Late in June, 2000 I applied for the Gallagher/Galileo Post-Doctoral Fellowship. I was excited to hear the voices of Sharon Friesen and Brenda Gladstone as they shared their experiences and provided an understanding of the Galileo Network. I became energized by the opportunities that this Fellowship might offer, although I was somewhat reticent to get too excited as the Dean advised that other worthy recipients had also applied. As I left the interview I felt that I had been in the company of those whose spirit illuminated characteristics of innovation, risk taking, and of wanting to transform educational practice to reflect learning that was valuable and meaningful.
A week went by and part of me thought that a decision had already been made and that I should anticipate a letter of 'thank you, but…' I felt elated and privileged when the Dean called to apprise me of the fact that I have been selected as the Fellowship recipient. I immediately called the Galileo Centre to get a greater understanding of what I should anticipate as a member of the Galileo team. Everyone was very accommodating making my transition to the Galileo Centre an enjoyable experience.
In speaking to Pat, Candace, Barb, and Brenda I began to get a feel for the collective experience and knowledge that these individuals possess and realized what a wonderful learning opportunity this would be for me.
My first week at the Centre was one of 'settlement'. I met Richard, the technical lama, and Dr. Michele Jacobson, the first Galileo Fellow who was generous in sharing her experiences. I also continued to become better acquainted with Dr. Patricia Clifford, Dr. Sharon Friesen, Candace Saar and Brenda Gladstone. It was a collective decision that I would spend the first month 'meandering' around the various schools that were part of the Galileo Network with the intent of finding something that would direct my research efforts.
Concurrently, I was on the executive committee responsible for the Conference on Gifted and Talented Education to be held at the University of Calgary in November of 2000. I was asked to speak at the conference, and in turn I asked Pat if she might be interested in co-authoring and/or co-facilitating at the conference. I suggested that the topic might probe how technology can be implemented to enhance the teaching and learning of gifted students. Immediately, Pat spoke of sharing student work and of ideas that she thought might be worthy of conferencing. I was again excited and welcomed the opportunity of working with someone having such vast experience and understanding of teaching with technology.
The second week as the Galileo Fellow was the first week of journey and adventure. On Monday, September 11, 2000, I spent the day at Glendale School. Candace, Pat and Richard co-facilitated a Professional Development session titled, "Knowledge Matters: Putting Technology In Its Place". The dialogue centered on research that children might engage in that would take them beyond the 'gathering' of information stage. There was an understanding that the gathering of information was only valuable if students could make meaning; perhaps new meaning; from whatever has been gathered.
Historically teachers were 'curricular' deliverers and in the information delivery system this worked well (i.e. industrial model of education). However, in this professional development session teachers investigated the question of whether covering things (i.e. the curriculum) means that learning is transpiring. Teachers collegially shared, discussed, and took risks with ideas that were provocative and sometimes contentious. "Can I cover all of the curriculum and still look at big questions?"; "Can I have one day in the month where I can still teach?"; "How do I ensure that teacher and student investigates worthy issues rather than trivializing learning?"; "How do we ask the right questions when we were never taught to question?" or practitioners these are big questions, requiring shifts in thinking and more importantly shifts in practice. It is a risk to allow students to co-direct the investigation. Requirements of the Provincial Achievement Tests, convincing parents that what is being learned is relevant, meaningful, and different from the way we learned and the perception among practitioners that there is a need to demonstrate scholarship through 'stand and deliver' teaching, requires great effort, support and faith. It became evident that the intent of the session was to stimulate thinking and to provide the necessary support for teachers to apply what they had learned in their classrooms. The session was important in helping teachers feel comfortable with technology that might enrich and enhance teaching and learning. All voices at the session were heard, and the voices were speaking of the need to take small steps, to acknowledge that change brings with it trepidation that can only be overcome through experience, understanding and familiarity.
I also spent a day at Dr. Gibson elementary school in Okotoks. At this school, several teachers were working with Barb to create learning environments that engage students as active participants. Barb provides ongoing support to teachers. There are fifteen teachers in total at this school and Barb is working with ten of them and will begin working with the remaining five in January. Barb commented that the Galileo network has encouraged the staff and students to come together as a "community of inquirers", prepared to consider the big questions. She encourages teachers to think about 'projects' that would provide learning that is meaningful and authentic. Teachers feel comfortable with project based work because they are familiar with the concept. It is once they have reached a comfort level, that the infusion of technology is encouraged. Weaving in technology serves the projects, rather then projects serving technology.
