Guest post by Craig Warner, Relieving Principal, Barnier Public School, NSW
Since mid-2014, Barnier Public School has achieved great outcomes with cloud-based collaborative learning pedagogies. Just a few years ago, our NAPLAN scores were up to 30 points behind the State average. With new forms of teacher–teacher, teacher–student, and student–student collaboration – and a mix of old and new apps – our Y5 students have moved decisively ahead of the average:
Reading: 11.9% higher
Writing: 6.7% higher
Spelling: 10.8% higher
Grammar & punctuation: 15.5% higher
Numeracy: 12.3% higher
To share the techniques that helped us achieve these results, we recently made a short video. This explains our approach to collaborative learning and the Microsoft tools we’re using.
Making teacher collaboration easy
Our journey started with a focus on pedagogy. We wanted to make it easier for teachers to share learning programs, ideas and resources. The catalyst was enabling teachers to create their own collaboration sites in Office 365 using SharePoint.
Incidentally, we didn’t just issue staff with Office 365 accounts and leave them to it. Our technology co-ordinator, Shama Dagdar, spent face time with all our teachers, showing them how to set up collaboration sites, invite others in via email addresses, add research and download content.
The result is that now our teachers share resources far more than they used to: it’s easy, they can do it from any device, and everything is all in one place.
Intuitive learning collaboration
We’ve also experimented with new teaching styles. Our breakthrough was to combine stylus tablets and the freeform note-taking app, OneNote. Teachers use OneNote Class Notebook Creator to create private class notebooks that students use to brainstorm, collect material, and jot down ideas—but they also use it to create public online collaboration areas.
The key things here are that students are starting to spark off each other, for example discussing a poem that we post in a collaboration space. But teachers can also sit and watch what every child is doing live and add comments. It’s like being able to look over 20 students’ shoulders at once.
What we’ve noticed is this:
1. Online collaboration stimulates interest. Our students are inspired to research more. Older students instinctively share online and collaborate outside the classroom.
2. Students seem to react better to instant online feedback. We’ve observed that feedback that is immediate and personal has a bigger impact—possibly because it’s less formal.
3. Peer-to-peer feedback spurs performance. Students that solicit and get feedback from their peers on discussion boards push themselves to higher levels.
4. Quick interventions are highly effective. The ability to make quick, timely interventions helps us to stop students forming bad habits.
5. An online pedagogy can increase teaching capacity. Teachers who dip in and out of collaboration spaces can produce more feedback that is both targeted and timely.
Engagement and personalised learning
We’re also using some new applications to spur differentiated learning. Office Mix takes PowerPoint interactive, and our teachers are using it to build multi-media presentations at record speed. And with Sway students pull pictures, YouTube clips and their own recordings into what Microsoft call a ‘canvas’, to create audio-visual, story-telling narratives.
I’ll share two learnings from our experience with Office Mix and Sway:
1. The ability to create interactive presentations – quickly – makes it far easier for teachers to devise differentiated classroom experiences. This helps us deliver individualised programs.
2. Students instinctively use Sway to connect lesson material to the real world, and the result is some wonderful presentations. Engagement is up and this is driving better outcomes.
Fluid classroom dynamics
One critical point is that we aren’t just using technology for online collaboration. When teachers have class programs in their hands on tablets, they are more free to move around classrooms interacting with students as they go. So the technology is also an enabler for more physical interactions.
Barnier Public School in Quakers Hill, New South Wales, has 850 K-Y6 students. The school has introduced 1-to-1 learning for most year groups, with school-owned Surface Pro tablet devices.