Monday, August 26, 2013

Pretend you're a teenager

A picture à propos of nothing,
except perhaps the recognition of
the dying days of a teacher's summer vacation
One of the major aspects of my job (and admittedly, one of my favourites) is finding ways to smooth out wrinkles in our systems.  To find efficiencies.  To save time.  It's mathematical, really ... if I can save 2 minutes off a teacher's day, in a staff of 100 that's 3 hours of time that can be better spent.

We've made a lot of progress during the 2012-2013 but, to use a phrase I hate, we hit a lot of the low-hanging fruit.  The easy things.  We centralized and synchronized the OneNote Binders (okay, that was huge), the Faculty Calendar and the Duty Calendars so that they were done once and everyone could access and modify as necessary. We simplified the way teachers access and use information produced from the school's student information system, removing a tonne of roadblocks. We moved PD online and made it instantaneous.  There have been a multitude of shared databases (and shared OneNotes) that have made information accessible and usable to people who need it.  And there has been a normalization of standards, policies and procedures -- people never knew why we did things or why we named things in particular ways so we thought deeply of why things were the way they were.  There's a lot more finessing going forward and the payback won't be as noticeable (we were making some leaps worth 10-30-50 minutes per staff member last year).  We're going to have to push a little.

So in an interchange with a faculty member I got this back:
I am happy with whatever you think is best
And I immediately responded with

LOL… no, no, no… you need to say “I want THIS… and THAT … and NOT THAT”
Pretend you’re a teenager!
Far too many times our faculty accept inefficiencies or irritants because they don't think they can affect change. (To be fair, in the past, that was often the case ... it was hard to get your voice heard.)  Or they don't know there's maybe a better or easier way. So my goal this year is to make my faculty like teenagers.  I want them to think they can change the world, like nothing can stop them.  Because they can.  And nothing can.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting Parents into the Mix : OneNote opens the door

Last year's introduction of shared OneNote Binders to our school really provided more fluid communication between teacher and student -- because there was anytime, anywhere, "any media" access to all of the student and teacher notes there is now a continual flow of contents and comments back and forth.  It's really starting to reshape assessment for & as learning.

We had wanted the parents in the mix from the beginning but in order for the parents to see the inking done by the student and teacher, they had to have the OneNote program installed on their system.  Now, many of them likely do (and don't know it) but there is a minority running Macs and other parents want to be able to check on things from their offices where they may not have OneNote.  The 2010 OneNote web app didn't allow for seeing ink so was essentially useless.  Since one of the major leaps forward with tablet pcs is that students and teachers are not limited in the means by which they work with information free-form inking is the most common way to put thoughts down on OneNote.  They aren't dependent on a keyboard or a single app;OneNote is an open space without limitations.  So, we ended up not really rolling it out to parents system-wide; in special cases we worked with parents who had OneNote at home just to ensure the system would work.

Over the summer we upgraded to the 2013 web app -- which shows ink!  It doesn't allow folks to edit ink content while on the web but our OneNote Binders don't allow parents to edit teacher or student content so this isn't a concern.  But now any parent using a modern browser can access their student's class notes -- which includes their assignment portfolio for each course for the entire year -- and see the teacher's content, assignments and planning.


Friday, August 16, 2013

I'd give my right _A_R_M to assess better

We had a really successful year last year when we rolled out the OneNote Binders ... and now we've responded to some of the feedback as we prepare to provide this year's version.

Students have become accustomed to using the Assignments Section to submit their work; it's the Section that forms their assignment dropbox for the course.  In order to minimize the horizontal space used by the tab's names, we've renamed Assignments as _A with the underscore character to keep it alphabetically at the far left.

We've done the same thing with the former Assessed Section -- it's been renamed _R.  The Assessed (or now, _Returned) section is the read-only space for students and parents to see their marked work -- they can see all the Pages of content that are placed in this section by the teacher but can't edit it.  They can, of course, copy it back out to their sections and make changes and resubmit it to the Assignments section.

