Editor's Note: This is the third of four reports
on a collaborative distance learning program involving Duquesne University
in the United States and University of Ulster in Ireland. These two articles
by Richard Wallace and Mary Mallon continue the documentation, initiated
in USDLA Journal June Issue, of implementation of this extraordinary International
Distance Learning program. The web site listed by Ms. Mallon is representative
of resourses now available.
Part of Dr. Wojnar's Introduction for the June Issue is
repeated below to provide context for these excellent contributions to
the understanding and implementation of complex, successful International
Distance Learning.The fourth and final report will be published in the
August Issue of USDLA Journal.
Setting Everyone Up for Success - Part III
International Program: Duquesne University and University of Ulster
Our focus here continues to be toward the middle phase
of the International Masters in Instructional Technology Program: Distance
Learning Strand that partners Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA with
the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.
The courses that will be discussed in this Issue are:
- Technology and Education, which was taught in a weekend face-to-face
format by Duquesne University faculty and covers integrating technology
into the classroom,
- Management of Instructional Technology- taught jointly between
Duquesne University faculty and Northern Ireland administration, and
- Multimedia Literacy-taught in Northern Ireland by University of
Two tutors, Mary Mallon and Richard Wallace from the
University will share their experiences, culminating in the summer visit
to Pittsburgh. Since the focus of the programme was distance learning,
the International Masters was intentionally designed so that the location
of the courses would rotate between Northern Ireland and Pittsburgh. The
programme was also designed to demonstrate teaching using a variety of
teaching technologies and methodologies:
- Hybrid (a combination of classes taught on-site and online),
- Totally online using learning management systems that supported
asynchronous (participants responding at different times) and synchronous
platforms (everyone online at the same time),
- Individual and Team Teaching
Only by participants experiencing these instructional
technologies and methodologies first-hand as participants and as end-users
will they know which ones to select for their own teaching.
The August Issue will discuss:
- The holistic approach to the instructional design of the Distance
- The social planning before and during the summer residential by
the Ireland Institute,
- The Pittsburgh residential component,
- The culminating stages of the programme highlighting excerpts of
all participant course work, transcript dialogues, case stories, photos,
- The final programme assessment and evaluation by Duquesne University,
the University of Ulster, and the Northern Ireland Government. Consider
the high stakes for every person involved in this innovative initiative:
- Designing a programme’s framework and instruction that passes the
test of quality content in distance and online learning and context relevance
adapted to a specific country and evaluated by three stakeholders: Duquesne
University, the University of Ulster, and the Northern Ireland Government,
- Projects that need to be created by each participant that will
move their country forward in ICT
If they are fortunate, educators will experience this
magnitude of instructional design, pedagogy, and participation found in
our experiences at least once in their lifetime. As the programme and
the process progress, the emerging spirit of the experience is life changing.
Preparing for Pittsburgh
Two weekends were set aside for GITED 511, the unit
on Technology and Education delivered by Dr Larry Tomei. For me, this
was the ‘real’ beginning of the course. We met as a group in the Quality
Inn at Carrickfergus and so we had time to get to know each other as we
travelled back and forward to the University of Ulster at Jordanstown.
We were united in our aspirations to make the whole scheme a success and
were not disappointed by Larry. I used the word delivered deliberately
since Larry was more than just our teacher or lecturer. He soon became
our facilitator and had actually done some preparation … and it was on-line,
boy, was it online! There were so many articles and relevant sites in
the 59 sites he gave us in the introduction.
We were introduced to WebCT and found our syllabus,
assignments and schedule of Activities there on the Duquesne Site. It
is probably true to say that we greeted this with a mixture of admiration,
relief and desperation. Larry had posted at least 24 online articles and
references and that was only the beginning. I was in a dilemma since I
was unsure if I meant to read these onscreen or print them out for later.
I suppose too I was wondering just how long this rich source of information
would remain available. In the end I went for the print option and so
I have amassed a number of huge lever arch files for this and every other
unit. I could not have managed without the facilities in school and my
newly created study at home.
I have already mentioned the fact that conferencing
on NINE died at an early stage in unit 1. I do think that the lack of
proper, fully paid for, communications facilities for each participant
would have helped and should have been provided as part of the package.
It would have cost relatively little more to have done this and would
have helped create our virtual learning community so much earlier. I also
appreciated the use of the facilities in school. Printing hundreds of
sheets on an inkjet printer at home is not much fun!
The first weekend really brought the group together.
Of course we went though all the introductions again but this time there
was a marked change in what people said about themselves. At an earlier
stage many people were setting out their stalls, now they had much more
of a respect for each other. We spent a lot of time looking at the references
and trying to find our way around WebCT. I suppose we were all struck
by the convenience of this medium. We had access to some of the finest
research articles from the comfort of a computer chair. The course was
well designed and had the course expectations and learning outcomes clearly
identified. I’m not sure if Larry ever knew just how much we had appreciated
his efforts and I do know that by this stage of the course the group was
already getting a reputation for ‘taking no prisoners’!
Another pleasing aspect of Larry’s style was his belief
in Executive Summaries and flexible deadlines. He treated us like the
professionals we were. After all we were group that had been selected,
as we have often been told, from the ‘best of the best’ and for our abilities
to take risks. The Executive Summary, which was often all that he required
from us, removed a lot of the pressure but the fact that the unit was
basically delivered in 4 days meant that, for the first time, we began
to realise just how stressful the whole course might be. All of the participants
were involved in fairly high-powered day jobs and to give up two consecutive
weekends meant that the month of March went by in what could only be described
as a blur! Larry moved the deadlines to accommodate our needs and so,
for the first time, many of us began to see the fundamental difference
in the assessment techniques of the universities of the two countries.
There has certainly been a narrowing of that gap as the course has progressed
but, sadly, little or no let up in the pressure to meet one deadline after
another, no matter how flexible they seem.
The assessment rubric presented by Larry on the course
was an eye opener for me. We were being given marks to attend! This actually
cost me a ‘free lunch’ with the BBC. I was invited to join a group that
would advice the BBC on the proposed digital curriculum but, because it
feel on one our days away and also because of these 200 point for attendance
I declined. And then there was the amount of marks required to attain
‘outstanding work’. While we all knew that our work was outstanding, few
of us had really expected to be able to reach 96%. This was outside my
experience either as a teacher or a pupil. I have been chief examiner
for Computer Studies in the past and have seen some ‘outstanding’ work
in both theory and written papers but have not seen anyone reach 96% or
Larry described his unit as being a ‘hands on’ course
and we were not disappointed. The course book was his draft of the ‘Technology
Façade’ and this really started many of us thinking along new lines. For
years we had seen huge sums of money being poured into technology and
training but hadn’t really seen any evidence of accountability from those
who provided it. People probably felt that technology does make a difference
to teaching and learning but, as this is too hard to measure, then it
was best being ignored. It is interesting for me to note that one of the
many issues that is being addressed by Government is this very one of
accountability. Some members of the group took Larry’s ideas and personalised
them for the Northern Ireland audience.
The vast amount of current and relevant on-line material
really whetted my appetite for reading and for sharing this research with
my Headmaster and other interested colleagues in school. I was also encouraged
to look for other material that was more pertinent to the Northern Ireland
or British Isles situation. I found so much information on the British
Educational communications and Technology agency (BECTa) site (www.becta.org.uk)
and on the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) sites. The one piece of material
that I most appreciated was the ‘Guidebook for Developing an Effective
Technology Plan by the Graduate Students of Mississippi State University
under the direction of Dr Larry Anderson. I remember writing at the end
of it ‘Larry, this must have been written for me, thank you for sharing
These materials were a more than adequate preparation
for my submission to BECTa to be considered in the Management section
of their ICT in Practice Awards. Linda Wojnar was one of my proposers
and eventually in January I was one of the winners of this Award. It was
a tremendously proud moment for me to be there in London with my Headmaster,
David Knox, to receive the cheque for £2500GBP and another for a similar
amount for the school. My only regret was that Linda was not there with
me to share in this success. Two further prestigious awards came my way
this year and they are due in no small measure to the inspiration I received
from Larry and Linda as well as many of my colleagues on the course and
Many other aspects of the two weekends strike me as
I reflect on them. One was the wide range of demonstrations that people
put together for their unit on technology in the classroom. We had not
been used to relating technology to pedagogical foundations nor to an
in depth study of Bloom’s taxonomy, or at least I had not and so we were
being faced with the need to justify all that we said. We looked at Larry’s
paper on ‘Using a Taxonomy for the Technological Domain’.
