FIRST CYCLE RESEARCH QUESTION:
How can I improve my practice to enlist invested stakeholders (administrators, students and teachers) who will support the work of a district level student tech team focused on modeling digital citizenship and the use of technology to enhance learning?
My overall goal is to improve my technology integration support so that all stakeholders are invested and see their role in the successful implementation of the middle school 1:1 program. I believe student tech teams can have a positive impact in that process, so my first actions are to:
- Gain the support of building administration for a district level student tech team.
- Build connections between my regular work as an Innovation, Curriculum, and Technology Specialist (ICATS) and this project.
- Recruit students in grades 6-8 to participate in a district level student tech team.
- Develop group norms and expectations with members of the district level student tech team.
Since I planned to research and report findings for an organization outside of the school district, I needed to submit my plans to the district research review board. In preparation for that review, I drafted a letter to inform and a consent form for parents, but I learned I needed to do the same for building administrators. Before I could initiate the student application process, I needed to submit all administrator consent to the district for verification. The Director of eLearning, my supervisor, assisted me in speeding up the process by sending a message to all the building principals pointing out the groundwork that I had done at the start of the 1:1 initiative in terms of developing digital responsibility and urging them to support my continued efforts in this area–particularly by supporting student tech teams and the district team specifically. His introduction to the relevancy of my work validated my authority when I approached the building principals. I was able to address the concerns and questions that came up and secured all the consent forms. One principal did set conditions for his building that impacted the recruiting strategy.
At the start of the school year, I began discussions about the value of student tech teams with the school eLearning coaches, who are easily some of the most invested stakeholders in the success of the 1:1 program. I enlisted the support of another iTeam member who, like me, was a former high school coach and sponsored a tech team in her building. We shared regularly during team meetings ways that student tech teams could assist with projects and needs in the schools.
While waiting for official authorization to start the district student tech team, one of my professional development offerings for district teachers was The 30 Day Challenge, a blog that shared a new web tool every day for 30 days. The format of that activity mirrored what I planned to design with the student tech team. This provided an opportunity to enlist teacher stakeholders in support of a student-authored blog focused on integrating technology into instruction. My first action was to introduce a student blogger for one of the daily tools. The student was a sixth grader who was already participating in her school’s tech team. When we met about a month previous, I learned about her love of creating music, so I introduced her to uJam. She immediately came back to her coach and started sharing what she had done with the song creation tool. The coach shared this with me, which led to me asking the student if she would be interested in guest blogging. The result: Day 22 was our first student post. Challenge participants responded very positively. That got me to thinking about how I could frame the question: Would you be an active follower of a blog that was written entirely by students and focused on introducing technology to engage learners or that addressed digital citizenship issues in the classroom? I had the opportunity to survey our 30 Day Challenge participants in Day 29’s post on SoapBox, which is a backchannel tool. I invited participants to take the role of student, enter the SoapBox and interact with the features and discussion prompt. The prompt was designed to gauge teacher interest in learning from and working alongside students.
In the meantime, I prepared the resources necessary for starting the tech team. Since our schools use Google apps, which means all of our students have a student Gmail account, I designed an application using Google Forms. The form required students be logged into their account and collected their identifying data including name and email. Other identifying fields included school and grade level, and students entered the response to these. The application itself was made up of questions such as the student’s current status on a school team, their motivation for participating and space to ask me questions. Originally the plan was to make the application public so that any student grades 6-8 could access it on the district student eLearning webpage. However, since one middle school required that their participants be hand selected, I opted not to do the public release. Instead, I had to rely on each building coach and or principal publishing the link for students either through a school email or on Angel, our learning management system.
I also developed material to send each student once they submitted the application. Through the building eLearning coach, each applicant received a brochure that outlined the team’s purpose and expectations as well as a section for teachers and parents that highlighted the benefits of participation. Attached was the parent letter to inform/consent form. As part of that consent, I included a place for parents to share their email address with me with the invitation to stay informed about the group’s goals and activities.
January 20, 2012 I sent a message to building coaches with the request to make the application available to students. Originally, the window was going to be two weeks. At coaches’ request, I extended the collection time through February 24. After my initial school visits to meet team members, I had one more request to open the application. A few more trickled in and after our team’s first whole group activity on March 2, I closed acceptance.
