Monday, June 20, 2016

The Social Network Approach to School Community

Technology has created disruption in Education. Districts have channeled resources towards supporting and expanding infrastructure. Our professional development and pedagogical approach to instruction has grown to expect a significant infusion of technology. To date, we have access to a vast variety of cloud-based applications that allow for the creation, presentation, and collaboration of content.   Professional development has also evolved from “check out these cool web 2.0 tools” to“ how to create a personalized and relevant, curriculum with technology”.


The implementation of various technologies and the increase of curriculum demands was a quick moving tornado of change. Our students are connected, collaborating, creating and sharing. They are developing a digital footprint that represents their academic growth.  The integration of technology based assessment has simplified data driven decision making and a feedback chain that has never been as effective. Teachers are exploring new web-based tools and integrating them into their content areas. We have seen a decline in textbook adoption and an increase in online, curated content. Students seamlessly shift between applications creating opportunities for the representation and assessment of knowledge that has never been so diverse.


During this era of disruption our students have evolved. As educators we struggle with addressing students need for constant connectivity, the management and interpretation of mass information, the desire for immediacy and an overall increase in stress and anxiety connected to our shift in education expectations. Our reaction to a global economy and workforce has fueled an increase in computer based assessment, increased rigor, and demand for competitive college placement.  In many cases, school has become much more difficult to manage.


Today’s students have to balance high expectations, a breadth technologies and increasing demands for time. Keeping track of “what to do” and developing personal efficiencies are vital for their success. Today, Students may find themselves with eight classes and eight different online resources for managing content and communication for those classes. For students at-risk, the ability for mentors, advisors, and parents to assist may be overbearing.  Consider the significant segment of classified students with ADHD.  How do students with executive function weakness manage the technologies and resources that are peppered by teachers, administrators or coaches?


In order to harness the plethora of digital content, the need for on-demand access, and communication & collaboration, districts may consider a learning management system (LMS).   A learning management system provides a central repository for course content and assignments. It provides a starting point for all blended classrooms to curate the information necessary for their courses. While teachers may ask students to use web 2.0 technologies to create content, the learning management system is where they are delivered their assignments and any supporting documentation.


In Chatham High School we were faced with an increased breadth of technology adoption. As more and more teacher’s embraced digital content and creation options for students we found that segments of our student body were struggling to stay organized. For example, a single grade 9 student may have one teacher that posted all assignments on a Google Calendar, one who utilized a website, another who emailed information to a student group and others who shared a Google Document.  For students classified and non-classified who demonstrate weakness in executive function the challenge was amplified.


Our focus shifted to providing a single platform to function as the hub for our course content. In looking for a platform our vision was a web-based application that would provide students and teachers with course/content management, calendaring and collaboration options.  A single platform to curate course information would simplify professional development and teacher collaboration by providing a common language for teachers and administrators.


Our implementation of a learning management system proved to be a success. We settled on an LMS that syncs with our student information system. The end result is pre-populated courses and student rosters. A student has access to all of their 6-8 courses in a single location. Our teachers post documents, video and website links, threaded discussions, and assessments. Teachers can post and collect assignments and even sync them directly with a popular plagiarism software suite without leaving the LMS. Events and assignments are automatically loaded to a class calendar. Students have the option of viewing individual course calendars or a single calendar that lists the events for all of their classes in a single location. This has proven to be the most significant change agent in that students, parents, counselors, case managers and advisors have a single location to know what assignments needs to be done and when. Most LMS providers offer mobile apps that offer immediacy and mobility for keeping up with changes.


There have been a number of unexpected advantages to creating this virtual network in our school. We have utilized the groups feature for all of our student clubs and activities. News, announcements and events are shared through these groups and published on the student’s calendar. Our faculty has taken advantage of these groups by creating collaborative spaces to share ideas, success stories and their questions. One of our more popular groups is the CHS Faculty Shelfie Wednesday, were faculty members share book recommendations. The CHS Think Tank is a group of teachers who meet physically and virtually to share innovative instructional practices across content areas. The Chatham Library for Information and Collaboration (CLIC) shares tutorials and how-to-guides for a plethora of web 2.0 applications and district software applications.  Our departments have created groups to copy and share course materials, assessments, primary sources and other valuable instructional materials.


Instruction in CHS has transformed by providing a blended experience with 24/7 access to course content.  Students have around the clock access to course materials. Teachers provide access to supplemental materials for remediation or deeper exploration into topics. Faculty members have begun to develop their own web-based textbooks by organizing content in unit folders in their courses. In some departments we are exploring the development of virtual only courses. This shift has started a conversation about flexibility in seat time and a typical school day structure. As the available features of the LMS evolve we continue to explore our options for deeper integration.