SECOND CYCLE RESEARCH QUESTION:
If I provide students opportunities to cultivate leadership skills with an emphasis placed on digital citizenship and literacies, how will school leadership and faculties respond to the resources students develop? In what ways will students see themselves as leaders capable of making change?
This cycle comprises the bulk of my goal for this action research. I assert that student responsibility and ownership in the one-to-one classroom is a result of designing student-centered learning opportunities, engaging students in developing norms and expectations, and the classroom leader being open to learning with and from the students. When I worked in a high school as the eLearning coach, I sponsored a school tech team similar to Generation Yes and CREATE, models that I reference in the literature review. Now that I am in a district role, I am working to find ways to unify students across the school corporation and meet the needs of students in schools that do not support a school team. In the same way we enlist high-performing teachers from various schools to form teams that address district needs, I expect that this student team can provide direction for the whole.
The district student tech team began meeting the week of February 13-17 and concluded meetings the week of May 14-18 for a total of seventeen virtual meetings and three face-to-face meetings. During this time period, we took the following actions:
- Students presented at the Public Education Foundation Technology Showcase. The Technology Showcase is held at a local community college and provides an opportunity for local schools to exhibit their technology projects for the community. Traditionally the showcase features specialty programs such as SeaPerch and LEGO robotics after-school clubs, projects completed in STEM programs, and technology elective class projects. This year I was approached and asked to provide student-led demonstrations of learning with the netbooks.
- Students researched and planned for the eRevolution Regional Conference Technology Playground. The eRevolution Conference is our school district’s summer professional development offering since the introduction of the netbooks in July 2009. This is the first year that we are opening it to attendees regionally and we have 900 registered participants. During the two-day event there are daily keynotes, spotlight sessions, workshops and concurrent sessions offered to educators and administrators with half hour transition breaks between sessions. This year we are introducing the Technology Playground, which will allow teachers to explore new technologies between sessions. The playground will be set up near the Promethean Bus so we anticipate a lot of traffic through the space.
- Students contributed to the revision of the Acceptable Use Policy. It was necessary to revise the school district’s Acceptable Use Policy to meet the e-rate funding requirements. In addition, I was serving on a committee for Responsible Use of Technology on a broader Netbook Committee that was charged with addressing concerns with our one-to-one program’s costs and consequences. It was evident that our existing Acceptable Use Policy was not effectively taught or implemented in the schools. Rather the policy had become a reference for writing discipline referrals. The intent was to revise the policy so that it could be an instructional tool as well as meet the new government guidelines.
- Students blogged about tools, resources and applications they found engaging. In order for a blog to attract an audience, there needs to be a constantly updated stream of content. For this reason, Ferriter and Garry (2010) recommended educators opt to post all content on one classroom blog rather than have students develop their own individual blogs. This way the chance to generate an audience for the student authors is significantly stronger. Asserting that students are motivated by the affirmation that they have the power to create thought-provoking conversations, educators are encouraged to promote student blogs by sending out links and seeking feedback in the form of comments. In turn, students can build relationships with readers by responding to comments or by drafting new posts in response to reader comments. With this in mind, I established a blog for the team and students provided input on the blog layout. While the intent was to address educators, students felt strongly that other students could be potential audience members and wanted to address them as well. They extended the invitation to other students to submit posts and become part of the collective contributors and created a “Just for Students” page on the blog. Additionally the determined a need for a second page, “Frequently Asked Questions,” which they designed for teachers.
EVIDENCE USED TO EVALUATE THE ACTION:
Reflections, wiki contributions, collaborative document comments, meeting recordings, observations
Three weeks after establishing the district student tech team, we were scheduled to present at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Education Foundation’s (PEF) Technology Showcase. Initially only six of the twenty-eight members submitted the parent permission form to participate in the Technology Showcase; however, the students’ interest rose substantially in the meeting prior to the event and we had twelve confirmed members with demonstrations the day before the event. One of the students had not attended any of our virtual meetings, but his school eLearning coach saw him in the hall during passing and encouraged him to follow through on attending. Ten students attended and presented their demonstrations, despite severe storms that cancelled after-school activities. This did cause some confusion since the Technology Showcase was a non-school related event.
The team gathered an hour before the event was to begin for a team meeting and to practice presenting to each other. Presentations were just three to five minute demonstrations that showed how students were using the netbooks. Topics ranged from managing files to using different software. This was the students’ first face-to-face meeting with students from different schools. There were two groups of students that discovered that the direction their topic took complemented another member’s demonstration. It was interesting to see pairs adapt their presentations and design joint demonstrations in the half hour before the event began. In the few free minutes before the event began and during lapses in visitors, students were demonstrating tricks and tutoring each other.
