I recently sat down with the Network Engineer from the school I work at to discuss the case study for Assignment 6. For five years now we have worked as part of the same team; we have shared ideas, helped solve problems (he usually solves more problems for me than I do for him), encouraged each other, provided feedback, learned new things and had fun together along the way. It has become evident too to surround ourselves with other like minded and entrepreneurial members of our schools community (mainly teaching staff). The Leadership team have also begun to recognise the value of collaboration in the design process.We don’t often though put time aside just to reflect on the development of our learning spaces; we did for an hour a few days ago and it was ‘gold’.
The school’s digital learning environment has been developing for over ten years now. I have worked at the school for five years but the Network Engineer has been there right from the beginning of this evolution. He has an IT background and qualifications, but after working in an educational environment for so long he has a very good insight into learning, learning environments, the integration of technology and it’s users.
The following are my notes from our discussion. The names of the LMS have been changed for the purpose of this case study.
It seems that we have done a a bit of a full cycle in the development of our Learning Management System (LMS). Back in 2003 the school’s first digital environment was just a static website that the IT team developed. A need was identified by the Network Engineer (together with the Leadership team) in 2004 to develop a digital platform to deliver information to the school community. The Network Engineer (along with the IT team) wanted to spread the workload of uploading information onto the site and also more staff wanted to use the environment. A number of options were considered for this first intranet. The educational organisation that directs the school’s operations had no input into the choices that was made for the original LMS.
The first edition of ‘Remodel’ was considered in 2004, but it was evaluated as being too hard to use and cumbersome. Eventually the IT and Leadership teams choose ‘CommonPlace’ because was manageable, stable, easy to maintain, cheap and effective in delivering information. ‘CommonPlace’ also suited the growth factors of the school: the developers wanted to be able to add subject tabs and work-spaces. ‘CommonPlace’ does include Web 2.0 tools like Blogs, Wikis and Threaded Discussion Forums but these are not easy to set up. When I joined the staff of this team( 2010) I had been using Web 2.0 tools successfully in online study,saw value in them and wanted to integrate them into the teaching and learning of the school community. A couple of staff were already doing this but most had not and were hesitant to do so. The Network Engineer made a surprising comment that he doesn’t really like Web 2.0 tools (maybe as ‘CommonPlace presented them) – that they are messy : is this the nature of learning and knowledge construction though, a little chaotic?
The Library team and I developed our Library webpage and linked it on to the LMS; this is an ongoing project where I feel we have not met our potential and it is a future goal to improve the Library digital space.
Over 2012 and 2013 a need for a more online classroom environment has been identified. Some alternative LMS ‘Alive’ and ‘iSpace’ were added as links on ‘CommonPlace’. ‘Alive’ was mandated by the educational organisation. After discussion amongst the IT team, leadership and ICLT committee it was decided that we didn’t want to use ‘Alive’ because it was hard to use, the organisation of the site wasn’t satisfactory and it was better suited to Primary schools. The educational organisation have also ceased to encourage ‘Alive’s’ use, but it remains as a unused link on the LMS as mandated by the educational organisation. ‘iSpace’ too was mandated with the direction of the educational organisation, but it has had limited use too. So currently on ‘CommonPlace’ there sits a number of links and choices of alternative LMS that aren’t really being used. The past practice was to add the links early in the prototyping process and then train people to use them (access was sometimes limited to certain staff teams and students); this practice did not prove successful with ‘Alive’ and ‘iSpace’ learning spaces.
A lack of time for training, testing, and a common language have been identified as barriers to the development of this learning environment. There is a huge variance too amongst staff (and students’) skills, attitudes and motivation.
However,this year motivations have become more consistency high and attitudes are positive in our school community to make our own choice and develop a online learning environment that works in with, directs and compliments the high quality teaching and learning that is happening in the classrooms. We have come back to the LMS ‘Remodel’ which itself has been through developments and numerous editions. A link to ‘Remodel’ has not been placed on ‘CommonPlace’; instead select teachers have approached the IT team or been approached to use ‘Remodel’ as a digital learning environment to complement and facilitate their good teaching and learning pedagogy and practice. Leadership teams have also been a positive driver in this focus and process. ‘Remodel’ has been trialed and tested in a controlled but inclusive and participatory manner. This design process has been a very good example of ‘participatory design’ as it has been human-centred (Sanders, E., 2007).
Many positive aspects of this latest edition of ‘Remodel’ have been identified, like the opportunities and ease to allow for; personalisation, feedback, sequencing of learning activities, multimedia, engagement of students. These positive aspects of ‘Remodel’ match John Hattie’s principles of learning (2013).
The Network and Engineer and I also spent some time discussing the nature of the ‘Status Quo’ approach versus ‘Experimental Spaces’. ‘CommomPlace’ was initially chosen because it fitted with the way that the school was organised; departmentalised and structured. Attempts to use technology differently or organise learning environments in transdisciplinary ways is prevented by roadblocks like assessment strategies, timetabling, pragmatic attitudes. It is through the efforts of the Network Engineer, the IT team and leading teachers that we are slowing challenging some of these ‘Status Quo’ assumptions.
At the end of this discussion we concluded that technology is not necessarily making our life easier as educators.We are a one to one laptop school and both the network Engineer and I had witnessed a culture where the students expect to use their laptop every day and nearly every lesson. Parents expect that the laptop is used too. Teachers feel an obligation to use the laptops too; sometimes it seems that they are used too much. A need for more handwriting and reading physical books is being noticed. Technology and digital learning environments can however greatly enhance and facilitate good teaching practice. We have valued being able to customise our digital learning spaces and have tried to match them to our user needs. The current design process of creating a better learning environment with ‘Remodel’ has benefited from the current trialing and testing phase and practice.
We have come to appreciate the value of a participatory approach and team work in designing new spaces at our school and I look forward to seeing it continue and improve.
- Hattie, J & Yates G. C. R. (2013). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. Routledge.