Thursday, December 13, 2012

Survey Says Freshmen Find Blackboard Resources Helpful

Growing use of Blackboard, the district's Learning Management System (LMS) has sparked conversations about the actual value Blackboard can add to the teaching and learning experience.  Nicole Land, an English Teacher at West High School, has provided some insight on the topic, asking her students how they feel about using Blackboard.

At West High School,  each teacher is maintaining a Blackboard course for each face-to-face course taught.  Within the course the instructors provide students (and their parent(s)/guardian(s)) access to a  course-focused Google Calendar, access to resources and assignments for the course, and possibly even some multimedia content related to the course.    While the implementation is in its earliest stages at West, students are already adapting and responding to the availability of the resources digitally.

Land recently asked 40 of her Grade 9 students enrolled in the West House (a pilot of a traditional "house" structure where teachers co-plan, co-teach, and converse about student progress with a cross-curricular emphasis) how they are using and feeling about the Blackboard course she maintains. There responses add some clarity to the question of how a resource like Blackboard can impact the learning experience for students.

Reviewing the Responses

Question:  What do like about the Blackboard 9 English site?

Points to consider:

  • 40 % said they like the calendar, indicating that these students appreciate clarity about what is planned for and expected of them
  • 38% of the student indicated that they like that they like how the site is organized (25%) or say that it helps them with homework (13% -- orange)
  • Only 5% of the students said "Nothing", although it was an available survey option
Question:  How often do you use the calendar?
Points to consider:

  • 61% of students said that they use the course calendar "Sometimes" (23%) or "Frequently" (38%) -- an indicator that students are engaging with the course calendar even though it is not required
  • 10% of students report using the calendar if absent, a sign that students take responsibility for missed coursework if required to

Question:  What would you like to see improve (or more of) on the Blackboard 9 English course?

Points to consider:

  • 22% of students asked for more videos to be available -- a possible sign that some students prefer instruction delivered in a "flipped," on-demand model
  • Only 3% of students asked for "Clearer Directions" on the course, suggesting that students have sense of what they are asked to do when engaging with Blackboard content
  • 42% of the students surveyed were seemingly content with the organization of Blackboard, as they suggested nothing needed to be improved at this time
Question:  How often do you use the Blackboard 9 course for English?

Points to consider:

  • The results suggest that students are not presently accessing Blackboard consistently as a critical source for interacting with instructional content
  • The data may speak to the lack of consistently accessible technology for students to access a Blackboard course in as needed in the classroom
While the data collected may not be earth-shaking or surprising, it lends some evidence that students find value in resources that are made available to them in an on-demand, digital outlet such as Blackboard.  With the ever-present societal suggestion looming that young adults today are disengaged and lack educational commitment, embedded within Land's students' responses is an dissenting opinion -- one that suggests making learning resources available to students in alternate ways is accepted and valued by students.

As momentum for Waukesha One, a personalized learning platform being investigated in the School District of Waukesha, grows, teachers, like Land, who are investing significant time and energy into developing their coursework in Blackboard 9 will be rewarded as more students come "online" with more access to resources daily.  Fortunately for Land, by listening to what her students have to say about the experience they are having in the online course today, she'll be in a stronger position to develop an even better online experience for her students in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The World Shrinks for Waukesha Students-- Skyping an Author

With a great idea, a lot of passion, and the daring willingness to try something new, the seemingly "impossible" has become a reality, and has made a very clear impression on some of Central Middle School's students.

Through the use of Skype, a popular video conferencing solution, Ann Zindler's Readers' and Writers' Workshop students were able to make a deeper connection to an author they were studying in class -- an author who just happens to live in the United Kingdom. 

At 3,900 miles distance, Zindler's students made an inter-continental
 connection with Payback author, Ms. Rosemary Hayes, via Skype.  The students
had to consider the 6 hour time difference when setting up a meeting time.
"[On December 4th], seventh grade students at Central enjoyed Skyping with the author of one of our literature circle books, Payback.  Rosemary Hayes, at the request of four of my students, spent about 40 minutes chatting from Cambridge, United Kingdom with our kids who read her book.  [The students] prepared several questions and took turns speaking with her about her writing process and passion for writing, her research, and specifics about the characters upon whom she based her novel," Zindler said.

The technology used to accomplish the task was fairly standard and simple to set up.  Zindler installed Skype on her school desktop computer.  Using the document camera that Zindler uses for other classroom instruction as her web cam, and using a fairly inexpensive set of computer speakers and microphone that was available from the Central library, the stage was set for the event.

The real work, though, was done by the students.  They were responsible for reading Hayes' book, discussing the work through the structure of a literature circle, and then preparing questions and comments for the author in advance of the actual Skype call.  All were critical elements in preparing for the actual meeting with the author.

And how did the kids feel about the opportunity to interact with an author?  Here is the collective reflection from Zindler's students: Wendy F., Jesica C., Kelsey N. and Brianna O.

"Meeting an author can be a once in a lifetime chance.  When Ms. Rosemary Hayes, of Cambridge, England, author of Payback, asked us if we wanted to meet through Skype, first we were surprised she even answered our email.  When we opened the email that she sent us, we literally started jumping up and down.

"Meeting her was amazing.  Some of us have met other authors, but hadn't even read that particular author's books before meeting him or her, so we didn't get as much out of it.  Since we had read Ms. Hayes book we had many questions and so did other kids who had read the book and joined our Skype.  After we were done and all of our questions were answered, I understood the book a whole lot more and understood why she wrote it the way that she did.  It's an amazing way to meet an author."