Since the district student tech team would be spread out over many schools with different schedules, I knew we needed a means to meet virtually. I planned two times during the week that we could convene online to work on a shared agenda. Students could opt to attend either meeting. I established a shared Google calendar with our meeting times as well as projected dates for our face-to-face activities. In order to meet virtually, I established a meeting room using AdobeConnect and arranged with building coaches to visit schools where students had applied for the team. I personally met with each student or group of students and demonstrated how to access the meeting place, which I linked in a team wiki. Students had received an invitation to the wiki by email and many had already joined. I provided a quick tutorial on how the wiki works for those who weren’t familiar with that tool. I shared with the students the goals of the student tech team and answered questions. Before I left, students were given an in-take survey to complete. The intent is to compare their perspective on technology integration in their school before and after their participation in this leadership team.
The district student tech team has held seven virtual meetings. Our initial meetings were focused on establishing group norms and district wide introductions. Students were encouraged to create Vokis, talking avatars, to embed in the wiki so that they could get to know students outside of their school. Leading up to the face-to-face event, we focused on what types of things members wanted to learn (this was a question on the application) and what they were interested in showcasing and teaching others. We meet for only half an hour on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4:30-5:00 p.m. At five o’clock we wrap up the agenda and then I provide a few minutes for the students to visit before closing the virtual room. All meetings are recorded and are available on the wiki for students to view if they cannot make one of the week’s meetings.
EVIDENCE USED TO EVALUATE THE ACTION:
I will evaluate the outcomes of my actions by looking at the collective evidence in four areas:
1. The level of student tech team involvement in schools across the district.
2. Parent response to their child’s participation in the team.
3. Student involvement in the initial activities (wiki, Adobe Connect meetings, in-take survey).
4. Teacher interest in learning from and working alongside students.
The Level of Involvement in Schools across the District
Of the four middle/junior high schools with district members, only one school did not have a structured team before applications were open. Looking at the three middle schools with no representation on the district team, one has a school team. This particular school does not have a full time eLearning coach however. The sponsor of that group reports that they are floundering because of the demands in their setting. He was concerned that adding a district level group would stretch their resources too thin. The two middle schools with coaches that do not have district representation also do not support a building team. One of the school coaches was not supported by building administration in initiating a building team. The administrator signed consent for the district but expressed concerns about taking instructional time and creating additional demands of teachers. The same administrator is known for not supporting the 1:1 program in general. The second coach felt it did not meet her school’s needs. The administration for that building consented to the district team but did not appear invested (did not ask an questions or contribute to the discussion).
Twenty-nine students applied for the district student tech team (28 were eligible). Members of the team represent 50% of the district’s schools, that includes 6 out of 12 schools that serve 6-8th grade students. Broken down even further, two of the five schools that serve students K-8 had students apply. Four of the seven middle or junior high schools serving strictly 6-8th grades had students apply. Middle school administrators were the first to respond to the request for consent, while the elementary principals took more time and follow-up to complete the request. This may have impacted the development of the district team. In addition to this, a relatively significant impact on if a student applied was related to the student’s school having an existing student tech team.
This graph represents the number of students in blue who were already a member of their school’s student tech team before joining the district student tech team. The number of students who are represented in red are those who were not members of their school’s team. Green represents the number of students who attend a school that did not sponsor a building team.
While most of the student applications came from schools with a student tech team, three students who attend a school with a team in place responded that they did not belong to a school tech team. When I spoke with the coaches in those buildings, I learned that these were mainly students who could not attend school meetings and were looking for a way to still participate. Only one student was not known by the coach and responded purely from the posted application.
In most cases, I noticed that the presence of a school’s student tech team predicted the likelihood that a student would apply for the district team. In the applications, students were asked to share their motivation for joining the district tech team. Of the 20 who completed that field, five students (25%) specifically mentioned belonging to a school team.
Parent Response to the District Student Tech Team
100% of parents whose student has returned the consent form have included their email address so that they can be informed about team activities and events. Of the 29 students who applied I received 20 forms back. Some of the applicants have been were late to join and so I need to arrange a personal meeting with those students. No parents have initiated contact with me although the consent form and brochure have my contact information included. Just prior to our first face-to-face event, I emailed parents to verify whom I had received permission slips back from, to restate the event details, and to provide an opportunity to ask questions. Of the 12 students who were participating I heard back from the parents of four students. Their communication was very positive and encouraging. One student’s mother even shared that she audited part of a meeting the week prior to see what her son was so excited about. At the event, I was able to have conversations with 8 of the families (one family has two student members). Parents reported they appreciated the flexibility of having two meetings a week and that the time and calendar is honored. Speaking with the families, it was very clear how full their schedules are, and yet they valued their children’s participation on the team and wanted to support it.
