martes, abril 26, 2005

Case Study: Marco Polo Pilot Program

The School
Craighouse was born as a family school in 1959, and has grown since into having about 1600 students (boys and girls) from PK to 12th grade. It is oriented to British Education, having bilingual instruction up to 6th grade. It has also been giving IB Diploma for many years. This has put Craighouse among the top schools in Chile. Still, Craighouse’s teaching methodology is deeply traditional, with very few innovations over the last years. Computing lessons are separate subjects from 1st to 10th grades, and an elective subject in 11th and 12th. These lessons are given in 2 computer laboratories with 17 computers each.
A few years ago, a call was made to the parents’ community asking for help in going forward in technology, with a new vision. This vision was to integrate computing as part of everyday teaching, thus enhancing the educational experience of the children, and above all, boosting motivation, achieving more significant learning and transfer.
At the same time, a significant change was underway, in the direction of PYP (Primary Years Programme) and MYP (Middle Years Programme), both International Baccalaureate Organization programmes which are being implemented at present.

The Project
This parents committee finally came up with the idea of gradually integrating ICT into the classes by using “Mobile Laboratories” (known in Craighouse as Marco Polo), each equipped with 17 wireless capable laptops, 1 multimedia projector, 34 headphones with audio splitters and microphones, all contained in a specially designed cart. The cart is also a charging unit.
This plan had to include a working room for teachers (the Resource Centre) equipped with Internet connected desktop computers, a multimedia projector and printers; and last but not least, wireless network connection throughout the school.
There were some drawbacks in the implementation of such a big project, one of them being money, and another one is that not all teachers were ready to start working this way.
A walk around was to implement this project, at first, just as a pilot program, in a selected part of the school, in order to start investigating the possibilities of this methodology in the classroom. During 2004, the mentioned pilot program was implemented with one mobile lab and 3 wireless access points, giving wireless internet service to the Junior section of the school (grades 3 to 6).
The resource centre was immediately implemented, so that teachers would have enough computers to work and be trained.
Once the pilot was ready, it was show time.
Teachers became one of our main topics. Many of them weren’t even basic users of computers, so in many cases it was difficult for them to imagine the possibilities and the resources available. We started a training program as soon as the resource centre was ready, so that teachers would reach a minimum level of computer skills, and not feel frightened or threatened by the computers. We also conducted some motivation sessions, in which different successful experiences were presented to the teachers.
Our team had the mission of supporting teachers at all times in the process of using computers for their lessons.

The Process
A requirement starts with a teacher asking for help on a given topic, usually those that are difficult for children, such as fractions.
The next step is to find resources that cover the topic in different ways. Most of the resources are free on the Internet.
After resources have been selected, they are presented to the teacher, so that he/she can explore the activities, in order to find the one that is right for him/her. Then we help them plan a lesson with ICT.
Sometimes, teachers come with the web sites already selected, so we just help them plan the lesson.
It is important to point out that each teacher has a particular way of teaching, so resources have to suit his/her style. That is why it is so important that teachers participate in the selection of the resources. The resources by themselves are useless. The teacher has to be the one that uses them as a tool to make her class better, or more interesting, or make an abstract concept more concrete.
The Marco Polo mobile lab is then booked by the teachers.
The link(s) selected by the teacher are put in our intranet, so that children don’t have trouble in writing long URLs. It also prevents embarrassing mistakes (such as reaching an adult site during a class). When the activities are on CD, they are inserted in the computers before the Marco Polo leaves for the class.
On the given day and time, the Marco Polo is taken to the classroom by one of the ETC members. Children are supposed to be ready to work, sitting in pairs and with clean hands.
Computers are handed out to the children by our ETC member (“the helper”) and the Class teacher. The helper is supposed to stay in the class until all computers are up and running. Some teachers who feel less comfortable with computers ask the helper to stay. If there are no other urgent matters, he/she will stay for the whole period.
During the class, the teacher is the one in charge, even though sometimes the helper guides the children in their work, too. We expect this helper interaction gradually disappears, when teachers feel at ease with the methodology.
At the end of the class, computers are turned off and the teacher puts them back in the Marco Polo. Sometimes we fetch the lab, and in other occasions children bring it back.
Evaluation
One of the main purposes of this pilot plan was to see the teachers and the students’ reaction to computers in the classroom, trying to reach as many students as possible. It was also important to try different ways of using the computers.
Perhaps the goal that was more easily achieved was the motivation of the students. When they use computers in the class they feel like they are playing, having fun. Surveys were conducted in some classes with Marco Polo, and almost all the feedback was positive (95%) in questions like:
Did you like the class using computers?
Would you like to have Marco Polo again in your class?
The answers to questions like “Do you think you learned more using the computer?” had a more varied range of answers, as some students didn’t think they were exercising or learning something new.
Something different happened with the teachers. As children seem to naturally fall into this scheme of work, teachers tend to “diminish” when computers are in the classroom. During the first experiences, some teachers expected us to actually do the lesson. They even asked us to answer the questions of the students regarding subject matters. It has been quite important to make clear that the subject teacher is still in charge, and that technological resources are at his/her service.
We have also found out that the “24/7” support has been an excellent way of introducing this scheme of work. Teachers feel reassured that everything will work fine and that they are doing things right.

