The School Web Page: A Vehicle for Innovation
by Julie Elkan
Educators, are you weary of watching yet another PowerPoint presentation? Are those noisy transitions driving you crazy? Do you ever feel your students are more concerned with the jazzy effects and the features of the software, rather than the actual meat and potatoes? Do you have an idea that there is more to technology integration than slideshows and searching the web but you are not sure what it is? Well, you are right!
Technology integration is a vehicle for change. It is a catalyst for transforming the way we teach. Unfortunately, many schools have not yet realized its full potential. They add technology on top of the current curriculum believing they are successfully integrating technology. However, using technology to enhance what we are already doing, is only the first step towards technology integration. Alan November outlines this point very well in his new book "Empowering Students with Technology". He calls it the "automating" stage. Alan argues that schools need to move beyond this point to the "informating" stage in order to bring about a cultural change in the way teachers teach. It is at this stage, when we are using technology in ways we never have before, that technology will really enhance student learning. It is only then that students will develop the skills required to be successful in the 21st century workplace.
What are the skills that 21st century employers will require? Global communication is a priority. This is the ability to coordinate projects and groups of people at a distance. It concerns building successful distance relationships and communities, where people work together effectively. John Gould discusses how schools should be responding to the changes in the structure of the workplace in a recent article, "Structure Shapes Behavior: Understanding Change" in Classroom Connects, February Newsletter. He advocates rethinking the structure of schools. This seems like a logical solution, which fits easily into an "informated" learning environment. However, this type of structural transformation would require a fairly long lead-time for most schools to implement.
The essential question is, how to begin to transform a learning environment in the short term? How to move from an "automated" school into an "informated", Internet rich environment, where the focus is on global communication channels, distance relationships and building communities? How do you shift to an environment where students take more responsibility for their learning? Where teachers feel comfortable enough to take risks and move away from their traditional role of imparting knowledge? How is it possible to do this with minimal resources and staffing? Undoubtedly, a move towards "informating" is a process that is not without issues. The idea that students may be learning concepts outside the teacher's field of knowledge is terrifying to many teachers.
The key to successful "informating" is to make the transformation easy for teachers. A good starting point is using the school's web page as a communications channel to the world, a focus for students, teachers and parents. A dynamic site that will provide easy access to all the resources users will require to participate in an "informated" environment. Based on the principle of making the process easy, all the faculty, including administrators and aides, will be handed their own, ready to use, "informated" web page, just as they would be given a mailbox in the school office. This page is a template designed and created as a global communications portal. Teachers need no longer feel isolated in their classrooms, as they are only a click away from a global community.
How is this achievable? By using a free or subscription, Internet based program that allows you to duplicate your own template quickly. The template contain links that return users to the school homepage, central curriculum resources page, etc. Consequently, visitors click seamlessly between the main school homepage developed in FrontPage and the teachers' web pages, created using a free or paid for Internet based service. Using such a service or program for the teachers' web pages means that schools are not required to purchase specific web page design software for each computer. The Internet based service will allow teachers to view and update their web pages from any computer in the world with Internet access. This gives real meaning to the term 'Any Time Any Place Learning'.
All traffic to teachers' web pages enters through the main school home page, which is the front door to the site. Individual teacher's web pages are accessed via the class pages button. It is a good idea for the webmaster to set up the passwords in a standardized format so that he or she retains the ability to make changes, if the need arises. For teachers' web pages to be successful it is essential that the pages are maintenance free. The design of the web page and the Internet based program used to create the pages need to be extremely flexible and easy to use. Teachers should be allowed to exercise their own creativity by changing graphics, backgrounds and posting their students' work. Web pages should be provided for all faculty, aides, the guidance departments, administration and clubs, too. The end result will be an extremely professional looking web page, that maintains certain design standards with a core content requirement, but allows teachers to put their own personal imprint on the overall appearance. In Holliston we use 'Teacherweb' to create our templates.
