Teachers are a mine of knowledge and experience. David Kinane explores how tapping into it can help to build a sustainable e-learning environment.
The principal is often the most stable member of a school, in terms of service longevity. As such, they’re in the perfect position to protect and save the valuable intellectual property (IP) locked up in key teaching staff and build a sustainable e-learning model for their school.
In an earlier article [‘What happens when your tech whizz leaves?’, Issue 26, August 2010], I made the case for schools to consider the true financial cost from the loss of IP when teaching staff leave. They take with them the fruits of a school’s training budget, and the school suffers. In some cases, the e-learning initiative slows and if several key staff leave in a short period it can falter and even stop.
The key to building a sustainable e-learning environment in any school is not only to having a clear vision of where you want the school to be over a period of time, but also creating a system within school that can withstand staff turnover, no matter who that is. A metaphor I like to use when developing this vision with principals is that they should consider what they are about to embark upon as an ‘e-learning conveyor belt’. The foundation for this vision is a rolling three-year e-learning plan. It’s advisable to keep the plan to three years – and reviewed each year – as this enables adjustments to be made to accommodate external technological influences and internal expertise growth.
From shopping list to training
My e-learning road map has seven strands to it; these strands include hardware, tech support and staff training. Each is further subdivided into goals with estimated budget, target dates, progression check points and who is responsible all clearly identified. This rolling plan, reviewed every year, is the bedrock to creating a sustainable e-learning environment in a school. It’s something that everyone involved can access and enables the entire school to move in the same direction. In the first instance, a plan like this is more of a shopping list for equipment, infrastructure and software. Over time, however, the hardware element becomes less of an issue and the staff training strand of the e-learning plan takes on a greater level of importance.
Despite the equipment requirement for schools gradually taking a back seat, the plan does help to redress one key imbalance I see all the time. Schools will often be advised by their tech support companies about the sort of equipment they should be purchasing. This company then also becomes the tech supply company, and I see this as a conflict of interest.
A school in a supplier relationship like this has delegated the decision making process about the educational relevance of tech purchases to an organisation least qualified to do so. If you have designed your own e-learning plan, you will have a clear vision of the learning benefit that the equipment to be purchased. I believe that when a school has its own clear vision for e-learning it can inform its tech suppliers of what they want with regard to equipment and software, and not be advised about what they might need. Schools need to be firmly in the driving seat in this relationship.
Mining a teacher’s IP
Successful e-learning in a school is far more than the sum of the equipment and training parts that schools fund. It’s the IP generated by a creative teacher who manipulates the equipment and training supplied by school and who then moulds her classroom management and pedagogy to create a unified whole.
The question is: how can a school actively mine a teacher’s IP?
Schools send staff to conferences, to training courses, develop systems such as techie brekkies, drop in sessions, peer support, and provide dedicated staff meeting time to help enhance e-learning and to cascade knowledge. All of these strategies are valid and valuable, but they do not capture the all-important IP.
I have developed a three-stage process to ensure that IP, which a school actually owns after all, is actively collected and stored to form a growing library of knowledge, accessible to all in school, for the benefit of all.
1. Create an induction programme – this is made up of a series of interactive tutorials based around the core skills, services, programmes, etc., needed to be mastered by new staff that join the school. The purpose of the tutorials is partly for orientation, they are a guide to the systems relevant to the school, but they also provide a consistent message of how to do things, a message that is not diluted and then lost through re-telling or loss of staff. The tutorials help to bring new staff up to speed and also do not create a time impact upon other staff to support newcomers through their transition into a new school.
As schools become more technologically reliant, this time impact should not be underestimated, nor should the potential for dilution of or the transmission of the wrong information over time by existing staff.
2. Farm the teacher’s IP – this is a vital element of the e-learning sustainability process. To farm a teacher’s IP you need to see them in action and, importantly, capture video evidence of them in action. This isn’t for assessment or appraisal purposes but for informing others, for demonstrating the ‘how’ of a teacher’s modus operandi.
As teachers, we live in isolation. We hardly ever see each other teach and, when we do, we’re frequently inspired by simple ideas that a fellow colleague has created. Capturing this kind of innovation through the lens of e-learning creates a library of resources for a school to refer to, for PD purposes and, crucially, to build sustainability. This evidence is then stored on an intranet and can start to form part of the induction package for new staff.
Strategies such as ‘learning walks’ help to create a school philosophy for e-learning and build a sense of ‘this is how we do it here’.
3. Have exit strategies for all staff – create a check list of resources, tools, passwords, etc., that a teacher may have used. The purpose here is to ensure that the school still has access to all of the resources created by the teacher, on behalf of the school, once she leaves. Many schools have yet to address the issue of ownership and access to resources created by teachers on sites like You Tube, wikis, blogs, and so on.
Finally, when a teacher resigns it should trigger eight weeks of final and comprehensive IP mining on behalf of the school, especially if this teacher is considered to be a leading light in e-learning. The reality is that once she’s left, so has her knowledge and experience and this can be e-learning gold.
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