Like any technological tool that can be used in the classroom, the effectiveness of Skype to connect with the author is directly related to the quality of instructional planning and delivery by the instructor, and the commitment and engagement of the students to embrace the opportunity.  As Zindler and her students have demonstrated, the proper infusion of technology into the classroom can make for some unforgettable experiences for our students.

If you are interested in learning more about how to Skype an author in your classroom, view the Skype an Author network website:

For a planning consultation to incorporate Skype into your classroom, please contact a member of the Waukesha Instructional Technologies Coordinator Team, please contact Wendy Liska, Jim Gonyo, or Brian Yearling.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Label, Archive, or Trash? Proper Treatment of Your Email

Following the transition to Gmail, some people have asked this question related to read email:

"Should I label my email?  Archive it?  Or trash it?"

The answer is pretty straight forward, but it requires an understanding of what each of those options means.  Click here to see a graphic representation of these options:

Inbox: Your Inbox is the place where new mail comes.  In the world of Google, an Inbox is really only intended for unread mail, or mail that is seeking a short-term response. The goal for maintaining an efficient inbox is to get mail out of your Inbox as soon as possible.

Labels:  In short, labels are LIKE folders.  They offer a way to quickly organize and categorize messages.  The beauty of labels, UNLIKE folders, is that you can place several labels on an email message.  You can label a message, and allow that message to stay in your Inbox, put it in a unique "folder," or archive it.  They are a pretty flexible tool.

Archive:  Archiving represents all of the mail that has come into your mail account which you have not trashed.  Gmail gives users lots of storage space, so fear over using up storage space is generally unfounded.  Instead, focus on the value of having almost all mail only a quality search away!  Think of the archive feature like a pile of physical mail that you just do not want to throw away, but have no use for today.  Archiving gets the mail out of your Inbox (where you work and communicate daily), but maintains in the case that you'll need those messages in the future.

Trash:  In Gmail, Trash is truly trash.  When you trash an item, it will be deleted within 30 days.  Once it is trashed, it is gone "forever."  Understand that the district does need to archive mail for an extended period of time by law, but this archive is not generally searchable by the average user.  Only trash mail you do not want or need again!  If there is a chance you'll need it again, Archive it.

Some simple answers to the question:
  • If you need to do something with the email:  Keep it in your Inbox and/or Label it.
  • If the mail is a part of a larger topic you need to keep track of:  Label it and Archive it.
  • If you do not need to do anything with the email but may need to reference it later:  Archive it.
  • If it is spam, junk, or something you'll never EVER need again:  Trash it.

Finding Emails within Gmail

For some, the concern of moving emails outside of the Inbox is the inability to track down those communications again.  Remember, Google is a search company, and the solution they provide is powerful search functionality.

You can search anything you haven't trashed!  That's why it is so valuable to Archive it instead of Trashing it.

Take a look at this video to see how to search right within Gmail.  This can save lots of time and headaches!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Google Forms in the Classroom

For many students and staff, they've longed for a tool that can easily collect data, put that data in a useful, sortable format, and yet, is incredibly easy to use!  Enter Google Forms, a tool within the Google Apps for Education.

If you need a quick overview on what Google Forms is, take a look at our Google Forms At-a-Glance guide.

For a more detailed set of video tutorials on using Google Forms, check out our Google Apps in Education: Forms website.

Perhaps you just need to see Google Forms in action to grasp how you could put the tool to use.  Take a look at the Google Forms in Action Showcase, created by Jeffrey Allen and Brian Yearling.

Are you using Google Forms in your classroom or building already?  Take the survey to tell us how!  We'd love to learn from you for the benefit of all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Building a Solid Foundation - District Infrastructure

Sometimes it is the things that we don't notice, the things that are taken care of by people that we don't even realize are on the job, that really make the biggest differences in our days.

The School District of Waukesha Technology Department has been undertaking a monumental list of critical tasks in the past few months that will allow our professional and instructional lives to flow more smoothly.  

With almost 2,100 devices on the private SDW network, and another 1,900 devices on the guest wireless network, it is fair to say that many of our staff, students, and parents/guests/community members are taking full advantage of the recently installed, robust wireless networks available in nearly all buildings across the district.  

Perhaps some of you recall the lagging Internet speeds that were experienced across the district near the mid to end of last school year.  Those have all but vanished in schools across the district, and the final phases of that work are taking place in the early weeks of December.  Below you see a visible sign of the progress that is being made, as new networking equipment is installed in networking closets and tidy, manageable wiring is being re-installed by our technicians.

Before Inline image 1Inline image 2  After

Response time to submitted technology issues has noticeably improved, as the new SDW Help Desk software has been put into place, and a tech staffer manning the help desk post at Lindholm has helped to expedite the process of dispatching assistance.  Additionally, the ability to remotely assist with some technical issues has further improved the ability of Technology Staff to assist with and resolve many issues more quickly.  For those of you who have not yet utilized the system, visit this link to place a Help Desk Request Ticket (  *Log in with your full district email address, and your domain password (same as Google/Blackboard password).

The men and women doing this important work, work that tends to be overlooked on a daily basis, deserve our thanks and appreciation.  It is easy to forget that many of the school districts around the state and country are still battling issues that we are settling into and taking for granted in Waukesha, such as inadequate bandwidth, heavily filtered Internet, and little/no technical support or assistance when needed.