Improving school improvement with Web 2.0 tools
This article shares four technology tools that can make the process of creating and implementing a School Improvement Plan an easier one. Tools shared include Google Forms, wikis, social bookmarking, and Google Presentations.
As educators, most of us are familiar with the dreaded School Improvement Plan (SIP). Every few years each school is required to create an extensive, detailed document that outlines its plan for constant improvement until the next document is due. In the interim, success on reaching goals is evaluated, documented, and sent off to the central office. As any teacher who’s been involved in this process can attest, creating this document can be extremely labor intensive.
My personal experience participating in our school’s last SIP committee was no different: Reams of data had to be collected and analyzed. Goals had to be pinpointed, voted upon, and revised. Success indicators had to be determined and recorded. It took our committee of eight or so teachers nearly the entire school year to prepare this document. Not only was the process labor intensive, it used a tremendous amount of paper. Drafts, revisions, and submissions to the staff required new copies each time.
Several years ago, there weren’t a lot of options for streamlining the SIP process. But the recent explosion of Web 2.0 tools, thankfully, offers schools many time-saving options. No longer does the process need to be so time consuming. By using the following collaborative tools, schools can go through the SIP process much more efficiently and collaboratively, and with much less paper.
Tool #1: Google Forms
The first useful tool is Google Forms, a part of Google Docs. Many people who are familiar with the word-processing capabilities of Google Docs don’t know that the application also allows users to create customizable forms. With a Google Form, you create a clickable survey that automatically collects responses into a Google Spreadsheet as people take the survey. Survey questions can handle answers in various formats — text entry, multiple choice, checkboxes, and rating scales, to name a few. As with any other Google Docs application, forms are sharable and collaborative.
A form can have several uses in the SIP process. First, it can be used in various ways to survey the staff and collect data. During the initial planning stages the staff could be surveyed on priority areas for improvement. In this sample form, I have attempted to create a survey to simulate this. Once the staff has been surveyed, and perhaps the top five priorities for improvement have been identified, a form could be used to vote on the final three goals to put into the SIP.
Another use for a form would be to create one in which staff members vote to approve the SIP. One of the key steps of the SIP is that 100% of the staff must vote on it. By creating a form such as this one, a school could ensure a 100% vote without using paper, and without teachers forgetting to go to the office to vote (something for which I am notorious!).
In addition to its uses for the simple collection of data, Google Forms also makes it easy to view and interpret results. Since all inputs to the form are automatically placed into a Google spreadsheet, the results can easily be sorted and filtered, as with any spreadsheet program. Including a question on the form such as, “What grade do you teach?” would facilitate sorting the responses by grade level.
After the SIP is implemented, a form could be created to monitor progress towards goals and collect data to support that progress. The data could then be easily turned into graphs within the Google spreadsheet and shared with the staff using Google’s collaborative options. As an SIP is implemented, collecting data to ensure progress towards goals is critical over the next few years, and Google Forms can certainly help.
A quick Google Forms how-to
The Google Docs suite of tools is very easy to use, even for tech novices. The only requirement is a Google account, which is free and easy to set up via a link on the Google home page. Your Google account gives you access to all of Google’s products, including the Google Docs suite. Be sure that anyone with whom you want to collaborate on this project has a Google account as well.
Creating a form is easy once you’ve set up your Google account: Simply log in to your Google account and navigate to Google Docs. (You can also add Google Docs to your iGoogle homepage, although a how-to on customizing your iGoogle page is another article.) Once in Google Docs, select “create new form” and you are automatically taken to a blank form. From there, you can enter your questions using the intuitive Google interface.
As you create the form, think about the types of questions you’re asking and your purpose for asking them. Try to keep in mind how the answers might transfer into a spreadsheet, because that’s where they’ll end up. Think about how you might want to sort and filter the data — by grade level, for example. This might dictate what type of question you create — multiple choice, select from a list, text entry, checkboxes, etc. For example, if you want teachers to select only one choice you should use a multiple choice-style question. If you want teachers to be able to make multiple selections from a limited change of choices, you might want to use a checkbox or a select-from-a-list-style question. If you want a totally free response, select the paragraph text option that allows longer text entry by the survey taker.
When your form is finished, it is automatically published to a website, the link to which is given to you at the bottom of the form. The link ends with a random string of letters and numbers, so while it’s technically public, it would be difficult for anyone who doesn’t know the URL (including wayward sabotaging students) to stumble upon the form. You can send this link to the staff for them to take the survey.
