Home' Teacher : November 2009 Contents 36 TEACHER NOVEMBER 2009
the clock. Students post questions at any
time, and receive answers from peers, past
students, several of whom still participate,
now as mentors, or a teacher. Thisfacilitates
sharing between classes, thereby eroding the
walls between 'our class' and 'their class.'
For many students the ability to ask a ques-
tion, any time, anywhere and knowing that
when they return to the discussion board
there'll be an answer, is very reassuring.
A class discussion board also saves
teacher time, since a student who doesn't
understand something can ask a question
on the discussion board, and the teacher's
answer can benefit all students, rather than
just the one who asked. This is especially
true of questions relating to assessment --
and there are always some students who
ask questions about upcoming assessment
tasks. In the past, a teacher's answer to such
a question could have given the asker an
advantage over other students, but when all
questions about assessment and the answers
are posted on the discussion board, then all
students have access -- and that's fair.
Most students already have effective com-
munication networks using MSN Instant
Messaging. I've taken advantage of this
connectedness to provide students with a
convenient way to ask for extra help, much
as they might otherwise do by coming to see
me after class. I've found that the conven-
ience and the nonthreatening forum mean I
get more candid feedback from students, and
I've found they're more willing to seek help.
We also use MSN for group study sessions
online, which students find very engaging.
Unlike many uses of technologies in schools,
the sorts of things I've described here have
fundamentally transformed the way the
class operates, and redefined our 'class-
room' in terms of when class takes place and
even what a class is. All biology students
at our school are involved, as well as more
than 3,000 students and teachers from other
schools across Victoria and beyond.
The technologies I've described here
have enabled me to facilitate a com munity
of people who want to share in the experi-
ence of learning about biology by breaking
down the geographical and temporal bar-
riers that previously prevented convenient
and rich sharing. It's also lowered barriers
between boys and girls, the in crowd and
out crowd, Year 11s and Year 12s, different
classes within the school, different schools
and even school sectors.
The accessibility and flexibility of these
technologies benefit students in unusual cir-
cumstances. One student who was hospital-
ised for chemotherapy was able to keep up
with biology by participating in my virtual
class. Another started Year 12 biology in
Australia, had to move to Bahrain with his
family, but was able to complete biology as
a virtual member of my class while in Bah-
rain. Another was unable to do biology at her
school due to a timetable clash, but persuaded
her school to allow her to take biology as part
of my virtual class while at her ow n school.
This generates excitement among both
students and teachers who feel that they are
part of something significant -- an authentic
learning environment that's not just a class,
but a learning community.
The use of these emerging technologies
needs to be evaluated, and there are two
main ways to do that: objectively in terms of
performance in Year 12 examinations; and
subjectively in terms of student engagement.
The median study score for my biology
class in 2007 and 2008 -- that is, for the class
formally enrolledwithme at my school-- was
36*, which is a surprisingly good result given
the school's intake. On the final exam, 50
per cent of the class achieved A or A+. More
importantly, perhaps, when compared to like
schools, there is a statistically significant dif-
ference between this class and other classes
Adjusted average study score data indi-
cates that this class performed 6 study
score points* -- or 12 per cent -- higher than
expected considering the students which
comprised the class. A similar result was
achieved in 2006, indicating that these
results may be replicable.
It's also interesting to note that in
2007, every student in the class performed
higher than their score as predicted by
the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority for biology.
Most adolescents engage with technolo -
gies that allow them to communicate with
others anytime, anywhere. Adopting these
technologies as the primary mode of com-
munication between class members taps
into their desires and expectations. The
current trend of student disengagement
from school is occurring at the same time
as their phenomenal engagement with social
networking, iPods and mobile phones.
In 19 years of teaching, I've seen few stu-
dents so passionate aboutlearning as the ones
I've seen in the last three years. Some stu-
dents still participate in the learning commu-
nity more than 12 months after graduating.
The use of technologies as I've described
here have been successful because it makes
school relevant and engaging, meeting stu-
dents on their own turf to provide them
with an educational platform on which to
interact. In this way, it establishes a genuine
learning community of students and teachers,
grouped, not by geography, but by interest.
* Victorian Certific ate of Educ ation Data
Ser vice. (2009). Available at https: vass.
vic .edu. au Acc essed 21 January, 2009.
Andrew Douch is the ICT Innovations
Leader at Wanganui Park Secondary Col-
lege in Shepparton, Victoria and an Intel
Master Trainer. He was the Microsoft
Au stralian Innovative Teacher of the Year
for 2008 and a Microsoft Worldwide Inno-
vative Teacher award winner for 2008. He
wa s a keynote presenter at the ELH and
SchoolTech 09 conference hosted by Com-
putelec, in Lorne, Victoria, in August. This
is an edited ve rsion of his presentation.
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