Teaching and Technology Infrastructure Structures
Envision Schools is entering its 2rd year of blended learning and over the years we have learned a lot about infrastructure, hardware, costs and other blended learning related considerations. In our first pilot, the summer school Algebra I course in which students used Khan Academy, we were suddenly confronted with the limitations of our Internet infrastructure. Not so much the overall bandwidth, but the capacity of each airport and the spacing of the airports and the consequent coverage and flow of traffic. Since the airports had initially been installed to serve periodic use spread across several classrooms, the set-up did not work efficiently or effectively for concentrated and constant use. I know this seems like a no brainer, but it is these surprising details that can hamper progress when trying something new and innovative. Therefore, the bandwidth concern is at the top of our list as we plan and prepare for our newest pilot program. Next year City Arts and Technology HS will be going 1 to 1 in the 9th grade. This will be our first venture into doing blended learning in all courses and it is really exciting.
Going fully 1 to 1, in and of itself, has presented a number of infrastructure considerations, all of which are nested, like a little matryoshka doll. For example, creating plans for how students will receive and return their devices. If students pick up their devices at the beginning of the day we would need to devise a system for managing the check-in and check-out process. This possibly involves carts, or cabinets that are wired for charging and are fireproof, and adults to either oversee or supervise while other students oversee the process. There are many examples of systems out there that we can draw from, and we just need to decide on a system that works best for our students and teachers. We would love to develop a system that allows for students to have their own device. This would mean that everyday they use the same device, they could personalize it, and they would be ultimately responsible for its well being. Yet, with block scheduling and scheduling rotations, it is difficult to figure out how a device can be turned in with one teacher, and then appear in another teachers room the next morning. I think we need devices that grow legs!
Another concern of mine is building the skills and staffing to provide adequate support. In a 1 to 1 situation we will need people who oversee the daily deployment and retrieval of devices, as mentioned above. We will also need skilled IT personnel onsite to address needs fairly immediately. We can have several back-up devices made available so that students can continue to learn should their device malfunction, yet beyond this Band-Aid solution we must consider how to address different problematic situations that could arise. We have thought deeply about how to build the capacity of the teachers and site leaders to deal with particular issues that may be within reach for them to solve with small amounts of training, and which would in fact, greatly reduce time used to coordinate these samer small tasks.
In service of working towards a model for blended learning that works for Envision School, I have also been thinking about the best ways to do blended learning for adults. As the instructional coach working with the blended learning teams, I am constantly aware of how individualized my services are. I would love to leverage technology so that I can provide ‘just in time’ opportunities for learning. While I know that instructional videos only really scrap the surface I see that this may be one place to start. I am building an internal website where we can develop ideas as a team. I am selecting possible resources, thinking about ways that different tools can be implemented, and trying to see how I can manage my time so that all stakeholders get what they need. I guess the real question is how can I leverage technology to clone myself so I can be in multiple places at once. I know that sounds very self-centered, but it is intended to carry a selfless tone. I have recognized through our pilots and my ongoing work that the most important resource in blended learning is the human-to-human interaction. The infrastructure, and systems, and hardware, and software should all exist in service of timing and improving and maximizing the human-to-human interaction so that optimal learning can occur, for staff and students alike.