District 211 One-to-One Teachers Conference with Creators of Schoology, Offer Feedback

Schoology logoTechnology can transform a classroom. As new ideas come to light, teachers have the ability to adapt different practices and engage their students’ learning using tools such as iPads and online communication portals.

Several District 211 One-to-One Program teachers had an opportunity to conference with officials from Schoology, a popular online communication and classroom portal used in the classroom. District 211 was the only school district invited to speak with Schoology on April 8 with suggestions on how to improve workflow in the classroom.

“Schoology is becoming more and more valuable to our teachers and how their students’ communicate in the classroom,” said Keith Sorensen, director of educational technology at District 211. “After speaking with several of our teachers, I approached the company with ideas about how our staff could better utilize their product, and they were on board to directly conference with those teachers to hear suggestions.”

Teachers participated in a conference with Ryan Hwang, founder and chief product officer of Schoology, and Brad Baird, chief finance officer, so the company could hear our suggestions and District 211 could see the future roadmap for Schoology. The group was connected through a conference video call at Palatine High School while other teachers were connected through online chat forums. Overall, more than 20 One-to-One teachers participated in the conference.

District 211 One-to-One teachers expressed that although the communication portal has been instrumental in speeding up classroom workflow, they still had areas they could improve. One of those areas was finding a place to annotate directly on students’ assignments that were uploaded to Schoology. Hwang said this will be incorporated during the summer, and teachers should be able to use this feature during next school year. He also informed the teachers of what they can expect from the portal in the near future.

Another area where teachers will see improvement is connection with their students’ assignments and the way they are graded. Currently the District allows the  use of a point-based grading system. Schoology will adopt these grading scales so teachers can directly use the technology for grading and providing quick feedback to their students. Additionally, there will be ways to track learning outcomes and how assignments fit in with the District’s critical learning standards, which define what students should know and be able to demonstrate after the completion of their course.

“This conference was a great opportunity to not only provide feedback directly to Schoology officials, but to also discuss how this tool can better serve our teachers and students,” Sorensen said. “It really speaks volumes to our progress as a District and of our One-to-One Program knowing that the creators of Schoology care what we have to say.”




District 211 Board of Education Approves One-to-One Program Expansion

The program will now benefit up to 7,000 students

The program will now benefit up to 7,000 students.

After a successful implementation of the One-to-One pilot program during the first half of the 2012-2013 academic year, District 211 will expand the opportunity for an individual iPad device to more students in the coming year.

At its meeting on February 14, 2013, the Board of Education approved the expansion to provide up to 7,000 students with an iPad device for the upcoming school year. The use of iPads enhances student interaction and collaboration both inside and outside of the classroom.  Current teachers and students using the iPad devices have highlighted the ability for teachers to provide students with immediate feedback as a major benefit of the iPads in classrooms.

The One-to-One Program has increased collaboration between students and their peers, as well as with teachers.

The One-to-One Program has increased collaboration between students and their peers, as well as with teachers.

“Teachers are transforming their role as teachers and devising ways for students to create, produce, and demonstrate their own knowledge and content,” said Keith Sorensen, director of educational technology in District 211. “Throughout the pilot program, teachers report that the interest level and active engagement of students in the one-to-one classroom is notably high.”

The pilot program provided 1,500 students with the opportunity to use hand-held devices to enhance classroom interaction and collaboration with their teachers and peers. There were 37 teachers in the One-to-One Program, and the expansion will allow 60 additional teachers to transform their classrooms. So far, 85 teachers have applied to be involved for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Many teachers report that homework assignments are generally more creative using one-to-one technology.

Many teachers report that homework assignments are generally more creative using one-to-one technology.

The growth of the One-to-One Program is based on student and teacher feedback, survey results, and benefits they expressed in the program. Many students noted that they received more detailed feedback and quicker responses from their teachers overall. Using classroom portals, such as Schoology, students are able to communicate with their peers about homework and ask questions if they don’t quite understand a subject. Using Schoology as a classroom portal, these discussions can continue far after the student has left the classroom.

