Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Empowering Teachers: A Roadmap for Student Success #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2012 panel discussion/concurrent session.

Evan Nisonson, President/CEO, Epsilen

Epsilen is a learning platform created to promote collaboration. It is also a state-wide adopted tool in Texas, part of the Project Share initiative.

Nisonson was formerly a higher ed professor.

David Watkins, Instructional Tech Consultant, Region 14

Region 14 is trying to get the word out about Project Share. Teachers have to see it as important enough to invest time to learn how to use it.

Kristi Hernandez, State & Federal Solutions, Region 4

Helping districts and charter schools implement  Project Share wherever they are. All districts in Region 4 except Houston ISD have all faculty and staff in Epsilen. Although there are 900,000 accounts existing across the state, many of them are not active. As a parent, Ms. Hernandez wants her children to have the skills they need to have in the workforce and Epsilen is a way to do that.

Melissa McClatchy, Tech Integration Specialist, Region 6

Like other regions, they are trying to get more and more districts to actively use Project Share. They are using Project Share in every training they do.

Critical Steps in the Roadmap to Success

How do we demonstrate value?

Project Share allows us to meet students where they already live in an online environment. If we can get to the heart of teachers in that this is what the students really need, the rest falls into place.

When training about Project Share, show how the platform can make their jobs easier. Also make the case that the skills students learn through Epsilen are the skills students will need in the workforce.

Any teacher, regardless of the size of the school or district, can open their classroom to resources in a global environment.

What's in it for me in regards to professional development?

It's hard for teachers to leave the classroom for PD. Project Share allows us to have PD within our institution. One district in the Region 6 area creates PD modules based on observations of teachers in Project Share. They have one hour of PD each day and teachers access through Epsilen/Project Share. Now that they have a library of modules built up, they can individually assign them on an as-needed basis. Modules can also be accessed outside of school.

A Region 4 district has teachers accessing PD at all hours of the day and night when it is most convenient for them. Your district leaders can create courses around what your teachers need. Making it meaningful for teachers will encourage them to get in there and use it because they know it is valuable. State-wide TOT PD was delivered face-to-face, but now teachers can also access the state-wide course in Epsilen to refresh themselves on content they were exposed to over a year ago.

Rural West Texas districts have dealt with 4X4 and RIF's over the last few years. Some teachers are teaching outside of their areas of specialization. State-wide TEKS PD courses in Epsilen have been huge resources for teachers.

Teachers have access to these resources and at the same time these resources can be updated as information changes.

Using groups in project share, you can create opportunities in Epsilen for ongoing dialog between teacher cohorts/completers of courses. 80% of the success in teacher PD will come from the follow-up and sharing between colleagues.

What's in it for students?

An online platform is a student's world.

OnTrack lessons and content repositories.

Audience Suggestions:

A desire for learning supports in regards to read-aloud support for struggling readers. Text-to-speech.

Content repository training is needed. Value & how to integrate needs to be demonstrated.

Need more access to audiences outside of their school/district/state. Easy to do with teachers, but not as easy with students. This is probably a policy issue as well.

More examples of how to use the platform are needed - video tutorials, etc. Districts are stretched with lack of staff to deliver this training.

I got to ask this question: There is concern across the state about lack of ability to bring content in from other platforms (Moodle, for example) and lack of ability to export from the Epsilen platform (for example, a student who wants to liberate their blog posts out to WordPress, etc.). Nisonson stated that they are actively working with TEA on these concerns. They have small test beds where they are working on export of ePortfolios, etc. He said he wished I had been able to ask this question earlier because he had a lot more to say and felt that PR was needed to let stakeholders know these concerns are being addressed.