Digital and Collaborative Leadership - Assessment Two

Use of digital tools Blendspace and Trello to further Improve Collaboration at WHHS

Alex Le Long

In order to encourage colleagues to collaborate more with each other and ensure that there is more ubiquitous learning opportunities for our students at Western Heights High School (WHHS), there is a need to share new digital learning and collaborative tools to develop these skills within our school (Innovative Teaching and Learning Research [ITL Research], 2012). By learning a new tool, staff gained confidence and understanding about how tools like Blendspace and Trello could be used to develop collaboration and co-construction within a class. Colleagues at WHHS have a newfound interest and belief that they can provide new learning experiences that have possibilities of becoming ubiquitous for their students.  

Collaboration at Western Heights High School

At WHHS, collaboration has been identified as an area that needs improvement. Many staff prefer to create learning programmes on their own, some work in small groups of trusted peers in departments and an even smaller number of staff work in collaboration with others across the curriculum areas. As a result of the reluctant nature of the staff to collaborate in more open and integrated ways, it has become critical that we begin to change the way we deliver professional learning development, particularly in encouraging staff to work with others across the sector and throughout the learning areas. Tinzmann et al. state that “Collaborative teachers encourage students' use of their own knowledge, ensure that students share their knowledge and their learning strategies, treat each other respectfully, and focus on high levels of understanding” (Tinzmann et al., 1990). Professional Learning Communities were implemented to a varying degree of success in 2015, and while PLC groups were not given the flexibility to identify areas of inquiry relevant to each staff member, it was evident that colleagues enjoyed the collaborative experience where they were given time to discuss issues in their classrooms and gain insights into sharing possible solutions.

Innovative Learning Programmes and Digital Tools

To improve collaboration and confidence, small workshops were offered to all staff around the two digital tools, Blendspace and Trello. The tools were chosen for their simplicity and multi-modal communication opportunities (ITL Research, 2012). As a school who has started to use Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and who will be rolling out Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) this year, it is increasingly important for staff to begin identifying tools that may help enhance learning experiences for their students (ITL Research, 2012). Both Blendspace and Trello have opportunities for collaboration and ease in sharing and accessibility which makes them both simple for most staff to use and flexible enough to ensure that staff are able to use them in differing ways to suit their and their student’s needs.

While not all staff at WHHS are interested in learning about new digital tools, a majority would like to learn if they had extra time to be able to invest in their own learning and upskilling. Grant Lichtman states that, “We all know that our schools must be more innovative, but how can we do that if we don’t give teachers room to explode their curriculum and create new things?” (2014, p. 53). As a result, it was important to identify certain staff members for the workshops to encourage a mindset of self-investment and risk-taking in trying something new. These small group sessions were offered with a focus on individual inquiry and personal development with elearning.

Workshop Participants and Outcomes

The colleagues that chose to participate early in this project can be identified as early adopters. A self-chosen number of staff members were from the early majority as per Everett Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ theory (Rogers, 2003).

These two groups of colleagues were included to further encourage the digital shift and need to enhance student learning at WHHS in order to build critical mass to move forward in developing confident and digitally literate students and staff.

During the small workshop sessions conducted with colleagues, collaboration emerged simply from allowing a space, time, discussion and questioning to occur. Colleagues went individually through their own inquiry process and asked questions often when confused, wondering or considering how they could use the tool in their own classrooms to enhance student learning. Colleagues were encouraged to share their learning and ideas with how they could use both Blendspace and Trello to enhance collaboration and ubiquitous learning with their students.

The Learning Challenges, known by many educators as the ‘learning pit’ was created by James Nottingham and is a framework for the way in which we struggle through learning something new, unlearning old ideas and techniques and moving forward while conquering previous obstacles and ways of thinking. Nottingham created this process “to promote and enhance challenge and inquiry” (Nottingham, 2016). By using the learning pit inquiry process (Concept - Challenge - Construct - Consider) with colleagues at WHHS, over time they began to delve deeper into their thinking around how these two tools could be used and more importantly, why these tools could help their students redefine their own learning.

