Thoughts on the Digital Program Consultant Role

The work of the Digital Integrated Program Consultant should be to ensure the integration of digital tools is always done as a means to improve student achievement, in coordination with curriculum aligned, pedagogical best practices. Although there are other facets to the role, the primary focus should be on professional development , and fostering the growth of our teacher colleagues in classrooms.

We must ensure that technology is being used as an effective lever to accelerate pedagogy. Product in the classroom should become secondary to process. For example, using an online post-it program, if that collection is never re-visited, is no more efficient than using a paper version, and may actually introduce other facets that further complicate the work (connectivity issues, passwords, etc). This is where substitution — although a necessary first step — is a step backwards if we linger there for too long. It is the additional process digital uncovers, when used effectively by teachers, that makes the task more relevant, more rich, and more engaging. Having the “post-it” board available online after the class has been dismissed — provides opportunities to consolidate thinking, to share outside of the confines of class schedules, and with external community members. We should always be measuring our usage of technology by whether or not it provides a functional improvement over analogue processes.

http://www.hippasus.com/

As we assess our efficacy in the classroom, we need to ensure we aren’t getting carried away with shiny new tools that merely substitute for more traditional tasks (the app trap). Technology use that isn’t modifying and redefining what is possible, is missing the point. A key function of the Digital Integrated Program Consultant is to ensure technology is being used effectively to change pedagogy: to connect with external expertise, to amplify student voice, to provision authentic learning opportunities, to differentiate for different learner profiles, and to empower students to recognize their power as agents of change in society.

TPACK Venn Diagram, showing the connections between Technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge.
http://tpack.org/

The Digital Integrated Program Consultant should operate within the centre of the TPACK diagram, which positions Technology Knowledge, Content/Curriculum Knowledge, and Pedagogical Knowledge, as the three necessary components of a master teacher. The more time we spend on the outer edges of that model — rather than aiming for Professional Development that addresses all three areas simultaneously — the more we risk being ineffective. For example, in PD sessions regarding Google Forms, one could simply address the creation of a questionnaire, or one could explore the deeper facets of assessment triangulation, effective questioning, and the ways in which technology can assist us to better know our students. Math PD that neglects to integrate technology effectively misses out on an opportunity to model effective blended learning practices. Our focus should always strive beyond teaching the tool, and our curricular instruction should strive to model better practice through the tool. What does this mean then for staff professional development opportunities:

  • There is a need to differentiate for individual strengths and needs
  • There is a need to avoid “whole class” instruction in similar ways that we recognize is ineffective when teaching children
  • There is a need to contextualize learning about technology, and effective pedagogy, using the context of the specific curriculum being delivered by each learner
  • There is a need to offer choice, so learners can address individual deficits, and explore personal growth targets

The Digital Integrated Program Consultant should ensure that the entire organization is practicing 21st Century Pedagogies to transform how our classrooms operate, in response to a digital world that demands different skills from our students than those imbued in traditional 20th century models of education.

It’s time to try something new

It was a three year gig. That's what John Laverty — the superintendent at the time — told me, in the principal's office at Dundas Central when he offered me the job back in 2010. He said I would need to be thinking about what I wanted to do next, which seemed ludicrous, having just been told that I had secured my dream job.

I had wanted to be on the IT Team (that's what it was called back then) pretty quickly into my first year teaching. I was hired to take over Ian Pellizzari's class — teaching Computers to the Middle School students at WH Ballard — while he went off to the Memorial Building to join Marilyn Legault in supporting the use of technology in elementary classrooms in HWDSB. I had no formal training in computers, and hadn't used a Windows computer since high school, but soon I was teaching students how to build websites with HTML, and games in Flash, and Tessellations in Fireworks. It wasn't long before I was volunteering to run after school in-services at the Ancaster Memorial Building on building video games and blogging with students. I was hooked.

Spellcheck!

