Steps to Collaboration
The single most important tip to using Web 2.0 tools in a public district is communication, according to Kevin Jarrett, technology facilitator at Northfi eld Community (N.J.) School District. "It's really just as simple as talking to each other about how easily these tools can transform the classroom."
The best environment is a "magical" one where teachers feel "empowered to experiment with new technologies and students are using those technologies in creative projects that were never possible before," he says.
Districts should follow these five guidelines:
1. Set high administrative expectations.
"It's all about leadership," Jarrett says. When leaders can communicate their vision and can excite their staff, they get results. And creating a team that believes in the value of technology will help students easily assimilate into the 21st-century workforce, he says. Today's students are "born collaborators," so infusing curriculum into the mostly social world of Web 2.0 will excite students about school. "I saw it with my own eyes during our rollout of Google Applications," he says.
2. Have an inclusive acceptable use policy.
Don't get too wrapped up in the legalese, but design a policy that is easily understood. Then have it tested and enforce it consistently. The Northfield district's AUP is "strategically succinct"-it covers as much area as it can but is specific enough to cover all forms of electronic communication, without referring to individual technologies. Clearly stated "implications and actions" eliminate all doubt regarding treatment of infractions, such as willfully circumventing firewalls or accessing blocked sites and files.
3. Facilitate team building.
Meetings that articulate expectations allow teachers to see and evaluate new tools where it counts-in small groups grounded in today's teaching practice. When teachers see how easy it is to bring classrooms half a world away into their own, as teacher Lisa Parisi did with her "Comparing Hemispheres" project (comparinghemispheres.wikispaces.com), they'll often be compelled to try themselves. "It's all about getting teachers excited about the results technology can make in their classrooms," Jarrett says.
4. Identify and grow teacher leaders.
Where are your leaders? How can you assist them? How are you leveraging their success in the school and at teacher conferences? Such emerging leaders need your support to succeed and thrive. Supporting their innovative uses of technology benefi ts everyone in the district.
5. Streamline site approval/filtering processes.
Districts should create an efficient system to manage site blocking/unblocking requests and work to ensure teachers have easy access to the individual or individuals responsible for it. Last-minute unblocking requests are common, and IT staff can't always drop everything to accommodate them. Teachers need to respect the need for a process, and the process needs to respect teachers' need to deliver a lesson. And most of all, Jarrett adds, "you need to have the right staff as gate holders [of sites]. The right people understand the needs of teachers and, ideally, also understand the curriculum and the Web."