A look at the Future…

 

The Brighton Teacher Center is very excited to announce the “soft launch” of Avatar. We want to introduce the software to you so you can register for breakout sessions on the March 14th Superintendent’s Conference Day.

This may be the first time many of you are hearing of Avatar. Well, what is it and why are we using it? To answer that, let me quickly explain the problems with our current registration system.

To date we have been using an Access database to store teacher’s professional development transcripts and to register teachers for classes. One major problem with this system is that it is not web-based. Only a very few people—myself and my secretary—can see what is in the database. We can only use the database when we are physically in the Teacher Center. This makes not only limits the time we can register people, but it also makes for a lot of complicated communications to and from our office.

For example, when we enter a class into the database, no one outside the Teacher Center can see the class. How do you register for a class that you don’t know about? This is why we have had to publish our paper “course catalog booklets”. This has some very serious drawbacks.

· We have to “input” data twice. Once into the database, and then again into the paper course booklet.

· We only “publish” a book a few times a year but classes are popping up all the time. Should I now e-mail you every time we add a class or should I wait for the next publication cycle of the booklet?

· We are killing a lot of trees.

· We still haven’t solved all the communication problems. Now you may know what the classes are, but you still have to register for them.

As it is now, if you want to register for a class you have to call or e-mail the Teacher Center. I, or my secretary, will take your request and enter it into our professional development database. Again, we are the only ones who have access to this database, and since it is not web-based, we only have access to it while we are physically in the Teacher Center. Once we enter your request we then must e-mail you back confirming your request. So, two e-mails generated for each request.

Now, lets consider an event such as the March 14th Superintendent’s Conference Day. We are going to need to register about 350 teachers and administrators. That would mean this office would need to handle approximately 700 e-mails for this one event alone. And that is assuming everything works out perfectly and everyone is able to get his or her first choice of classes.

Well what happens if a class has a ceiling or maximum number of participants? Under the current system, you—the user—have no way of knowing if a class has “maxed out” because you can’t see the database. If you unknowingly register for a class that has been closed out, we’ll have to contact you to let you know, and we begin the whole registration process over again.

Obviously there has to be a better way. AVATAR!

Avatar is a web-based professional development management system. You will now be able to connect to our database anytime and anywhere you have access to a computer with an internet connection.

If you want to register for a class at night after you’ve put your kids to bed…register!

If you have your laptop with you by the pool at the hotel in Florida…register for a class!

It its 4:28 am and you can’t fall back to sleep…register for a class!

I, for example, created all the classes for the Superintendent’s Conference Day from home. It was very nice not to be stuck in the office. I was able to do my work, but still hang out with my family and get household chores done.

You will now be able to see the descriptions of the classes that are offered.

You will be able to see how many people have registered for a class and if its closed or not.

You will be able to look at your own professional development transcript and confirm it is up to date.

Best of all, you will receive immediate feedback if your registration is accepted or not.

The system automatically generates confirmation e-mails and reminder e-mails for the classes you registered for.

We are introducing this software to you at this time to facilitate registering for the March 14th workshop day. We are calling this a “soft launch” because we are only scratching the surface of what Avatar can do. Consider it an introduction to the future.

A few thoughts on registering for the March 14th Superintendent’s Conference Day…I highly recommend you register your choices as soon as possible for two reasons.

1) You’ll be more likely to get your first choice of class if you are one of the first to register.

2) This will help us plan the facilities needed to accommodate all the class offerings.

I will let you all know when we are ready for a “hard launch”—when we are ready to completely switch over all registrations to the new system. You will be registering for late spring and summer classes using the new system. There will be more extensive training in how to use it.

For now though, I hope you enjoy a glimpse of our future.

What is our first step?

If you read edublogs then you likely have read about EduCon. Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy, hosted the conference and some of the “big” edubloggers have been reflecting on their experiences for quite a while. Check out these posts for a sampling:

Good Teaching Trumps Everything

Educon 2.0 – What is Student Voice

Picking Up the Conversation Where We Left Off

Recently Will Richardson has some written some posts asking how other schools begin to do the work that SLA is doing. What steps need to be taken first?

His questions got me thinking a lot about the district I work in. When I read descriptions of SLA, and all the twitter posts and blog posts I’ve read since the EduCon event ended, it sounds somewhat familiar to me.

My district, Brighton Central Schools, has a culture of caring and connectedness to an unbelievably supportive community. We have a tradition of academic excellence. We have skilled practitioners. We are very student focused. We empower our students and give them great opportunities to learn and grow. All of this has been going on for decades without a reliance on technology.

In recent years the district has invested a great deal in bringing technology into the schools. We are in the process of rolling out or looking at several new technologies including: an intranet, a web-based professional development registration system, an interactive curriculum-mapping tool (our current tool one is read only), and digital student portfolios.

While we have a lot of technology in place and we are getting better at using it everyday, I don’t think we’ve reached the transformation stage district wide. There are pockets here and there of early adopters who are starting to use the technology in transformative ways, but as a whole, I believe we continue to operate in a paper and pencil paradigm.

We may be a victim of our own success. We are doing so well in many regards that it is sometimes hard to argue for the need to change. Brighton High School was recently recognized as a Top 100 school by US News and World Report. Its not always easy to argue that we need to change when we are doing so well in so many facets.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look too far to see an example of the danger of falling in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” trap. Brighton is a suburb of Rochester, home of the global headquarters of Kodak. Kodak is a very real example of what can happen when we fail to keep up with the times and embrace new technology. Once the world’s leader in film processing and film based photography, Kodak didn’t react to the digital revolution quickly enough. The company took a huge hit—with dramatic impact on the local economy—and has been struggling to recover it’s preeminent status ever since.

One of the many reasons our district is so successful is the hard work and dedication of our teachers. I’m truly fortunate to work with such dedicated and caring colleagues. Although we are all working very hard, I’m not sure we are working and learning as efficiently as we might.

New ideas and methods are introduced here frequently, as I’m sure happens in school districts everywhere. When new initiatives or ideas are rolled out, recently some initiatives involving technology, I’ve heard variations of: “My plate is already full”, “You can’t put 15 gallons in a 10 gallon container”, or “I can’t do x on top of what I’m already doing.”

I think this is where the technology can really be helpful to us. I know the way I learn has been transformed since learning about Web 2.0 tools. I’ve broken out my local “echo chamber” and am challenged by educators from around the nation and world. I have daily access to new views, thoughts, and ideas that challenge me in ways that I could not have foreseen even a few short months ago. (Hence this blog and this post)

I think, as professionals, we can collaborate and learn from one another much better than we currently do. I don’t know if we can work harder, but I think we can work smarter. We need to work with the willing and model what we want them to do.

We need to show the teachers, in a very personal way, the strength of the collaborative tools that are out there. When our teachers see their colleagues using these amazing tools in their classes, they will begin to see how engaging and transformative they can be. I think they will be challenged and start to question if our current methods of communication and collaboration are really good enough.

Learning to work in this new environment isn’t always easy, but I think its necessary. As Antonio Perez, CEO of Kodak, says “You know what happens if you sit back and let history happen to you, so you’ve got to take a shot…”