Event attendance was lower than expected due to the weather, yet students were able to present multiple times throughout the three-hour event. Initially, other members of my work team, Public Education Foundation members, and students’ parents visited them, but they eventually drew in general attendees including our district superintendent. We split the team into two groups so that all students could attend the keynote sessions presented by Leslie Fisher on “The Latest and Greatest in Techno Gadgets.” The first group went to the auditorium for the keynote while the other five members manned the team’s tables. The two groups switched at the start of the second keynote. During Leslie Fisher’s presentation, the students were active respondents and one member was invited up to participate in a demonstration.
This particular team activity happened to be our highest attendance during the cycle; although, three of our regular attendees in virtual meetings could not attend due to schedule conflicts. The one student who attended the Technology Showcase, but had not previously been to a virtual meeting, never did join virtual meetings or contribute to the team wiki. Three additional members became less frequent attendees of virtual meetings. Coincidentally they attend the same school and were appointed rather than self-selected members of the team. The remainder of the attending team members clearly defined their niches in the team and regularly attended one of the weekly virtual meetings, contributed to the wiki or exchanged emails with me up until the time that netbooks were collected in buildings for online testing use.
There were seventeen scheduled virtual meetings between 2/21/12 and 5/18/12. Immediately following the face-to-face events and just prior to spring break there were sharp declines in attendance. After 4/27/12 students had to use personal computers in order to participate as their school issued netbooks had been collected for state testing and kept for end of the year check-in.
Another opportunity to interact with new learning technology came available unexpectedly when our vendor for ActivInspire and Promethean products announced on a Thursday that they could bring the Promethean Table to our downtown district office for hands-on demonstrations the next Monday. I arranged for an after-school hour time slot and coordinated with our technology department for any students who attended to also be given a private tour knowing that the students were very curious about what happens in the technology department downtown. Unfortunately, no students were able to attend. Three parents (representing five members due to siblings) responded that transportation was an issue. Three additional students contacted me with regrets that they had other obligations on Monday afternoons. These two issues: transportation and calendar conflicts had the greatest impact on the team’s ability to meet face-to-face. Because I had assured principals in the first cycle that the team activities would not take away from instructional time, we were not able to plan any workshops or sessions during the school day. This eventually impacted our virtual meetings too since student netbooks were kept at school for several sites after the testing cycle ended. You can see the decline in attendance in the chart above.
Leslie Fisher’s keynote at the Technology Showcase provided not only a list of new technologies for students to explore but also a model for their own presentations. Students were very excited to start planning the Technology Playground following the exposure to “The Latest and Greatest in Techno Gadgets.” I created a page on the team wiki for planning. Naturally, the student who participated in the keynote immediately listed the Sifteo Cubes he had assisted demonstrating. It was pretty exciting when I got to announce that the company loaned us a set for the event. That sparked even more student enthusiasm for the Technology Playground. Overall, there were three members who focused their energies on the planning for this activity. Unfortunately only one of the three will be available to work in the playground during the conference. One member is volunteering at the local zoo and the other’s family has a planned vacation out of town those days.
One of the ongoing activities of the team was to address stakeholder concerns about the one-to-one program in schools. I attempted to open the discussion using a VoiceThread and had only three members contribute to the prompts. During a weekly meeting, I moved the discussion to a Google Doc, which was very successful. Nine members contributed to the ideas in the document over the course of the week.
- Students identified the primary teacher frustrations with netbooks as students being off task and students being disrespectful towards teachers. Student members felt very strongly that overall students were using poor judgment because they could get away with it and not because they didn’t know better. The perception was that teachers did not know what they needed to be doing with the netbooks and had not provided expectations for use in class other than to keep lids closed when the teacher was talking. The student members concluded that teachers are opting to ignore behaviors rather than “bother with the little things.”
- In the evaluation of student issues, student members identified three general behaviors that have lead to problems: disrespecting the teacher, wasting class time, not being prepared because of broken equipment. From the student viewpoint, the frustration is “The netbooks can be a nuisance as well as it can be a tool. Kids play games on their netbooks when they should be researching.” Expanding on this, members noted that not all game sites were blocked and that it was a challenge to focus on schoolwork when the access to other interests is accessible on the netbook. Student members also mentioned frustrations directly related to the technology department such as “mysterious” blocking and unblocking of sites and network issues that prevent effective use in class.
- Taking the perspective of the administrator and parent, student members noted two shared concerns: safety and inappropriate use of the Internet; specifically downloading and sharing images. Student members thought both groups of stakeholders were worried about the number of students making poor decisions and how that reflected on them.
As I began district level work of revising the Acceptable Use Policy, which read like a list of prohibited uses, I approached the students about the possibility of framing a few key statements or expectations that students, teachers and administrators could focus on achieving. The intent was to draft a Responsible Technology Use Policy. Student members decided that broad statements similar to their schools’ Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports rules would be effective. Most of the issues identified by the student tech team members are incorporated in the third standard that I drafted, “My use of personal devices and EVSC technology will be with the objective of improving instruction and learning.” As much as possible I framed the supporting “I will do this by” points in positive language that promotes being accountable, and the students assisted with refining the statements. The administrator and principal concerns were addressed in the other two standards:
- I accept responsibility as a member of the EVSC community to demonstrate legal and ethical behavior in my use of technology.
