Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Epsilen Experience: Power Users Share Their Stories #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session


Evan Nisonson - Epsilen
Leann Ingram - Comanche ISD High School English and Dual-Credit College English
Carrie Barnett - Dublin ISD Director of Federal Programs
Lannon Heflin - Region XIII Instructional Technologist, Program Manager for Edtech Initatives

Ingram - Comanche is one of the first districts to be using Epsilen with students. Using calendaring, messaging, and drop box features. Comanche is 1:1. Ms. Ingram's classroom is close to paperless. Posts screencasts and lectures for students to review and see when they are away from class for illness or school activities. Homework has now become reviewing the lecture and the problem solving is occuring in class. Student achievement has improved on grades and TAKS tests.

Barnett - Two hours away from Region service center in Ft. Worth. Using professional learning communities to help get PD to teachers on site. Cuts down on time needed for F2F meetings. Discussions by teachers are more in depth via the online discussions.

Heflin - Supports Project Share for schools in Region XIII. Sees it as an answer to having to find third party solutions for wikis, blogging, etc. Has hosted hands-on F2F trainings and provides on demand on-site support. Feels Epsilen is a robust platform once you get past how overwhelming all of the features are. Encourages districts to look at Epsilen as an opportunity rather than a "new problem". No new problems!

How does Epsilen help focus on the problem of learner engagement?

Ingram - Students are wired from birth to use technology. Epsilen provides a medium they want to use and makes it accessible to them. Web 2.0 tools can be integrated into Epsilen and bring all of the content into one area. It's like the "WalMart" of programs.

Barnett - Solved a huge problem for providing professional development. Now teachers who have been isolated can interact with teachers all over Texas. Dublin is now 1:1 from 2nd through 12th grade and has implemented CSCOPE in the last 18 months. Did some things "on the side" to get interest from teachers in using Epsilen. (Presented first to elementary faculty with principal support, then other teachers found out and wanted to do more.) This has helped with all of the change the district has gone through in the last year and a half. They start teachers invovled in the Connections Grant by asking them to post to Epsilen about what they are doing with technology. They are also finding information from other Connection Grant groups in other districts in Epsilen which gives them ideas for what they can do in their districts.

Heflin - Platforms like this challenge students to be authentically engaged because of the wider audience that sees their work. Engagement becomes intrinsic. As engagement goes up, a teacher's job does get harder, but it is what is right for students. Learning matrix in Epsilen is a good tool for shaping learner advancement.

Share a specific story in your experience with using Epsilen which made it "click" for you:

Ingram - Started w/ AP English class at start of the year. Students keep a dialectic journal over summer reading and should have read novels and be ready to discuss them. When students move in over the summer, counselor gives students link to Ingram's Epsilen site and gets them set up with an account. All of the info they need to accomplish the task is there and they aren't behind when the school yeare starts. Has cut down on students needing to drop the class because they are too far behind.

Heflin - Supports education specialists at Region XIII who have to become familiar with Epsilen as they go out and present it to districts. Had to present iNACOL standards to 35 specialists and make it relevant to their postitions. Set up a group and discussion forum. Topics were the iNACOL standards. In teams of three, read standards they were responsible for and post a summary in the discussion board, then go and read the summaries of other teams and comment. Now, education specialists are using this approach with teachers they are training in the region.

Barnett - Keep putting things out to keep the teachers encouraged. As they become involved, it will take off and do it's thing. The Kinder group had a teacher that created lessons for the teachers and used to share by a flash drive that everyone had to chase around. When she learned how to use the Drop Box, it streamlined the process and the teachers are much better organized. Alan November came and spoke to the district and a lot of chatter rose up in Epsilen discussions around how teachers were using the tools he had suggested.

Ingram - The finished work posted to Epsilen creates ePortfolios that stay with the student.

Nisonson - Excitement seems to be about connections with students and the learning advancements that are taking place.

What is the impact on teaching and learning? How has PD been fundamentally changed?

Ingram - Maximizes F2F time with students. Students do work and have you there to help them even at home when the lectures/notes are posted to Epsilen.

Barnett - Helps teachers understand that they too must be learners, not just their students. Teachers are finding ways to be more engaging for students. Professional learning conversations that weren't taking place before are now happening.

Heflin - Biggest paradigm shift has been the move to a Flat Texas. Professional developers need to differentiate for audiences who have a wide variety of technology backgrounds. Also need to post robust resources that teachers can refer to over and over again. It is probably information overload for some. But PD providers are no longer collectors of lists of resources, but providers of facilitated professional development. Allows for more "just in time" professional development across a state-wide common platform.

Q from audience: What is the experience of orienting teachers to the platform?

Heflin - Has learned over time to target the PD at a specific issue they have in their district and show them just one or two features at a time. Wishes he could retrain his first trainees. Starts with specific resources like OnTRACK and other state developed resources and courses, then goes to portfolios, then groups and etiquette. Courses are left to last. Talks about networking last for novice starting teachers. Visit his eportfolio at where he is posting his resources.

Ingram - Teachers have an extra planning period called a Technology Integration Period (TIP) for learning about and planning for teaching with technology. (WOW!!!) This has helped with getting teachers accustomed to using the tech with students.

Barnett - Encouraging use for even small conversations helps the students get more comfortable. Giving teachers access to each other encourages use. PD can be what individual teachers need when they need it. Don't be in a hurry and take baby steps.