Thursday, 29 September 2011

Digital SIG (School Improvement Group) Meeting

This week the teaching staff split into the three college SIGs (School Improvement Groups); Learning, Digital and Literacy.  I belong to the Digital SIG (although I was a member of Learning for several years with the LRC Manager often attending the Literacy group) and the meeting proved to be extremely pertinant to many of the proposed actions in my Personal  Professional Development Plan.

Initially we discussed via Google Docs, the cooperative vision for our group.  Being a Cooperative Academy we hold the cooperative values above all else; self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity which form the basis of our daily teaching, learning and pastoral care.  In turn, they also underpin our staff CPD, for example, with leadership being devolved to individual teachers and not restricted to middle and senior leaders, working towards a common goal  "we will all share a commitment to the development of new technologies to enhance teaching and learning"  Although I have trialled Google Docs in the past, I have preferred using Titanpad (see earlier posts) as it is much easier to share the document with a class; no need to add individual e-mail addresses for example)

We then moved to to forming SIGLets (small cooperative groups) which would focus on more specific aspects of new technologies and their role in teaching and learning, including use of Ipads and Kindles, Mouse Mischief, Web 2.0 International Links, Blogging using My Big Campus, Prezi and U-Tube.  I chose Ipads and Kindles which fitted exactly with me having bought three Ipads for the LRC and negotiated to purchase 5 Kindles (see previous posts) as well as this being an integral part of my PDPP.  Other members of the group include two PE teachers who all have individual Ipads and are using them to great effect both in their teaching and their personal planning, an English teacher who wants to work with me in trialling various apps to support her Year 12 students who are studying Othello and a MFL teacher who is interested in how Ipads can be used in teaching Spanish; this is particularly good as the MFL department's use of the LRC is often limited to using the PCs so a more innovative approach is welcomed.

The idea is to explore the use of Ipads as a SIGlet with the aim of putting together a presentation/workshop to initially the rest of the Digital SIG and then the remainder of the teaching staff as part of a CPD training session later in the year; tying in with the cooperative value of self-help – "we will help members of our community to help themselves 
develop increased access to, understanding of and proficiency in using new technologies".  I am also delivering an informal training session to a group of school Librarians on 21st October on my fledgling use of Ipads and Kindles as well as attending a course 'Ipad and Beyond' led by Bev Humphrey in November at the Renaissance Learning Offices.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

New app to try

Have been alerted to some great sounding resources today on SLN, the School Librarian group on Yahoo, which I joined earlier this year.  First one was free e-books from OCR, specifically AS and A2 textbooks which are available to download through Interchange.  These would be great on our Kindles and Ipads in the LRC (see previous post) and indeed stored on our College Intranet for use by students and staff with a link from our new LRC webpage.  The second resource is Easy Bib which allows you to scan a book's barcode with your Iphone/Ipad and OCLC retrieves citations for you in MLA, APA and Chicago formats.  A similar app is Quickcite which can be used on both Apple and Android tablets.  I acknowledge another user's point that they only retrieve citations for books and not websites etc, but still great apps and ones we will be trying with our Ipads.

Friday, 16 September 2011

New term, new year

New term, new year, new academy status.  My chartership focus on e-learning has been rather lost since I returned from holidays as a result of my new job (still within the same 11 - 19 institution, still with a learning and library focus, but one which also encompasses being one of three assistant heads of a very large sixth form).  Although my responsibilities within the sixth form are largely associated with IAG (information, advice and guidance), I am also required to monitor attainment, analyse data and offering support and intervention to students when required.  Such has been the need to immerse myself fully into student destination and results analysis, being available to interview prospective Year 12 and 13 students that my focus on Web 2.0 and e-learning has taken a back seat.  Indeed I am yet to really take a good look at some of the literature I have bought recently; Improving Students's Web Use and Information Literacy by James Herring and The Innovative School Librarian edited by Sharon Markless.