The best indicator of student involvement in the district tech team is through the wiki. We currently have 19 student members active (1 member on the wiki has not turned in her consent form). That is 68% of our eligible member applicants. Those students with pending memberships have not turned in their consent forms and or I have not met with them personally. These are also primarily the students who attend an elementary school. Of the 19 active students, 11 have created and embedded their Voki introduction to the team. That is only 58% of the active group. The lack of interest does not appear to be created by age (just under half the students are eighth graders) since 63% of those who completed the Voki are eighth graders. Although gender may play into it since 58% of the girls completed the activity and only 25% of the boys did. I brought the wiki page up during a meeting and the response was primarily oh I forgot about that. Our largest attendance in a virtual meeting was eight or 42% of membership. And while two meetings are held each week so that students who cannot attend one day can the other, regularly 2-3 students will attend both. An average meeting is 5 participants in addition to the facilitator.
Thirteen of the eighteen members with signed parental consent, 72% of the group, have completed and returned the intake survey. In an effort to encourage open discretion, I did not require students to include their name in this first collection. Students ranked their response using a 5 point scale with a choice of 0 to 4 connectivity bars. Not one response ranked a 0-1. I find these results critical to my assessment of student involvement, as I need to understand where the group and individuals within the group are coming from in terms of motivation.
- Engagement and Interest in School Learning: When asked to rank their engagement and interest in learning at school 11 out of 13 students indicated the upper two ranks (3 or 4 bars). Two students indicated just 2 bars with the comments that “challenges are minor, if [there are] any” and “The netbooks can be distracting. Also learning isn’t normally fun.”
- Education and the Future: Nearly all students, 11 out of 13, indicated with 3 or 4 bars that their school work was meaningful and will help them in the future. One of the students who only marked 2 for this topic noted, “We need to know how it relates to real life and what we are going to be doing with it in later lessons.” And a second student who marked a 2 in this and the first question commented, “Teachers need to use paper/cyber assignments…rather than meaningless busywork.”
- Use of NetBooks: The majority of students ranked I use the netbook for learning when I’m at school as 3 and 4 bars and made comments such as, “The teachers who use the netbooks are good at it” and responded what needed to increase their rating in that area was, “More teachers know how to properly use the netbook or technology.” Most comments reflected these attitudes although one particular rank of 4 noted, “I do a lot of learning on my own, but not many teachers have assignments on the netbooks.” The same two students who questioned the role of school learning in their future, also ranked I Use the Netbook for Learning When I’m at School as 2 bars. Their comments were directed at teachers’ lack of acceptance.
- Impact of Netbooks: All 13 students indicated that having the netbook has changed the way they do things at school although the comments ranged from going paperless to behavior issues that did not exist before.
- Responsible Use of Netbook: When self-evaluating themselves as a role model for the responsible use of the netbook, only one student (who ranked everything else a 3 or 4) ranked him/herself as a 2. He/she commented, “I’m a geek and I like to try stuff.” Another student RY, who included his name, ranked himself as a 3. RY wrote the way to increase this was “not using developer tools for evil” but he thought this was a strength because “I help people use their netbooks.”
- Experience with the Netbook: The final prompt was to indicate how well they know the programs and software on the netbook. Only one student indicated a 2 (all his/her other rankings were a 3 or 4). The student indicated that, “working on the programs can be confusing and time consuming.” He or she wrote to increase that rating they would want to “get more familiar with [the netbook].” 50% (6 out of 12) of the students who ranked this a 3 or 4 included some reference to being able to “explore” the technology as why they ranked themselves so high.
Since one of the planned activities for cycle 2 is to initiate a student authored blog that provides tutorials and examples of how technology can be applied to learning, I wanted to gauge teacher interest. Day 29 of “The 30 Day Challenge” blog afforded me the opportunity open the discussion. The blog post had the average 32 comments, but inside the SoapBox forum I collected only six comments. I asked: “Would you follow/subscribe to a blog written by students that shared tools and their applications for learning? What would you be interested in seeing?”
