ‘get it’ when you use models like this, and they pay attention to models that have a research base. SAMR was developed by Ruben Puentedura, and from my perspective, it, along with TPACK, should be the basis of any discussion in schools about the use of technology in the development of learning tasks.

The next layer of our Information Fluency initiative was the development of Information Fluency certificates for Year 7, 8 and 9. These have been created using the ISTE NETS for Students as the basis. Key understandings and skills they introduce as critical for today’s students are the following:

  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Conduct research and use information
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productively

We have used ISTE’s NETS.S curriculum planning tool to help us identify skills we think students should have acquired by the end of  each year.  We were looking to develop an identifiable skill set that we could measure in terms of acquisition. I’m not a strict proponent of a ‘tick the box’ measuring scale by any stretch of the imagination, but I did want something concrete that we could use with our students and staff.  We recognise the need to address the upcoming Australian Curriculum and looked to ACARA to see what was being developed there. What is contained within the General Capabilities underpins meaningful teaching and learning, and is really quite closely aligned with the ISTE NETS for Students. What we have done is to tag each skill within our Information Fluency Certificates with the appropriate General Capability it addresses.  As our staff plan curriculum, we feel these certificates will help them to identify how they can embed new technologies and practice into their delivery of curriculum, knowing that they are addressing aspects of the General Capabilities that ACARA have identified as necessary.

What has taken up considerable time this year, has been the introduction of an Edublogs platform to enable all students from Years 7 – 10 to have an ePortfolio as a means of documenting and demonstrating their learning. In the early stages of planning this Information Fluency initiative, I could see we were going to need some means of sharing the learning that was happening in classrooms. We investigated a WordPress Multi user setup, but felt that the management of this would fall on individuals already tied up with full loads, and our under the pump IT team who already work tirelessly to maintain a robust network. An Edublogs platform that costs, but allows for blogs to be set up with our school’s domain name and comes with support, was decided to be a more workable option. The initial creation and linking of blogs to home page class blogs took some time at the start of the year, as did the work that took place in classrooms teaching students how they managed their blogs/ePortfolios. We have allowed students to select their own themes and customise sidebars with widgets. One of the critical elements of the set up was having students create categories within their blogs/ePortfolios. We recommended they set up a category for every subject they were studying, and other categories that reflected key school directions and co-curricular involvement. Students were taught how to write their posts and add a category or multiple categories to each post. This has made it easy for subject teachers to check into student blogs and click on their subject category, seeing all of the posts written by that student for their subject area.

We have encouraged our teachers to use these these blogs/eportfolios for formative assessment, and students have been encouraged to use them on their own initiative to write about what they have been doing in their classrooms and in co-curricular activities. Over the course of the year we have seen some wonderful ePortfolios created, supported by teachers who can see the positive benefits for our students as they create their own digital footprint. When you see a student’s blog as Google’s top result for a search for Yr 7 Unit of Inquiry, it’s pretty impressive. (One of our staff members was conducting just such a search, and sent me an email excitedly relaying what she’d found!) Students have embedded Clustrmaps in their sidebars, and have seen the reach they have by writing in public spaces. We’ve even recently had the author Susanne Gervay leave a comment on a student’s post that was discussing her novel, ‘Butterflies’. Not every student ePortfolio is brilliant, and some year levels are working much better than others, but we are in our infancy still. It’s accepted that this is part and parcel of the pedagogy now, and we will continue to develop the platform in 2012 and onwards. What these blogs do is provide terrific feedback for students, something that has been a key focus area for our staff as we explore elements of John Hattie’s research. It’s also really encouraging to see students providing feedback to one another  – they are remarkably supportive of one another. We’ve also seen parents and grandparents leave comments. It’s this critical school/home nexus that is seeing our school move closer to a Networked School Community, the type proposed by Associate Professor Glenn Finger and Mal Lee.

Our Edublogs platform has seen many of our students develop skills identified on the Information Fluency Certificates we created. We do recognise the need for the certificates to be fluid documents responding to new technologies as they arise and present our students with new opportunities and challenges. 2011 has been a year of development, and 2012 will be a year of  implementation. We need to map our curriculum to ensure all faculty areas take on board the skill set and understandings we have identified as being critical for the development of effective citizens in our world today. This is not easy work, particularly as it often means teachers need to accept the idea of working in a co-teaching capacity when they themselves don’t have the necessary skill set.

Something I would like to look closely at next year is the AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) National Professional Standards for Teachers and see how the work we are doing aligns with these standards. Helping teachers see the connectedness between school initiatives and their professional development is an important part of this process.

As a Teacher-Librarian, this is critical work. We are working as change agents in our school, and in the process, doing the best kind of advocacy we can for our profession. This is the work of a Teacher-Librarian today, if you are prepared to stay abreast of change and develop the skill set that can move your school and student population where they need to be.

Instant feedback with Chatzy

At the AIS ICT Integration Conference, Jeff Utecht had audience members participating in a variety of ways, using Twitter, Google Docs and a chatroom. In the 3 minute discussion breaks, he checked in on what was being posted on these spaces and was able to determine if there was anything that he needed to address further. It got me thinking.

I’ve listened to many speakers talk about feedback this year and I’ve sat through sessions where people are using clicker systems to gauge audience reaction. Personally, I don’t like clickers. I find them impersonal and responding to set questions isn’t my idea of providing quality feedback. I’ve thought quite a bit about how I give feedback in my classroom. I work very hard at creating a classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas and I try to encourage input from everyone. We spend a lot of time discussing concepts and I think I’m pretty good at encouraging participation and making my students feel that their opinions are valued. But you know, you can always do better. Jeff’s session made me contemplate using some new ideas to assist with feedback.

An opportunity presented itself last week. We were watching a video debate about the wearing of the Burqa. I set up a Chatzy room and shared the link via email with my students. They logged in and as we listened to the debate, they typed in what they were thinking. To be honest with you, I didn’t think it was going to be worthwhile. I thought the kids might not take it seriously and just post silly chit chat. I was very pleasantly surprised when I checked the chat and saw them posting their opinions and questioning one another. It helped guide the discussion after we’d finished listening and provided some students with more of a voice in the classroom. It certainly made me think that this is something I would do again.

Two days later I was home sick and had to leave work for the class. I thought it might be an ideal opportunity to see how I could use Chatzy to provide students with help even though I wasn’t physically there. I set the room up and emailed the students with the link and let them know I’d be in the room during the duration of the lesson. Some of them logged in and asked questions and I was able to provide clarification.

It was worth doing. I kept in touch with what was happening in class and the students knew that I was interested in what they were doing despite me not being physically present. My voice had left me and that’s why I wasn’t there. If I was suffering from something like the flu I wouldn’t be doing something like this, but I was incapacitated in a way that made it possible for me to still participate. I don’t expect to see teachers drop everything for their students when they are sick, but I can see this being really useful if you have to run a virtual school situation due to inclement weather or something like that.

Food for thought. I do think we need to be open to new ideas, to find ways to connect with our students in ways that might encourage those who don’t share so readily to find ways to participate. I need to be open to new ways of providing feedback to make me more effective at what I do.  Teaching isn’t a static profession; it’s dynamic, constantly evolving as we respond to societal change and students who perhaps function differently and are adept at new methods of communication. If you can, give something like this a try. I’m going to be adding it to my repertoire of practice and tap into some thinking on the fly!