And the big change this year is the addition of the _Marking section ... inside of each student's Section Group there is a Section that is hidden to the students-- when the student places their assignment in the _A Section, the teacher can drag it into this hidden section and take their time marking it, perhaps doing half of it on Thursday and the rest on Friday.  When done with their marking, the teacher can move it into the _Returned section for the student and parents to see.
One of our goals with automation is to make _Assignments a true dropbox; when the student puts something into that section OneNote will automatically move it to the hidden _Marking section, capturing the time of submission.  Right now, the teacher's time-of-pickup becomes the student's time-of-submission -- and some teachers are very particular about deadlines.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On the internet, personne ne sait que tu es un chien!

I have the incredible good fortune to watch a French teacher work over the next month.  She's taken on the responsibility for a Grade 10 French summer course for students.  The challenge is that she is teaching it online to students here in Canada and overseas, specifically China and Pakistan.  They are all existing students in our school that are trying to get ahead in our French program -- that's important because they are already familiar with the technology commonly used in our school.  While many school leverage the learning management system, the OneNote Binder has given her a way to not only structure her content but closely observe and provide feedback on every student's work from minute to minute.

She is using Lync as her communication medium; this has been our one technological learning curve but both she and the students have been learning fast.  Lync is one of Microsoft's products so it is closely integrated into our email, Sharepoint and network.  It's also obviously been affected by Microsoft's acquisition of Skype -- the audio is very good and there is a fluidness with with both the teacher and students can screenshare, take control of other screens and also engage in video conferencing.  The latter is important when dealing with language; you want to see the person talking!

Lync also has a built in recorder.  When the teacher starts her daily session, she can click on the record button and a video is made of all the interactions online; who said what, who typed what and what was shared across the computers.  Beyond just the security issue (because that always lies in the background administratively) the pedagogical opportunities are considerable.  Students can go back and review the class; the teacher can reflect on how she dealt with questions, what should and shouldn't have been shown, how the sharing process can be made better.  (It's a great precursor for our video-enabled classroom, where "regular" classroom teaching will go under the same observational process for teacher reflection.)

As I said, I'm very fortunate to be involved -- the teacher is remarkably well prepared.  Her OneNote Binders are constructed in such a way to make it easy for a student that is not physically present to understand how to work through and she has nicely balanced text, images, audio & video.  Her online sessions recognize the need for ever-changing focus to keep participants active and she continually adapts to the students and also the occasional technological challenge that inevitably arises.

Her (and my) only challenge is the issue of authenticity.  How do we know the student is doing the work by themselves, unaided?  Their summative assessments will be written here at the school (which is why the course starts in August and end in the early part of September, once school is back) but all the formative work -- how do we know that we're responding to the student's actual needs, and not the needs of a tutor or, god forbid, Google Translate?  She is using a lot of audio and video on both sides to try to provide some level of authenticity but it's not up to the level we have come to expect in the F2F classroom.

*Yes, I am kicking myself that I did not go through with a research study on this; she's absolutely fascinating to watch.  But the UofT process is just so onerous I'll wait until I'm out from under their Byzantine thumb.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Calendars, the first five of two

As we continue to prepare for the coming academic year (we don't start classes until the week after Labour Day) I've begun to prepare the data for the Faculty.

One of the introductions last year was the "Duty Calendar" -- who does residential duty each night, both faculty and prefects (student leaders).  In the past, it was stored in five different spreadsheets, one for each house and then one for the entire campus (since on weekends, faculty members are assigned to the campus rather than specific houses during the day Saturday & Sunday).  No one from other houses knew who was doing duty in any other house and if swaps were made, folks were never really sure that the change had been made.  Now, although the data starts out on a spreadsheet (I configure a spreadsheet for the House Directors) it is then copy-and-pasted into a Sharepoint Calendar.  3 clicks and 2 key-presses for each spreadsheet and the information is available to all.

To be precise, it is pasted into five calendars, one for each house and one for the campus and then they are merged (using Sharepoint's Calendar Overlay) into one calendar. This has made the information visible to people that need it but also available to other applications on our system.  Faculty can now see who is on duty in each house and this information is fed into our weekly (printed) residential duty sheets.  Any changes are automatically updated and reflected on the calendars.  And, like all the other Sharepoint calendars, the House Directors can link their house's calendar into their own Outlook calendar so they know who is on duty each day without having to visit Sharepoint.



[Since I'm beginning a new academic year, and a new job, I'm re-starting blogging today, August 1st, and do my best to reflect, or at least comment on, something I've encountered each day.]