The culmination of the second week saw a group of Galileo facilitators dialoging about the direction of their work within the schools they served. There was an understanding that the Galileo network worked within the boundaries of the schools' policies, but innovative practice stretched those boundaries creating some tension between tradition and change. Teachers, being supported by the Galileo Network, forge ahead with some trepidation although the support provided by the Galileo facilitators served to allay most reservations and anxiety that arise when change is introduced. These facilitators are a group of educators that I have characterized as 'searchers', 'leading lights', and 'cogitators'. They are 'searchers' because they are constantly investigating and exploring ways of improving teaching and learning practice. They are 'leading lights' as they illuminate the path for educators in understanding how technology can be woven into practice. And they are cogitators, constantly thinking, reflecting and pondering their actions, often mediating change in teaching and learning.
In the third week I visited Banded Peak. I was excited by the higher order thinking skills that were evidenced in my observation of students. One assignment saw the students deciding on a continent that they would study; selecting the demographics of the major countries within that continent and plotting them using excel. Then from the selected demographics students would develop a 'big question', which they would investigate and present to the class. Students worked in groups, collaborating throughout the process. It was exhilarating to observe student engagement, student participation, student interest and most importantly student learning using authentic information and creating authentic products. Both the process and the product were integral elements in student learning.
The final week of my first month as a fellow saw me observing at a High School in rural Alberta where Candace served as the Galileo facilitator, as well as returning to Glendale Elementary School for another visit.
What the observations and visits to the schools provided, was an understanding of what direction my research would take. I was drawn to research that might provide an understanding of how technology integration differs among schools within an enabled school district and what successes and barriers arise out of those differences. Questions that require investigation from my perspective include:
- Who were the major stakeholders responsible for the integration of technology within the school district?
- What is the policy related to the use of technology within conventional classroom as set out by the school district?
- Within the context of reform, what are the constituents creating the need for the integration of technology?
- What mandates and directives are required in integrating technology?
- What other requirements are needed for the integration of technology?
- What and/or who are the supporters and/or impediments in the integration of technology?
- How do policies and procedure address expectations for student performance?
- How do policies and procedures address the ICT outcomes?
- Why was technology integrated into conventional classroom settings?
- How does school administration impact the integration of technology?
- In what ways does funding impact the integration of technology within schools and at the district level?
- Has a technology committee been established to direct policy and procedure regarding the integration of technology?
- What types of hiring criteria have been established regarding the technological competencies of prospective teachers and administrators to the district?
- How do students and teachers work together to integrated technology?
- How does technology integration effect program differentiation in terms of meeting diverse student needs?
- Is technology integration more applicable to a certain caliber of ability?
- What enrichment and remedial strategies does integration offer?
- How much teacher time is utilized in the area of professional development directly related to technology integration?
- How are the computers in schools structured?
- How is flexibility in connectivity addressed in schools?
- Who makes infrastructure decisions related to the integration of technology?
- On what basis are these decisions made?
- What security measures are implemented relative to the integrations of technology?
- How far from a standard install base are the computers in the school? (i.e. how differentiated are they for the objectives and goals to meet the software application)
- What types of professional development have teachers engaged in within the last three years?
- What were the driving forces behind decisions regarding the direction that professional development activities would take?
- What has been the outcome of the professional development activities?
- What types of evaluatory measures have been implemented to ascertain the application and success of professional development pursuits?
- Has the direction of professional development changed within the last year?
- What types of technology support do teachers have access to within the school or school district?
- What indicators are there within the schools three-year business plan that includes professional development?
- What indicators are there within the schools three-year business plan that includes technology support?
- What is the educational background of the school based administrator?
- What types of educational interests are priorities for the school-based administrator?
- What position does the school based administrator take regarding the integration of technology?
- What decisions did the school-based administrator make in arriving at the present level of technology integration?
- In what ways did the district plan influence the school based administrators integration of technology within his/her school?
- What are the future goals for the integration of technology?
- What steps have been taken to ensure that these goals will be undertaken?
- What measures will the school based administrator use in deciding how effective the integration of technology is on student outcomes and teacher satisfaction?
- How do district level committees include parental opinion?
- In what ways have parents demonstrated acceptance or opposition relating to the integration of technology at the school level?
- How are parental inquiries relating to the integration of technology managed?
- In what ways has the integration of technology influenced the Provincial Achievement Test Results?
- How have the ICT outcomes impacted student learning?
The details of the study were shaped in forthcoming months as the Galileo fellow.
During the month of November, time was spent dialoguing and discussing research possibilities. Recognizing that there is a bounded time of approximately ten months in which the study should be completed, it seemed realistic to tighten the research focus. I began to reflect on various school districts and the decisions they made regarding the integration of technology within their schools. It seemed that districts were not necessarily implementing a standard course of action when it came to this integration. I was interested in issues of infrastructure, professional development, teacher qualification and experience, administrative acceptance, student outcomes and structures which enable technology integration which might further an understanding of both the positive and negative impacts of integrating technology within conventional classrooms.
