Saturday, April 28, 2007

Technology, time and organisation

There is no doubt there is a lot of the technology out there that could be put to good use in schools. Students are comfortable with it and excited by it and the potential for increased learning, both in volume and rate, is mind boggling.

The biggest problem appears to be time. There are several factors that impinge on the time available and often it's the new technologies and using them in classes that suffer.

The curriculum needs to be taught and while suggestions are made in syllabi for various learning experiences for students, the how of presentation is left up to the teacher. Most teachers are highly committed professionals who try very hard to make their classes interesting and productive spaces that encourage learning at all levels. Lessons are planned and prepared, always with an eye on the time available. Deadlines loom. Homework is prepared and checked. Feedback is given on many aspects of students' work, often in writing and often individually. Exams are set, sat and marked. Individual feedback sessions booked and attended. Lunch times are made available to offer students extra help.

Behaviour management can often be time consuming. Every incident must be recorded and followed up. Set procedures must be followed. And mountains of records prepared to ensure each situation is treated individually and fairly. As the professionals they are, teachers do their job, but it takes time. Often writing anecdotal reports and phoning parents wander into the evenings.

Meetings are attended: general staff meetings, faculty meetings, subject meetings. Professional development is squeezed in, sometimes during school time but often after school, in the evenings, on weekends.

And teachers have a life too. There are friends and family, dinners and birthday parties.

When then, do teachers learn about blogs and wikis and RSS feeds? When do they put that learning to practice by adapting and creating things for their students to use? How many teachers have begun projects with the idea of using a blog as a reflective learning space for their senior students, or encouraged students to use wikis for their group assignment, only to find time nibbling away at their planning and support and the whole thing fizzling to a 'no show'. How many have managed to set things up, such as the blog, only to find students can't access it from school because of site restrictions that can't easily be changed?

The answer might be in a complete change in classroom management. The teacher can no longer be ‘the font of all knowledge’. S/he is metamorphosing into the Learning Facilitator, encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning and the direction that takes. This might mean that classrooms become more mobile, both inside a room and around the school environment. Classrooms could be full of students all studying the same subject, perhaps working on the same topic, perhaps not, but all working at different stages along their learning journey. The days of the teacher standing at the front of the room talking to the whole class are numbered, if not already gone. Instead s/he will be seated with a small group of students discussing and discovering as they are, then moving to another group.

The key to success in this type of environment, I believe, is organisation. Forward planning and preparation on a detailed and long-term scale is absolutely necessary in order to free up the time required during semester to allow dynamic learning to take place. Without that thorough planning, we’ll revisit the classrooms where the teacher walks in and says, ‘Open the text at page …”

I hope we never go back there.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Team Terrors Mark II

I gave it another day or two. The optimist hasn't spoken to me since my last post - smart optimist.

To give the update: I met with my team partner yesterday. Her two weeks reading constituted four articles and a one page diagram which was her notes. I even worked out why she was basically uncontactable for two weeks. In her head, 'next week' means the week after next. I'll remember that for next time and be more specific.

There I go again - the masochist in me saying there'll be a next time.

I've spent most of last night and today doing research she should have done already. I've emailed her a list of about twenty resources to locate and read although I'm surprised she wasn't able to find anything herself. It is a masters course, after all. I haven't heard anything from her since the meeting, even after I asked her to make sure she checks her email at least once a day while we're working on this assignment and to keep in touch.

I don't think she gets it. I really think in her head she thinks she's working well. I don't think she has a clue what constitutes an efficiently operating team. And I think she has selective hearing. I don't know how much clearer I could have been at our meeting yesterday. Most people would know that when I say "Check your email often and keep me updated on where you're at" that that would at least mean to respond to my emails. Isn't that a reasonable thing to assume?

That's it. I give up. I've been doing the reading for myself and accept there's a possibility I'll have to finish the assignment by myself. If I had known that from the beginning I'd be much further along than I am now and my writing wouldn't be so disjointed because I'm distracted and cranky.

And that ever-present damned optimist is still sitting there reassuring me that these difficulties don't occur with every team. Next time will be better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Team terrors

I've discovered I'm my own worst enemy. Yes, it should have been something I discovered earlier in my life but I'm an optimist at heart. Could things really be any worse?
The answer is - 'of course'.
I find I'm working on an assignment with a late-comer (someone who didn't have a partner and had no idea where to start with the assignment). What was I to do? Of course I said, 'yes, come and join me'. And without checking anything. So now after two fruitless weeks trying to contact my team member to arrange a meeting and find out what she's been doing I find the assignment (5000 words) is due the day after tomorrow and not a word has been written. (My section relies heavily on the basic research which is, you guessed it, her bit.)
Apparently she's been reading but I'm not sure what. I don't even know if she's aiming at the same level I am (or capable of it). I have a horror of getting a result way below what I'm used to. A high distinction is my norm - a distinction causes angst. Anything less brings out hives.
I've had to remind myself about fifty times over the last 24 hours that 'I'm an optimist and I work well under pressure'. My family says I'm beginning to sound like I belong with the Stepford wives.
That's what happens when I have to work hard at not losing my temper. There'd be no point - the girl's uncontactable most of the time and seems to ignore most of what I say anyway. With the lack of contact, I don't think she's even aware there is any tension. I hate to burst her bubble, but this kind of pressure I can do without.
I've put the word out - next time I start behaving compassionately, someone will have to hit me over the head with something.

And after having said all that, the optimist inside me pops her head up and says, 'Just give it another day or two. It'll work out.'

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blogs, Wikis and RSS feeds

I'm currently at an all day workshop on Blogs, Wikis and RSS feeds. I've used blogs and wikis before but there is always something new to learn. It's also giving me an opportunity to think of different ways these things can be used, particularly with my classes at school.

The activity at the moment requires me to enter a picture into a blog so this entry will have a picture. I'm not sure how relevant it will be but at least I know I'll be able to do it. And there we have a dragon - can't help myself - I like dragons.

I'm really looking forward to RSS feeds - have a lot of ideas for how they can be used, particularly with my study and want to know how to set them up.