At the Technology in the Classroom presentation session
I still remember Mary’s demonstration of her cordless mouse and how useful
she had found it for Primary schools when there was only one laptop and
a data projector available. Siobhann Matthewson, a member of the cohort,
painted a tremendous picture of her classroom as she struggled to introduce
her children to chatting as a learning medium. Richard Hanna, another
member of the cohort, and I presented our Intranet as an example of how
we were using technology in school. It was clear from the reaction that
people actually needed to see it and not just be told about it. We did
this during the second weekend and won many converts to its potential
The Intranet in Ballyclare is a measure of our success
and we have evaluated our technology through Larry’s façade rubric before
using it as a means of gaining success in national IT competitions. We
saw all kinds of hardware and software and, I know, many of us went away
from the University of Ulster at Jordanstown after those weeks feeling
quite inspired and ready for the challenges of Pittsburgh. We had, however,
begun to see and identify those who were really prepared in their work
and attitude and those who hoped they could get by with all their prior
knowledge without any serious work or study.
We did experience interactive synchronous chatting
in one of the follow-up sessions but a combination of a lack of a real
topic for discussion and a number of unresolved technical problems meant
that it was largely irrelevant to our needs. We had missed its real potential
as a learning tool and it was not until we met it again in Pittsburgh
under the direction of an expert that we began to appreciate its usefulness.
I have often wondered how Larry felt about us after
those hectic weekends and did he feel the same degree of threat that had
been evident towards the tutor in the first unit. He promise that we would
all see a ball game while we were in America and went home with an Ireland
rugby shirt as a token of our appreciation. He also took with him the
problem of how to resolve the accommodation issue we had raised, an issue
that would rear its head each time we met and one which vexed many people.
The Pittsburgh Experience
At the same time as I have studying for this Masters
I have found time to be involved as the co-writer of a new General Certificate
of Secondary Education (GCSE) Information Communication Technology (ICT)
syllabus for Northern Ireland’s Examinations and Assessment Council (CCEA).
I did most of the research and the actual writing of this course which
has been well received by the Qualifications Curriculum Authority (QCA)
and by the various groups of teachers who have seen it.
I wrote all the specimen questions and exemplar materials
for the scheme. There are two versions of the course, a ‘short’ course
and a ‘full’ course. It struck me that an online version of the ‘short’
course would have a ready market. The short course is not half as easy
as the ordinary GCSE course – it just has half the content. Many schools
will not be able to offer it because of timetabling restrictions but,
there are so many people, both of school age and beyond who would benefit
from it that it could turn out to be a ‘best seller’ –that is in my humble
I submitted the original proposal and report about
my intention to make a start on developing this course in Pittsburgh to
Linda who responded almost immediately in a most positive manner. This
is the way I like to work. Obviously I am flattered if people appreciate
what I write but I do like them to challenge me and not just pretend my
work is good so that no further effort is required on their behalf.
Linda and I communicated back and forth a few times
about this idea – this was the start of a unique friendship. There are
many aspects and different levels to the course and, while I have many
ideas myself, I will need a great deal of help before I can continue.
At that stage I hoped to include a Case Study on the use of ICT in a Garden
Centre. Since my return I have completed this in the multimedia module.
I hope that someone will buy the rights to my ‘Virtual Education Tour
(the VET). The concept of the VET is that it is a multimedia visit starting
at the ‘City Hall’ (of any place) and, as it proceeds will visit a large
clothes retailer, a pharmaceutical chain, a Travel Agent, a computer store,
a Fast Food outlet, a Theatre and so on. In each of these places different
aspects of ICT will be examined. Pupils will learn by doing. I hope to
develop this in partnership with a software company.
Pittsburgh came at the end of an extremely busy period
for me. I work hard. There were days when I was working for 16-18 hours
just to keep up with all my responsibilities in school and beyond. I was
determined to do as much preparation before I left for the States. My
reasons were twofold. First of all I wanted to get as much benefit as
possible and secondly I wanted to give my colleagues on the course as
much help and support as I could by providing them with chapter summaries
and questions in advance of our trip. I also had a job to do in school.
I guess I was slightly disappointed, on Linda’s behalf,
with some of the other participants, many of whom declared that they were
‘too busy’. I’m sure they weren’t moderating IT @ KS3 for CCEA, finishing
off preparations for my own GCSE and Advanced level pupils as well as
creating the school timetable (for 1220 pupils and 83 staff!) One day
I was so exhausted that David Knox, my Headmaster, invited me into his
office for lunch and told me that I had to relax otherwise I would be
of no use to anyone!
I liked Blackboard as soon as I saw it – the asynchronous
discussion board for the readings, questions and answers were fascinating.
I showed them to David and he immediately saw an application in school
for A level English teaching. I have been pursuing this since I got back
to school. One of my regrets, though, is that we never really got a series
of lessons or lectures on the actual package in Pittsburgh so that we
could exploit its full potential.
I got all my readings, summaries and the questions
as well as the first research article (516) done before I left. Linda
has probably no idea how encouraged I was by her responses – and I was
not the only one she was encouraging at the same time. This encouragement
was like a breath of fresh air – I had found someone who appreciated my
writing and, at the same time, was stretching me to think deeper and deeper
about the topics. The topic I chose for 516 was ‘The Internet and Literacy’.
This is the article to which I referred in Issue 1. A ‘thank you’ to Linda
for that early encouragement seems inadequate but it is sincere.
At that stage I started to realize the two things that
would bring success. One was that teachers must ‘know their audience’
and the other is that timely positive feedback brings out the best in
I couldn’t wait to leave and on Tuesday 12th June,
with the timetable almost (about 96%) finished I focused solely on Pittsburgh
and made my final preparations for leaving. My journey was eventful as
usual. The plane was delayed because of the storms over Boston both before
it came over to Shannon and then on the way back to Baltimore. I was forced
to stay overnight in a hotel there and this was without my case; it had
gone on to New York! Two dear old ladies from Pittsburgh who were also
stranded allowed me to ‘look after them’. One of them contacted me during
the last week to check that I was OK – I must have made an impression
At an early stage of planning for the trip I decided
not to bring my laptop. My reasoning was that I would work all 24 hours
in the day if I had it with me. If I had no machine I would have to relax.
Many times over the four weeks, I regretted that decision. I missed it
most for downloading the digital photos. While I took a lot of pictures
and hope to distribute these on a CD, I would probably have taken 2 or
3 times the number if I had had an easier way of downloading them. I think
I have enough.
Not having the machine for the reports and the other
work increased my stress level at times since I was always under pressure
to do my work before 8:30am or after hours in the University library.
Not having a machine was good in other ways. I was able to do a lot of
thinking and ‘ordinary’ writing – that was good for me and I think the
quality of my work improved. Towards the end when others were showing
signs of stress I was one of a small number who were still able to cope
without having the worry about leaving the work behind.
The four weeks in Pittsburgh were just incredible.
Everyone in the group had something to give and most gave it without reserve.
As the time progressed and, as we got to know each others’ strengths we
realised that what we were about to create was not 17 different projects
or online courses but several that are cleverly intertwined that illustrate
true collaborative learning. We needed Paddy Mackey , the Senior Adviser
from the Western Education and Library Board (WELB), with us at the start
to look after our non-academic welfare and it would have been good if
he had been able to stay with us for the whole time. The arrival of Joe
and his wife Marie Martin along with John Anderson’s party was much appreciated.
Joe is the Chief Executive of the Western Education and Library Board
and, as such, had the responsibility for overseeing the project. John
Anderson is Northern Ireland’s Educational Technology Strategy Co-ordinator
and has already contributed an article in this issue.
I think it was the friendship, encouragement and collaboration
that meant the most to me. I remember at the start deliberating over my
‘teaching and learning’ philosophy. I like to tell things as they are
– with no veneer- but wondered if people would accept what I had written
in the spirit in which it was written. I wrote and rewrote that crucial
first piece by hand and in the end told it as I saw it. In the end I was
moved by two emails I received a few days later saying how much they had
appreciated what I had written,
I am not arrogant but I didn’t think I needed to change
the way I taught. When we started looking at learning styles, multiple
intelligences, the De Bono hats and the ‘He said, She said’ video of Dr.
Pat Heim, I thought that this was a bit irrelevant. I had this simple
thought in my mind ‘I teach, the pupils learn’! This is what I have done
for years. How foolish of me!
I found this whole aspect so fascinating that I propose
having the learning styles as an integral part of my course. I still hope
to work with Heather and Vivien on this so that I can produce the very
best course for my online pupils. Even my ordinary teaching will not be
the same again! Heather and Vivien, also participants in the course, have
extended their work to move forward with learning styles and multiple
intelligences for pupils in schools.
The first few days eased us gently into the work and
to Blackboard. We had an open invitation to the 519 presentations (Globalisation
of Educational Technology and Human Interaction course as part of the
requirements of the Master’s Programme at Duquesne University) by the
members of one of Linda’s other classes. I remember going to the first
of these on Monday 18th June and being asked to introduce our selves to
the group. I’m afraid I was still at the ‘scoring points’ stage. One of
my colleagues took a long time explaining to the group just how influential
he had been in the NI Education set up. Few of us on the panel were aware
of this but each of us seemed to be determined not to be outdone. I was
encouraged by colleague on my left to tell them all that I was involved
with – that was a mistake and one which I have regretted since. It is
always better to tell people just enough to keep their interest. By the
time we got to the end of the line no one was hearing what was being said
even if they looked politely as if they were listening. Sorry, folks I
got that one wrong!