I got the job in June of 2010, as the Elementary IT Team Consultant. By the time I had returned to work from summer vacation in September, the job had changed: no longer split by division, the team would all be supporting K-12, the team name had been changed to the 21st Century Fluencies team, we had been moved within the organization, from the Computer Services portfolio, into the newly formed Leadership and Learning Department.

I've been here so long, only a few people will get this reference.

When I was hired Growing Success had just been released. The elementary report card had been drastically changed, and at the time, supporting report cards was a big portion of the job. The software was a buggy mess, attempting to attend to the shared space of the new Progress Report, and I spent most of that first year on the phone with tech support. Somewhere in the digital ether is a video of me sipping from a Marilyn mug, reading Growing Success, and introducing the new report card software. For a time it was the intro to the 20 minute Camtasia walk-through video that is still used today to help teachers navigate mxWeb.

When I was hired, schools weren't allowed to purchase iPads. Eventually Lisa found the funding to purchase 30: 10 per cluster of schools, that could be borrowed as kits, so we could make a case for their use in classrooms. One of our requests was that schools that borrowed the kits blogged about their experiences. There's a great archive of those posts available over here.

When I was hired, we used First Class for everything. The HUB existed, but you weren't allowed to use it unless you were teaching eLearning. You could use Google Drive, but you had to request student accounts, and I would batch create classes using a csv file pulled from SchoolConnect. You could blog in First Class, but it was awful, so Aaron Puley and I built the Commons, based on a platform I had built in my classroom called Litcircuits (a play on digital literature circles). The first version we piloted lived at theclassroo.ms, a domain I probably should have held onto. 

When I was hired, we each had our own YouTube channel where we would post tutorials and other stuff…

So Paul Hatala and I built tv.hwdsb.on.ca, then when that broke, we built hwdsb.tv (twice), creating a centralized space to house our tutorials, and the video creations of HWDSB students. We continue to be the only school board in Ontario I am familiar with who maintains their own Open Source built video platform.

I spent two years on the creation of the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy, and its related directives. You can see some of that process here.

When I was hired, 1:1 was an unfathomable possibility, reserved for private schools. I witnessed the emergence of 21st Century Learning as a key strategy at HWDSB, and helped to forge brazen pathways forward to equitably equip students with the tools they need to compete in an ever-changing future.

I've worked with some amazing individuals. I'm incredibly proud of the innovations and creativity that has come out of this small team, and will continue when I'm gone. Thank you for your support, and friendship, and for being the most amazing team I have worked on.

I've tried to be helpful always. Tried to be quick with email responses, knowing that there was a teacher trying to do cool stuff with kids waiting on the other end. I've tried to promote open platforms like the Commons, and tried to help people share beyond the walls of their classrooms, because it's that connection to outside experts, to parents and community members and authentic audiences, that I believe makes for deeper learning opportunities. I've tried to find ways to make blending learning in your classroom easier. Tried to gently push people to try new things.

I'm going to go work with students with learning disabilities in the Centre for Success now, to help them understand how technology can help them to navigate the education system. I'll continue to share here, and I'll continue to build materials to help you support students like the those who will be visiting my classroom at Elizabeth Bagshaw. I imagine you'll find the strategies universally applicable.

It's time to try something new.

Introduce Yourself

A screenshot of explain everything template.

We were asked to sort out a means of having members of the Learning Services team introduce themselves to each other in a digital way on the first day back to school. The workflow created may be helpful for those of you looking for a digital way for your students to tell you a bit about themselves, so I thought I would share it here.

The first step in the process is a template project in Explain Everything. The newest version of Explain Everything allows users with a subscription to add Placeholders (HWDSB teachers can get a subscription by reaching out to their Digital Integration Program Consultant). These blocks help to guide the user in contributing to your template in specific ways. You’ll notice in my template I’ve asked for my audience to upload a picture of themselves, and then add their job title, and the details of their portfolio. This could easily be tweaked to include information like interests, strengths and weaknesses, or information students would like you to know about.

