Alycia Scott-Hiser, director of academic technology, reflects on the state of technology at Nobles.
Nobles has always been at the forefront of academic technology and never more so than this year. While the ISS (Information Systems and Support) department continues to provide robust and stable ‘back end’ support for the community’s day-to-day operational needs, the members of our academic technology team have been actively educating themselves, our teachers and students about numerous emerging technologies.
This fall, we launched three technology initiatives aimed at supporting teaching and learning at Nobles. These technology threads—Google Apps for Education (GAFE), Haiku Learning Management Systems (LMS) and 1:1 iPads in grades seven through nine—have led to a number of changes in how we communicate, share classroom content and demonstrate evidence of learning. It has truly been an exciting start to the school year in the world of academic technology.
First, we shifted from FirstClass to Gmail. Despite some initial fear of the unknown for both teachers and students, this roll out has been amazingly smooth. Gmail is only one of the powerful services of the Google Apps for Education suite, which includes Google Calendar and Google Docs/Drive. Less email and paper are generated due to the collaborative nature of these tools. Faculty and staff use Google calendars to schedule meetings with the ability to see when colleagues are available. Students are using Google Docs to work on projects with classmates and share work with their teachers. Teachers are posting homework assignments on class websites. This growing use of “the Nobles Cloud” is cutting paper consumption, leading to a greener campus.
While change, and disruption, can be good, it can also be challenging. We have a team of people whose job is not only to learn about the tools, but also best practices in the classroom. It always starts with pedagogy because academic technology should never simply be an add-on. The academic technology team works individually with teachers and in small groups to explore the ways in which these new tools and processes fit with what is already working at Nobles. How can emerging technology enhance the teaching and/or learning experience? Will it be effective and worth the change?
The second technology initiative this year is the adoption of the Haiku to manage classroom content. This online learning management system is fully featured; it allows teachers to post content (including videos and screencasts), collect homework, and engage students in online discussions and collaborative projects through a user-friendly interface. Most people have heard of Khan Academy and the concept of the flipped classroom and blended learning. Our growing use of classroom Haiku sites is leading us in that direction. It is no surprise that the Global Online Academy, where some of our students take online classes, and some of our faculty members teach classes, is also Haiku-based.
We continued our iPad pilot program with a 1:1 implementation in grades seven through nine. In the second year, we continue to explore how touch-screen mobile devices can enhance the learning environment, and we are just beginning to tap into the real potential of iPads. Part of this is due to the rapid pace of technological change. Over the course of the first few months of the school year, Apple released a new iOS7 for mobile devices and a new operating system (Mavericks) for everything else. Not to mention the continuous cycle of app updates.
Change can be challenging. Yet both the operational and academic ends of the ISS team keep working to learn the new systems so that we can support the goals of our teachers. We have had pockets of success with the iPads in various scenarios, from a master teacher using an iPad to wirelessly project math problems to two science teachers who are using Haiku sites in conjunction with the iPads to creating completely paperless classrooms. We also have English, Latin and modern language teachers who created their own customized iBooks for the iPads. Students are using iPads for standard note taking as well as documenting teacher instruction through photos and audio capture. Our middle schoolers are creating multimedia projects to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. The list goes on…
Our teachers are amazing, with or without technology. What technology can do, with the right support, is provide new avenues for instruction, sharing resources, designing collaborative work, communicating across time zones in synchronous and asynchronous spaces, and evaluating student learning through formative assessment. This is an exciting time, as there is much work to do, far more to explore, and a great deal to teach and learn.