Present and Future
At present the school has implemented another mobile lab (Marco Polo II), and a projection kit (laptop, multimedia projector, screen), for those teachers that have started to use ICT tools for their classes. PowerPoint is a beginning.
A wireless network will be implemented shortly throughout the whole school.
A second projection kit will be acquired for the second term.
Additionally, computing lessons have been eliminated from 1st to 4th grades, as the standards in ICT should be achieved through common subject lessons conducted in the computing lab and through the use of Marco Polo. Such standards have been set by the computing department, based on the skills needed by 5th grade.
To help teachers we created a database with sites and resources available for the different subjects and topics, published in our Intranet. Together with the academic director’s team, we developed a classification for the resources, based on the kind of interaction of the activity with the students. This classification also helped us to completely discard some of them. Additionally it guides the teachers in how to use any given ICT resource.

Luz roja

miércoles, abril 13, 2005

Macromedia Breeze y Moodle

Hace algunas semanas Fernando y Anita fueron a una reunión en la que les habían explicado cómo funciona Macromedia Breeze. Básicamente, la idea es poder tener disponibles en la web una serie de recursos multimedia en formato “clase” y actividades interactivas de aprendizaje que permitan realizar evaluaciones formales o informales y diagnósticos de cada uno de los estudiantes. Las grandes ventajas es que el servidor sería externo y, en consecuencia, las responsabilidades de administración y seguridad; la posibilidad de que quede registro de todo lo que hagan los estudiantes una vez que se hayan conectado al sitio; la gran diversidad de reportes que ofrece y que estaría disponible desde ya en cualquier lugar del mundo en el que haya conexión a Internet.

Nosotros le ofrecimos a Carlos el siguiente acuerdo: que nos permitiera el uso de esta tecnología durante el año 2005 sin costo y, a cambio, nosotros pondríamos todo nuestro esfuerzo acá adentro para hacerlo andar y convertirnos en un ejemplo exitoso del uso del recurso. El aceptó el trato y esta mañana vino a confirmarnos que va a dar permisos a Anita y a Fernando para que comiencen a publicar material. Por la forma de trabajo con este recursos, lo consideramos muy apropiado para el trabajo en Senior y, como ya existe algún material en Power Point elaborado por los profesores (las presentaciones Power Point son la base de esta modalidad), ya podríamos comenzar a mejorar y publicar en el corto plazo muchas de estas cosas.

Por otro lado, estamos en el proceso de instalar en el nuestro servidor un software denominado Moodle, cuya función es la creación de entornos virtuales de aprendizaje (calendario de los cursos, publicación de documentos en cualquier formato, salas de Chat, foros de discusión, evaluaciones en línea, etc.). Dado que ofrecen prestaciones similares (en cuanto a seguimiento y publicación de material, al menos), tenemos la idea de echar a andar simultáneamente dos proyectos, utilizando ambos recursos y, al final de año, evaluar resultados para tomar decisiones. Claro está que Moodle es absolutamente gratis, es un Open Source, y en ese sentido tiene ya una gran ventaja sobre Breeze. Pero también hay que considerar las posibilidades de proyección de Craighouse si Macromedia nos considera un ejemplo exitoso del uso de su tecnología.

Es importantísimo embarcar en estos proyectos a los profesores para poder realizar una evaluación objetiva y, sobretodo, porque es necesaria una puesta en marcha exitosa para corresponder a la confianza que Macromedia ha depositado en nosotros.

Agradeceremos mucho comentarios y sugerencias…

Alejandra Bruce

viernes, abril 08, 2005