- To the first question I got all positive responses ranging in enthusiasm from “indeed” to “definitely.” One particular responded added, “Students need to be able to voice what is working for them and what was not so that I can adjust my teaching style to better meet their needs.” Others indicated that a student authored blog would be more relevant than one written by adults who assume that they know what students will be interested in. Another response noted, “Bottom line, if students are not engaged in what they are doing, real learning and understanding probably isn’t going to happen.”
- Teachers indicated they would be interested in student feedback on tools or programs. They wanted to know what works for students and what they relate to. One teacher asked for educational game sites that students enjoyed and another wanted to read about the students’ experiences using technology in the classroom.
I discovered the best means for enlisting stakeholders, especially those who resist or oppose the project, is through building a relationship that allows for open communication and trust to be established. I realize how important it is to my work that those in leadership roles genuinely care and are invested in the 1:1 program and not simply complying to meet expectations. I realize there were cases where building leadership viewed me as someone coming in with one more project, and I know the goal would be better served if they viewed me as a team member there to support the work they were already doing.
Looking back on my action with the benefit of data, I would establish a visible presence at every school before initiating the team. I could request that each building administration allow me to come in for an open house event, lunch visits with students or to make a personal morning announcement related to digital citizenship issues followed up with a way for students to connect with me. Of course, such requests would require I have a stronger relationship with all of the building administrators and this ultimately is where I need to focus my attention.
I believe the formal letter of consent that principals had to sign impacted my progress. Without having to go through that process, I would have avoided the limitation put on the recruitment by one building principal that directly impacted all schools. Regardless, going back to my main realization, that if I invest more energy in building partnerships with school leaders, then this issue may never have happened. And even while I have a closer working relationship with the building coaches, I see the need to include them more in the initial planning.
The comparison of student participation between schools with an existing student tech team versus those that do not supports that I need to find solutions for those coaches who have not seen the value of supporting a school team. I know time is the biggest issue. In one particular case, the coach was not open to the concept for personal reasons. From this, I realize I need to learn how to constructively resolve conflict and assert myself into a situation. I don’t know that if I had been more assertive if I could have won this individual over, but I am slowly finding ways to engage her with the student team. For example, at the Public Education Foundation Technology Showcase, our first face-to-face group activity, I was able to invite the coach over to the students’ displays and ask her if she would be willing to let them practice presenting with her. She was agreeable and listened to two students share what they had prepared. I will also begin adding student tech team to our regular iTeam meeting agenda and invite building coaches to share their successes rather than just share them with me.
The data affirmed my belief that the student application, brochure and parent letter to inform would alleviate any need to “evaluate” students for acceptance on the team. This was one area I stood firm on. While I failed to win over 100% of leadership, one administrator required that students in his school be hand–selected for an invitation to apply, the results of the recruitment process indicate that students are capable of self-selection. Although I did have one student of the twenty-nine who completed the application (I did not have his parents’ consent form) jeopardize his eligibility, I found that all other members have met the expectations underlying the application and explicitly laid out in the brochure and parent information. I feel that was a small price to pay for opening up applications for students to respond to. In the school where students were hand-selected, I am certain that other students would have been interested in applying for the team and that their membership would have benefited them, their school and the team as a whole.
When looking at what the student tech team has managed to accomplish since the formation of the team, I first consider the group’s wiki, which serves as a record of all we are doing. What most surprised me from that set of data was the low number of students who created Vokis and embedded them in the wiki. Like the teachers I surveyed in the 30 Day Challenge, I found that an activity I was sure students would be enthusiastic about turned out to be less engaging than anticipated. Perhaps students are not nearly so interested in creating avatars. I would like to get more participation, so I will look at reframing the introduction activity to increase engagement, but more importantly I will leave future assignments more open so that students have more constructive choices.
What worked best, although at the moment the data indicates low member participation, is being open to student input on the structuring of the team calendar and communication tools. Students clearly were not responsive to emails and while they preferred setting up a team Facebook page, they understood that we have 11 and 12-year-old members who do not met the User Agreement Policies of the site. As we move forward, I have sought their input on how to improve meeting attendance and wiki interactions. They have asked that I send a text reminder before meetings and I did locate a web tool that will protect contact information. Parents will need to enroll their phone numbers into the system once I set up our team accounts, one for members and one for parents only. I expect parent response to be positive and will be able to report on the effectiveness in cycle 2.