Technology
May 7, 2012

Behind the blackboard, a touch of technology

Twenty-five years is a long time. But a combination of new technology and new processes is changing the way the B.C. Ministry of Education involves teachers in creating new and improved materials to support educational outcomes in the classroom.

The Ministry’s curriculum development process includes producing curriculum and curriculum support materials for educators. While the provincial curriculum specifies what students need to know, support materials offer strategies for classroom assessment and instruction.

For example, while the math curriculum calls for a Grade 7 student to be able to solve problems involving percentages, support for this concept suggests using “a bag with four colours of marbles…remove marbles and have the students write the result, as both a fraction and a percent.”

While this process has not changed in 25 years, the world outside has.

“With today’s environment of restraint and tomorrow’s labour shortages, we have to find new ways of working. If this is an outdated process, and we as public servants know that, we need to find ways to make it work for the present and the future,” says James Gorman, B.C.’s Deputy Minister of Education. The time is right to review the curriculum support development process.

Enter Marguerite Day, manager for the ministry’s Education Standards Unit. Day knows that updating the curriculum for every grade and every subject area with today’s process would take a herculean effort by the government and school system. “To do it well within the current process, I would need many more staff and a significantly larger budget for travel and teacher costs. In this era of restraint, that option isn’t an option.”

Facing these fiscal realities, Day looked for help from her colleagues at the Ministry of Citizens’ Services Future of Work Initiative, an initiative tasked with imagining and piloting new ways of working within the BC Public Service. Engagement, community, modern infrastructure, efficiency – the Future of Work’s mandate is the desired end state of a modern process within the Ministry of Education.

“We consulted with the Future of Work Initiative because modern tools are key. The fact that government has a corporate team to help design process and then suggest technology possibilities means they are serious. Those of us with our heads down in the ministries don’t always have the time to know about the leading edge,” says Day.

Through consultation with the Initiative, a peer-to-peer collaborative model stood out as a solution for rethinking the process and technological approaches for developing teacher classroom supports. Peering encourages colleagues with existing norms and culture to share knowledge around goals and tasks. Technology adds value by encouraging a wider array of peers to participate.

The peer-to-peer approach within the education sector has great advantages:

  • It broadens the pool of individuals who have the skills and knowledge in the education sector to create curriculum support material. It builds on the knowledge within the community;
  • It increases productivity and quality by allowing continuous improvement, instead of periodic reviews – this means the process will be much more responsive than it is currently;
  • The role of Ministry changes from a publisher to a facilitator of collaboration; and
  • It reduces travel expenses and the associated carbon emissions inherent in the current model.

The peer-to-peer approach is a shared responsibility between government and stakeholders and holds promise because it engages educators – they can share and discuss solutions with each other. The vision is to move from a one-time conversation with a few, to an ongoing dialogue with many. The plan is to capture this dialogue on a collaborative web-based platform that can be edited, added to and shared instantaneously – a wiki, much like Wikipedia.

Day used this model and started small by developing curriculum support materials for Math 8 and 9 and then months later, Fine Arts. The hope was that subject-matter experts distributed around the province would contribute to the process. Using a wiki, the number of contributors tripled.

Day’s colleague, Britta Gundersen-Bryden, executive director with responsibility for French Programs and Language Initiatives Branch, found herself in a similar situation of wanting to increase the number of contributors for revising Français langue première (French Language Arts) curricula. She also looked to the peer-to-peer model.Travel and budget constraints, with a mandate to innovate, drove the change. The traditional process was primarily face-to-face with a small number of teachers writing in teams. There were additional challenges because for this process the ministry relies on the help of French-speaking teachers from one school district that spans the province.

As a new approach, in January 2009, the ministry workeddirectly with the province’s Francophone Education Authority, Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF) to create a blog for French curricula development. The blog housed background information and draft curriculum documents and provided a space where interested teachers and principals could provide feedback in a secure forum. Documents were posted;comments and online dialogu

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