In my case, I know that the adults contributing will be able to enter text in the requisite boxes; but the beauty of Explain Everything is the ability for students to record audio or video instead of text if they struggle to formulate ideas in text. The modality they use to contribute to the project will determine how they may need to get it back to you. I’m collecting my responses as an image submitted to Google Forms. Google Forms now has an Upload File functionality which will allow the audience to save their finalized work from Explain Everything as an image, and then submit it to a Google Form as an image. If your students are using rich media to share, you may be better off getting them to Airdrop the file to you, so you can open it up in Explain Everything.  You could also use an Assignments Dropbox in a Learning Management System (like The HWDSB HUB), or you could share the .explain file as a Google Classroom assignment.

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I’ve taken this one step further and am using a Google Forms add-on called Forms Publisher to take the image from the Forms submission, to create a Google Doc from each submission. Because I’m collecting everyone’s name in the Google Form, I can use the <<Name>> token from Forms Publisher as the name of the document. This will create a folder in my Google Drive, with a separate document about each individual who submits an entry to the form. Each document will use An image of the Table of Contents menu in Google Docsthe Name field from the Form as the document name.

If I could find a script to take the contents of a Google Drive folder and merge all the documents in the folder together, I could create one document with all of the entries. That one document could use the Table of Contents functionality to create hyperlinked table to each user profile. That might be too many steps for something that should be a simple process.

Regardless, finding a means for your students to introduce themselves to you on the first day can be a great way for you to learn a bit more about your students (the picture can help you with names), while allowing them the chance to share something with you that they may not otherwise find an opportunity to share.

Edit. After sharing this last night I stumbled upon this tweet from @gcouros and thought I would create an additional template using these prompt questions.

In the spirit of UDL, I’ve omitted the text boxes and replaced them with audio recorder prompts, which should allow for greater access for all students (click to download):

http://expl.ai/KDXJFHN

The Student Blog Quandry

I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream is gone from meWhen we first set out to build the Commons, it was with the inspiration of other projects like the CUNY Academic Commons, and the Domain of One’s Own project headed up by Jim Groom among others,  which at the time was a small project happening at Mary Washington University. The ideals behind that project has emerged across a number of different institutions, and can now boast their own conference. You can see some of the tweets below, to get a flavour for the event:


Standing on the shoulders of those giants, we initially adopted a policy in which all students would be provisioned only one blog. That site would play host to their academic output across multiple grades, and act as a digital portfolio of their time at HWDSB. Because WordPress, the idea was that students could also export that content upon graduating, and host it elsewhere. Part of the plan — that due to funding constraints never came to light — was the idea that each student, once in Secondary school, would be provisioned their own domain, which we could then use to embark on conversations about ownership, authorship, internet freedoms, and democratized publishing.

As an elementary teacher, having only one blog worked in my classroom, and in the classrooms of many of my colleagues. Many of our subjects are taught in interdisciplinary ways, and so the idea of having a separate Math blog, and English blog, and Social Studies blog, was an acceptable limitation. It may also have been that those looking to use blogs in the classroom were rare, and students weren’t being asked by too many others to spin up a separate site.  What we are finding now is that this idea doesn’t scale well, perhaps particularly in Secondary, where students are being tasked with creating a blog for French, then another site for Media Studies, and another site for Business Studies.

One would think that seeing this explosion of additional blog requests would be a source of joy, and yet instead I’m plagued with the anxiety that the vision of one student:one blog is now crumbling.

The sites these students are creating for these classes are brilliant. The French blogs are fully translated, immersing the reader in another language. Those looking to complete the transformation can even switch the language on their site to French, to translate the blog dashboard as well as the front end.

Blogging en français (or any language for that matter)

There are Business blogs that provide opportunities for students to Explore WordPress as a site builder for fictitious companies, and Media Arts sites where students are creating digital photography portfolios.