What makes this web site different? How does it facilitate an "informated" learning environment?
- Global Communications provides links to Telementoring, Author Chats, E pals and Collaborative Projects.
- Discussion Boards and Surveys that will enable the development of relationships and communities.
- Professional Library enables teachers to have current educational articles and thinking at their fingertips and gain access to Professional Development online workshops.
- Curriculum Resources that provide a wealth of useful resources.
- Learning Standards for quick reference lesson planning.
- ThinkQuest Library as an example of what teachers should be aiming towards.
- Calendar is set up for improved communications.
- Online quizzes connect teachers to ready made and create your own, electronic quizzes.
- Student Showcase section provides the opportunity for teachers to publish their students' work.
- The Homework Helper is designed to take the burden off parents as it is very user friendly with many useful links for any subject area.
- FAQ Troubleshooting page is intended to help teachers answer those easy but persistent technical questions and lighten the load on the Network Engineer.
Several of Alan November's recommendations have been used in the creation of this site.
As low maintenance is a fundamental principle, only two of these pages require regular updating by an individual teacher. The Student Showcase page may need changing once a month or so and the Homework page. Teachers post their homework here on a regular basis. As it is so easy to do this in Teacher Web, teachers have found that it has really enhanced home schoo communications. In fact it seems to cut down the amount of time they spend dealing with students and parents with homework issues. However, an innovative web page will not create an "informated" environment by itself. The teachers and administrators need to understand the thinking behind the site, how to use it and teachers also need to receive support in the classroom. As this "informated" web page is so closely tied to the curriculum, it is a good idea to involve the curriculum coordinators in the implementation process. It is essential that everyone is playing the same ballgame. Teachers and administrators must understand the "automated" versus "informated" theory and how this relates to their web pages. Then, teachers will require ongoing, classroom based support during the implementation process. We have achieved this classroom support in Holliston, MA, by losing the computer lab teacher and gaining a technology integration specialist, whose job description is focused on supporting teachers in the classroom. In this way, both students and teachers will develop their technology skills together. This strategy has the added benefit of freeing up a computer lab for teachers to use, for which there is always a high demand.
There are additional advantages to developing an "informated" school web site. It provides a vehicle for `any time, any place learning', for students, teachers, parents and administrators. Adam Garry discusses the benefits of teacher web pages and online learning in "What is Technology Integration and Where Does it Happen?" (On Cue, Winter 2002). He believes that 'online learning may be the only technology that can help to revolutionize education'. Web pages provide a genuine communication forum between communities, both inside and outside of school, through message boards, calendars, surveys, newsletters and email. This enhanced communication will facilitate relationships and collegiality between teachers, administrators and parents. It will be easier for teachers to share their resources and ideas and this will help standardize the curriculum across the grades. An "informated" web site will also raise standards through easy access to professional development resources. If the launch of the teacher web pages is marketed to parents as a school wide initiative, it becomes a natural process for teachers to start using their "informated" web sites. Both parents and students come to rely on the site. With the additional support of the technology integration specialist, teachers begin to take risks, and share their experiences, both successes and failures, with their colleagues. Gradually, the transformation to an "informated" environment is set in motion.
The URL for the Holliston "informated" school web site developed by Julie Elkan, Technology Integration Specialist at Robert H. Adams Middle School, Holliston, MA, is: http://www.holliston.K12.ma.us/adams/adams.htm email: email@example.com Individual teacher pages are accessed via the class pages button.
TeacherWeb at http://www.teacherweb.com/
"Empowering Students with Technology" by Alan November (Skylight, 2001)
(http://www.anovember.com email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Structure Shapes Behavior: Understanding Change" ( Classroom Connects, February Newsletter by John Gould)
(www.classroomconnect.com email: email@example.com)
"What is Technology Integration and Where Does it Happen?" (On Cue, Journal of the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators, Winter 2002 by Adam Garry) (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)