The feedback from our postings continued as people
caught up on the readings and set questions for Dr. Susan Ko and Dr. Ken
White the authors of our two compulsory books. This was a nice feature
and one for which, once again, we want to thank Linda. I was particularly
encouraged by the series of postings (17 in total) in one thread discussing
Chapter 9 of White and Weight’s book. I had written the summary, contextualised
it within the Northern Ireland situation and posed my questions. The to-ing
and fro-ing engendered by that discussion made me realise just how powerful
timely feedback can be.
Everyone was brought to life by the first synchronous
chat! Jackie Lambe talks about us ‘bumbling’ our way through this in the
small groups that Linda had initially set up. Simplistic as that first
chat was, it was the transcripts that helped us see its potential. To
have a detailed copy of everything that is being written raises many interesting
It was amazing to see the difference in the chat the
next time we discussed the ‘He Said, She Said’ video. By the end of the
4 weeks we became good ‘chatters’ and have been convinced of its use in
the classroom and other situations. During my own lesson I found it an
invaluable resource for teaching or interacting with 5 groups at once.
That would never be possible in a group situation in an ordinary classroom.
The transcripts were fascinating. I studied a few of the earlier ones
from the first lessons and, from these, and from the hints in the workbook,
I was able to attempt to write a rubric for actually assessing both the
individual and the group contributions in these synchronous chat sessions.
This will need some further piloting and work done on it before it is
a working model – the idea has been started and the groundwork done.
We had a fairly abortive attempt at joining an e-learning
class. The network in Rockwell prevented full access to the materials
and had to be abandoned after a few minutes before we saw any of its real
One of the exercises in 516 was the joining of listservs.
NINE/Dialnet prevented many of us from joining the ones that were given
in the manual but we soon overcame that by using one from another source
that Mary had discovered. I don’t think I fully understood the purpose
of these listservs and, as the seemingly, irrelevant emails kept piling
in, I realised that I needed to be a little bit more proactive in my approach.
I had struggled for weeks before I went to Duquesne to find some articles
for the 517 research on Learning Technologies. I thought I might highlight
this on the listserv and kill two birds with the one stone. I wrote my
little piece about the type of research I was looking for and off it went.
I suppose I didn’t really believe that it would work. That door had been
shut for so long but within days, or even hours, the door opened.
The first offer I had was for a poster and then the
really interesting postings started. Like many others in the group I became
amazed at the offers of help from the growing body of online learners
and teachers. My listservs on Blackboard document my most significant
postings. I think I was most impressed by Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher who
(physically) posted her paper ‘Do No Harm’ to my hotel room. It is a fascinating
topic and one that concerned me. I had highlighted this aspect of online
learning in each of my questions to the textbook authors. I am concerned
that some of my pupils may be disadvantaged in an online environment.
Regina’s ‘Do No Harm’ reassured me somewhat. I will always bear it in
mind as I progress.
I do try to be polite at all times. There are always
the down sides to this – one of the subscribers to the listserv told me
off for wasting his time reading all my thankyous to those who had helped
As the first week came to an end we were gelling as
a group. New friendships were forming but, sadly for me, old ones were
breaking down. I spent a long time in the University Library because I
had no machine of my own. This was both rewarding and frustrating. I had
brought all my data on CD format but the library only used floppies. No
disk management was possible either – once a floppy was full there was
no alternative but to buy another.
Our visits to the Ireland Institute were always welcome
and the new friends from the Pittsburgh and District education world will
remain as good contacts as the years progress. As one person wrote, it’s
true that we’re ‘Reaching for Moon and making it to the stars’ at the
moment. I was fascinated by Dr. Mary Catherine Conroy Hayden and the Learning
Portal she and Dr. Jaime Harker are intending to set up. I had arranged
an extra meeting with her to discuss the whole concept and how it might
impinge on the new NINE and, indeed, on the work I hope to do in Ballyclare
High. I will have to get back in touch.
There was a perception that I know everything about
almost all software packages – this is just not true. I have not used
Dreamweaver at all, and, in reality, have not had the need to learn about
any web creation package. I have a team around me in school and we play
to each other’s strengths. I tend to be the strategic planner and the
Desk Top Publisher while others look after the web site and the Intranet.
After the planning session and the lesson by Dawn De Francesco (and Steven
Hardesty) I started to do my site for the Pittsburgh course. It was a
struggle but with the help of others it came good in the end. This was
one of the best features of the Pittsburgh experience – the fact that
one could ask for and receive help from any and every quarter.
The three days in the third week will live in my memory
for a long time. We collaborated with each other in a way that I couldn’t
have imagined to be possible. The trading of ideas, the helpful hints,
the encouraging words combined with the telling and doing brought so many
people together in a most educationally productive way.
Those three days of sheer learning pleasure came after
a very long weekend for me. A large group had gone to Washington and only
a few of us, Anne, Colin and Brian, Byron and I were left. I spent most
of my time in the library and on the laptop I had borrowed. It was during
this time that I got my own lesson prepared and the website created.
I do recall Thursday 28th for two reasons. One was
the hard time which the group gave to the two University of Ulster Lecturers
by videoconference. I’m surprised that they came to visit us later but
by the end of their time we all realised the value of the face to face
meetings we had with them to plan the next parts of the course. The other
reason was the very calming De Bono discussion in the afternoon about
our way forward with the units they were teaching. Linda, and research
literature, maintains that at some stage (probably this one) 75% of the
class should run itself. I found it hard not to be the teacher and the
exercise gave some of us the chance to have an input to the discussions
about the future. That discussion turned a vindictive disaster into a
very positive realisation that some good can come from everything.
John Anderson also arrived later that day and so I
took some time with him the next day in the University library. This helped
to bring him up to speed with what we had achieved. I also did this for
Linda Clarke and Victor McNair when they arrived. It was time well spent
and, I believe, was essential for the success of the autumn and spring
modules. I am glad I did it even though it meant putting some of my own
work on hold. I don’t think that ‘looking’ at the course is ever a substitute
for actually doing it but I do believe that those few hours and the days
that followed allowed all three to get a much better appreciation of what
our group had achieved as a unit.
I learned so much from the first lessons on Thursday.
I observed how Heather and Vivien, Geraldine, Mary, Anne and Fiona had
coped under the pressure of their first online teaching. I know that Mary
sat with her feet up on the desk, but I think that was only for show –
I’m sure that underneath her heart was thumping like all the others! I
made copious notes and the ideas and possibilities that their efforts
threw up remained in my head for days. Some of them are still there and
will have to be recorded before they are lost.
I suppose, if I’m honest, I was a bit disappointed
that some who were presenting on the same day as me did not appear to
learn to the same extent and adjust their lessons or pre-tests in the
light of others’ experience. I also began to appreciate the feelings of
others and their great need for support from the rest of the group. Some
of them were down and took a long time to recover. What struck me on that
day was how with greater collaboration and with our enthusiasm and expertise
channelled in the right direction we could change the education world
(in Northern Ireland, anyway!). There are still some cynics in the group
but there are enough who want to make it succeed. We will win in the end.
I was particularly impressed with the PowerPoint displays and, while I
learnt something from all, I could see the potential for me to use some
of the techniques and ideas from Angela’s Internet searching, Colin’s
hardware and Heather and Vivien’s learning styles. I did resolve at that
stage to include learning styles as a subset of my own online course.
This would have a twoway effect. My ‘pupils’ could benefit and their scheme
would be grounded in a subject specific context. I know that Fiona and
Geraldine have a few minor changes to make before they go forward but
they will do it – of that I’m sure. Each person who presented a lesson
has a responsibility to take his or her ideas forward. I know that they
inspired me. I even made a point of visiting an Art Gallery in Washington
on Jackie Lambe’s suggestion, instead of having a cup of coffee!
I’m sure we would want to record our thanks to Ryan,
the Instructional Technology Programme’s graduate assistant who helped
us all so much during our stay.
I also experienced ‘flaming’ at first hand in a synchronous
chat. Part of it may even have been my fault – for some time I tried to
get the discussion process back on track but, in the end, gave up and
just made some flippant (and probably unhelpful) comments in the chat
room. I do think, however, that a lesson built on a half hour chat on
a topic that was largely outside the participants’ experience doesn’t
keep the group sufficiently focused and can lead to disaster. I do know
that the transcripts were of some use to the person but I have certainly
learnt to keep my chats well focused and on track.
The Ireland Institute’s invitation to Dinner on the
Three Rivers of Pittsburgh in the Gateway Clipper came ‘just in time’.
