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The Evolution of a Connected Learning Community: Parent Edition

2014 May 17
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by Kim Cofino

Note: this is the third post in a series about our 2:1 (iPad Mini + MacBook Air 11″) trial at YIS. Check out the first and second posts for some background.

One of the things that made the implementation of our Connected Learning Community (1:1 program) so successful four years ago was the input and collaboration between all stakeholders in our community: parents, students and teachers. So now that we’re continuing to develop our program by trialing an additional device in grade 7 (an iPad mini, in conjunction with a MB Air 11″), we wanted to make sure we kept that collaboration going strong.

Because the addition of a second device is something quite new to many of us, and there aren’t many models out there for us to follow (if you know of any schools implementing a program like this, please let me know), we wanted to make sure that our teachers felt comfortable in this new environment before we started heavily promoting the idea within our wider community. So, we started by working closely with our grade 7 team (almost the entire middle and high school staff, actually) for the first few months (read more about that process here).

Once our teachers were feeling confident about this new learning environment we were about to create, our next step was to involve both the parents and the students to help them understand what we’re doing and why, and to work with them to collaboratively define success for our trial.

Creating a Community Focus Group

We started this process by inviting all grade 6 and 7 parents to an evening session in early March to introduce our trial. Our hope was that we would have a big crowd and could build a team for our community focus group from those attending. Although we had a great conversation, we only had a very small group join us (5 or 6 parents attended), so we did a little more promotion via the school newsletter and some personal conversations.

Once we had our core team of 6 parents who were interested and available to spend at least a half day with us, we invited students and teachers to participate in the process – developing an evenly distributed team of 6 parents, 6 students and 6 teachers.

Here’s how we structured the day:

Part 1: Revisiting our CLC Vision & Mission

Because this 2:1 trial is the next evolution in our Connected Learning Community, we wanted to start our session together by revisiting the vision statement written by our community members four years ago. This vision will drive all of our actions and decisions as we go through the trial process. It was a great way to start this meeting in particular, because only one of the parents attending had been part of those conversations four years ago. This gave us a good opportunity to really highlight our school values and help define where we are coming from and hoping to go. At this time, we also did a short recap of the earlier parent evening presentation for those parents that weren’t able to attend.

Part 2: Defining Success

Once we had the background and vision to work from, we started in peer groups (parents with parents, students with students and teachers with teachers) to determine what success would look like at the end of our trial. We thought about what students, parents and teachers would be doing, and how they would feel. A few really interesting ideas came up in this conversation (and you can read more here):

  • Students felt like having another device would make them less distracted and more responsible. They felt that having to care for two devices would keep that responsibility at the forefront of their thinking, and that being able to select the best device for the task would allow them to make better choices when focusing on school work.
  • Students felt that the portability of the device, as well as the different types of input (voice and stylus) would give them lots of different ways to share their learning – using the format that is most comfortable for them.
  • Parents felt that success would be when students are able to determine how and when to use each device – and when to put them away – being more responsible for being balanced in their lives.
  • Parents also felt that success would be when students are sharing their learning more regularly with the family.
  • Teachers felt that knowing that every student had access to a mobile device would allow much more efficient and equitable use of technology in the classroom. Right now many students have access to a mobile device, but not everyone, and this can limit some of the learning opportunities teachers select for a class.
  • Teachers felt that the customizability of the device allows students to learn, share their learning, and collaborate in ways that work best for the individual. Being able to take advantage of that customization would be a strong sign of success.
  • All of the groups mentioned that it would feel like we are all learning from each other (students, parents and teachers), that students would have more choice in how they learn and demonstrate their learning, and that we would all feel comfortable with taking risks and trying new things.

Part 3: Developing a Shared Understanding

As we brainstormed in step 2 above, all teams were documenting their thinking on a collaborative Google Doc. Next, we mixed the groups (putting parents, students and teachers together), and asked them to develop a shared understanding of what success would look like, based on their earlier conversation. In order to keep our CLC vision at the forefront of these conversations, we structured this section around the five themes of our vision. Again, lots of interesting ideas came up. Here are a few highlights (and you can read more here):

  • Attitudes and Behaviors: More learning can take place outside the classroom. Students, parents and teachers will feel empowered and open to learning anytime, anywhere.
  • Learning Environments: Learning will be more flexible in many ways: types of experiences, location, formats for sharing and documenting, and more opportunity for student choice. Students will feel more flexible and confident in trying new things.
  • Actions and Decisions: Students will make good choices about when and where to use their devices – and for how long. Students will feel more comfortable using their devices on public transportation because it’s much less unusual to see younger people using tablets than it is for them to be using computers (this was an especially interesting point).
  • Educational Experiences: More opportunities for authentic collaboration with others around the world, as well as more opportunities for the use of multimedia in learning. The use of multimedia will help students feel more engaged in their learning.
  • Community: We will all be open to the ever-changing nature of technology and innovation.

Part 4: Ensuring Success

After a break (with delicious snacks from Zest, as usual), we came back together in peer groups (students with students, parents with parents and teachers with teachers) to determine what we should and shouldn’t do to ensure the success of the trial. Again, we documented our thinking on that same collaborative Google Doc, and again, after coming to some decisions as a like-group, we merged into mixed groups to share our findings together. Here are a few highlights (and you can read more here):

We should:

  • Keep an open mind to new ideas, and be aware of the importance of sharing what we’re doing with the wider school community.
  • Encourage students to work towards solving challenges in many different ways, therefore ensuring that different learning styles are met, students are able to demonstrate their creativity, and that we are taking advantage of all that the device has to offer.
  • Continue teaching both technology skills (to all stakeholders), as well as the ethical, moral and physiological implications of using technology.
  • Accept that we won’t know everything and that everyone is learning together.

We should not:

  • Restrict use or creativity.
  • Do everything online just because we can.
  • Avoid new ideas.
  • Feel like we have to master something new before we allow students to explore.

Having been at YIS for four years now, this kind of open and honest conversation among all stakeholders is not new to me, but once again, I am honored to be a part of such a collaborative community of learners. To hear the students talking about the new and exciting ways they can use two devices, and to listen to them sharing with parents, who are so open and willing to talk about these new ideas, all in the same room is just outstanding.

After the meeting was over and I read through the minutes (which have not been edited by anyone, and accurately represent the conversation as each person documented it), I was blown away by the thoughtful and open-minded attitude that everyone in the room demonstrated. I absolutely love that we can have these conversations and then share them with our wider school community (via our collaborative blog) so that everyone feels involved in the decision making process.

Next Steps: Continued Conversations

Our next steps will be to have at least one more follow up session with the CFG in late May or early June after the trial ends. We’ll of course provide a recap for the whole school, as well as opportunities for everyone to share their feedback in a variety of methods. It would be nice to see if we can find a time for the CFG group to meet once during the trial, but knowing how busy everyone is, this might be tough to schedule…

In my next post, I’ll share the structure and outcome of our iPad Institute for Students which was the launch of our 2:1 trial (and included a great session with students and parents learning together too).

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