Creating a Better Learning Environment Through Improved Communication

What is the homework assignment? Do you have any extra handouts? Is there practice today? When is the next meeting? These are questions that commonly plague high school teachers. So, how do we create a culture where students and parents are empowered to find the answers on their own without asking the teacher?

That was the challenge at Archbishop Mitty High School, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. With more than 80 classes, 54 sports teams, 30 clubs and 1,587 students, communication can be quite complicated. Our goal was to find a technology that could help us streamline communication with parents, students and teachers. We needed a program that would address multiple platforms and could easily be accessed from the Web. It also had to have a fast learning curve and adapt well to the needs of various programs.

Our challenge was answered by "Docutek atSchool," from Docutek Information Systems, which was originally designed for the university setting. It offers teachers an easy way to upload documents, set calendars and create discussion threads. A Mitty High School physics teacher was using the college version of the product at Santa Clara University and saw the potential for the program at the high school level. Philip Kesten, Ph.D., co-founder of Docutek and a physics professor at Santa Clara University, was also interested in adapting the program to the high school environment.

In the fall of 2000, we began using Docutek atSchool as a pilot project. Initially, a group of 13 teachers representing various departments was trained, and the results were impressive. Teachers could easily upload handouts and assignments, set up calendars and create discussion threads. They could even set up live chat sessions with students. In addition, parents and students could quickly add classes and be e-mailed about current events.

Using Docutek atSchool we were creating more efficient ways of communicating with our communities and beginning to create a different environment. Instead of worrying about lost handouts, dealing with questions regarding homework or playing phone tag with parents, we were creating a model where the information was available anytime students or parents needed it. This has had an additional benefit, because our school is on a rotational schedule and classes do not meet every day. Since students participate in retreats, field trips and sporting events, the ability to send e-mail to them offers an efficient way for teachers to stay in touch with their pupils. And since e-mail addresses are automatically gathered when a student adds a class, teachers no longer have to worry about setting up mailing lists.

One of the unexpected uses of Docutek came from our coaches and club moderators who saw the potential for posting sports schedules, downloading release forms and creating calendars. If students were curious about a club, they could easily add it to their list and be kept informed about the latest events. Parents who were not sure about practice times could easily check and be e-mailed any key events. In the same way that an academic course could have handouts, homework, announcements and calendars set up, extracurricular programs could also benefit from these features.

Another advantage of Docutek atSchool is that the program offers a series of online instructions that make training simple. We offered an hour-and-a-half workshop to highlight important features and discuss implications for teaching. These training sessions have been offered after school and during prep time for teachers. Having a beginning group of motivated teachers nurtures greater interest and helps guarantee success. The request for training grew when teachers heard about the success of their colleagues and they realized that the program could save much needed time in preparing materials. Overall, we continue to expand the use of Docutek atSchool on our campus, meeting the needs and interests of our teachers, parents and students in this information-rich society.

- Carl Silva, Technology Coordinator
Archbishop Mitty High School

Contact Information
Docutek Information Systems
(650) 286-7300

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.