Sharing the results of the survey is also quite easy. The program automatically creates a spreadsheet to collect the results of your form. To provide spreadsheet access to your collaborators, open the spreadsheet and click on the “share” button. The box that opens will enable you to invite any collaborator who has a Google account to view or edit the spreadsheet. A simple checkbox gives you the option to allow viewing or editing for each person who has access to the spreadsheet, a feature that allows you to keep control over the data. Whereas the form is technically public, the data that is entered into the form — and thus the spreadsheet — is private. The spreadsheet can be viewed or edited only by those to whom you give permission.
Tool #2: Wikis
Another collaborative tool that can be used in the SIP creation is a wiki. A wiki is a collaborative webpage that can be completely public, or shared with only a select number of people — the school faculty in the case of an SIP, for instance. At my school, we used a wiki to write the SIP. One of the biggest advantages we found in using the wiki was time conservation. Instead of several months of meetings, it took only an afternoon of staff development time on an early release day to finalize the document. Additionally, the entire staff was involved in the creation and editing of the document, rather than just the SIP committee. As a result, all of the teachers were invested in paying attention to the SIP once it was implemented.
When we began the SIP process, our technology facilitator created a wiki that included the three main goals on which our school had chosen to focus, along with the four or five sub-goals within each goal. We set up a laptop at each table in our school’s media center with one goal and sub-goal on each computer. All of the teachers were assigned to random groups to look at each goal and sub-goal. The group I was in edited the language of the goal and sub-goal, and added specific strategies we planned to implement or explore in order to meet each goal and sub-goal. After about five minutes at a table, we rotated to a new table at which we examined another goal, sub-goal, and strategies.
By the end of the time period, we had created a complete SIP document outlining all of the goals, sub-goals, and strategies for implementation. Creating the document this way enabled each staff member to at least view, if not contribute to, each portion of the SIP. No longer was the document something created by a committee of ten to be hidden on a back shelf in the classroom; now, it was a document that everyone had created, read, and invested in.
Our process was just one possible way to use a wiki to create an SIP. While we edited our wiki in a face-to-face setting, the wiki format also enables committee members and other teachers to collaborate on an SIP asynchronously, from their own desks and on their own time.
Because there are a number of wiki hosting sites, writing a how-to section is impractical. If you simply want the basics of wikis, the three-and-a-half minute video “Wikis in Plain English” by Common Craft does an excellent job of introducing what wikis are.
Of all the wiki hosting sites, I personally use PBWorks — which is also the platform that my school used to create our SIP wiki. To begin with, the navigation and editing tools on PBWorks are very easy and intuitive.
PBWorks also allows the creator of the wiki to add 100 users and to control the access of those users — for free. The privacy control options provide a great deal of versatility: You can allow only specified users to see the wiki or you can allow anyone to view and edit. For example, my classroom wiki can be viewed by anyone, but can be edited only by those with accounts (my students). Our school’s wiki, which contains the SIP, is completely private — that is, a person has to log in to even view the SIP.
Another wiki provider is Wikispaces. Wikispaces provides essentially the same function, but it doesn’t offer quite as much privacy control for free.
Tool #3: Social bookmarking
The two previous tools will help your school through the actual creation of your SIP document, resulting in the painless creation of a document in which the entire staff has invested. The next tool, social bookmarking, will help your school implement the plan and keep up with research and best practices as you do so.
Social bookmarking sites let you — and other users of the social bookmarking site — collect and tag websites that you visit. This tool provides a way to highlight interesting websites, and to organize the multitude of sites that you come across each day. Two social bookmarking options that are especially relevant to SIPs are Diigo and Delicious.
Comparing Diigo and Delicious
The following features can be found in both Diigo and Delicious:
- Both offer a way to collect websites and information you find on the web.
- Both allow the use of “tags” to organize the websites you bookmark. For instance, when you find a really great website on scientific inquiry, you could label — or tag — it with the word “inquiry” as you save it to Delicious or Diigo. In the future, when you’re looking for websites on inquiry, you need only search using your “inquiry” tag to return that site and any others you’ve tagged with “inquiry.”
- Both have a network sharing option in which you can share your bookmarks with others in your network.
- Both allow you to automatically share certain bookmarks among your network based on the tags you assign. For example, I could choose to automatically share with my network any site I tag with “SIP.”
- Both give you access to your bookmarks from any computer, thus eliminating the age-old question of “Did I bookmark that really cool website at home or on my school computer?”