However, earlier this week, I met with our new Learning Technology Manager; a very new post and appointment following an interview process of which I was a part.  The main focus of the meeting was to help the new manager understand how the LRC and its staff had been involved in pushing forward and promoting the use of new technologies and e-resources; a meeting which was being replicated with the rest of the department heads across the college.  In an initial conversation we planned to consider the following:
  • the use of Encyclopaedia Britannica Online as an e-resource
  • I pads in the LRC
  • Kindles
  • Clickview
The college has subscribed to Britannica Online for seven years with monies originally from NOF (New Opportunities Fund) and more recently as a result of several successful curriculum bids approved by the Principal.  However while usage of the resource is fairly high in the LRC (research based subject lessons, homework support and inclusion in Information Literacy lessons), it is rarely used in other areas of the college (although both the Music and ICT departments have made use of it in the past).  As a result I sent an e-mail around to all teaching staff asking them for feedback:

At the time of the initial subscription we were particularly worried about students finding inaccurate information from Wikipedia, however this company has considerably changed the way in which it carries out its information gathering processes and indeed some universities (LSE and Imperial College, London) are embracing it as an information resource and teaching their students to be discerning when it comes to referencing Wikipedia.

I would be very grateful for any feedback as to:
  • Should we keep Britannica or not and WHY
  • If we do keep it, how can we effectively market it to you and to students?  (In the past we have produced advertising material - posters, powerpoints, business cards as well as word of mouth and including it in research based lessons in the LRC)
The few responses I received either commented on its lack of visibility on our VLE, the need to access it via an additional login and password alongside a member of staff undertaking her PhD saying that Wikipedia had been recommended to them as a first point in any research undertaken. With these responses in mind, we discussed  the renewal of Britannica for the 2011/12 academic year and eventually decided that we would renew the licence for one more year.  Our main reasoning for this was we had already been given the funding to renew the licence for another year, we both believed that students having access to a concise, up to date and accurate encyclopaedic resource was essential given the sometime vagaries of Wikipedia and finally we wanted to explore other options and a year's renewal period would give up opportunity to do this; other options include using the Public Library's Cyberlibrary online service and incidentally having access to many more online resources, or re-educating staff and students with effective search strategies, evaluating sources etc. 

Having bid for three Ipads last term, they arrived over the summer holidays together with the cases designed to make the pads indestructible, however the fact that the desk PCs in the office are still waiting to be replaced (the new PCs are in their boxes in my office), means that I am unable to download ITunes in order to get started.  Extremely frustrating!  Nevertheless I have continued to research educational apps; Pacific Disaster Center for Geography, Virulant for Biology (thank you Nicola Mcnee), Monster Anatomy (Biology, Health and Social Care, Applied Science and Sport), Math Bingo (yet another go at attracting Maths to the LRC) and Shakespeare in Bits (English and Drama).  We also discussed purchasing 5 Kindles for use in the LRC, an idea which I fell upon, and decided that we would trial them with sixth formers (upload them with set texts in English A-level, and text books from all subject areas) and to satisfy requests for books which are not held in the LRC.  For the time being the Kindles would be restricted to LRC use only as will the Ipads.

We then moved to discussing Clickview, a resource which the Head of ICT and I have been very interested in purchasing.  A facility which offers schools online access to digital media in all subject areas, which can be fully integrated into our LMS, college Intranet and VLE and also enables staff to record live television sounds ideal, but needs to be investigated, researched and adequately resourced, both in terms of ICT and staffing to ensure whole college buy in.  Finally we briefly talked about improving communication methods with sixth formers which came about as a result of my emerging role in within the management of sixth form; in the past I have considered Facebook and Twitter and whilst I may still use Twitter, the Learning Technology Manager suggested My Big Campus which we are trialling as a replacement for our VLE.  Overall, it was a very productive initial meeting with the Learning Technology Manager and I look forward to moving these ideas and plans forward.