Participant Perspectives and Results

As an aspiring transformational leader, I have attempted to help colleagues to “transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the team” (Burns, 1978 as cited in Mora, 2012, p. 187). Throughout these sessions, colleagues were encouraged to think outside the box and plan programmes for the benefit of their students and in collaboration with their peers. A range of colleagues were chosen to participate in the innovation programme including those early adopters and early majority members.

Early adopters needed small amounts of one on one time and encouragement, however required more in-depth discussion around the purpose and effectiveness of the tools being shared and how they might use the tools within their classrooms. These early adopters were quick to help other colleagues during the sessions showing that we do have the foundations of a participatory culture (Jenkins et al., 2009) and collaboration at WHHS.

Early adopters often asked a couple of questions, stayed for a few moments to see a demonstration by another colleague at the workshop and continued to test the tool in their own time. They shared updates throughout recent weeks about using the tools, particularly Blendspace as a shared collaborative tool with their students. Despite the lack of written feedback through our collaborative Trello board, the verbal feedback continues to show that early adopters have found this tool useful and perhaps may be willing to share their learning with others in their departments also.

The early majority tended to require more one on one help and guidance and assurance that they were on track during the workshop. These colleagues, while interested and keen to learn, were often more self-conscious about their abilities with digital technologies and felt nervous around other ‘more competent’ colleagues. They took longer to understand concepts however were more grateful of the time taken to teach them new tools. Those in the early majority began to feel comfortable in the small groups and shared their ideas over the period of the workshop session.

Colleagues previously identified as laggards were surprisingly excited and interested in using Blendspace. One particular colleague made a complete about turn and began helping others during the workshops and mirrored my facilitation with her peers. This colleague has a highly positive outlook towards overcoming obstacles, however is a self-proclaimed technophobe. Over the past six months she has slowly changed her thoughts towards using technology in class and has often asked questions and seeked advice when needed. During these recent workshops she has become a true asset in gaining support from the late majority and laggards within the school.

Use of Digital Tools

Most colleagues who came to the workshops were impressed with the simplicity of the Blendspace tool. They understood how the tool could be used collaboratively with others and to co-construct future lessons and learning with their students. Colleagues enjoyed how Blendspace was connected with Google Drive, Youtube, Tes and their own media for uploading. The drag and drop search function was the most favoured of all aspects within the tool as it was a comfortable function whereby no new skill was needed to use it effectively.

When going through the demonstration, there was an expectation from my peers that I would be the one demonstrating how to use the tool. An important part of any new learning is having the opportunity to learn how to use the tool individually by risk-taking and testing different functions. By actively learning, colleagues were asked to create their own Blendspace boards and as a result, began using the tool for their first collaborative lesson.

The simple act of modelling and guiding colleagues increased the ability for them to be able to take up the new tool as it became a shared practice whereby collaboration and discussion was able to take place. Colleagues began to feel comfortable sharing with each other when they saw each other in the ‘learning pit’ and could identify where each other struggled in certain areas, while recognising the acceptance of failure as a way of learning and moving forward.

By designing their own programmes of learning in collaboration with their peers, colleagues were able to have an “authentic audience in mind” (ITL Research, 2012, p. 27). According to ITL Research’s Activity Rubrics around the use of ICT for learning, colleagues were able to redefine the use of ICT in a multi-modal programme such as Blendspace to ensure that knowledge construction through the use of ICT for authentic audiences (ITL Research, 2012, p. 29).

Great learning happens by accident (Le Long, 2016) and is multiplied when learning with peers as they learn from each other’s experiences (Tinzmann et al., 1990). During these learning and teachable moments, colleagues were shown different aspects of Blendspace. Queries around collaboration and how to share the Blendspace boards with students helped to significantly create buy-in with colleagues as the ease of access and connection with multi-modal resource banks allowed colleagues to feel excited, happy and impressed with the tool’s functionality and usability. As a result of these learning moments, colleagues will more likely use the tool as part of their learning programmes in the near future.

Colleagues had trouble understanding the purpose of Trello and as such there was much discussion around how they may use the tool in their own classes. Some colleagues believed that it would be a great way to identify areas for student’s further needs in their learning as exit cards, while others thought they could use it as an opportunity to divide learning tasks for differentiation. This discussion allowed time for colleagues to share their perspectives and “allow for facilitating [colleague’s] acceptance of change” (Oreg and Benson, 2011, p. 632-634).  