It was during November and December that I wrote the research proposal for the school district that I intended to study and for the ethics committee at the University of Calgary. The study was titled, The Effective Integration of Technology Within an Enabled School District.
During these two months I had been contracted by Alberta Learning to provide a 'train the trainers' session relating to Book 7, Teaching Students Who Are Gifted and Talented. This contract took me to six different sites in the Province of Alberta. This provided the opportunity to speak to educators about teaching and learning relative to the gifted and talented, but it also provided an opportunity to describe the professional development that the Galileo Educational Network could provide to school districts relative to inquiry-based learning and the effective integration of technology. I found that I not only served as trainer for the Alberta Learning manual, but as an ambassador to the Galileo Educational Network's. It was/is exciting to be believe in principal to the practical and philosophical approach that Galileo embraces relative to teaching and learning and I will continue to bring about an awareness and understanding of Galileo's purpose and practice. The type of professional development that Galileo offers is one that is sustainable and that does bring about positive change to the educational context.
December was a month of anticipation and tension. I was scheduled to defend my Ph.D. study on December 9, 2000. The staff at the Galileo Educational Network provided much support and graciously hosted a celebration after the event. It was at that time that I understood what an amazing group of people with whom I had been given the honor of working.
While waiting for ethical approval from the University of Calgary, I began to collaborate with the school district whom had agreed to my research proposal, to finalize which schools would be included, who would be interviewed, what questions would be asked and setting up dates and times for all of this to transpire.
During this time, I also wrote a conference proposal for the World Conference on Gifted and Talented Education, which was to be held in Barcelona Spain. The topic of the proposal was Virtual Schooling: The Promise of Online Leaning for Gifted and Talented Students. I also presented a proposal to the Alberta Consortia relative to the possibility of collaboration with the Galileo Educational Network. This type of collaboration and communication is necessary to bring about a continued understanding of the potential of Galileo and the potential to work together with other groups interested in facilitating professional development at a provincial level.
Further, in these two months, I also completed writing the study for a private school on the integration of laptops at the grade six level. This report was presented to their board of governors and was instrumental in their decisions relative to future integration of laptop computers. I have been asked to continue to study the project as it evolves and will serve on their academic committee this year. I submitted this study as the 2000 Galileo Post-Doctoral Fellowship Recipient.
These three months were spent in the various schools that were being used as investigative sites. Data was collected during these three months via survey, interview, observation and document analysis. During this time I spent two to three days each week in the schools. Concurrently, transcriptions of the interviews were being completed and data was being organized.
In April, I spoke at a conference held at Mount Royal College in Calgary on the topic of Online Learning: Changing the Face of Teaching and Learning. This turned out to be a very provocative session, with lively discussion and provided a great deal of reflection afterwards.
These two months were spent writing up the data that was collected. The amount of data that was collected required more analysis than was anticipated and therefore the report is scheduled to be completed by the end of September, 2001.
My proposal to speak at the World Conference on Gifted and Talented Education was accepted and I presented in Barcelona on Aug. 3, 2001. This opportunity opened the door to international research possibilities, which I am beginning to consider. Any research that falls out of that conference will be part of the Galileo Educational Networks portfolio of studies. I am pleased to continue my association with Galileo.
In October of 2001, I have been asked to facilitate follow-up sessions to the training sessions that were provided for Alberta Learning in the fall of 2000. This will provide another venue to apprise school districts of the professional development possibilities offered by the Galileo Educational Network.
Having been awarded a Post-Doctoral Fellowship is reason enough to be ecstatic. To have the opportunity to work with colleagues who are dedicated, committed and scholarly is reason for celebration. Working with the Galileo Educational Network has provided the opportunity to understand a pedagogical approach that is sensible, admirable and worthy. As a seasoned teacher of 18 years I have come to question most professional development endeavors that take the approach of a 'one shot affair', with little voice from educators in selecting the topic and which are often impractical and of no value. As a consultant who travels extensively providing professional development, the Galileo Educational Network has taught me the merit of an approach that is sustainable, viable and worthy. It is my pleasure to be able to share this with all educators.
For future fellowship recipients, I leave with you the notion that your time at Galileo will offer:
* Time for research, and publishing
* Time to learn from scholars in the field of educational technology
* An opportunity to serve as Ambassador to the Network, sharing successes
* A mind-opening experience which will be enduring
To the Galileo Educational Network and to the Gallagher family, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for this experience and for the camaraderie and fellowship that everyone at the Galileo Educational Network has shown me.
Rosina Smith Ph.D.