Reflections on Connecting East

Way back in January, Katie and I began our foray into staff technology PD with our Connecting East initiative. It was loosely based on the 23 Things model started by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. What made it different is we didn’t choose to focus on 23 Things, but instead had 10 weeks of tasks for participants to complete at 4 different ability levels: Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner and Expert.

We kept the incentive feature of the original 23 Things (the prize draw includes iPod shuffle, wine or book vouchers), as we felt there needed to be a carrot at the end, especially when working through parent-teacher conferencing time!

Our broad, overall aim was to encourage the teachers at our East Campus to use more technology in their classrooms. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and we are about to find out what participants thought about the tasks as a whole when they reflect on the process on the Connecting East blog for the final week of challenges.

I thought I would take the time to document some of the things I learned over the course of the 10 weeks. Here goes:

Cut to the chase

Think like a participant! My long, chatty blog posts at the beginning of the 10 weeks were too much for time-starved teachers, who just wanted an answer to the question: What do I have to do? Much though it pained me to realise, they weren’t interested in my witty repartee. Same thing for the wiki, where we thoughtfully designed a structure (see example below) which outlined the definition and examples before launching into the tasks:

Once it became clear that (generally speaking) participants weren’t interested in the info/history of the task, we modified the structure of the wiki to the one that follows, where after a brief definition, we went straight into the tasks:

We (somewhat sneakily) went a stage further by incorporating what we hoped people would read (in terms of examples etc) into the tasks themselves, so they became requirements, rather than options.

To link, or not to link?

In the early days of the initiative, I tried to be a good blogger and link to everything link-able (see example below).

Linking might be a good idea in the general blogosphere, but many novice participants found it confusing, as they saw a link and wanted to click on it. They weren’t sure which links they were supposed to click on and meant that we had a lot of explaining to do when it came to our Fruity Friday drop-in sessions.

To counter this phenomenon, we removed links behind Image Chef generated pictures, and put a giant button at the bottom of each post (see below), so participants would know exactly where they needed to go for the tasks.

Not everyone’s a techno-geek

When Katie and I were planning, we had a tendency to assume participants knew what we knew. E.g. just sign up for Delicious and get started. We really had a huge spectrum of ability levels, from people who were unsure what a username was, to people who had their own blog and were quite happy embedding things left, right and centre. The challenge was to cater to everyone’s needs.

I believe the 4 levels of tasks did that, however we benefited by running the tasks by people somewhere in the middle, to see if it made sense to them. We asked some participants how they thought novices might find this task etc, which provided us with valuable feedback for our planning. Call it a reality check, if you will!

Be flexible

Go with the flow. Some weeks, it was obvious that teachers were more focused on their upcoming Parent-Teacher conferences (and rightly so), than on completing our challenges. In these instances, we extended the time allowed for a set of tasks. I am sure the participants were as grateful for the extra time as we were.

It’s a time-hungry exercise

We volunteered for this initiative, so we’re not complaining, but I don’t think anyone has any idea just how much time we put into this process. Informal meetings before school, snatched conversations between classes, working late after school and having homework tasks in the evenings, was how we kept on top of it. I know the work we put in this year will be useful for subsequent years, but there were days when I thought maybe 2 weeks would have been easier than 10!

Two heads are better than one

I simply couldn’t have pulled this off without Katie. Having a like-minded person to bounce ideas off made all the difference! Going into this exercise, I would say that working with a blog was well within my comfort zone, whereas I was less confident with wikis. Developing this PD was a fabulous opportunity to improve my own skills. I can definitely say I’ve improved, however poor Katie had to help me out with html code and layout issues on an embarrassingly regular basis!

Katie and I complemented each other nicely, and participants were given a much broader range of perspectives as a result.

Face-to-face matters

The Fruity Friday sessions really worked, as they gave people an opportunity to drop in and get small-group or one-on-one assistance when they needed it. Some people turned up religiously every week, and others came in a couple of times. Either way, if they needed us, they knew where to find us.

Where to next?