- I will protect the integrity of my data, personal privacy, and property rights and that of anyone else when using technology.
Since students self selected the projects and activities they completed, there were two face-to-face meetings during students’ lunches to support projects with small groups. I met with students who were interested in blogging about learning in a 1:1 setting and were willing to start the process although it was already late in the school year. In the end, only two members joined the blog as contributing authors. Each published one post. Both posts focused on web tools. There is a third member who wants to publish, but has not yet submitted his draft. The first post was published May 22, the day before students’ last classes. The second post was made on the 31st, a week after summer break began. One of the published bloggers has a second post started about Google Earth that he drafted since school has been out. The students have not received any feedback through comments; however, they were very excited by the blog analytics that I shared with the whole team. Most impressive to them was that they had three audience members in Russia. Since I shared those statistics the Russian readership has grown to thirteen. The second highest international readership was in Germany (three) followed by England (two). Colombia, India, Malaysia and the Philippines all had one page view. This seemed more impressive to the students than the 185 page views they had in the United States.
What I discovered through the process of cycle one and two is that putting a team together is one thing; however, developing teamwork when you are primarily working in a virtual setting is another thing altogether. Despite any hurdles, the district student tech team accomplished valued work. Yet, looking back at our performance, the students’ contributions did not seem to gain the amount of recognition I felt it deserved. Even though the student tech team’s actions in cycle 2 did not result in the level of leadership response that I had anticipated, those student members, who remained involved, did begin to see themselves as change agents and could see that they were leaving others a legacy.
Flexibility was essential to the success we had in building our virtual teamwork. When my internet provider had a failure the afternoon of one of our team meetings, team members knew to check the wiki, which primarily served as our agenda manager, and find out what was going on. I was able to send students an email using my phone service so they would not expect me and could hold an asynchronous discussion on their own. Students knew that if they were dropped from a meeting that they could go to the wiki afterwards and access a recording. It took time for students to adjust to the idea that I was not going to always have answers for them or be providing direction for everything, but once they did there was more invested membership.
It was clear to me that students needed and wanted to be identified as team members within their schools and the broader school system, so I need to do a better job of creating an identity for them both as a team and for the public. I have to take responsibility for students building a connection with the team after recognizing that less than half of the students who originally went through the consent form process to be a part of the team ceased participating or never fully engaged to begin with. Moving forward, when I notice a student is not active, I plan to check in and find out if an exit interview is necessary. From informal communication with two members who choose to quit the team, I learned the conflict was time. I expect that others found it easy to miss meetings since no one was checking in on them outside of meeting times. This is one strong factor in my concern about supporting district teams over building teams. Building sponsors naturally have more face-to-face interactions with the students.
I found that students and I held different perceptions of what we mean by being interested in and wanting to learn more about technology. Some student tech members tended to be more interested in the electronic hardware of the netbooks rather than the programs and skills aspect of using technology. The skills they were interested in developing centered around programming and repairs, which is beyond my expertise. In a couple of cases, I was able to pair students with technicians who could mentor them. My goal for these students and the others was to work with them to determine the best way to capture their learning. Regardless of what knowledge student members were developing, each found a means for sharing what they learned either through team demonstrations, blogging, or posting to the wiki.
Looking back on the formal activities to develop leadership skills, I was not as structured in providing lessons as I could have been. I think students would benefit from me designing a set of exercises that support their role as change agents. Two texts that I plan to use as resources are Galford and Maruca’s Your Leadership Legacy and Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Given what I learned from cycle one of my research, I should have fostered relationships between student members and positive, supportive school leadership by establishing mentor partnerships for each student. In fact, should we continue to support a district level team, I will be enlisting a variety of administrators and support staff as potential mentors. Not only would this impact the student mentees, I think it would have an impact on the mentors, who could then advocate for student use of technology from a new perspective.
Lack of time made a tremendous impact on my first attempt at supporting a district level student tech team. Even though we are taking on new members, have students who want to blog throughout the summer and a student pilot group for the district’s new learning management system, My Big Campus, I feel like we needed an activity to give this school year some closure since we are no longer meeting weekly. One very serious concern is that my action research focused on middle school students since the netbook program was new at that grade level, and a number of the team members who have promoted to high school want to continue with the group. This and other challenges are making me think about the best structure as we plan for the new school year.
Given what I’ve learned from this cycle there are some significant changes that I would put in place moving forward. First and foremost, I will be opening dialogue with school administration and my team about having some form of a tech team in each building. At that level, team sponsors have more capacity for engaging building faculty with projects and partnerships. Those groups’ student members could also participate in district activities. I need to secure funding for team resources including an identifying tee shirt or polo. More critically, I would like to open the dialogue with faculty and building leadership about using instructional time for student workshops and presentations. I hope to help this group see the correlation between teaching content and integrating technology, and how technology is not an added piece rather a layer than when used effectively transforms learning for both the teacher and his or her students.