Running head: ANALYSIS OF LEARNING CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY                        

American International School of Kuwait: An Analysis of Learning Culture and Presence of Technology

Lissa Layman

University of Kentucky

Introduction        

The American International School of Kuwait is a for-profit PreK-12 educational institution accredited by the Middle States Association (MSA) and the International Baccalaureate (IB). Approximately 1800 students and 200 staff members share the campus which takes up one city block located one mile from the Arabian Gulf in Maidan Hawally, Salmiya, Kuwait. The makeup of AISK students is as follows: 60% Kuwaiti, 20% other Arab, 20% other nationalities. A total of 41 different nationalities are represented in the student body. Eighty percent of the teachers at AISK are international hires while 20% are locally hired and speak Arabic as a first language (American International School [AIS], 2013b).

        AISK is generally thought of as the ‘best’ school in the country and attracts more liberal families who would like their children to have an American education and potentially attend university in the United States. Our curriculum is standards-based in a concept- and inquiry-driven learning environment (as guided by the IB). This is quite different than most teachers were taught and thus takes a commitment to time and ongoing professional learning. Like many schools throughout the world, AISK has pushed to implement technology initiatives in the last 5 years. These initiatives, however, have faltered and lacked follow-through. Although quality instruction and technology use are present, they are not consistent and are rarely present together.

Teaching and Assessing for Learning        

In order to get a sense of the learning culture at AISK, I asked 28 of my colleagues to complete an evaluation of standard 3 of the AdvancED Standards for Quality Schools (2011). Among these 28 staff members, I tried to include a variety of positions in our PreK-12 institution (teachers, leadership & admin; new & returning staff; first year & veteran teachers; staff members with children at AISK; etc). Ten people (including myself) responded to the survey. Respondents were asked to give AISK a level (1-4) for each of the 12 indicators. The averages are as follows: Indicator 3.1= 2.6, Indicator 3.2= 2.1, Indicator 3.3= 2.6, Indicator 3.4= 1.9, Indicator 3.5= 2.5, Indicator 3.6= 1.9, Indicator 3.7= 1.8, Indicator 3.8= 1.9, Indicator 3.9= 2.1, Indicator 3.10= 3, Indicator 3.11= 2.1, Indicator 3.12= 1.5.

Our area of biggest needed improvement is Indicator 3.12 (the school provides and coordinates support services to meet the unique learning needs of students). This is not a surprise as AISK makes it clear that we do not offer any support services for any disabilities (learning or otherwise). As such, I will not include this indicator in further discussion.

Indicator 3.7 (mentoring, coaching and induction programs support instructional improvement consistent with the school’s values and beliefs about teaching and learning) was the next lowest with an average of 1.8. Indicator 3.4 (school leaders monitor and support the improvement of instructional practices of teachers to ensure student success) scored similarly (1.9). As stated in our 2013-14 Faculty Handbook, “Newly hired, provisional and uncertified teachers as well as those teachers who voluntarily participate will be assessed by his/her divisional administrator prior to the last week of November. The assessment will include a pre-conference, observation, and post-conference. Upon completion of Assessment I, the teacher will be assigned to one of two tracks: Self-Directed or Assisted Track” (AIS, 2013a, p. 29). In practice, this is merely as assessment tool and not a mentoring or coaching program. AISK routinely hires first year teachers however we do not have an induction program in place to support these teachers.

With this perceived lack of formal and consistent monitoring it is interesting that indicator 3.6 (teachers implement the school’s instructional process in support of student learning) also received an average of 1.9. Not only do my colleagues feel as though administration does not adequately monitor them, they also feel that not all teachers “use an instructional process that informs students of learning expectations and standards of performance” nor that all teachers “provide students with specific and timely feedback” (AdvancED, 2011, p. 13).  It seems as though there is a missing link here that could be easily remedied with an increase in accountability.

The last indicator that averaged under a two was 3.8 (the school engages families in meaningful ways in their children’s education and keeps them informed of their children’s learning process). One teacher commented, “Generally speaking, the school tries, but the families do not care and do not become involved in their child's education and especially their extracurricular activities.” Although I can only guess at the reasons, the facts are that in general our population of families is quite wealthy and many students’ nannies are more involved in their lives than their parents. It often seems as though parents care more about their children’s grades than what they are actually doing in school. During the last 1.5 years I have seen an increase in school communication at AISK - each principal has a blog for parents and every teacher has either a website/blog or utilizes Edmodo. However we are still lacking an online gradebook so that students and parents have 24/7 access to their updated summative grades. For better or worse, this puts the emphasis on timely and quality feedback on formative assessments.

        Based on my colleagues evaluation of our school, our strength is indicator 3.10 (grading and reporting are based on clearly defined criteria that represent the attainment of content knowledge and skills and are consistent across grade levels and courses). Although our instruction quality might not be consistent, our grading is practically forced to be consistent as an IB school. The Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP) provide guides and rubrics for grading and assessing. All summative evaluations are assessed using rubrics specific to the subject area. Middle school students receive only an IB score and do not receive percentages on their report cards. In high school, IB scores are converted to percentages in order to calculate grade point averages. Teachers much moderate scores for each summative evaluation to ensure that assessments and grades are fair and consistent. An increase in monitoring by administration may lead to higher quality moderating and an even higher level for indicator 3.10.