We can’t stifle that. We need to get out of the way and allow the Commons to support that work; but building a website is a different idea than owning a small corner of the internet (one that we will fund for you while you are a student at HWDSB, without fear of advertising, or data mining, or changing terms of service). Is there still room for the initial vision? If we open up the floodgates to allow students to request multiple blogs, how do we eliminate having thousands of sites with only one or two posts, when categories in a menu could have been a strategy to centralize those posts in one diverse portfolio? How do we differentiate between website creation and the larger ideals of the #DoOO project? How do we preserve the dream, while continuing to be relevant to emerging needs?

From the Club to the Classroom

So many of the things we run as clubs make great classroom activities. How do we take the opportunities out of clubs, and find ways to integrate them deeply into classroom practice?

Newspapers

I was supporting a school recently on launching a school newspaper club. What might that look like as a classroom activity? I’m not referring to a newspaper unit, but a year-long occupation running a newspaper. How much of the curriculum could be packed into long-form pieces about Science and Social Studies. Could students authentically report about current events both in their community and in the school? Does the guise of reporting allow for more opportunities to reach out to external experts for information and comment? Do inquiry projects transform themselves into investigative reports? In an age of information overload, does adding student voice loudly to the zeitgeist allow for reflection and critical thinking about media, and bias, and satire, and fake news, and the ways in which the online world allows us to shape stories (there are elements of digital citizenship in here too, as we “report” on our own lives through social media accounts).

This video details some one of the technical ways you might pull that off here at HWDSB, using the Commons and the Editflow plugin.

Podcasts

If not a newspaper, perhaps a Podcast, reporting on the news of the week, or examining a new topic. If you aren’t tuning into Podcasts, check out the CBC’s Podcast Playlist show to get an idea of the exciting stories coming out of the genre.

Code Clubs

The Code Clubs running around the school board are another example of work we are already seeing transition into the classroom. What solutions to issues could students create through technology? The partnership with the IEC (Hamilton Code Clubs) provisions external experts in our clubs in ways that  shift the classroom locus of control from seeing the teacher as an expert, to seeing the teacher as a co-learner. The emergence of the new Workflow app on iOS provides opportunities for students to streamline tasks, and begin working towards creating apps.

Could  they help to develop websites for external, local organizations (using tools like WordPress, Hugo, or Jekyll) . Again, thinking not in terms of Units of study, but occupations that students practice within the classroom. How do we ensure that the work they do is relevant, and has an impact outside of the school? (There is some amazing work coming out of @MrCoxall’s class in Ottawa around app development for an authentic audience. You can read more about that here.)

These clubs are launched because we know they attend to the curiosity and interest of our students. They are engaging in ways that we want our classrooms to be. If we ran our classrooms more like we ran clubs at school, what changes?

OER Repository on the Commons: A “Brief” History

Teacher working in a classroom with students

TLDR; Version: Go visit https://oer.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/

Over the past few weeks, Andrew Kelly and I have been working together on Version 2.0 3.0 of a new Open Educational Resources Repository on the Commons. This continuing work dates back to 2015, when the 21CL team here @HWDSB began planning the Professional Development sessions for a roll-out of iPad kits for Grade 4 and 5 classrooms.

Up until that point, our Professional Development around the Explain Everything app was based around screencasting. As Doug Peterson rightly points out in a post he wrote this week, that functionality isn’t new. For this roll out, Tim Kivell ran a breakout session on “Templates in Explain Everything“. At the time we geared this session towards the more advanced user (now we introduce the functionality right away, as a great entry-point for the effective use of this app).

In order to share examples, we began hosting a few of the templates we had made on the blog we were using to help organize the day. After the PD sessions were over, we left the site up and continued to promote the space as a repository for teachers to find and submit templates for use in the classroom. That site, located at tle.commons.hwdsb.on.ca, was used for subsequent PD sessions, and still stands as an archive of the work; but as the template repository grew, we realized it should really be housed under its own URL: Enter explain.commons.hwdsb.on.ca.

Enter explain.commons.hwdsb.on.ca.

