Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What does this all mean?

This was cross-posted at TechLearning.com/blog

Often times in these posts you read about new technology tools designed to engage and motivate learners, as well as change the way we provide instruction. Today is an observation about how the technology goes underground and the content takes over in a surprising way.

This month, I have attend trainings in my school about using online tools and data where I have observed some interesting findings. In the past, I have written about how we educators complain that we don't have any more time to learn one more thing in our already busy lives. However, we really do, especially when the tools are integrated and provide substance to our content or mission.

The following examples are mentioned only to put the observations in context, not to endorse any one product over another. It is the integration of and interactivity of the product that is paramount.

Our district has been using Northwest Evaluation Association for the past 5 years for online fall and spring achievement assessments for our grade 2 to grade 10 students. This has been a valuable resource for our students, staff and parents. The fact that the student can take a one hour test on Monday and the teacher can have the results on Tuesday is remarkable. Once the testing window is closed, in district, the teacher and administrators have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips; provided the teacher and administrator have access to the technology tools. All the student, classroom , district and national data are available online for review, for instructional remediation, for instructional and curriculum development and for viewing student growth over time. In the past 5 years, our teachers and administrators have grown in their ability to use the data beyond the score and in fact are using the data to instruct each student or groups of students based on their need to learn a specific skill. NWEA has also grown in their delivery of data. What used to be a static report is now an interactive report display about a student, a group of students, a grade level, a school or a district.

What does this all mean? 5 years ago it would have been the technology integrator running the workshop for teachers and delivering a step by step activity on how to get to the website, how to add a user name and password, how to find a class or a teacher and finally how to find the student or school information. The entire “workshop” would have focused on using the technology to get at the information. Many teachers would have (and did) politely said, “I have this all in my printout of my student scores, thank you very much, and this is way too much work, I'll use my printout instead.” Today, however, the teacher has access to dynamic and interactive information that no longer can provide the depth in the written format.

The next workshop I attended was about myAccess, an online writing program. Our district chose this product to supplement our writing instruction for grades 7-11 and selected groups as a pilot project. This product is about students and teachers logging onto a website, adding written assignments into the database, getting online, immediate feedback based on certain criteria. The critical point here is immediate, online feedback. Your students may already be typing their assignments, then turning them in either in paper format or digital format and waiting for feedback and a grade. Teachers are busy, and teachers want to provide good feedback to students, which is time consuming. However, this product allows for standard assignments, to have standard criteria, and a standard grading process. Any writing prompt that is pulled from the accepted data base will be scored immediately. Any writing prompt that is teacher designed will take a longer period of time for feedback. MyAccess does have the ability to accept teacher designed prompts as well as the myAccess prompts from the data base.

What does this all mean? 5 years ago the technology integrator would have presented this workshop and concentrated on the process of getting online, the step by step activity of finding assignments and adding them to the classroom folder, as well as training the students how to gain access to the site. Today, the students are writing their assignments in class and from home, they are engaged with the assignments, they are choosing some of their own criteria to be scored and they are able to set their own goals. The teachers are looking at the scored data for their students and their class as a whole. The teachers are looking at the data and deciding when to add mini-lessons about certain topics that score low in the class database. The data is automatic, interactive and real time.

Finally, I attended a training about Pearson's online component to the Reading Street series. This product is a piece of the textbook reading series we chose for our grades K-5 students. Pearson has been developing this component for the past 3 years and this year the pieces all came together for our staff. During the training, the teachers received a user name and password to get into the products for their classroom/grade level. The presenter began with the Leveled Readers that our students will have access to from school and home. (We are fortunate that many of our students have Internet Access in their homes and have support to use these materials.) The leveled readers are authentic materials on interesting topics and have the built in tools to read aloud to the students. Then the presenter shared with teachers how to access the online teacher's guide and plan book. There were many gasps in the room as teachers audibly recognized that all the work for the planning of the lessons and themes has been done for them. All the remediation activities have been laid out, and all the enrichment activities have been laid out as well. The presenter demonstrated how teachers have control over the plan book and by simply clicking on an arrow for an activity the teacher can move that activity to the next day or week depending on the class. Finally, the presenter demonstrated how the teacher could view the specific skill levels of the class once the students used the online version of the unit pre and post tests. One teacher said, “You mean that if I use the preset test for my students it will automatically score the test?” “YES.” That sealed the deal. Then all the graphs the teacher has visually to observe student and class progress over time is amazing. Real time data, interactive data and a huge time saver for teachers!

What does all this mean? 5 years ago the technology integrator would have presented this workshop and concentrated on the process of getting online, the step by step activity of setting up the plan book, finding students and adding them to the classroom folder, as well as training the students how to gain access to the site. The technology went underground in this workshop. The teachers were able to concentrate on the content for their classroom purpose. We will still have to instruct students about how to access the site and we will still provide support to teachers to use the site when things change, but the interactivity of the product has offered teachers a real time saver.

What do all these products have in common? A Database.
The other behind the scenes change that has occurred, as a result of these products, is that to benefit from the integrated database there needs to be a system administrator who manages the population of the databases, or uploading of your student population. You don't want your teachers typing in each student name, that will not save time.

What does this all mean for you and your district? When you are looking for a product, ask questions about how to populate their database, ask questions about response time once the data has been logged in, ask questions about how quick the turn around time is to get information back to the student or teacher, ask about how interactive the data is that your teachers will be using. Spend the time finding your product. If you do, your end users will benefit from the structure and the data.

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