Tearing Down the Walls of our Schools with Technology: Creating an online environment for our community that is valuable
Our World is an instant access constantly moving place, where anyone can access just about anything at anytime…. Does your school reflect the same environment? Across the world, schools are using innovative techniques to make schools and classrooms accessible to parents and students 24 hours a day to increase parent involvement and student ownership. They are giving students the responsibility for their own learning and allowing them access to the information they need to achieve. Using the internet to create this open access is just one way schools are achieving this goal.
Today’s online learning ability should not stop at the doors of our schools and classrooms. The internet has made it possible for students, parents, and teachers to create new experiences through supervised chat rooms, podcast, reinforcement games, classroom wikis, and discussion boards. This new frontier has promise for creating college ready students who have ownership for their own education. The following strategies are what some schools are doing to extend the school walls to include the web.
Strategies for Web Access Schools
1. Start Small: Don’t over commit to weekly principal updates or student created podcast news until you are ready for the commitment. One of the best ways to get good press and web traffic is to have current and ever changing information on the school’s site, but at the same time, if the information stays stagnant or is out of date, people know it! It is best to start small and commit to something and do it well.
2. Create a Technology Team: Don’t try to go at it as a solo act, unless technology outreach is your only job (which is doubtful). Talk to the staff and student body; get a few innovative techy teachers and students who are excited about this new venture. Then there will be several people to divide the tasks and come up with new ways to open the school to the online community.
3. Classroom Communication: Parents and students want to have relevant information about the classrooms. Many schools today have easy to use software for teachers to create their own class websites, but are the teachers using it? Is it optional or mandatory? Is anyone checking to make sure the information posted is current and appropriate? Make sure as a school leader you set expectations about what is expected and not expected of a classroom online and then monitor to make sure it is being used the way you have asked. If your school does not have classroom hosted websites, try suggesting your teachers use a wiki site or web creation site like www.wikispaces.com or www.weebly.com these are two simple ways to get teachers communicating via the web. The “Big 3” for classroom websites are: class rules, class assignments, and information about the teacher. If your teacher websites include these three components then, they are communicating what parents and students want and need.
4. School Podcast: These can be video podcast or just MP3 podcast. Podcast are a great easy way to make a positive impression on your community. Podcast topics could be student news reports, principal updates, counselors doing parenting tips, or even a “virtual tour” of the school and its clubs and activities. Podcast need to be created and hosted… but don’t worry, it’s not hard. Use sites like www.podbean.com or www.podomatic.com to create and host your podcast for free or if you want a video cast then try hosting on www.youtube.com or www.schooltube.com.
5. Online Learning Resources: This is the section that will keep them coming back time and again! Have teachers or media personal send in links that will teach and reinforce skills that are relevant. There are thousands of educational game sites that support learning not to mention all the textbook created extended learning sites that rarely get used. Students love to have an excuse to get online. Make reviewing fun with some of the great resources out there. The key to making this online learning relevant is to have teachers and media personnel introduce it and direct students there during the school day. Once students realize these resources are there, they help, and they are fun… they’ll go back on their own. Here are just a few of the plethora of review sites out there are worth looking at:
Teacher created review games over every subject www.quia.com
Math and Science Videos and practice www.khanacademy.org
Readymade flashcards or create your own flashcards www.brainflips.com
Vocabulary review over different subject areas www.freerice.com
6. Create a school twitter account (www.twitter.com) tweet upcoming events at the school, principal shout outs for great student or class accomplishment, or upcoming test reminders. Parents and students will appreciate the information and you will have followers adding every day!
7. Start class Edmodo accounts (www.edmodo.com). If you are a little leery of social media, then try this site out. It has the same advantage of social media, but with a few little safety measures. Create the “teacher” account and then people can join only if they have the “code”. Students and parents can sign up and use their phone number to receive the updates via text. The administrator can also set up safeguards so that the only communication the participants can do is back to you directly, not to each other.
8. Create a School QR Code. These little boxes are everywhere. They are the little digitized box of black and white squares that are on the bottom of posters and signs.QR Codes are 2 dimensional barcodes that are easily scanned using any modern mobile phone that has a QR reader app. This code will then be converted into a piece of interactive text and/or link that the user can store or use. You can use QR’s in several ways at school. QR codes on school posters and on student enrollment forms can link back to the school site or a website that has more information on a process. QR codes on business cards or email signature lines can link to an administrator’s email, website, and phone number (like a vcard). Coaches could create QR codes for a link to a Google map on how to get to the game field. If there is a little space where you need to put a lot of information, then think about creating a QR! How do you do it? Just use a QR generator site for free www.qurify.com or www.quikqr.com it is as simple as typing in the text!
9. Moodle your classrooms Use a course management system such as moodle to create an online learning environment. Moodle is a free open-source management system that can be hosted on a school server. Moodle allows teachers to receive assignments uploaded by students, set up real-time chat sessions, establish forums for online student discussions, post lessons, create quizzes, list related resources and web links, and set up wikis to encourage student collaboration. This endeavor will take time to set up and will need proper training for your teachers and students, but is a phenomenal online collaboration that is free to schools. www.moodle.org has great resources to help get your school started.
21st Century Schools
Web enhanced school experience is a perfect way for our schools to step into the digital age. As school leaders we must be looking for ways to bring our community into our schools and feel a part of the educational process. These days more and more schools throughout the United States and the world are embracing the new strategies that the digital age is bringing us and the above 9 steps are all easy ways to open the doors and tear down the walls to make school a 24hour instant information experience.