There are many other social aspects to which I could refer, a social meeting,
a birthday party or even just a pleasant meal together. These helped us
all remain sane as the ‘big brother’ syndrome took over. Many of the people
who had been ‘too busy’ before we came found it difficult to keep up.
Some didn’t even try and this became a bone of contention among other
members of the group. They felt that there was an element of unfairness
creeping in with the ‘set them all up for success’ syndrome. I had many
conversations with people about this – was it fair that everyone got an
‘A’ if they didn’t put in the same effort as others. We are all different
and come with vastly different amounts of expertise. Surely it was the
new learning that was being assessed. I knew that Linda, the course tutor,
was in full control of the situation. While Linda and I exchanged many
encouraging and challenging emails over the four weeks this topic was
I did enjoy the group meals, chats over coffee in Canevin
Hall, the long walks in the balmy evening sunshine, the baseball game,
the welcoming atmosphere in 1st Pittsburgh Presbyterian Church, the outing
to the play and the McAllister family leading us in some group singing
on a couple of nights in the restaurants. Many friendships were formed
– these will last long after the Master’s is finished.
As we entered the last week, it was my turn to teach
and be in the hot seat. By that time I certainly ‘knew my audience’. We
had spent so much time together. I was conscious that I wanted to choose
a topic in ICT that was meaningful and accessible to the others. The last
thing I wanted was a ‘techie’ or ‘tacky’ one! Twice in the three weeks
I changed my mind before settling on ‘IT’s only Data’. The pun was wasted
on most of the participants, but as far as I could tell, the lesson was
well received by all concerned. It was really an awareness-creating topic
and was designed to let them see the importance of their own personal
data. Next to a person’s integrity it should be their most treasured possession.
I had learned from others the importance of appropriate content and that
the timing of the lesson was crucial. In the end, I decided that ‘simplest
is best’ and that good clear instructions combined with a realistic topic
would bring success.
I posted the first copies only 10 minutes before I
was ready to go live. Those people who jumped the gun suffered since their
Excel spreadsheet didn’t work as well as the others who waited for the
latest version. I appreciated others’ help in ensuring that it all worked
as I intended. It is too easy for the person doing all the creating to
assume that everyone has the same level of expertise or that their machines
work the same. Others could have learnt from this example.
I now realise the amount of time that has to be invested
and also the amount of testing and revision that must take place before
any course goes live and also that all links must be kept live at all
times. I am determined to succeed and will have to find the time, energy
and encouragement from somewhere. Two items had to crystallise on my return.
The Garden Centre Case Study did, in fact, occupy my time during Victor’s
module. I had all the digital photographs taken and the ideas in my head.
I have come to the conclusion that my Virtual Education Tour (the VET)
must go out to a commercial source for production.
I think that the VET has potential and could attract
both interest and sponsorship from the various companies I would propose
to use. It would be accessible to the target age range of the audience
than many of the materials that is currently in production.
Many people sent me emails, posted messages or just
told me how much they had enjoyed the experience of my lesson. I was greatly
encouraged by them at that time. It looks as though I will need more encouragement
as I go on. I suppose the ultimate was when Marie Martin approached me
a few days later to say how impressed she had been with the way I had
controlled the groups in the chat – just like a real teacher but in 5
groups at once. I further appreciated Geraldine’s request at the final
dinner in Le Mont that ‘the best teacher in Northern Ireland should give
our group’s present to Linda, the best teacher in Pittsburgh (or was it
America, I ask?)’. It was humbling and left me, for once, speechless.
I had a speech prepared for that presentation Linda, but it will have
to wait for another day or occasion.
I have always been an encourager. I believe that we
only get the very best out of our friends and colleagues if we build up
their self-esteem. That is not to say that should always agree with them.
A word in season, an email, anything that makes people feel good. I saw
this very evidently from Linda Wojnar and I would like to pass it on to
my children and my pupils. Do not miss the window of opportunity to do
some good in life – that is why you are here. This has been my philosophy
for some time – occasionally one gets misunderstood or is taken as a ‘soft
touch’ but the risk is always worth taking and we are risk takers, John
Anderson said. Everyone we meet has a story to tell and some useful information
to impart. I never have a problem sharing my ideas, expertise, time, money,
enthusiasm and anything else that I reasonably can.
I invested a lot of time during the last week trying
to lift morale. Four weeks is a long time to be away from home and it
takes a strong willed person to find that inner strength to keep going.
We all identified ourselves in the Myers Briggs test. For me they got
it almost spot on when I was placed as an ‘ISTJ’. I recognised myself
as a quiet, serious, complex man who thrives, like everyone else, on encouragement.
Many reverted ‘to type’ when the stress came but we have all made it through
to the next stage. I have made many new friends and so we can all build
certainly build on ‘The Pittsburgh Experience’.
During my time in Duquesne I read Dr. Bonita Wilcox’s
and Linda’s ‘Best Practice Goes Online’ paper for a second or third time
but this time it was through fresh eyes. I was not alone in this, many
people read documents again with new meaning and relevance for their situation.
Many phrases now jump out at me and I understand why they were written:
‘doing technology’; ‘content-rich syllabus’; ‘the concept of integrating
literacies’; students making their own meaning and deepening their understanding
through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and thinking’.
I will revisit the paper as I progress. My first exercise was to storyboard
my way forward and circulate this for wider discussion among the group.
People don’t need to be ICT experts before they can recognise what will
work and what will not. I want my online course to maintain ‘the components
of a best practice model found in any traditional course’ I now see the
relevance of these very powerful words. I will work to make it ‘student
centred, authentically assessed (if Richard Hanna and I can persuade CCEA!)
and delivered in a workshop style where students construct their own knowledge’.
For the course to go online in Northern Ireland, ‘integration
technology’ would be vital. I have made many comments about the necessity
of Classroom 2000 (C2K) delivering soon. If we are serious about the digital
curriculum then this must become a reality in the very near future. I
have almost had my fingers burnt in school by proposing that we make the
huge investment of almost a quarter of a million pounds in anticipation
of a seamless transition to a new scheme. This was 3 years ago and I am
increasingly being faced with the problems of legacy machines. But I have
won the battle for the minds of my colleagues in school. C2K, please hurry
up and make my dream a reality before I retire! Ballyclare High School
is waiting patiently and this course will only be a success when and if
there is connectivity.
I have mentioned the time and energy needed to take
this forward. The Pittsburgh Experience can never be repeated but the
lesson learned from giving people time must be taken on board. Ideally
I would like to stay in school and be seconded to stay and work there.
This would be a new concept but it makes sense to me since I would have
a ready made audience in a place where I have a great deal of influence.
I could retain some of my Vice-Principal duties but be released from some
of the other teaching responsibilities. This would allow me to write,
test and evaluate the units in a real life situation. Perhaps someone
reading this will make my dream a reality. If I don’t have time then haste
will only be made slowly. A Vice-Principal in a large selective school
has many responsibilities – adding extra hours to an already heavy schedule
will never allow me to produce the best quality work.
Irrespective of writing a full online course, my teaching
will change. ‘Build them up for success’ will be my motto – whether they
are 18 year olds leaving for university or fresh new children starting
out on their journey with me. I am determined that the pupils of Ballyclare
High School get a ‘quality assured’ ICT entitlement. David Knox, my headmaster,
and I have already agreed that ‘quality assurance’ will be a feature of
this year’s ICT aspect of the school development plans. It has already
been agreed by the Board of Governors and I will be seeking to put it
into practice. I am hoping that I can start looking at this with Vivien,
Heather and Mary as part of the research for 514 (Management of IT). I
invite any or all members of our group to visit us and help us, in Ballyclare,
to become a ‘Centre of Excellence’. In the end it is the learning experience
of the children in our care that is the most important aspect of our school’s
Many will ask if we needed to spend all that time,
money and effort going to Pittsburgh for four weeks and if we needed to
stay in the Ramada Plaza Suites when we were there. The answer to both
of these has to be a resounding yes! It was an unbelievable time of concentrated
learning. My only regret is that I had to wait until I had completed 32
years of teaching before getting the opportunity.
Although I have been involved in cross-community work
for over 10 years with School Aid Romania, this gave many of us an experience
of a real cross-community co-operation and collaboration. I want to pay
tribute to Sister Michelle O’Leary and the other members of the Ireland
Institute of Pittsburgh for all that they have done to make the visit
a success. We were met at the airport, had some groceries left in our
hotel rooms, welcomed before the course actually started as well as treating
us to two marvellous evenings on the Three Rivers and at the final reception
in the Le Mont restaurant. I hope this is the start of a long, happy and
fruitful relationship and that a space can be found for Sister O’Leary
to be among the representatives at our graduation. I probably felt more
‘Irish’ than I had done at any other time in my life … being Irish felt
good but I just couldn’t get my tongue around the letter ‘haich’!
