For the past year, I have been working with the Department of Education in PEI to support Digital Practice (a term i settled on working through ideas with Lawrie Phipps). I landed in a wonderful situation in the k12 system here where someone had already gone through and replaced all the hardware (wires and computers). The system is full of people who are willing to engage in difficult conversations, and the department happens to have several people with deep system experience around technology. My task has been to come up with a strategy for supporting ‘edtech’ in the system.
In a nutshell? Start by supporting teacher digital practice.
If I had gotten this role 5 years ago, I think I would have come out with a number of what I now think of as ‘shiny’ project. Things that are impressive, that could show people what is possible when one thinks of the teaching and learning process from a digital perspective. These projects are great for the students who do them, but not necessarily for the teachers. Shiny projects are exhausting. They are normally targeted at the ‘most-invested’ teachers, who are often involved with a number of other projects too. You want your shiny project to work, so you overfund it, over support it, and generally create a situation that is totally unsustainable. This is what I have done in the past… and what I would have done.
Not this time.
Changing the relationship to technology
The technology that was replaced was… not perfect. Being a good technology person 3 years ago on PEI had a heavy dose of ‘reseat that RAM’ and ‘let’s try rebooting it and see if it helps’. That’s not to say that there haven’t been amazing tech projects, there have, but much of the time and effort went into trying to make the technology work. Several smart people here took it upon themselves to fix that problem, and, from what I can see, they have. Which is great. But now we need to reboot the relationship that our teachers have to the technology. Their trust in it is not strong, because they’re smart, and they have long experience of not being able to rely on it. So… project one –
Solve a problem in the system using technology – create trust in technology …by showing it can actually help
The Teacher Platform
One of the legacy issues of a non-performing technology infrastructure was the scattered nature of resources in the system. You might find your curriculum outcomes in the filing cabinet, or on a website. You might have resources on your schools network drive. You might have gotten an email two years ago with some assessment stuff. Bits and pieces, here and there. There were certainly some initiatives by folks to solve it, but not for the whole system.
Our first project then, was to create a platform that contained resources that were essential to the system. I used Moodle. A Moodle, I might add, that is externally hosted with the excellent folks at Lambda Solutions. External hosting was a critical element of the plan because if we’re going to build trust it has to work – ALL THE TIME. So far, it’s been excellent.
We started by creating a course for a course. We picked a pile of math courses to start with and started putting in links to iconic curriculum documents and included other important things that people were looking for. Basically, we started with using Moodle as a document repository. But. Moodle CAN be a collaborative platform (of sorts) and it can also be a course platform. I think that putting necessary resources in one place could save the average teacher an hour a week. I hope they keep that hour. I don’t want it for anything… other than the building of trust that technology can, when it is used in response to actual needs identified by actual users, be helpful to them.
The fact that it creates a very specialized platform that allows us to add concepts, connections, advice, and ideas at a course level is a bonus. We may never do that, that decision lies in the hands of the users… BUT THEY COULD.
Digital Practices Course
So, with phase one underway (lots of guest user access, 216 teacher registrations through google integration) its time to look to the next part of the process. How do we encourage healthy digital practice across the system. I’m not particularly interested in teaching people to use a specific technology, I never have been. I am interested in hosting a discussion in our system about how we can help folks shape healthy and effective digital practices. No one has told any of those 200 teachers how to register their account, they figured it out. That ‘figuring it out’ is the kind of digital practice I’m interested in supporting. These practices are the normal, everyday things that we do that are different in digital spaces. Different sometimes because you have to do them differently. Different sometimes because you can do them better.
Mike Caulfield has written a book on effective searching practice. One of the strategies that he talks about is lateral reading of digital contexts. “Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.” It’s a digital practice that our students need to understand, and that means that everyone in the system responsible for them needs to understand it.
Understanding your goals/roles
In a digital space you are a million times (exactly a million) more likely to wander in to a social/knowledge situation that you weren’t introduced to. Imagine walking into your kitchen and running into 500 people who’ve been involved in a 7 year conversation. That’s what happened to me yesterday doing research for my son’s new hedgehog. A quick google search and BANG I’m in the middle of a new conversation in my kitchen. How do I navigate that? What do I want to know? How should I act? What’s my role? These are things that we understand (most of us) well enough in our analogue social situations, but digital spaces require new frameworks.
A number of us got together last year and put this framework together to help us talk about what some of those different roles.
Those are two of the practices that I’m interested in supporting with the course. There are tons more, and, as per usual, I’m not particularly interested in everyone LEARNING EVERYTHING, but rather hosting a discussion that allows people to learn the things they need to learn. The course is still moving through the approval process, and a review process. Would love your feedback on it.
The strategy continues
Lots more work started in that strategy. Once its all approved I’ll write another post, ’till then, it’s digital practices time.