Additional benefits of Delicious:
- easy to use and navigate
- good for social bookmarking beginners
- offers browser buttons you can install for an easier way to tag, view, and share bookmarks
Additional benefits of Diigo:
- offers advanced annotation tools that you can install in your browser, such as the ability to highlight and leave virtual sticky notes on webpages that you bookmark
- allows more advanced search options
- gives you the ability to download content for offline viewing
In short, while both websites perform essentially the same function, Delicious might be a better way to get acquainted with social bookmarking because it is easier for beginners to use. Diigo is a great choice if there are a lot of tech-savvy teachers at your school because of its advanced features like highlighting, sticky notes, and offline viewing.
Social bookmarking and your SIP
If you want to use social bookmarking to collaborate with your colleagues around your school’s SIP, you’ll need to agree as a staff on which social bookmarking site to use because your network of contacts is site-specific. That is, if you’re bookmarking sites in Delicious and your colleague is bookmarking sites in Diigo, you won’t be able to see each other’s bookmarked sites. So if you and your colleagues decide to adopt Delicious, for example, each of you will need to create an account and share your usernames with each other.
The tagging and networking features are critical to the usefulness of social bookmarking for your SIP. To make the most of these features, you’ll want to ensure that you and your colleagues are using social bookmarking effectively. Once your school has selected a platform to use and everyone has created an account, it’s a good idea to publish a list of everyone’s user names, as well as a list of tags that are related to the goals of your SIP.
For instance, if one of your goals involves implementing brain based research, you might set a tag called “brain_based_research.” As teachers find websites on this topic, they can save them to Delicious or Diigo and tag them with “brain_based_research.” The article could also be tagged with the usernames of your colleagues to share with your school.
Teachers are always looking for — and finding — excellent instructional resources, best practices, and teaching strategies on the web. Many of these sites are likely relevant to the school’s SIP. Using social bookmarking tools allows these resources to be quickly and easily shared among the entire staff, thereby keeping best practices in all classrooms.
Tool #4: Google Presentations
The final tool in this list can be used at any point during the SIP process, but is especially useful when presenting to stakeholders about the progress of the SIP. This tool is another gem from Google — Google Presentations. Google Presentations is essentially Google’s version of Microsoft PowerPoint — but like all other Google Docs applications, it is sharable and collaborative.
I prefer Google Presentations to PowerPoint not only for its collaborative features, but also because it’s much easier to integrate videos, links, and pictures found on the internet. It’s also easy to integrate graphs created from your Google spreadsheets and forms into a Google Presentation. Once a graph is created in the Google spreadsheet, it can be saved as an image on your computer and uploaded into a Google presentation.
This application could be used to share progress data on your SIP goals. Since it is stored online and can be shared, you could even create a presentation and share it with the staff via the computer. Teachers could view the presentation on their own time and save a faculty meeting — something I know teachers appreciate.
Getting started with Google Presentations
Like Google Forms, the use of this tool requires a Google account. Also like Google Forms, it’s accessed through Google Docs. To get started with a presentation, log in to your Google account, navigate to Google Docs, and click “create new presentation.” From there, creating a presentation is relatively easy: Google Presentations functions similarly to Microsoft PowerPoint, a program with which many teachers are familiar. I’ve created a very short sample presentation to show what a finished product might look like.
Once you’ve finished creating your presentation, there are several options for sharing it. You can publish it to a website, which is what I did with my sample. If you choose this option, Google will give you a unique link at which your presentation can be viewed. Like the website for the survey I mentioned earlier, this is technically a public website and viewable by anyone, but because the URL is so inscrutable, it would be difficult to find without having the direct link. If publicly publishing data makes you squeamish, you can simply share the presentation, with viewing or editing rights, with anyone else who has a Google account — just like with Google Forms. When the presentation is shared in this way, it’s viewable only to the people with whom it is shared. Teachers would simply open up the presentation within Google and watch it on their computer as you might watch a PowerPoint presentation on your computer.
Given the wide variety of collaborative web tools available, there is no reason that the SIP process should be as arduous, time-consuming, and paper-dependent as it has been in the past. With these tools — Google Forms, wikis, social bookmarking, and Google Presentations — your SIP can be created efficiently and paperlessly from start to finish. From using Google Forms to survey staff about areas of needed improvement to sharing best practices websites via social bookmarking, collaborative web tools allow the entire staff to feel as if they have a stake in the SIP.
Hopefully, the next time your school’s SIP is up for revision, using one or more of these tools will make the process a much more pleasant experience and you’ll be able to focus on the real purpose of the SIP — embracing an attitude of constant improvement and willingness to change, rather than getting bogged down in paperwork.