Larry Tomei made so much happen for us both when he
was in Jordanstown and in Duquesne. He dropped in to class or met us with
his colleagues in Canevin, he organised and took us to the ball game and
even ensured that the Pirates won that one. I enjoyed the 4th of July
celebrations. It was a poignant moment as Anne and I stood together for
the playing of the American National Anthem and under the one flag … that
might not happen as easily at home. Perhaps a spin off from the course
is that we can start some real (online) ‘Education for Mutual Understanding’!
It is hard to describe the whole Pittsburgh experience
to someone who has not been there. For the most part we were on a ‘high’.
We were always ‘built up for success’ by Linda and as that took effect
so our expectations and efforts rose to meet the challenge. As a group
we have changed mindsets already – one only has to look at the ‘new’,
barely recognisable, University of Ulster modules and the seismic shift
in 514. This group has the potential to change the whole face of education
in Northern Ireland. We have a belief in ourselves and we have the backing
of Joe Martin, Paddy Mackey and John Anderson. How can we fail if we work
together at this?
Finally I want to pay tribute to Linda and Richard
Wojnar. There is no disputing that he was definitely Richard the First.
The other three Richards were only pretenders. He looked after us so well
in the four weeks and was always on call if we needed him. He was so supportive
of Linda and allowed her to give us so much of her time, energy, expertise
and enthusiasm for many, many hours over the four weeks. She had told
us in Coleraine how we would feel after the four weeks but I’m not sure
how much all of us believed her. On the first night in Duquesne at the
519 presentations we began to get a flavour for the regard in which her
pupils held her. All that we heard that night and more is true. She has
been an inspiration to me. An exceptionally gifted teacher, she has been
a role model for each one of us every hour of the course. Never once did
she lose control of the situation. She alone knew how to get the very
best from us and we all received so much feedback and encouragement for
our work over the four weeks of this incredible experience. I felt so
privileged to be there with my friends. I only hope that they all realise
how fortunate they were to be part of this group.
I would not have missed the Pittsburgh Experience for
anything and have so many happy memories of the time we spent together.
The International MSc will have been hard earned and will be a worthwhile
qualification but that will only be incidental to actual learning experience.
Bringing it all back home
It was seven weeks after we left Pittsburgh that we
next met together as a group. While we had exchanged a few emails with
each other it was good to be together again and find out what each person
had been doing over what was left of the summer. On 13th July
I met my wife and my 24-year-old son in New York where we spent an enjoyable
week before taking the train down to Washington. In total I had spent
6 weeks in America and enjoyed every moment of it. I suppose it was the
fact that we had been up the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building
that made September 11th all the more poignant. Northern Ireland
has known many acts of terrorism and barbarity over the last thirty or
so years but none to compare with what happened on that day. I know that
some good has come out of the atrocity and I do think our own peace process
is the stronger because of the new philosophy and determination to beat
this scourge on a world wide basis.
So it was at the ‘Joint Japan-Northern Ireland ICT
Schools Policy Symposium’ that we met again as a group and reflected on
our ‘big-brother’ experience in Pittsburgh. The first session by Professor
Yasotaka Shimizu was largely wasted on us as we tried to catch up with
each other. There were many other interesting presentations at the two
day event. Probably the best and most relevant from our point of view
were the presentations by Carmel Gallagher from the Council for Curriculum,
Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and John Anderson. Carmel talked about
the effect that Educational Technology would have on the Curriculum Review
and John shared his vision for Lifelong Learning with us. So many of the
things that they and others said had new meaning for the 17 of us who
had been steeped in such an invigorating educational experience with Linda.
What we really missed was the chance to share what we had learned with
the assembled body. It would have been good for us to talk and although
some thought we should wait until the story is complete, I don’t think
it is ever too early to share good news!
We were due to start Unit 514 with Jerry Slamecka and
John Anderson at a residential on the following weekend at the end of
August in Carrickfergus. For me this was the unit I was most looking forward
to. It was about management, policy, strategy, planning and was to be
based largely on a review of the Northern Ireland Educational Technology
Strategy. As part of my preparation I had read this document again. This
time it was definitely through new eyes and I realised just how much it
was ahead of its time. The authors are to be congratulated and it is a
pity that we have had to wait for almost 5 years before we can really
begin to see it being implemented. Still, I suppose, it is never too late
if it works and does make a difference to teaching and learning in the
Province. There has probably never been a better time to implement it
anyway. I was both thrilled and frustrated with this unit. For me it was
an unbelievable combination of relevance and irrelevance. The two days
residential were a bit of a waste of time. We either went over old ground
or dealt with topics that were so far outside our experience that we left
not really knowing how to take the whole thing forward. There had been
a lot of ongoing discussion about this unit when we were in Pittsburgh
and, in fairness to the writers, it had been shortened and shortened until
it was barely recognisable as the same course. This should not have affected
As the weeks followed we were all busily engaged in
the assessed assignment about the review of the NI ET Strategy. This really
appealed to me and the group with which I was working set up our own course
in Blackboard and, from that, enjoyed and gained so much from the experience.
We drew on research from all over the world and presented John with so
many ideas that, if the Strategy Group even takes on half of them, Northern
Ireland’s place as a world leader in the use of ET in teaching and learning
will be assured for a long time to come. At the same time we were all
required to be engaged in what appeared to us to be a totally irrelevant
exercise reading and commenting on Healy’s book about his musings on the
use and abuse of ICT in schools. The book was neither a ‘wee story’ nor
a research document and so we just went through the motions of posting
our thoughts on the discussion board of WebCT. I suppose it was at this
stage we all realised how important it was for the tutor to know his audience
and to be sufficiently visible to keep everyone engaged in his or her
own learning. It was our group feeling that the course we had set up on
Blackboard was what Northern Ireland really needed.
For me the one significant difference about this period
of time in the course was the amount of reading I was starting to do for
pleasure or to increase my knowledge. I was encouraged to read more articles
and books by various members of the course. These were books or articles
that they had found useful and felt that they wanted to share with others.
Often we would trade notes and thoughts about these. Mary had passed on
Linda’s advice that we shouldn’t just read the books but keep a record
of our ‘new learning’ or of the quotations that appealed to us. I have
taken this on board and now highlight the quotations as I go through and
then type these up at the end. I have shared these with others, some of
whom found it hard to believe that I would willingly give away all my
own hard work. I had already benefited from the exercise and there was
little or no reason to keep these little treasures to myself. I know that
it is much easier now when I come to write a report for any of the units
since my quotations are all there in a well organised and usable fashion.
I would recommend this to others.
It was at this time that I began thinking of further
studies. I have really enjoyed this learning experience and, even at my
age, I would like to continue the mental stimulation. I have investigated
the possibility of doctoral studies with the University of Ulster and
did consider the on-line course being offered by Duquesne. Cost is likely
to be a big factor there and, while I would like to continue my involvement
with the Pittsburgh team, I may have to settle for something here in Northern
Ireland. I fully realise that it will be different since I am unlikely
to have the support and collaboration of the colleagues I have at the
moment. I have been involved with the Paperless Exam Project (PEP). This
is a joint venture between two Examinations’ Boards in the British Isles.
I firmly believe that the final piece in the online learning jigsaw is
the assessment of high stakes courses. Phase two of the project involves
the use of computers in the assessment of both Science and Geography at
General Certificate of Education (GCSE) level. We allowed phase one to
pass without any real research into the likely improvement to teaching
and learning so there is a feeling that phase two will have a research
budget, albeit a small one, built into it. Perhaps I can have the best
of both worlds and have one of the Duquesne staff as my tutor as I further
my studies and make a contribution to the educational system in Northern
The Multimedia Literacy Unit was always likely to cause
problems just because the topic is so wide and the participants are so
diverse in their IT experience. One of the benefits of having the two
tutors from the University of Ulster with us in Pittsburgh was that we
could get to know each other and make a realistic assessment of what was
possible in this unit. I would have to say that Victor needn’t have worried
about his course. It was well prepared, relevant and helpful and I know
that I, for one, learnt a lot from it. It was my second real experience
with web design using Dreamweaver and it was enjoyable and relevant to
my online course. I believe that good, relevant, up-to-date content is
the key to success in any website. Of course the navigation must be simple
but the bells and whistles become less important and vital to pupils who
use the site just to improve their learning, or their chances of success
in the final assessment.
One of the assignments in the ICT course is about the
use of a computer system in a Garden Centre. I used the Multimedia Literacy
Unit to design a site around this theme. It was a tremendous opportunity
to make a ‘container’ (no pun intended!) for many aspects of my course.