Teacher working in a classroom with students
Photo Credit: Sharon Harvey

We can consider this Version 2.0 of the repository. We decided to redirect users from the old TLE site to this new repo. Around the same time, Andrew Kelly and Theresa Price were hired on to help support the effective integration of technology in our self-contained Special Education classrooms. Templates in Explain Everything revealed themselves to be a fantastic means of differentiating both the task and the modality students might use to respond and share their learning. This focus on some of our most at risk learners, revealed the Universal Design for Learning opportunity these templates provided. We need to use these with everyone.

This became the message all of 21CL began to share out in classrooms, and in within the broader Edtech community. Karen Wilson, Jeff Allison, Sonya Clarke, and the rest of the previously mentioned team have delivered breakout sessions, both in schools and at larger regional conferences, on the power of these templates to disrupt traditional learning structures. The amplificaton of that message is definitely working: these templates permeated a number of different math sessions during this year’s Grade 6 TLE PD sessions led by the Instructional Coach team.

Although there were a number of different sites around the web that hosted templates like this (One of the earliest examples being Explaining Understanding), none of them made locating the templates very simple.  Theresa and Andrew started reaching out to the authors of these sites, asking if we could host their templates on our new repository. Many were happy to oblige: we provide “props” to those creators within the repository metadata. The collection quickly grew to over 100 different templates, all sorted by subject area.

When Theresa went back to the classroom (😢), Andy Boldt picked up where she had left off, continuing the work in our Special Classes, and has created a number of amazing templates. We found that we could create a similar experience using the Book Creator app: when books are saved in the ePub format, they can be pulled back into Book Creator and students can continue working on them. This resulted in a brief secondary repository and submission system, but also triggered a “why are we focusing on the tool” conversation. At the rate we were going, we would soon have multiple different repositories for whichever new app came along offering similar promise. For example: I’ve been trying to find an entry-point to launch H5P as a tool for use in our school board (Aside: HWDSB Commons users can find the plugin and activate it on their site if that link looks intriguing), and those .h5p files are going to need a home once teachers start to build them.

We realized what we had been building was an Open Educational Resources Repository, and https://oer.commons.hwdsb.on.ca was born (don’t worry, you can still get there from explain.commons.hwdsb.on.ca too).

A popular discussion topic within the team is: VLE or Commons? VLE stand for Virtual Learning Environment — in HWDSB we call it the HUB (you might know it as D2L, or Brightspace , but let’s not complicate things any further than we have to). The VLE already has a Curriculum repository, wouldn’t that make for a more appropriate venue to house this work? Invariably when we opt for the Commons, it’s because we want to share our work more broadly with our community, and with other colleagues around the province (and the world). The VLE certainly has the functionality to house resources, but the repository is private, and the permissions are traditionally hierarchical: only teachers can contribute to the resource share in the VLE.

That last point is incredibly important, and it came to fruition last week with our first student submission to the OER repository. That simple act of approving a student submission to our OER repository revealed the promise a space like this presents. When we say we want students to lead their own learning, and we honour “Curiosity, Creativity, and Possibility“, we need to ensure that our digital tools allow for that mandate to flourish. I’ve blogged in the past about the rich set of tools we offer here at HWDSB,

The Complexity of Choice

I value the VLE for a host of different reasons:

  • It creates a safe digital wing of the classroom.
  • It connects all our other tools together via Single Sign On
  • It provisions access to a variety of powerful resources built by HWDSB teachers, and at the Provincial level by curriculum writing teams
  • Resources like those hosted on our OER site, can be easily shared within a course in the VLE

but in this case, the Commons was the right choice to host this content. As a Publicly funded institution, we need to ensure that our innovations can be shared and replicated — not only for students in Hamilton — but for students across Ontario and beyond. Sharing our work openly achieves that, whether through blogging, through Twitter, or through openly accessible resources like our new OER site. We still have a lot of work to do: we’ve added a space for tags, and the ability to categorize by Grade, so we need to swing back and add those additional search elements to the existing artifacts.

A big thank you to the teachers (and now students) who have embraced this site not just as a resource repository, but as a space where they are sharing and publishing their content for others. We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this space.