Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spontaneous Combustion?

Under the threat of closure for Swine Flu, the HS teachers have been anxious about the potential of going to virtual school. In order to prepare, the Principal gave us a PD day last Friday dedicated entirely to Tech Development under the auspices of learning some tools that are useful in a virtual school environment. The teachers were the most willing and active audience you can imagine, and were eager to learn about our homegrown collaboration network (DragonNet) as well as Jing,, VoiceThread, Diigo, Wikis, Podcasting, RSS and some in-house tools.

Watching the teachers get all excited about these tools was such a rush. Everyone was bubbling about what they were learning (what is it about mastering tech tools that is so exhilarating?) and since then, the fire hasn't gone out. This morning, the Math dept spontaneously decided to share some tools (SmartBoard recording, and Jing) with each other in a formal setting, and tomorrow a teacher is holding a workshop to share how to use the ZipScan (a scantron-like device).

I really hope to see this self-directed enthusiasm continue: I think the key to our tech development and movement toward becoming a 1-1 Mac laptop school next year will be home-grown training and sharing, and its great to see it already underway.

Week 2: Going Virtual

Very interesting week. The Hong Kong health department closed down our Middle School last week because the absences from Swine Flu had gone through the roof. That means the new teachers had not had a chance to get up to speed with our technology, and the returning teachers were still getting their lessons organized for the start of school. So the tech department (all 4 Facilitators, including the MS one who was attending via Skype as he was home sick himself) got together and ran mini-workshops all day Thursday for the MS teachers. We taught them everything from how to upload assignments, to working with, to making wikis, to putting assignments on the school calendar, to holding remote lessons via Skype. It was fantastic, and having one Tech Facilitator present on a computer screen modeled the whole thing beautifully.

With the spread of Swine Flu, the bets are that our Lower Primary will be closed this week, and maybe the HS also. We're all going to get a high-speed dose of going virtual, and I'm looking forward to it in a big way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week 1: The Journey Begins

OK, so I have just completed my first week as the Tech Facilitator at my school. Its a big year we will be going 1:1 and converting from PCs to MacBooks. As with any transition, I have some butterflies but I am also excited for the new challenges. We're a pretty big school; almost 3000 kids in 4 divisions from PreK to Grade 12, and over 300 teachers. My job is to work with the HS teachers only; about 80 professionals who teach about 900 students.

We already have a lot in place; an excellent tech infrastructure and an integrated program for hosting course files, taking attendance, emailing, etc., so the teachers are already used to working with a computer. However, we are also a fairly high-pressure school and some teachers are a bit concerned about changing their methodology to becoming a 1:1 school because it might result in a loss of productivity and, of course, control. Our kids are already pretty versatile with gaming, etc, so the challenge will be to help teachers develop their skills with web-based tools without the kids seeing it as a free-for-all for being distracted.

So far, I have formed a Digital Leadership Team composed of 10 colleagues who are anywhere from intermediate to high-level technology users. We plan on meeting once per 8-day cycle to share ideas and tools, and they will go back into their departments to spread the enthusiasm. In our first meeting last week, I chose to model a 2.0 teaching technique, so we all opened gmail accounts, I created a google.doc with that meeting's agenda, and shared it with them all. Then, as the meeting progressed, we all contributed to the notes. One member searched weblinks to support our meeting and added them, and another spent time 'filling in gaps' in the notes. At the end of the meeting, I uploaded the notes to the internet, used to make a shortcut, and shared them with everyone. Now they all have this one useful tool under their belts and can share it with their colleagues.

Earlier in the week I had a help session to show some teachers how to create a wiki or ning, and since then two of them have created class nings and are using them to share notes, pictures and class projects. I also created an archive space on our school website where I am storing useful sites, tutorials for tools, and links to exemplars.

Not a bad start, and now I have to spend some time researching more tools. I am feeling around to see what teachers are doing in their classes, then finding tools that will enhance their lessons and bringing them to them. We'll see how it goes.

So, week 1 is done, I think I've made a nice introduction for the teachers to this new role and position, and now I look forward to filling the space I have created with good productivity. My next goal: two more web-based tools.