I started to write a glossary of ICT terms so that I could reference the
‘story’ to these. That aspect just grew and grew and, in the end, I had
over 11000 words alone in this one little bit of the site. I was also
able to include a selection of digital photographs which I had taken in
two local garden centres along with a number of images from Phipps conservatory
in Pittsburgh. There are supplementary notes, assignment specifications
from the actual course, mark schemes and exemplar materials. It was a
labour of love and was very well received by both my tutor and the growing
number of pupils in school who use it. It is available to them on our
Internet site and so they can work away at home at this part of the course.
I think we overcame the lecturer’s greatest fears by
huge amounts of private and public co-operation, collaboration and encouragement.
He wrote to me after it to say ‘I have been the one who has learned most,
I think, in all of this and much of the success that I felt was down to
your support and encouragement.’ This is what has made this Masters so
special for me!
I took a huge amount of digital pictures in Pittsburgh
and have made some of these into collages. One is just a straightforward
example with 40 or 50 pictures arranged asymmetrically around the page.
The others are tiled versions that, when viewed from a distance, actually
make up the face of one of the participants. We had Christmas dinner together
and I was able to make a presentation of two of these collages to Joe
Martin and to John Anderson for his daughter Sarah. I know they were appreciated
as an unusual reminder of the time we spent together.
I have continued to write my course and have been piloting
the use of a Blackboard and Granada’s Learnwise supplemented by my own
Garden Centre. These have given me the opportunities to pilot the course
with my own pupils. I have almost 70 pupils in 3 classes learning this
Geraldine Taggart and I were asked to accompany John
Anderson to the National Association of Advisers in Computer Education
(NAACE) Annual Conference in Torquay. There were about 600 delegates and
we were presenting our experiences with online learning at one of the
minor sessions. It was a thrill to see the hall packed with over 150 people
before the doors closed and then to receive a warm, enthusiastic reception
at the end of our 90 minute session. Speaking at the conference gave me
a chance to reflect on and share with others what I had actually learnt
over the past year and it is perhaps appropriate that I finish with that.
I did involve some of my pupils, 9 in total, in an interactive online
chat in front of all these delegates. The pupils were still in Ballyclare,
John and Geraldine were in another part of the Conference building, Fiona
was at home and I was in front of the audience controlling or facilitating
the whole experience. This was the highlight for me and for all in that
room. They saw, at first hand, how the seductiveness of the chat room
could be transformed into a learning tool. I haven’t got it totally right
yet, but I am getting there. I suppose one of my regrets is that I have
not properly documented every aspect of this amazing journey since last
So what have we learnt? Here is just a small selection
of the things that jump out at me. They are presented more as observations
than properly researched topics but, then again, this is a story of success
not an educational dissertation.
First and foremost is Linda’s maxim of ‘Setting your
pupils up for success’ whether they are online or in an ordinary classroom
as being the real key to successful teaching. This doesn’t mean agreeing
with all that they do or saying that they are wonderful when they are
not but it does mean recognizing that learning can, will and should take
place every time you teach. You should always ‘know your audience’ and
make realistic demands from them. A huge amount of time is needed to keep
everyone on board at the level which is appropriate to their needs. Tutors
should be visible without being obtrusive. I know this but I am still
learning how to put it into practice. Pupils need support since many of
them may be ‘only one click away from leaving’ your course no matter how
well you think you have it organised.
Different topics require different approaches. There
is a danger of ‘death by PowerPoint’ or by chatting just because it is
convenient for the tutor. I know that occasionally I have used the chat
facility to be the ‘sage on the stage’, albeit an electronic or virtual
one. An awareness of different learning styles ensures greater success
combined with using the computer to ‘tell the big’ picture is an asset
… one that pupil’s really appreciate.
Assessment is a vital part of the process and should
always be changing to meet differing circumstances. This is the part which
requires the most work and it is with this topic that we are engaged at
the moment. It is easy to assume that because the materials are available
and accessible at all times and presented in an inviting way that pupils
must learn. ‘You can take a pupil to a computer but you cannot make him
or her learn’ is a good maxim to remember.
Another of the keys to success is the content creation.
Linda advised me to keep it ‘asset’ independent. This means that it should
be available to be used in a variety of mediums. It is good advice since
my course ideas can be transferred to whichever medium is the most suitable
at the time in question. They are not dependent on the school Intranet,
Blackboard, Learnwise or any other Internet site. It takes time and patience
to make it all fit together and to keep everything current and up-to-date.
It is certainly not a ‘fit and forget’ scheme.
Knowing when to let go and allow your pupils to take
over is a skill that I am still learning. It is knowing when to intervene
and when to stand back. I am too impatient and want the learning to happen
in my time scale, not in that of any others.
Above everything else I have learned that collaboration
actually works and increases one own knowledge and understanding in a
way that others cannot really comprehend. You have to do it to get the
main benefit … reading, thinking about it, philosophizing are no substitutes
for actual participation. Take a risk … I don’t think you will do any
harm either to your pupils or to yourself!
This has been a year of great success for me and for
the school in national competitions. I was the winner of the BECTa ICT
in Practice Award for Management in Teaching. This was a cheque for £2500GBP
for me and one for the same amount for the school. There has been a lot
of publicity for this award, the latest of which is a CD which is being
sent to every school in the British Isles to give credit to ‘exemplary
school managers, inspirational teachers and inspired learners’. I suppose
I might be regarded as being all three of these! I also attended a dinner
in the Dorchester Hotel in London to receive an engraved crystal plaque
on behalf of the school for ‘Educational Contribution of the Year’ from
the Institute of IT Trainers. This was in recognition of the vast amount
of support we have provided for our staff and pupils over the last academic
year. Finally my wife and I were guests at a dinner in The Motorcycle
Museum in Birmingham to receive two Award certificates from the Educational
Management and Resources Association. The school was nominated in the
‘Educational Establishment of the Year’ and I was one of four ‘Highly
Commended’ runners up in the ‘Leadership in Teaching’ Category. These
were not IT Awards. In fact the winner in my category was a person who
had turned round an inner city school. We have an ambition in school to
become the best ICT school in Europe … a school where everyone is a lifelong
learner and I am the person promoting that vision. The awards show that
we are moving towards that position.
About the Author
Richard T Wallace is Vice-Principal in Ballyclare High
School, 31 Rashee Road, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, BT39 9HJ, Northern Ireland.
Larry and the Technological Façade
The second module saw the welcome introduction of the
Duquesne staff into the Masters course. Several things contributed to
a positive mood among many of us, not least of which was the fact that
this module was delivered over three weekends on a residential basis.
The location and logistics of this residential module meant that there
was a chance to interact with Dr. Tomei and the rest of the cohort in
a much more relaxed and informal way. It was during the first of these
weekends that I felt the cohesiveness of the group beginning to be built
as we took time to share a meal and enjoy the ‘craic’ after the meal (craic
is relaxed chit-chat, banter and fun with friends). No longer was there
a feeling of needing to rush off after lectures, to begin a long drive
home and prepare for the coming days work. Instead, we were able to share
our stories and reflections on the lessons of the day, with those who
would be part of the ‘big brother’ experience that lay ahead.
This was my first introduction to a Virtual Learning
Environment, in the form of WebCT and I was most impressed at the detailed
planning that was evident in the highly structured course which Dr. Tomei
had prepared for us. I responded well to having the ‘big picture’ laid
out, with all the resources online and available at all times. A stark
contrast to the 200 mile round trip needed to access the reference materials
for the previous module. The flexible nature of the coursework which Dr
Tomei designed also enabled us to tailor the coursework to our Northern
Irish Education system so ensuring its relevance. I carried out
a review of the ICT provision in my previous school, St Joseph’s High
School in Crossmaglen using a tool created by Dr. Tomei, ‘The Technological
Façade’, which enabled the school to evaluate their ICT provision, set
targets for improvement and more importantly put plans in place to achieve
However, by the end of the third weekend, we were all
mentally and physically exhausted after the struggle of juggling our day
job commitments, with that of the intensive demands of the course not
to mention family life. But again timing is everything and Easter holidays
were fast approaching.
Prior to our next modules which would see us all travelling
to Pittsburgh and studying at Duquesne for a month, we were given books
to read and at this point intensive collaborate online became the focus,
in another new environment, Blackboard. I found this an excellent way
of preparing myself for the Pittsburgh experience as it provided much
of the background theory which would prove so valuable in creating a firm
foundation for the learning ahead. Such was the volume of this preparatory
work that the scheduling of one weeks annual leave, in a cottage in Donegal
without a phone or television, proved invaluable in ensuring that I was
able to fulfil these requirements of the Masters program. A luxury many
others did not have. I must however add that preparations also included
much discussion on NINE about our extra-curricular activities and the
Ireland Institute were keen to ensure that all our needs were catered
Perhaps one of the most valuable preparations was Linda
Wojnar’s visit to met each of us individually in Ireland. It was as a
result of this visit that I began to try to plan the way forward for the
online lesson I would teach in Pittsburgh and the course that would be
my focus for the following year. I found it invaluable to have this face-to-face
contact with our tutor as it opened the door to many transatlantic emails
and even phone calls as I attempted to refine my thinking as I plotted
the course ahead.
