Learning Management Systems | Feature

Toward a More Collaborative Curriculum

Bakersfield City School District is using its new online learning system to introduce electronic textbooks, aid teachers with lesson plan creation, automate tasks, archive materials, and bring digital content into the classroom. And now it's looking toward a future in which technology helps teachers become more collaborative with one another.

Bakersfield City School District (BCSD) in California is one year into its move to a district-wide online curriculum system, an automated tool that teachers use to help with instruction and classroom management. Already the district has been through three upgrades and is looking at a fourth, with an eye toward adopting new technologies to create an open forum for teachers to collaborate.

Known as Learning Village, the system stores digitized textbooks, allows educators to create lesson plans online (from anywhere), and helps them connect those plans to the school's interactive Smart Boards in the classroom.

Introduced for the 2009-2010 school year, the online curriculum system cost the district about $500,000. It was the first of its kind to be implemented on a district-wide basis in California. Nancy Olcott, BCSD's director of curriculum and standards, said the system has become a valuable online resource for teachers who use the solution to handle tasks that were previously managed manually.

Faculty Exemplars
One aspect of the system allows teachers to develop lessons online, and then use them with classroom Smart boards and in PowerPoint presentations, which are then retained in the system as "content resources." Thanks to that archiving feature, teachers from other district schools can access lesson plans on say, third-grade multiplication, and use them in their own classrooms.

"They can easily see what other teachers are doing, and then use that information to build their own lesson plans," said Olcott. The system is also useful for professional development. A new feature that was added for the 2010-11 school year, for example, found the district videotaping teachers (with their permission) using the system to manage their classrooms and deliver instruction. The five- to eight-minute vignettes can be accessed and viewed by other teachers, said Olcott, who hopes the videos will get more staff using the online curriculum system.

"Teachers can click on the videos from their home computers and view how others are successfully using Learning Village," said Olcott. "They can see exactly how teachers are providing exemplary instruction, or doing a great job with classroom management, with our automated system."

Textbooks and Coursework
Having all lesson plans and resources in a single, Web-based system has also helped cut down on the number of books, tablets, and binders that BCSD teachers have to lug back and forth to school every day. The elementary math and science teacher, for example, can simply log onto the system to access textbooks, assessment books, student workbooks, and all ancillary materials related to his or her classes.

"Gone are the days when teachers had to take everything home with them," said Olcott. "It's all at their fingertips, and they love the convenience of it."

Looking Ahead to a Collaborative Future
In the near future, the district plans to add chat and discussion features to its online curriculum system. Olcott said the "guidelines are currently being developed" for those new features, which would let teachers pose questions, ask for resources and bounce ideas off one another in an open forum. Olcott said the chats will be monitored by the district's curriculum department, which--along with the individual teachers/respondents--will provide resources and answers as needed.

Like many K-12 school districts, BCSD is struggling to keep up with rapidly changing technology. And while it's clearly taken a step by putting all of its school lesson plans and classroom materials online, Olcott said "keeping everything current and relevant" is an ongoing challenge for the district. "We want to make sure that the latest technology and information is available to all of our teachers, and that's not always easy to do," she said.

Having already upgraded Learning Village three times since launching it in September 2009, BCSD is currently working on a fourth go-round. "We're trying to expand every resource possible within Learning Village, and working closely with the [system's developer] to come up with new ideas," said Olcott, whose department works closely with the district's IT department to manage the online curriculum system. From the beginning, she added, the system received a strong backing from the school board.

"Those collaborations have been vital to Learning Village's success here," said Olcott, "and helped create a seamless operation." With the goal of getting 1,400 BCSD teachers to use the system on an ongoing basis during the 2010-2011 school year, Olcott said, her team is targeting those instructors who have yet to use the online curriculum option for classroom management.

"There are some who are a bit reluctant to try brand new technologies," said Olcott, "and others who have embraced it and ran with it. Our goal this year is to get the word out there, and let everyone else know that the system is available and what it can do for them."

Olcott, whose team consulted with a North Carolina school district (that was using the system) before selecting Learning Village for online curriculum management, said the best first step for any district is to talk to others who are either already using or considering such systems.

"Don't go it alone," said Olcott. "Have discussions with other districts, and consider all of the possibilities before making a decision. Then get ready for some changes because once you do jump in, those possibilities will become realities very quickly."

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