This week I have spent time at Tauhara College in Taupo (two days) and Forest View High School in Tokoroa (two days).
I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the Volcanics Cluster and Virtual Learning Network to the Board of Trustees of Tauhara College. They are a newly appointed board, so it was thought it would be a good idea to give them a bit of background on Volcanics and introduce them to the VLN and how Volcanics operates in, and through the VLN. I also had the opportunity to assist some teachers at the College with putting resources up on to their LMS (UltraNet). There was also some good discussion around the educational value of an intranet (LMS) and the pedagogical benefits of tools like hot potatoes, especially when using a discovery learning model of teaching. Again it was shown that it is not the technology that is important, but how it supports the pedagogy. I think we concluded that Hot Potatoes would be fine for certain learning activities, such as building a learning scaffold, moving from the simple to the complex by introducing more and more complex questions, on the basis of achieving success at the easier levels, but would definitely not be an appropriate tool in a true discovery learning situation, other than to test understanding of what had already been discovered or learnt. I also managed to fit in two video conference classes.
Having not been to FVHS for some time, there was a lot of catching up to do. The ICT department is involved with the new Digital Technology Guidelines (DTG) with Heather Williamson and Bruce Dowdle attending a two day conference in Auckland in November. Three other schools from our cluster will also be represented at the conference, namely Reporoa College, Ruapehu College and Putaruru College. All of these schools are trial schools for the new DTG's. Heather will also be in Wellington during November working with NZQA on the TIM domain and how unit standards within this domain can be assessed on the basis of achieved, merit and excellence. This will be interesting as I am wondering what this means for unit standards in other subjects.
Managed to get some PD done, on basic emailing and file organisation with one teacher, who originally came to have PD on using powerpoint. We ended up talking about renaming files, creating and renaming folders and attaching documents to emails. What did I learn? That I need to, again, carry out a needs analysis survey in our cluster schools.
There was discussion around how wikis, blogs and google docs can be affective learning tools, and in what learning situations they would be appropriate. This obviously took us into the realm of when these tools would NOT be the correct learning tool to use, which is part of the whole ideaof making sure you use the correct tool for the job. There was also concern expressed as to whether these tools are simply just the latest fad which will eventually be replaced by the next latest fad. The answer to this comment is "NO". Wikis, blogs, etc are not a fad. Over 100 million users cannot be that wrong, but yes, they will be replaced by something else, and most likely within the next year or so given the rate of change in the technology environment. However, collaboration, contact and connectedness using the internet is here to stay, as is personalising your virtual space and hopefully personalising learning. However, what this virtual environment will look like in five years time is anyone's guess. There was also more work done around the use of online learning environments and the tentative beginnings of setting up a meeting between teachers involved with GATE programmes within our cluster. The opportunity for our gifted and talented students to collaborate, co-operate and perhaps compete across schools in the cluster, using the technology we have, has definitely got potential. Thanks to Kris for putting this idea forward. There are other GATE groups collaborating in other clusters who we can also contact which could widen the net and the experience for our GATE students. Work was also done on looking at how EHSAS is going at the school and the definite need to clarify and focus direction for the cluster in 2009 onwards. The word used by Ian (DP) was coherence, which in one word explains what our strategies need to achieve. ICT is still on the agenda though, as is VC. The big question is how do we ensure that VC is a positive and successful experience for our students, and how do we ensure that ICT becomes systemic and is used in a pedagogically effective way?
You at that handle and I at this handle of the basket
The website "Nga Kiwai Kete" is an eLearning website set up specifically for Maori and Pasifika students and teachers, but has resources which will benefit us all. It is a great website, with links to Introducing eLearning, planning eLearning, designing eLearning and teaching and supporting eLearning.
The website can be accessed by clicking on the title to this post, or by copying and pasting this url address: http://www.nkk.org.nz/home.php.
This is a website for reflection and review for ICT PD clusters, but the reality is that the nature of the ICT PD contract has changed, so that there are now many similarities between an ICT PD cluster of schools, and an EHSAS cluster of schools. We are both looking at teacher collaboration and we are both looking at pedagogies which improve student engagement and achievement.
The link is below, or can be accessed by simply clicking on the title of this post.
I thought I would share some of the correspondence that has been flying around regardingLMS's and interoperability. The fact is that, the solution is much bigger than just interoperability. Paul Seiler at the MoE is working on the LMS/SMS interoperability issue, but also on what such a beast would look like if it was able to talk to all systems, and whether a national or regional solution is possible. Here are some comments from a few of my colleagues as we begin to realise the scale of the task and what it means.
Phil Buchanan comments:"I really think that the big picture, a complete MLE single sign-on portal - much bigger than 'which LMS' or 'hosting solution' (or even SMS-LMS interop) should we use - is crucial for NZ education. Note Paul's message/advertisement in the next Gazette"
The interop and parental portal, which he has fostered, is a really strategic direction - to foster inclusion of the community in schools (delivered to their home) and also learning conversations at home - and the next step that he will fund/facilitate is very important for us all to understand.