Big Brother for the Masters Participants in Pittsburgh
There are many words which would describe the four
weeks in Pittsburgh, but for me it was a magical time. We created an alternative
‘Big Brother’ experience and many friendships were cemented as we supported
and encouraged each other. It was a time of excitement…from my arrival
in the airport where the beagle sniffer dogs ‘drew attention’ to my hand
luggage…some around me looked on in amazement only to find that it was
the illegal importation of an apple and orange that so interested the
little cutie…to our first introduction to a structured online synchronous
chat…something which I was immediately sold on and to this day see as
a vital element to online learning. There was such a buzz of excitement
in subsequent synchronous chats, a feeling of energetic, dynamic, vibrant
learning…so different from the sometimes quite measured responses posted
in an asynchronous discussions… to me one without the other is like
only half the picture.
As I learned more about online learning by conducting
my own lesson and participating in others, I recalled something a colleague
in the Southern Education and Library Board Maths team told me at the
beginning of my secondment to the Curriculum Advisory and Support Service.
Gerry Toal said in planning an in-service course he always focused on
what the participants were going to do to construct their own knowledge.
This is sound advice especially in an online environment. All the ‘words’
in the six books I had read about online learning, in rainy Donegal, seemed
to flood back with real meaning; through the many online lessons in Pittsburgh
they became embedded in authentic learning experiences.
My online lesson attempted to develop and extend the
Online Mathematics quiz which was my focus in the first module. I set
about developing a lesson which included the participants viewing a PowerPoint
presentation outlining a variety of problem solving techniques and then
required them to work synchronously in collaborative groups to solve some
Mathematics problems. My lesson was very stressful for some in that they
were not comfortable with the content but the most important lesson I
learned was how vital it is to match activities to time available and
for the future would endeavour to strike a better balance. Upon reflection,
there was not enough time to absorb the strategies outlined in the lesson
for them to be of any real benefit for the quiz, I had allowed insufficient
time for the assimilation of the knowledge to take place before requiring
the participants to make use of it.
There were more highs than lows during the 4 weeks…our
first steps as online tutors...frustration at accidentally hitting the
delete button and destroying rich archives generated by one of my online
groups…being bombarded with Listserv messages…not wanting to unsubscribe
in case the next message held some gem. Seeing the pieces of the jigsaw
fit into place…the pre-reading…Linda’s insistence on meeting each of us
on our home turf prior to the trip and not talking but listening
to us individually to ensure she knew where our hopes and aspirations
lay. To say we learned a lot from Linda Wojnar in those four weeks
is an understatement. Linda is a special person, without whom this whole
program would just not have worked…to me she is most akin to the emperor
in ‘The Empty Pot’ (if you have not read it you are in for a treat! http://pbskids.org/lions/seed/story8.html),
who gently encourages people to do their best and indeed succeeded in
drawing the best from us all…who have been described collectively as 17
captains on a single ship…Linda kept us afloat and threw us a life raft
just when we each needed it, when some us really needed throwing over
board! She well and truly set us all up for success.
We enjoyed many relaxed and happy moments in Pittsburgh
thanks to the Ireland Institute…a baseball game…an evening on the river…
fireworks like we’d never seen before…receptions…barbeques... a trip to
Boston and one to Washington…all part of our magical memories.
I would add the one of my highs in Pittsburgh included
being interviewed via video-conference for a new job. Never having spoken
in a video-conference before I was concerned about the difficulty in conveying
the real me through the limitations of the technology. This combined with
the fact that I had only 3 hours notice of the interview, contributed
to the drama of the whole experience. Here again, it was support and encouragement
from my ‘Big Brother’ friends that helped to ensure that the result was
to be a positive one which would bring new challenges. As the Granada
Learning Consultant for Northern Ireland my focus throughout the remainder
of the modules would see a shift in focus for my work, away from Numeracy
to that of supporting the Classroom 2000 Schoolbox software.
Leadership and Management
August saw the resumption of the Masters program after
our time spent at Duquesne. I spent some time in the six weeks from our
return on the three R’s - recharging the batteries, readjusting
to life outside the ‘big brother’ family and reflecting on the
program so far. It was during this time that I began to source literature
on a range of ICT topics from a range of authors and began my journal
of notable quotes and reflections, another leaf out of Linda’s book. Since
I am an optimist, Reingold (1996) struck home,
The age of the online pioneers will end soon, and
the cyberspace settlers will come en-masse.’ p.415
This module was delivered jointly by Jerry Slamecka
from Duquesne and our own John Anderson, Director of the Northern Ireland
Educational Technology Strategy, using a face-to-face 2-day residential
and collaborative learning in small groups for the remainder of the module.
Looking back on it the two day residential really could have been
three, I feel we could have benefited from a day before the formal work
beginning being given over to us to facilitate our catching up on al that
we each had done since Pittsburgh, how out thinking had changed and how
we each planned to proceed. Akin to giving over the first 5 – 10 minutes
in a synchronous chat to the participants to say hi and chat informally
before focusing in on the task at hand. Instead we talked into the wee
Our group of four decided we needed a vehicle to facilitate
the collaboration which we planned for and Linda Wojnar arranged for a
space on the Duquesne server using Blackboard. Although we found it necessary
to collaborate extensively online throughout this module, it was not sufficient,
and we found that face-to-face meetings were essential. Each of us generated
and shared a huge bank of resources in terms of background reading and
the difficulty came in the analysis and collation of the data for the
purposes of the assignment for this module. We simply had too much – we
could have written and entire book never mind an essay. During our time
in Linda’s modules she had told us how some online classes almost run
themselves, we felt that in this module we had achieved this, we had come
along way from the teacher led module…a feature of more traditional masters
courses. We took control, charted the course and arrived at our final
destination using the hybrid model of face-to-face and online.
Victor McNair from the University of Ulster facilitated
our work for this module which focused on Multimedia Literacy and his
time spent with us during our studies in Pittsburgh is evidence of his
dedication. He was conscientious in his support of our individual needs
and continued to ensure we were set up for success. I was really looking
forward to getting started with this module as I had used Dreamweaver
in the first module in the Masters and found it to be a very powerful
tool. This module also offered me a chance to weave together my work in
the Masters program with my new role as Granada Learning’s Northern Ireland
Consultant. The background to my new role,
‘C2K has secured and innovative licensing agreement
with Granada Learning to provide all primary schools, teacher education
institutions and libraries with a comprehensive set of software. The C2K
Schoolbox, which includes titles from BlackCat, Semerc and Anglia Multimedia,
has a wide-ranging set of tools and applications as well as content rich
CD-ROMs. Teachers have welcomed the regional licence negotiated by C2K
which allows them to run the software on all school computers and laptops
as well as their home computers for the purpose of lesson preparation.
Popular titles include Counting Pictures 2, Pick A Picture, and Writer
for KS1, whilst KS2 pupils will have opportunities to explore Pawprints,
a brand new desktop publishing package, and Internet Odyssey 2, a new
easy to use multimedia presentation package.’
for Northern Ireland Newsletter No. 5
The Classroom 2000 Schoolbox is just part of the Managed
Service for primary schools which is currently being rolled out across
all 5 Education and Library Boards. Introduction of the Classroom
2000 Schoolbox into all primary schools in Northern Ireland represents
a huge investment of public funds, and for the first time guarantees that
all teachers and pupils aged 4 – 11 are offered access to the same set
of software regardless of the size, location or financial situation which
a school finds themselves in. The Classroom 2000 Schoolbox comprises
of 30 pieces of software and an accompanying set of manuals. My remit
as the Granada Learning Classroom 2000 Consultant is to encourage and
support the effective use of the software in Northern Ireland at all levels.
The idea to develop a website to support the Classroom
2000 Schoolbox seemed a natural extension of my face-to-face work, as
well as the most efficient and effective way to disseminate information
and provide an opportunity for all the stakeholders with a shared ownership
of the project by encouraging them to contribute to the materials to be
A fellow IMSc participant writes,
‘Excellent idea for a website – very timely with
the C2K roll-out about to begin. This will provide teachers with online
support which will help them to consolidate their face to face training
in the software.’ 18 October 2001
This ongoing needs analysis, conducted on two levels
– content and site design, ensured that I was not risking developing a
site that was unnecessary or inappropriate (Smith and Ragan, 1993). I
was engaging in a process of generating and refining goals which acted
as benchmarks, goals which were revised as the plan unfolded (Shambaugh
and Magliaro, 1997). It was anticipated that the fact that all schools,
irrespective of their size, were to be given only one set of manuals might
be problematic and therefore online versions of the manuals seemed the
logical solution. When this was suggested to Granada Learning they were
fully supportive of the idea and provided them in PDF format. From
this initial idea of making the manuals available online, other ideas
came to light after conversations with stakeholders including teachers,
CASS, NINE consultants, IMSc participants and my line manager.
