Guest post by Calhoun Intermediate School District data evangelist, Mitch Fowler, written for the quarterly educator newsletter The Learning Lounge.
In my current role I work with 20 school districts on collecting, organizing, and making plans around student data. I think of my work as the three P’s; Projects, Professional Development, and Product Support. This work is done using a combination of technology tools and data conferencing structures that, at many times, are foreign to the educators participating in the training.
After facilitating my first few face to face PD sessions, I realized that there was a wide range of understandings about data. I needed to level the playing field for those who had little background knowledge.
After hearing about a school in Northern Lower Michigan that led “flipped professional development”, I was intrigued with how providing participants with training content ahead of time might close the knowledge gap. During my next few PD sessions, I asked participants to view videos that explained how to navigate the educator’s data warehouse, create assessments, and view reports. Then, at the training, instead of explaining how to point and click around the site and then having teachers go forth and conquer, we actually discussed the implications of the tool and how it could be leveraged to help teachers plan, show growth, and hold professional conversations with their peers. I found that the flipped nature of the learning created space for deeper conversations that weren’t taking place previously. This flipped approach has allowed me to use our face to face time to extend our learning and provide clarification.
Given the current climate of evaluation in Michigan, many are searching for answers on how to demonstrate student growth. Instead of providing a day-long professional development on the topic, I decided to walk educators through a video series which would allow them to access the content on their own time and at their own pace. The end result was a 17-part video series that walked the educators through accessing their software, building assessments, accessing reports, and preparing growth data for a data conference. Through this series, I was able to reach educators who would not have been able to attend professional development because of budget and time constraints. Furthermore, I was able to engage participants at their own pace as opposed to having to wait for participants who need more to to process. While this series is complete and has been posted online for a few months, it has been interesting to see the views grow even after the initial release. It is encouraging to see learning take place in the absence of an official “facilitator”.
As one can imagine, the task of supporting 20 school districts around data inherently comes with quite a few emails with the subject line “Help!”. Actually, I’ve seen several iterations of this subject line; all caps with exclamation mark, lowercase with no exclamation mark, or my favorite “UGH!!!!”. Whichever way the educator is asking for help, their outcome is typically the same: I need a thorough explanation and fast.
I quickly began developing a library of tutorials (some video, some pictures) that I could fire off to educators in need. I have found that having these pre-made tutorials at the ready has reduced the need to email back and forth several times explaining what the educator needs to do to correct the issue. Most of the educators I work with now start emails with, “I’m sure you have a tutorial for this…” One quick tip that I would give to those who need to respond quickly to users in need is to pair a tutorial library with email templates that can be personalized. For example, I use Gmail Lab’s “Canned Responses” to create and manage email templates that deal with high frequency topics. When someone has trouble with basic navigation, I compose an email, drop in the “Basic Navigation Canned Response”, insert the user’s name, attach the tutorial and I’m done. This has been a HUGE time saver for me.
Where To Start?
With the assistance of a few tools to record what is happening on my screen, I have been able to increase my productivity tremendously. To get started with an approach like the one I’ve described, here are a two topics to consider:
- Select a high-need piece of content. As yourself, “What topics do I typically receive emails about?” Take a bit of time to create a tutorial about this topic so that you can quickly answer questions with a thorough tutorial.
- Save time BEFORE the training. Are there places in your training where you are showing participants how to point, click, or understand navigation? Try creating and sharing a video of these steps ahead of time. I will guess trainers will find that this section of the training with go smoothly.
About the Author
Mitch Fowler is a Data Evangelist with the Calhoun Intermediate School District. He currently works with 20 school districts in Southwest Michigan on developing system-wide approaches to collecting, analyzing, and acting on data. In addition to regional work, Mitch collaborates with ISDs around the state to develop innovative solutions to assist educators in working with data. His work on utilizing school data has been featured by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, MI Learning, and MACUL. In the Twittershpere he’s known as @fowlerm.