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!
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.
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