For both sessions, colleagues chose to use Trello as a way to share their learning and identify areas of self-development and further inquiries. By using Trello in this way, it is easy to see where colleagues are in their learning journeys and while there are many functions within the tool to enable and increase collaboration, the simple use of cards to share their learning is the beginning of more definite integration and collaborative learning and teaching. Towards the end of the session, they began to play with the other functions, for example commenting and adding links to cards.

Trello WHHS Collaborative Board: https://trello.com/b/73zIXyGZ/collaborative-learning-at-heights 

As part of agile learning and design thinking, using Trello as a digital Kanban board is extremely effective. Colleagues will need more support around using Trello as it has tremendous possibilities to create more opportunities for collaboration around joint projects. Trello could be a critical tool in improving the collaboration within our school, between staff and students alike. As such, Trello may be the one tool that is purpose built to redefine the way we collaborate at WHHS.

Overall Judgements on Effectiveness of Innovative Learning Programme

Using the ITL Research Activity Rubric around communication, it is critical for colleagues to identify the tools that work best for themselves and their students and ensure that these tools are those that their students have access to and use or will use often (ITL Research, 2012, p. 41). Through the implementation of Google Classroom, colleagues are more likely to use tools such as Blendspace and Trello in collaboration to provide a more effective landing platform for their students. The incorporated tools will have a large benefit on students as they will begin to use these tools more often throughout the year.

Those colleagues within the early majority were reluctant to share their learning (via screenshots) with Blendspace for this assessment. They believed that because they had only just begun working on their Blendspace boards that they weren’t comfortable having them in the public eye yet. This need to have their resources finished shows that there is still a long way to go with allowing the assumed risk of failure to be seen as a shared learning experience. They felt uncomfortable with others seeing their ongoing learning and would rather have a finished product that they felt confident about, than a product that was only in the beginning stages. As such there remains a critical need to focus on improving staff confidence to ensure that staff feel comfortable sharing their newfound knowledge and perspectives, both failures and successes. This increased confidence will also benefit our students as they will recognise when their teachers are trying new things and understand that it is encouraged to risk-take in their own learning experiences.

Staff and students at WHHS will need to develop their digital literacies and gain confidence within using them.  Colleagues should be encouraged to continue working on building their inquiries towards becoming visible life-long learners, and more importantly, show when they are risk-taking with their learning to model this behaviour to their students to encourage an acceptance of taking risks in learning, rather than being scared of failure.

Further workshop sessions with more staff will be needed to gauge the levels of integration of these tools within the classroom and identify areas of growth and stagnation. Colleagues on the whole responded well to this first round of practical elearning sessions and continue to ask for help and guidance as they begin setting up their Blendspace boards and integrating them in their Google Classrooms. A main focus at WHHS will continue to be to develop confidence throughout the staff to build capacity and critical mass in order to further enhance the learning of our students with digital literacy and competencies.

References:

Innovative Teaching and Learning Research. (2012). 21st Century Learning Design Activity Rubrics. Microsoft Partnership in Learning. Retrieved from http://itlresearch.com/itl-leap21 

Grant Lichtman. 2014. #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass.

Shaul Oreg & Yair Berson. 2011. Leadership and Employee’s reactions to change: The role of leaders’ personal attributes and transformational leadership style. Personnel Psychology. 64, 627-659.

Cristina Mora. 2012. Transformational leadership in education: Concept analysis. Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences. Special Issue, 184-192.

James Nottingham. 2016. The Learning Challenge. Retrieved from http://www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/learning-pit/

Everett Rogers. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York, USA: Free Press.

M.B. Tinzmann, B.F. Jones, T.F. Fennimore, J. Bakker, C. Fine, and J. Pierce. 1990. What Is the Collaborative Classroom? Oak Brook: NCREL.  Retrieved from: http://methodenpool.uni-koeln.de/koopunterricht/The%20Collaborative%20Classroom.htm

Alex Le Long. 2016. Blendspace and Trello - DigiTech Tools Group. Retrieved from http://evolutionandimagination.blogspot.co.nz/2016/02/blendspace-and-trello-digitech-tools.html

Henry Jenkins with Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Wiegel, Kate Clinton and Alice J. Robison. 2009. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.