The excitement of being involved in the PLP project was enormous for me at the start of the year. I had been blogging and connecting with other educators for 18 months and had established the OZ/NZ Educators network. The online meetings and the Bloggers Feasts were all part of developing a community of like minded educators who could talk freely about their exploration of Web 2.0. The opportunity to give a formal title to what I was doing and to allow some fellow staff who were starting to share the interest the chance to learn and develop a PLN was fantastic and so we started off with a team of five. The first session was like oxygen for me but for others it was confusing and perhaps overwhelming.
Within a week one overcommitted staff member had basically backed out and another was in danger of losing her contract position and so had to withdraw from the group and concentrate on her core teaching. So five had become three and our third member was only able to be involved at a minimal level due to a number of family issues. The remaining two came from one faculty area was good because we had a similar focus , but it was also a problem as we didn't have the spread we had in the original group.
Issue one- make sure the group is broadly based and fully committed to ensure a more successful result across the whole range of subject areas.Try and have at least five people in the team who want to be challenging themselves and who can speak to a number of faculties.
Pam and I blogged, discussed and planned a number of projects together and tried to include other staff in our activities with varying degrees of success. Marie-Josee started blogging in her classes and really moved into web 2.0 with enormous enthusiasm. We created wikis for our Year 11 classes on a number of texts, we used Inspiration for mind mapping and started discussion forums for our students.
As the year began we were in the middle of a $4 million refurbishment of the school which caused major disruption to all areas of the school and did not end until just before the mid year break. This in itself did not create a climate for learning new skills as teachers struggled to get a basic teaching space and to have available resources to teach as all of the school was affected and staff lost their teaching resources as they were boxed up to be moved around the school. Not a great environment to ask people to undertake more change when they are already struggling to cope.
As well as the physical environment being radically changed, the school has had a major upgrade of the school computer network and this has had a number of problems which made many staff very disheartened and cynical about what they could possibly do with computers in classes. Despite a climate of more funding by the Federal Government for funding of better ICT access for all students, we are still yet to see any effect of this money in the school. Many teaching areas have been left with poor or no access or very outdated computers as we wait for the new machines to arrive and as this is taking so long staff morale is extremely low and this affected our ability to create a sense of enthusiasm among teachers. Thses issues are still current.
Issue 2 Be realistic about how much change is possible in the life of a school.
Raising the profile of the project was difficult in the huge number of other changes happening in the school at the moment. VIT registration changes, the current agreement which changes peoples ability to attend ISE the need for accreitation and curriculum changes have made it difficult for us to get meeting time in the formal compulsory sessions- so we ran our own Sandpit sessions on a non meeting day and worked that way - usually with a small group. As the time for us to report came near we finally were allowed a session with the whole staff and we presented the ning to those who attended and some videos to start discussion. We filmed this session and have plans to keep getting people to see it as a real and active resource centre for their own use.
Issue 3 Patience, Patience Patience
It is only through 1 to 1 conversations by team members that things have been happening. I am so frustrated by the process so much of the time and then suddenly people are asking me about some app or activity. Displaying work of students helps create interest and targetting particular faculties and change instigators in faculties has been good. So yes I have moved down a path that has no going back. Yes I have gained some new people skills . Yes I will keep going and 'Yes the PLN I have acquired in the last two years has changed everything' and I mean everything!! I have now organised two groups - one for networking teachers in Australia and New Zealand and a local one for Mac users in my region. I am out there making connections and doing just what I want my students to do. Thanks PLP
Reflecting on Powerful Learning - International Cohort for PLP (2 August 2009)
We also produces a blog as part of our final presentation which contains all the digital objects we created in the period of the project
Certainly seeing all the blogs and wikis and nings we created as part of the project I feel that we have achieved some things but I still have some concerns and I do want to express them .
The programme is a fantastic idea- creating cohorts within schools and having them recognised as doing something important is an essential part of raising the profile of 21st century education. Linking them to an international programme is a really powerful tool for change- getting teachers to connect beyond their staffroom is fabulous. Sheryl and Will's work has been beyond reproach- they have been supportive and inspiring - something which must require a huge personal effort to hear the same conversations over and over and to be still enthusiastic and engaged. I am not in any way trying to criticise their work. My concerns are about a broader issue.
My school received a grant of $15,000 to be part of the programme. That is a huge amount for a grant, but I have only heard once from the department regarding how we have gone with the project and that was at the very start. No-one has spoken to me about our presentation or what did- or didn't happen with in the school as described above. Surely this can't be correct?
All the other school except one sponsored by SLAV were private schools with far fewer funding issues than us- including funding of internet access. The connections were interesting- but we constantly felt like the very poor and under resourced country cousins.We didn't get time or much real support for what we were supposed to do and a bit of follow up and department weight would have helped to get some attention paid.
My next nagging thought is 'Why did we need to pay $15,000 to have two American leaders tell us what we knew needed to be done anyway? Why did we need people from the US to get this rolling? Are we so unsure of ourselves that we needed Will and Sheryl to get us going on change? Why could we get $15,00 for us to attend two meetings f2f and several online ones when I could have bought 15 desperately needed Macs for my year 8 centre? I still can't get the funding for them despite showing with the five I got last year what could be done with them.
Another nagging thought what is the result of all this money- what will come of the project? Were we a trial? Why hasn't it been followed up? Although we are sighing with relief that we got the presentation done- what happens next? I know it is up to us as a school to keep it growing and I know that will happen, but I wonder if the other teams have discussed post project plans.
On a final note, it was faintly amusing that as we got ourselves set up on Wednesday for the meeting and showcase we found that the departments chosen meeting platform Elluminate was blocked at school and we had to pack everything up and rush around to Pam's house and do the presentation there and then sit and listen to the voices of teams from three other schools do exactly the same thing! Yep there is still some distance to go..