The Power of Web Collaboration
##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->In public education theprocess of change is difficult. Many times the system itself seems to preventchange rather than promote it. It can sometimes be hard to get the rightpolicies in place to ensure that every child has the tools to reach his or herpotential. This is especially true with information technology and theInternet, where many schools are struggling with their strategy and vision.They’re trying to figure out the “why” of Internet connectivity, e-mail, andWeb sites, as well as how to implement them effectively.
I’mthe director of curriculum and instruction at the Allen Independent SchoolDistrict. Located outside of Dallas, it is a fast-growing district of 10,000students with eight elementary schools, two middle schools, a freshman centerand a high school. We are committed to seamlessly integrating technology foreducation, motivation and better communications.
Internetconnectivity and the Web are central to the learning experience of all ourstudents. In fact, every one of our 700 teachers has their own Web site thatthey use in varying degrees to support curriculum, facilitate communication andcollaboration with parents and students, and extend the learning day to improveacademic performance. Our use of the Internet and other technology tools hasbeen so well received that we’ve been awarded an $8.7 million Challenge Grantfrom the U.S. Department of Education to continue developing our technologyinitiatives, and then help integrate them into 290 other Texas schooldistricts.
Howdid we get to the point where the Web became so integral to education at Allen?Our experiences could be divided into two periods, before and after LotusDomino. About four years ago, before Domino, we had a Web presence with someteacher Web sites, but the system was difficult to use. To change or addsomething to their sites, teachers had to give the changes to our Unix systemsadministrator, who would upload them offline. Further changes were oftenneeded, meaning the whole process had to be repeated. This system discouragedteachers from using the Web as anything but a static repository.
Duringthis period, we learned about Domino from a parent who was aware of its promiseas a platform for messaging and Web application development. No one had everused Domino in a school district, so we first had to figure out how it applied.Our staff quickly set up a Domino Web server running under Windows NT, and therest is history. As an example of how quickly Domino caught on, one month afterthe installation our count of Web pages went from 200 to 2,000!
Twofactors account for this exponential growth: Domino’s power and its ease ofuse. Teachers can securely log into their sites from a browser and instantlymake any changes and additions they want. Letting teachers easily manage theirown sites, at a time and place convenient to them, was revolutionary. Insteadof being a static repository, under Dominothe Web became an instant tool for engaging and collaborating withstudents, parents and the community.
Domino’sease of use can also be seen in that Allen students are themselves using it tobuild Web sites that support local businesses and charity work in the community— a skill that will serve them well in the future.
We’vebeen working with Domino these past four years and currently we’re on version5.0. The platform has remained stable and easy to use in the schoolenvironment. Our administrators use Domino to automate their workflow. In thisbusy environment, everybody benefits from the program’s ability to fosteronline collaboration and discussion. But the biggest impact has been in theclassroom. Our original $30,000 investment in the server and software wasclearly money well spent.
BigPlans for Domino
Inthe future, we have big plans for Domino at Allen. One goal for 2000 is to helpteachers by putting all their professional development online. With Lotus LearningSpace, teachers will be able to access all theirprofessional development online at their convenience, instead of having to sitin classrooms or stay after school. In addition, we’re going to useLearningSpace to put our own courses on the Web.
Wealso want to trim our curriculum and make it more dynamic, so we’re taking allthe good things teachers have done and putting them into Learning Village. AnIBM solution based on Domino, Learning Village lets you take national standardsand link them to engaging activities and authentic assessments, all in onespot. So, with a click of a button a fourth-grade teacher would know, “this iswhat I have to teach, this is how I teach it, and here are some validassessments.” We’re also going to use Domino to put an annual calendar on theWeb for the whole district. With so many activities going on, this would helpstudents, teachers and parents with their schedules.
BeginWith the Students
Whathave we learned that could help other districts in their strategy to integratetechnology into their programs? Allen is a relatively affluent district — 89%of our students have one or more home computers and every campus has aninstructional designer — and I realize that no two districts face exactly thesame challenges. But to succeed with technology, every district needs asuperintendent with a vision of how technology can make a difference. And thatvision needs to be shared and made to happenno matter what. Budget can’t be an issue or excuse. Try to bring in the entirecommunity, use business partnerships to leverage your resources, applyfor grants to make things happen.
Whenpicking a Web platform, be sure you understand the vendor’s vision. Manyvendors provide only part of the solution, or require you to integrate multipleapplications to create Web, e-mail, calendar and workflow solutions. Domino hasworked so well for us because it met all our needs in a single, integratedsolution.
Finally,start with the students. Give them the technology and let them explore. If youwait for every parent, every teacher, every board member, and everyadministrator to be on board, you’ll never get it right. Put up some Web sitesthat students can use for communication and to post their work, and they’llshow you the way.
Penni Jones is Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Allen Independent SchoolDistrict. She also manages the KIDS (Key Instructional Design Strategies)Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.