Computers allow us to communicate with anyone at any time, and to work together with anyone in the world – at least in theory. But making truly effective use of the technology available for collaborative work does not come automatically. When the three of us applied for a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) project for the 2015-2016 school year, we considered ourselves comfortable with technology. What we were hoping to see through our year of study was how effective technology could be in collaborating when the participants work in different cities.
The TLLP funds that came with the project allowed us to have the release time to plan for our joint lessons. Whether we were travelling and meeting in person at a school or working together via Skype for Business, our outlook in the classrooms had changed from being isolated islands floating in the curriculum seas, to having a joint outlook on meaningful teaching strategies.
We met often through our TLLP funds and planned lessons that used Skype for Business videoconferencing and SmartBoard tools to enable our three classrooms to share ideas and answer questions back and forth, despite our distance. Through the year, our team was learning what worked and what needed more time than we had expected. For example, students who have never used programs like Office 365 or OneNote need lots of time to practice. The class itself needed to be taught how to use the online resources that we were provided with, and we as teachers needed time to think and plan for what we hoped to achieve.
My Grade 7/8 class, Laura’s Grade 6/7 class, and Shelley’s Grade 7/8 class had different needs and came from a variety of backgrounds. To simplify our approach to using technology for class collaborations, we chose to focus our lessons based on Math and Language. We started off simply, introducing our classes to each other by conferencing on Skype for Business, and then began to work through simple tasks where we could create joint anchor charts via Smart Notebook. Our three classes worked actively on lessons that ranged from discussing the Advent story to practical strategies for solving the Ontario Ministry’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) questions, to combining our input on what we interpreted from the figurative language in the book I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff. The students were excited to meet online, and we as teachers were pleased with the success that we saw. Students in our classrooms were using the knowledge gained from the online meetings, as well as applying the technology components of Office 365, like OneNote, to their daily classwork. Students had access to and used this technology at home, and they shared their work in a class folder that we teachers could access and send back to the students electronically. The students went from knowing little about online sharing to being confident and comfortable with the technology.
We chose to end the project with a culminating task that had students sharing their work via Office 365 and taking the peer feedback provided in the shared folder back to help them in their final submission process. Since Shelley had the largest class size, she opted to take the lead on this assignment and have her students share their work with the other two classes.
This was our first attempt at having students share their work individually with another student from one of the other classes. No one really knew how well it would turn out. Since this was the first time that our three classes were working on such a collaborative task, the expectations for student work were kept to a minimum. We wanted all students to find success with the task. The bonus of this activity was that our timing was flexible, so we didn’t need to be committed to a certain day to achieve our task.
Shelley’s class wrote a paragraph that they then colour-coded based on the expectations set out by Shelley. Her class had to complete the following task:
Your class has agreed to do some volunteer work in your school this year. Each student can work in an area of his or her choosing. Write a detailed paragraph explaining what you choose to do and why. Make sure to include the following:
- An effective lead (statement, quote, question, sound effect, emotion etc.) – GREEN
- Topic Sentence – GREEN
- Specific and interesting details that support the topic – BLUE
Shelley’s class completed their task and shared it with students in the other classes via Office 365. After Shelley’s students sent their work, our students logged into the “Shared With Me” folder of their Office 365 account. As Laura’s students and mine set about the task, it only required a small amount of guidance and coaching from us. Our students were very comfortable with opening the files, and with the simple instructions about looking for grammar and spelling errors, and descriptive detail, in the written task.
Our TLLP Project was all about how we could use technology to collaborate in our classroom. By the time we were wrapping up our project in June 2016, we found that the technology we had available was useful to our students, applicable to our teaching strategies, and manageable within our means. For all the times that technology may have failed us in the past, we have now experienced first-hand how useful technology can be in our planning and teaching. It is indeed possible to work together with anyone in the world.
Tips in Applying for a TLLP Grant
Applying to Ontario’s Teacher Learning and Leadership Program is not a five-minute task. Here are some helpful hints for when you apply for your own TLLP grant. Most will apply to any similar grant application.
- Take your time with your application, and make multiple drafts.
- Connect your application with the goals of your school board.
- Seek out help from your school board consultants. They can be invaluable during the application process and in executing the project. (Thanks, Jameson!)
- Seek out multiple opinions of your application. Outside perspectives will help you make your application stronger, with a greater chance of success.
En Bref: Grâce à des fonds obtenus du Programme d’apprentissage et de leadership du personnel enseignant, Bill Gowsell, Laura Deeves et Shelley Casselman ont consacré l’année scolaire 2015-2016 à étudier l’utilisation des technologies en classe. Leur objectif consistait à déterminer la mesure dans laquelle des classes situées dans différentes villes pouvaient collaborer efficacement au moyen de technologies.
Original Photo: Courtesy Bill Gowsell
First published in Education Canada, December 2016