Trevor Storr Comments:"I think the real challenge is not getting the technology to work, but is enabling leaders, schools and teachers to embrace collaboration. In a world context, NZ is tiny - some small cities have a larger population than the whole of NZ and operate one MLE for the whole city. Our challenge is to ensure that NZ schools benefit from the economies of scale that a large MLE can bring while still acknowledging the local flavours and foibles that 'Tomorrows Schools' encourages. An example of why this is important can be seen in the context of content authoring for an MLE using eg eXe. Do we expect all teachers to become experts in content authoring so that resources and classes can be put online, or do we think that a better solution is to enable national collaboration in content authoring so that the 'teacher experts' can share their wisdom and skill with others to reuse and refactor?"
The debate needs input from senior leaders at schools because this technology will influence the future learning environment for our students.
During our EHSAS workshop on 17 October, Brian Annan talked about the importance of a community of practice. He defined a cluster as a form of learning network......a connected group of reformers working together, non-hierarchically to solve common problems. He then asked the question "why are we involved in learning networks?". His response to this question is that we are moving from self managing schools to connected schools. We are self managing administratively, but we need to be connected pedagogically. Why? Basically, because learning together is better than learning alone to solve complex problems. New Zealand Schools (which obviously includes our schools) have a complex underachievement problem to solve; or to put it another way, improving student achievement is a complex problem.
This brings us to the idea of our cluster schools, and the teachers in these schools, being a community of practice (COP). One of the leading authorities on communities of practice is Etienne Wenger (see his website at http://www.ewenger.com). He notes that communities of practice are well established in business, but that schools are only now latching on to them. I would recommend that you visit his website. I had the opportunity in term 2 to attend a workshop on COPS given by Etienne Wenger, and it was well worth it. I am only now coming to appreciate the need to establish such a cop within our cluster. The ePrincipals, nationally, have established a cop which influences our thinking, our theories and how we operate individually, and as a group.
Jean Annan in her research noted the following characteristics associated with the organisation of a community of practice:
It is Loosely structured and largely self managing
Structures are typically flat, collaborative and professional
Leadership is assigned by the members
Tasks are distributed among members
Membership is voluntary
Relationships exist at a formal and informal level.
Which elements above are evident in the Volcanics Cluster? Obviously, a greater review of Etienne Wenger's work would be advised, before answering this question.
I and other members of the Volcanics Cluster attended the round 3 EHSAS workshop in Rotorua last week. Our cluster schools were well presented at the meeting which was wonderful to see. There were three presenters, Murray Gadd, Dr Judy Parr and Dr Brian Annan.
Murray spoke to us about "Working Together Effectively: A collaborative Approach to Achieving Higher Standards". This was interesting and relevant, but I assumed that at the time, a lot of this had been done during the proposal process. In Hind site, I think we need to revisit some of these issues.
Judy Parr spoke to us about goal setting. After listening to her and actually paying attention to her powerpoint, I realised that this would definitely be something we will need to revisit at our EHSAS cluster meeting on 1 December. It also became clear that perhaps we were too ambitious with our project outcomes, spreading ourselves too thin, and thereby not getting any depth. It seems that we will have to re-assess our project objectives and perhaps cull a few of them.
Finally, Brian Annan spoke to us about challenges within our cluster. We only looked at the challenges. At no stage did we discuss solutions. This was based on the thinking that, unless we truly know what the problem is, we will not be able to find an effective solution for it. The process was interesting, and challenging. The outcome for us at the end was that one of the priority problems facing the cluster is that the only real value cluster schools see in being part of the EHSAS project is access to extra funding. While I was disappointed by this, I realise that I also have to be a realist - schools want to do more than they are funded for. If they can access extra funding by being part of a cluster, then why not. Having given it more thought, and remembering what Richard Crawford commented on during our discussions, is that the problem is perhaps not as cynical as just doing the project for the money. If one considers the option of getting money and spending it where you can, in areas that will help your school, or the option of getting your staff to buy into truly changing their pedagogy, committing to change, working at the change, and then being acountable for it at the end of the day. Which option would you take? I'm no masochist, so the first option would be my choice. Therefore, I believe that the real problem facing our cluster is lack of true teacher buy in to the ideals of Extending High Standards across Schools. We know our teachers are under pressure, and some days we all work in survival mode. However, the idealist in me wants to believe that education is bigger than just money, that schools can work together collaboratively for the betterment of all their students, and that the improvement in student achievement at the end of the day, through a truly professional community of practice has got to be valuable. So our Challenge is how do we create a professional community of practice that exhibits true collaboration across cluster schools.
Not wanting to get left behind by my other fellow ePrincipals, I also did a second combined workshop on what factors are necessary to ensure that an education cluster of schools is sustainable into the future. Each of the ePrincipals involved, namely Carolyn Bennett, Janet Ackhurst and Jan Collier, ably lead by one of the principal mentors, Sue Winters, put together a slide show which outlined what had happened in their cluster and what this meant for them as regards how they saw sustainability in their cluster. Below is my contribution to that presentation.
While I did not make it to ULearn, my fellow ePrincipals still did the presentation on the VLN, which was the one I was able to Skype into. Rachel kindly updated and added to the original powerpoint, which you can view below.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend ULearn due to a back injury (slipped disk), but I did manage to make it into one of the presentations using Skype, and also got interviewed using Skype by the young students running various things over the ULearn conference. You can see the interview at http://blip.tv/play/AdKLPQA