by Karina Batat
Expert Educator Columnist, Israel
In my journey toward change, I’ve come to the idea of a virtual learning environment to inspire and empower teacher and students to create their own spaces to foster curiosity and creativity.
Influenced by the ideas of leading thinkers, experts on education, creativity and innovation like Sir Ken Robinson and Mr Sugata Mitra:
“… We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture: create the conditions under which our students will begin to flourish.” ― Sir Ken Robinson (The Element).
“We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children’s innate quest for information and understanding.” – Sugata Mitra
I am filled with brilliant ideas … and suddenly snap back to reality: a public primary school, in an old building, classes like shoe boxes with four walls … reality! And yet I’m still feeling the need for change.
Start Aiming High…Office365 at school
So in 2013 I introduced my school to the digital culture, a culture that favors the spirit of search, a culture of dialogue, where the interface becomes therefore metaphor for environments, designs, education, social life, etc.
A culture that uses mail to connect, a culture that uses the cloud to storage and shares data (files, pictures and so), a culture that uses social network to almost everything.
We chose OFFICE 365 in order to adjust school to the 21st century and to make learning something that happens everywhere and at any time.
Three main factors that had an impact on our selection:
- Continuity & Convenience: working with office 365 is continuation of the daily work. It’s basically the same environment. We did not have to waste time to implement a new environment.
- Feasibility: Office 365 provides the user with all the tools to create: Office web App, Mail, Calendar, Drive, and Sites.
- Holistic environment: Office 365 provides one solution to organizations, educational and social needs.
First we trained the staff (teacher, principal and administrators). Our goal was to make the team experts on Office 365. Understanding all office tools and their use, on a personal level we wanted to see the staff comfortable and confident with the new environment.
- Distribution of addresses and passwords
- Display the link to the portal.
- Display entrance from the school environment.
- Training topics:
- Mail, Calendar and Contacts
- Working in One drive (create documents in the cloud)
- Work on sites
- Sharing documents
The teachers training process doesn’t always go smoothly. My staff is diverse. Teachers at the team belong to the pre-digital generation or as it appears in the literature “immigrant generation”, the generation born in the industrial revolution and therefore the digital world is not always perceived them as a safe place and a possible one.
Progress was heterogeneous. On the one hand, new teacher who are younger more absorbed and willing to implement. On the other hand, there are teachers who have a lot of experience but demanded close monitoring and advanced slower pace.
Peer mentoring: A support mechanism
When we saw these teachers facing difficulties, we found a solution to help them and to avoid frustration. We have created a support mechanism: peer mentoring, young teacher mentoring one or two teachers. This mechanism gave very good products and at the end of 2012 all the teachers used mail, cloud computing: documents, OneDrive and Sites.
At the beginning, we thought it would be best if the implementation of the environment among the students starts when teachers complete their training. What happened in practice, is that the process started almost simultaneously, since it happened that as soon as the teachers learned with enthusiasm, they quickly implemented the material in the classroom.
At the end of 2013, our first year of implementation, the whole school, students and teachers, were using the Office 365 tools: mails, OneDrive storage and file sharing and last but definitely not least, the Sites.
“Today, teachers around the world are using what I call “SOLEs,” “self-organized learning environments,” where children group around Internet-equipped computers to discuss big questions. The teacher merges into the background and observe as learning happens. — Sugata Mitra
In my next posts I will share with you, among other things, a few highlights of our digital environments:
The first, a Site for Teachers Training: on the subject of how to integrate ICT in learning and methods for the development of higher-order thinking skills (HOTS)
And two Sites for 5th and 6th grade student projects:
SportBook & Trees Please!
Want to read about the learning processes happening in these environments, are curious about which tools we choose as leading collaborating learning and personal learning? Just wait till next post!