Technology Objectives and Action Plans

        In 2010, AISK completed a School Improvement Plan as a requirement of MSA re-accreditation. Objective V stated “By 2014 AIS Kuwait will operate a wireless electronic environment where one to one e-learning will be the norm” (AIS, 2010, p. 1). Objective V1 stated “By 2014 AIS Kuwait will be a environmentally friendly campus through effective use of e-learning” (AIS, 2010, p. 3). The action plan included: “Change traditional libraries to multi-media learning centers” (AIS, 2010, p. 1); “Provide wireless environment for one to one e-learning” (AIS, 2010, p. 2); “Phase out purchase of hard copy textbooks” (AIS, 2010, p. 3); and “Reduce the use of paper across all grade levels” (AIS, 201, p. 4). I am pleased to report that the AISK campus is wireless with a relatively robust system and speed. However not all students and staff have access to this wireless connectivity and we are not a 1:1 school, despite efforts during the last 4 years to implement iPads for all students and staff.

        In our 2013 self-study, our objectives and goals were modified with a completion date of 2020. Organizational Capacity Objective #2 states “AIS will make optimal use of digital technology for curriculum and instruction, communication, reporting, record keeping and security” (AIS, 2013b, p. 335).  The action plan includes: “Staff and students will carry and use AIS ID cards at all times” (AIS, 2013b, p. 335); “Bus gate will be reconfigured for exclusive use of bus students” (AIS, 2013b, p. 336); and “Students and teachers will use ID to enter campus” (AIS, 2013b, p. 337). Technology was a focus of our objectives both in 2010 and 2013. The action plans, however, do not reflect a commitment to Teaching and Assessing for Learning, standard 3 of the AdvancED Standards for Quality Schools (2011, p. 13).

        As a Technology Integration Coach at AISK, I have the opportunity to observe closely decisions that are made regarding instructional technology by administration and how teachers use technology on a daily basis. Although the administration may see the value in technology, they lack a shared vision of why and how technology should be used by teachers and students. As seen in our School Improvement Objectives and Action Plans (AIS, 2013b), we are missing the link between technology use and student learning. The lack of a shared vision has been detrimental to our technology initiative and can be most tangibly seen in our poor follow-through. Classroom teachers were provided with iPads in the spring of 2012 and new hires receive iPads upon their arrival in Kuwait. Students are required to pay a technology fee and were supposed to be 1:1 with iPads in the fall of 2012. Currently less than half of our student population have school-issued iPads, the only devices allowed on the school wireless network. All teachers and students are using the original iPads they were given (either iPad 2 or 3, no current iPads) and must pay to replace their iPads if they are lost, stolen or broken. These circumstances have caused teachers, students and parents to ask many why and how questions with few legitimate responses. Teachers, students and parents do not view technology as necessary at AISK and have revolted at various stages of the process.

Conclusions and Suggestions

Started in 1991, the American International School of Kuwait is still a young institution. The location and reputation sometimes make it difficult to recruit experienced teachers. Without technology, the quality of instruction is average. There are some classrooms where the quality of instruction is high however there are other classrooms where the instruction could be improved. One of our greatest weaknesses is our lack of inquiry-driven instruction - we are an IB school but our culture of inquiry needs improving. A commitment to professional development is one way that our instructional quality could be improved. The majority of PreK-10 teachers are not formally trained in their respective programs (PYP and MYP). Another way that our instructional quality could be improved is an increase in leadership involvement and teacher accountability. A 2-year formal induction program for all first year teachers and a 1-year induction program for all new hires would increase the support for teachers and positively impact instruction.

The board of directors (four siblings) and various other stakeholders have pushed to incorporate more technology in the last 10 years however it has been a difficult journey for all involved. Stakeholders do not see technology as necessary. A clear vision and plan from leadership would give teachers and students a reason and a purpose to incorporate and use technology. In the majority of classrooms technology does not enhance the instruction process (if it is even being used). A commitment to professional development would push teachers to use technology in innovative ways.

We have the potential to create an inquiry-driven learning culture where technology is necessary and is being used in innovative ways to redefine education. However we have a ways to go on our journey to reach our destination. Teacher recruitment and accountability are the starting points. From there we must develop a shared vision and culture of inquiry for all stakeholders.


References

AdvancEd. (2011). Standards for Quality Schools. Retrieved from

https://www.dropbox.com/s/0k07yk95010awet/AdvancED%20school_standards_2012.pdf.

American International School. (2010). 2010 06 11 01 G Add'l Technology Objectives (V and VI).

Kuwait.

American International School. (2013a). 2013-14 Faculty Handbook. Kuwait.

American International School. (2013b). AIS Kuwait MSA ExBD Self-Study. Kuwait.