Teachers said using the One-to-One program has changed their classroom for the better, not only when it comes to assignments and homework, but also engaging students who historically were less interested in school. This includes students with learning challenges. Homework assignments were generally more creative using one-to-one technology, as well as more collaborative.

The use of iPads enhances student interaction and collaboration both inside and outside of the classroom.

The use of iPads enhances student interaction and collaboration both inside and outside of the classroom.

The National Staff Development Council reports school districts that implement new technology often encounters a dip in student academic performance throughout the first year. However, some District 211 teachers said students in the One-to-One Program had a higher proficiency score on the District’s Critical Learning Standards (CLS) in only four months compared to those in conventional classrooms. District CLS define what students should know and be able to demonstrate after the completion of their course.

Sorensen said reaching CLS and success with the program has revolved around continued reference of the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), which focus on six different points of instructional improvement through technology, such as creativity and innovation, and communication and collaboration. One-to-one methodology is also combined with Education Success Measures from Project RED, a national study of education technology to focus on student achievement and financial implications. Employing these methods is helping teachers reframe their classrooms and increase student success.

Using classroom portals, such as Schoology, students are able to communicate with their peers about homework and ask questions if they don’t quite understand a subject.

Using classroom portals, such as Schoology, students are able to communicate with their peers about homework and ask questions if they don’t quite understand a subject.

“Given the positive outcomes of the current year’s pilot program and both the knowledge and experience gained throughout the year, expanding the program will provide more students with the opportunity to benefit from the learning experiences made possibly by the individual iPad devices,” Sorensen said.

For more information about the history of the One-to-One pilot program, please visit the D211 Post article here. Information about the National Educational Technology Standards can viewed on its website, as well as Project RED here.




Schoology Innovates Classroom Communication, Organization, and Online Access

Schoology screenshot

A screenshot of Schoology's classroom portal.

Teachers are constantly trying to find innovative ways to effectively communicate assignments and grades to their students, while at the same time connecting with parents at home. As students become more focused on social networking and relying on internet communications throughout day-to-day tasks, it only makes sense that teachers adapt to this mode of thinking.

That is why more teachers will be using an online classroom portal this fall called Schoology. The website is much like Facebook meets Blackboard, where students can communicate with teachers and classmates, check for grades, upload assignments, and view upcoming events or important dates.

“It’s great because students know where to go,” said Keith Sorensen, District 211 director of educational technology. “When students leave, they check their grades, or they go to lunch and sometimes their grades are already posted. We want teachers to be using this, and the first step is just getting the materials online.”

Teachers can post assignments to their classroom portal, along with any materials needed to complete it. This allows students the mobility to take the classroom with them. If they have a question, they can create forums for their classmates to comment, as well as post links to websites or upload their own documents. Parents also can see a limited view version of the classroom portal, so they can stay connected with what their child is learning in class.

“Parents are always saying two things. One is, ‘what my kids are doing in school is so different from what I did’, which is true. The second thing is ‘I want to see what goes on in class for myself,” Sorensen said. “It’s great for parents to see their kids’ assignments.”

Sorensen said they evaluated several different classroom portal options, including Moodle and portals powered by Blackboard. However, Schoology was the best when it came to integrating communication and organization of materials into one site, especially with its mobile capabilities.

“Schoology has the best of both worlds, it has good calendar features, it’s like Facebook so it’s familiar, and it also has self-enrollment so students can enroll themselves into the classroom portal,” Sorensen said.

Although using online mediums in the classroom is not a new idea — Moodle and Blackboard being two popular choices in education — it’s how the site works that makes it unique. With the District starting its one-to-one initiative, Sorensen said teachers need to be looking at putting their materials online because it’s the direction students have gone. It also eliminates the need for lugging books home to do homework.

“Getting things online helps students in case they have forgotten their assignments,” Sorensen said. “This prevents anything from getting in their way because they have the assignments, they can communicate with teachers and classmates, and they post their assignments for everyone to see.”

For more information about Schoology, please visit Schoology’s Learn More page and for teachers or school districts to inquire about professional development contact Keith at ksorensen@d211.org or follow him on Twitter for updates.