Sunday, December 9, 2012

Technology 's Gift to Documenting a Collaboration

Documentation for Collaboration between School and NWP Site

            Both time-intensive and quite significant, the decisions about documenting the process of collaboration merit elaboration and continued reflection.  With the support of a grant from the National Writing Project, the University of Maryland Writing Project (UMdWP) has been very fortunate to connect with an elementary school that is implementing 1-1 iPad and iPod touch technology into its instructional program.  The school is an integrated arts and technology magnet for the Washington County Public School system in Maryland.  I’m director of UMdWP, project director for this collaboration, and “production manager” for our documentary videos; in this blog, I feature two of our methods of documentation.
1. Developing “cases” of best practice.
            As UMdWP has specialized in DMAL (digital media and learning, Henry Jenkins’ term), we’ve explored the development of documentary videos that provide both an opportunity for a teacher to articulate his/her best practice and for our site to prepare resources for professional development.  We believe that the punitive policies toward teachers and schools are in part due to our being too modest about the excellence of teaching.  Identification of and broadcast-worthy documentation of best practice have potential to redress this negative PR situation.
            As part of developing cases of best practice, we intend to produce documentary videos that focus on specific instructional activities of particular teachers.  In the resultant production, a 3-5 minute video shows the teacher explaining the activity, referencing Common Core Standards and foundational theory, and illustrating with samples from classroom instruction, student process and work.
            While the “finished” video provides a resource for subsequent professional development, perhaps even more important is the process of making it.  Teachers who are often too modest even to name their excellence are supported in seeing their distinctive value and in articulating it.  This process increases transferability and adaptation appropriate for situated learning.  The documentation also pushes our collaboration to honor the variety of contributions across the staff, thereby extending recognition beyond the narrow spectrum targeted in high-stakes accountability.
            As any choice carries special considerations, documentary videos demands particular cautions related to confidentiality.  Visuals showing faces, names, and/or work samples require care that persons are protected from anyone who might harm or misuse.  Secondly, to the extent the production is published, attenton to the quality of sound, image, and other production considerations increases.  Fortunately, digital media are now available at reasonable cost and high quality, but this still depends on good technical practice (e.g., use of tripod, limitation of background noise, use of good production program) and artistic choices (e.g., shot selection, mixing, composing). Our work at UMdWP has benefited especially in this regard by bringing in a consultant from our sister site, Bonnie Kaplan of Hudson Valley WP.  A third consideration concerns the context of a “model.”  When a documentary video is published, the risks of inappropriate transfer expand, and the need increases for guidance and coaching in making good situational adaptations.
            We are still in the documentary video process with this collaboration.  Samples made from work with UMdWP’s Teacher Consultants who are working in Title 1 schools include ones I’ve made with Shana and Michelle.  Here are links to the videos:

Mentor Text with Michelle  
The image at the top of this blog shows Michelle and a frame from the video that features one of her students' drawings.  The mentor text was a promo for visiting Ocean City and Michelle's students made a "promo" for their home community with images and text.  

Digital Media with Shana.
Shana describes her work using digital media to engage 3rd graders both in an after-school club and in her classroom. She credits the University of Maryland Writing Project and National Writing Project with support of her learning to use digital media for herself and for her students. Shana's a member of UMdWP's Documentary Video Team. Production made in Camtasia.

            Our documentary video work in process includes a teacher using iPads to complement the class' work in STEM.  The teacher reflected that students in a science project often get so involved that they don’t take notes on their emergent hypothesis testing and then do not have the detail they need to write up the research, but with their iPads they eagerly took photos that were valuable in subsequently describing and analyzing their study.

Use iPad to record the height of tower
Use recorded measures to hypothesize about structure  

2. Records of teachers’ implementation and their comments. 
            A second and equally, if not more, important form of documenting is coming through our good fortune of collaborating with a school system commited to technology and with a principal having special expertise in technology.  The county system employs an online system, My Big Campus; and the principal has been very effectively using its Discussion Board feature to have faculty comment on their practices.   For example, she recently asked them: “In what ways have you used your iPads/iPod Touches to improve digital writing and collaboration?”  The teachers’ responses in the Discussion Board provide written records of their choices among apps, their uses of them, and their satisfaction.  Students’ work has also been produced in Discussion Board and is available for documentation.
            Here’s a visual of the Discussion Board and below that is some information about My Big Campus.

 “My Big Campus provides an engaging online environment to promote blended learning within a safe monitored platform that balances educational use of Web 2.0 with network and student safety.”