As a result of the ongoing needs analysis, it was decided
that the website should house a help section to get teachers started with
individual pieces of software that might be of interest to them. I would
argue that the reality is that busy teachers often do not have time to
wade their way through a software manual and so the ‘At a Glance’ section
was planned. In addition to these two sections, I felt it was important
to map out for teachers just how this software could be used to enhance
topics within subjects currently being taught as part of the Northern
Ireland Programme of Study in Key Stage 1 and 2, and where appropriate
how this could be linked to the CCEA ICT Accreditation Scheme at KS2.
A website housing these three components has the potential
to maximise the impact of the Classroom 2000 Schoolbox by allowing all
educators including those students in Teacher Training to have access
to the materials irrespective of the time of day or location. A
PGCE student from Coleraine writes:
‘I just wanted to let you know how grateful I am
of the support website for the Classroom 2000 CD…I have already been using
the Classroom 2000 CD during my teaching practice but I think this website
will be of great benefit to me during my teaching career in either Key
Stage 1 or 2 since it gives ideas on the programmes within Classroom 2000
which can be used within the subjects of Science, Geography, Numeracy,
Literacy and History.’ 6 January 2002
From my past experience in designing and maintaining
a site for the SELB I have learned that shared responsibility is essential
if the site is to be a ‘living thing’ which grows and is refined over
time - it needs to be fed from many sources to ensure it does not
stagnate and die. I am very committed to the idea of the Classroom 2000
Schoolbox site being a site made by teachers and not a site made
for teachers, and this is true for all the stakeholders. My diary
records my delight when at an early stage the ELB ICT teams offered their
assistance in writing the ‘At a Glance’ section.
‘The five Boards have offered to help write the
‘At a Glance’ sheets for the entire 30 programs, thus ensuring the site
is populated quickly. This is a super development as it means that we
are all working together to provide a resource to all of NI, with shared
responsibility and shared ownership.’
Initially I provided an example of a completed ‘At
a Glance’ sheet for the teams to comment on and following that consultation
a template was provided to ensure they would all have the same ‘look and
feel’. Reactions to the ‘At a Glance’ sheets were very positive:
‘The document looks exactly like the sort
of thing we were talking about – something which gives the main points
at a glance and fully illustrated so that they can see exactly what they
are looking for on their screen.’
AAO ICT NEELB, 30 October 2001
‘The sheets look really clear and useful…great job…’
Independent ICT Consultant, 2 November 2001
‘It looks good, Mary. Enough information to give
them a taster of what each program can do without overload.’
Thomas, NINE Consultant, 30 October 2001
These emails also highlight my commitment to consultation
with many interested parties, as the content for the site was being written.
This formative approach was vital in ensuring that the materials were
authentic and written with the end user in mind. Although I personally
wrote the ‘Key Stage 1 Ideas’ and ‘Key Stage 2 Ideas’ sections, based
on the Programmes of Study, I forwarded the materials in draft form to
individuals with specialist subject knowledge in order to refine the content.
It was the feedback at an early stage in which proved most useful in improving
the Key Stage 1 and 2 Ideas section and again it was from a wider variety
of sources as these excerpts illustrate:
‘Thanks for the Geography PoS links document – it’s
a great idea to place the various titles under the familiar headings from
Senior Lecturer, Stranmillis University College
‘I’ve had a look at your science materials and I
think that schools will find them extremely useful particularly since
you’ve linked the activities directly to the level descriptors within
each attainment target and you’ve divided the activities into Key Stages.’
Timoney NINE Consultant
Where advice was given this is publicly acknowledged
on this site, and each time a user prints of a document the name appears
on the document.
Throughout the whole process I struggled with producing
a quality product with meaningful content, I kept asking myself the question,
‘If I was a teacher and had been given this box of stuff what would
I want to help me?’ This struggle was recognised by many around me
and is recorded in many emails including the one below to my line manager,
‘They have grown…Generalities are of no use to teachers.
I think we must be specific if we are talking about really impacting with
real teachers and not just giving it lip service.’
His reply, ‘PoS suggestions are spot on. Definitely
not lip service’ and encouragement from many other quarters spurred
me on. I had originally set myself the goal of having 5 subjects ready
across two Key Stages, this proved to be too ambitious and at the time
of launching the site 3 were ready across the two Key Stages, with a new
deadline of the end of January for the remaining ones.
Throughout this time a similar process was mirrored
in the design issues with the site, and I was privileged to have Granada
Learning web-designers to work with both electronically and face-to-face.
As the site was to be housed on the Granada Learning server and had the
full backing of the company it was essential that the finished product
reflect the corporate look and feel of Granada. Since Granada Learning
is made up of many different education companies I spent an entire day
with a designer looking at the different options available. If a completely
new design were to be made it would have to be scrutinised at different
levels in the company and would not be authorised until the Managing Director
had signed it off; a lengthy process. After much debate I decided to use
the ‘Learnwise’ design as the template (www.learnwise.com).
By reflecting on the navigation and discussing it with
critical friends and importantly my line manager, who knew both the software
and the needs of teachers, I was able to clarify my thinking on the emerging
issues. Upon reflection, I now view my initial plan for the navigation
as being seriously flawed, as it was coming from my starting point,
someone who had been immersed in the software for several months.
The needs analysis proved vitally important at this design stage and as
I continued to learn more about my end users and incorporate this into
my design I shifted the details of the site to fit the reality of where
my end users were starting from. I would agree with Shambaugh and Magliaro
‘One of the realities of any kind of design work,
including instructional design, is the need to revise what one has designed
based on new understandings or trial runs or prototypes.’
Much of the guidance materials produced to assist in
web-design emphasises navigation as being vitally important, something
which I would echo from my previous experience working on the SELB website.
Grey (2001) provides solid advice and outlines a Nine-Step Plan as a model
for design which proved most useful. The purpose of the page design for
the Classroom 2000 Schoolbox site was not just to look pretty or grab
attention, but to help the user navigate easily around the site. Navigation
is, in my opinion, vitally important and therefore I held at the heart
of my design the idea of ‘insistence on consistency’ – so that every menu
would look similar and at all times the user would know where they were
(Levy, 1995). I was constantly striving for simplicity with consistent
I attempted to get two types of feedback on the site,
qualitative and quantitative to enable me to make revisions to the site.
The quantitative feedback will allow me to monitor the hits on the site
so I can ascertain how widely and frequently the site is actually being
used. Qualitative feedback has included:
‘Easy to load, easy to use, easy to understand unlike
some other sites!’
‘Wow! Very slick job Mary! It’s concise and focused
– the structure is nice and simple and the navigation is always visible
since you’ve no long sections to scroll down; so the user should definitely
be aware of their current position.’
‘Schoolbox is a great Web site!’
Kennon P4 teacher
‘The site looks really well and is a really good
Carlin Lecturer UUC
‘The site is extremely easy to use.’
It was also encouraging to received feedback via the
form on the website, and I hope this continues. Qualitative feedback indicates
that the site is being used by teachers with approximately 12,000 hits
in the first five months and almost 80,000 page requests for the same
Part of the whole process was been ensuring my users
know about the existence of the site, as Grey (2001) states, ‘You can’t
just sit back and wait for the emails to flood in. You have to tell people
its there.’ p132
I have advertised the existence of the site in
- In face to face sessions I have demonstrated the site, given
people a paper copy of an ‘At a Glance’ sheet to entice them to the site,
and explicitly tied it into the NoF training tasks. By Feb 4th
2002 I will have spoken to a representative from almost 90% of the primary
and special schools in Northern Ireland.
- The address of the site is on the PowerPoint Presentation
and Wall Planner which I have distributed to all schools.
- The site has links to and from each ELB, CCEA and NINE.
There have been positives and negatives in this journey
– thankfully the positives outweigh the negatives. One negative which
cannot be altered is the address of the site – it is rather long and unwieldy.
On the positive side Granada Learning Professional Development division
wish to use the ‘At a Glance’ section for their NoF training in England
and Wales and therefore the materials will get a really wide audience,
they are making a link to the site pending mirroring the content.
As I said at the beginning of this report I hope that
the site will grow and people will continue to take ownership of it and
provide resources which can be housed on it to share. For as Duncan Grey
‘It’s not enough to write a set of pages,
then sit back and feel smug. Websites need constant maintenance … checking
for broken links, updating content, adding new pages and erasing old ones.’
The work of Classroom 2000 and Granada Learning has
been recognised nationally with an Education and Partnership award by
the British Educational Suppliers Association in March of 2002.
So why not visit and take a look for yourself! http://c2kschoolbox.granada-learning.com
About the Author
Mary Mallon is Granada Learning C2k Consultant, Quay
Street, Manchester, M60 9EA, England.