Entry/menu page for VCAL Foundation Literacy Course ready to go...
A little over a week from now, I'll be back in the classroom and doing my best to keep on my feet on a pitching deck full of new Year 11 VCAL students.
In addition to my Literacy teaching role, in 2012 I've taken on our Skills Centre eLearning Coordinator role at about the same time the organisation I work for (The Gordon Institute of TAFE) begins a pretty massive transition from Blackboard to Moodle for its LMS.
Hence from mid-December last year, on top of preparing for my own courses, I've needed to come to grips with this Moodle thing in a pretty big way, and fast, so that I can help facilitate eLearning for approximately 10 other teachers as well.
It's certainly been a rapid and steep learning curve, but a very satisfying one as well. What I thought might take myself and the teaching team anywhere from 6-12 months to come to grips with has actually become something we're well on top of before the first term even begins.
And that led me to thinking a little more... about what facilitates effective adoption of learning technologies. Here are some reflections at this point in time.
1. 'Faffing about' with edtech is SO important
Moodle, like a lot of other platforms and tools out there, doesn't exactly come easily -- particularly when you are looking to put together something that works well administratively from the 'back/teacher end' but is also practical and attractive from the 'front/student end.' It takes a lot of time to figure things out.
At a rough estimate I would say since the start of December last year I've put in about 100-200 hours of solid, occasionally hair-pulling work wrestling the Moodle Beast to the ground and subduing it to the point that it does what I want it to do. Getting the gradebook to work with our particular outcomes, using a specialised scale I built and embedded, took up an entire weekend alone. I'm also big on professional design and layout at the other end of the beast, so the hours have certainly slipped away on that front as well as I try and re-try all sorts of different applications and combinations.
This is the all-important 'faffing about' that you just can't avoid if you really want to understand a tech system and what it can do (and how it may misbehave). There's no gratuitous flick of a switch, nothing served up on a platter. You've got to be willing to put in the hard yards at the beginning, do a lot of playing about and experimenting, and even deliberately see how much you can 'break' stuff.
But to effectively faff about with edtech, you need a couple of other facilitative factors as well, and the most obvious of those is time.
2. Edtech development requires sufficient time
Prior to this position with this organisation, all of the other edtech tools and courses I've developed happened in contexts where time was either (1) just not available (think 50 week work years in places like North East Asia), and/or (2) not paid for (the organisation I worked for prior to this one in Australia wanted to pay me $21 per teaching hour, with a couple of hours for prep each week thrown in and no paid annual leave). Basically, I developed online courses and tools for institutes in my own time and out of my own pocket.
Here (at GTEC at The Gordon) things are very different. I've had close to 6 weeks of paid non-instruction time to get my head around and grapple with learning materials and Moodle. Splitting that period in half was close to three weeks of paid annual leave where I actually did go on holidays and not think about work. My colleagues are on the same basic wicket.
Time to recharge the batteries and time to really faff about with the edtech, without having to forfeit regular income. What a peculiar notion that feels like, after what I've experienced in the 10-12 years prior to that (but hey: I'm certainly not complaining!).
But consider also the results. In less than two months we have full courses ready to go on Moodle. Everyone on the teaching team has learned how to create screencasts, and a couple are now already starting to take ownership of the Moodle pages I set up for them.
GTEC's Manufacturing Technology course homepage on Moodle, already handed over to teacher Frank Priveti, who has commenced an absolutely brilliant series of screencasts on how to access and use the Autodesk Inventor (CAD) tool...
Our eLearning output and capacity has increased exponentially from one year to the next.
Why? Because the organisation and Skills Centre concerned were willing to invest one of the most absolutely crucial ingredients. Time. And time at the right time (if you get my drift).
But that idea of one person building and teaching and handing over to other teachers reminds me of the third essential thing that has struck me on this front...
3. Edtech development requires a person on the scene as part of the team
In a team of 10 teachers, we now have one teacher who is also the eLearning Coordinator, with one full day per week to develop and build up our edtech (a bit of a combination of building stuff for teachers and helping them to then go ahead and build it on their own). That person is also a member of the teaching team, doing for four days a week what everyone else has to regularly do: cope with the pressures and demands of a challenging teaching role.
This is far different from having, say, one teacher walk across to the other side of the campus once a week or fortnight for an hour or two to get specialised assistance with edtech development. And it is worlds away from going to the occasional half or full day 'edtech professional development' day, followed up by frustrated messages left on voicemail pleading for help on how to just open a new lesson activity (for those teachers who actually get motivated or brave enough to try on some edtech clothes as a result of the once-off seminar).
Teaching teams braving the complicated waters of edtech uptake need someone in the same office or just down the corridor, someone they know and who knows what they do and how and why. In some ways, I might even go so far as to say that until the edtech initiative gets a regular and accessible (known, trusted, empathetic) human face, it's always going to suffer from a relative tyranny of distance.
However, this is not to say that the expert in the distant office doesn't have a crucial role to play...
4. Edtech requires effective leadership and administration
To put it simply, one of the reasons we are forging ahead so quickly and well with our edtech development is that we have good support from 'higher up the food chain' (in a manner of speaking). Even as I work to help the teachers on my team, there are copiously competent people in various layers above me in the organisation that I have ready access to if and when I need it. They get back to me the same morning or the same day. They respond well to problems. They get things fixed or improved. They seem to have the attitude that they have as much to learn from us as we do from them. They remind us that what we are doing is valuable and great.
The larger the teaching/learning organisation, the more crucial this sort of support and access becomes (mainly because organisations necessarily apply rules that can sometimes result in boxes it becomes hard to do your particular dance routine inside). Luckily for me and my team, we have that support in spades.
So yes, I guess thanks to the faffing about factor, sufficient time to faff about, the team-embedded (or team-emergent?) eLearning person and effective assistance and leadership from higher up (or further across?), we are indeed Moodling along quite nicely indeed.
And 2012, from an eLearning perspective, is looking like turning out (to use local parlance) to be an absolute crackerjack.