If I could start over again, I would consider the following:

  • Making it compulsory for all teachers. Sometimes people need a figurative kick in the pants to get going on this, otherwise things may never change.
  • Having whole-school technology workshops during an inset day, to make a big difference in a short time period
  • Promoting each set of tasks at the weekly morning briefing or staff meeting.
  • Having a shorter overall time, e.g. 3 week blocks, where the tasks were shared ahead of time and teachers could opt into blocks that interest them most.
  • Making more of an effort to highlight teachers who are using technology in their classrooms

Photo credits:
Logo modified from carlaarena
Chase: Steve Wampler
Link: P^UL
Geek: sd
Starfish: ooberayhay
Time: Michel Filion
2 heads: Daniel Fardin
Face: Erica Marshall

2 Steps Forward

Photo credit: niko si

Had a bit of a despondent moment last week, wondering whether I was making any difference to anyone with this staff initiative on technology PD. Although we have a good number of people turning up each week, it still seems we have such a long way to go. Perhaps I was (naively) thinking everyone would turn into IT aficionados overnight and they would think back to this PD as the tipping point that led them to a life of tech integration. Ha!

Reality check: teachers are beyond busy. I should know this. I AM one after all. Not only are they busy, but they have lives! Voluntary tech PD comes waaaay down on the list of priorities for most people.

Thankfully, a thoughtful colleague gave me a well-needed wake up call, telling me: “You have to re-adjust your success criteria… The fact that people are showing up is excellent.” He pointed out that even having a place to come to ask questions is more than they would normally have, so I should basically take a hard pill and get over it! [To be fair, he put it much more gently than that!]

So I did. Here are the things I am proud of:

  1. People have successfully signed up to Delicious. Even our entire Senior Management team (who redefine busy).
  2. People are actually USING Delicious to bookmark. I have gained a lot of great sites from my new connectingeast network.
  3. People have managed to get a network of people to follow – this has got to make life easier for them.
  4. People are turning up every Friday. That must mean they are keen to continue, surely!
  5. People now know about and have seen some TED talks. That’s great PD right there.
  6. Katie and I have managed to get something out every week (even if it’s late at night on a Tuesday, we’ve made every self-imposed deadline!)
  7. People are still starting – even though we’re 4 weeks in.
  8. People are still talking to us in the staff room!

My new success criteria is this: If, at the end of 10 weeks, people are aware of tools they didn’t know existed, have had a chance to play around with some of them, and have tried one new thing involving technology in the classroom, I think our efforts will have been well worth it. I will keep you posted…

We’re off and running!

Photo credit: kris247

Our PD initiative to encourage more technology use with the teachers at our campus is underway. I’m extremely excited and hopeful that our already-busy colleagues will come to the party and take part.

Katie and I have tried to differentiate our approach so that we are catering to the needs of all teachers, be they novices or experts. To this end, we have created challenges each week that they must complete IF they want to be in the draw to win the prizes. We put together a cheeky little teaser to appeal to their more materialistic senses…

Connecting East Trailer

We have decided to use both a blog and a wiki to share the info and tasks with everyone. The blog is more a summary of where we’re wanting people to head for the purposes of this PD initiative, whereas the wiki is a place for information about all sorts of things related to Web 2.0 tools and the like. We hope to be able to extend and refer to the wiki for any future endeavours with technology PD, and also hope it provides a point of reference for the teachers we are working with.

We have 4 challenge levels that the teachers can choose from — novice, apprentice, practitioner & expert — and people are welcome to mix them up depending on the task, e.g. one week they might do the novice challenge, the next they might do the practitioner.

While we have the blog and the wiki for independent learning, we are also making ourselves available for ‘Fruity Fridays’ — a chance to meet with us face-to-face to get some support in completing the tasks, while sharing some cut fruit for breakfast. We hope the ‘personal touch’ will encourage those people who prefer to learn in group situations with a person available to assist should they need it.

I should mention that this is entirely optional. We are not requiring people to do it. We are hoping to reach a critical mass that will help shift to a more technology-aware and savvy staff.

Below are some of the results of our survey, which proved to be extremely interesting and useful to us in developing PD.

What’s great about the results (above) is that it we think it is going to be really easy to make a positive difference for our colleagues. I mean, if all they get out of it is an introduction to social bookmarking and voicethreads, then that will provide them with numerous possibilities for their classrooms. I will consider it a job well done if we manage that much! In the words of a good friend and colleague, anything else is just gravy!

What’s challenging for us is to create engaging and motivating tasks for the teachers on top of our regular teaching load! If only there were more hours in the day!