We have launched. Today it is official. We have a new district website: SurreySchools.ca. You can see it here. But it is much, much more than simply a website. We have a place where schools can organize their staff bulletins, post key information and engage in on-going conversations in an electronic format. It is a place where teachers can organize their classes and students can contribute to their learning. It is a place where students can post to their own blogs or get involved in on-line classroom discussions. It is a place where parents can have a view into the classroom and an enhanced opportunity for home/school collaboration and parent involvement. This is a Surrey-made version of Sharepoint. West Vancouver, Vancouver, Maple Ridge and Coquitlam school districts also use this platform. I think it is used in Toronto and many other Canadian school districts as well. Each version is different. The goal of SurreySchools.ca is to connect us, improve communication and sharing and create opportunities for collaboration in easy-to-use, intuitive and relevant digital learning spaces. For us as users, it will be only as powerful as we choose to dive in and make it.
I have dived in. I have my own page where I have organized information that is important to me and that I need to share with others. I have posted exemplars of school plans for moving digital literacy forward in our district. I have groups I have started. This will allow me to communicate key information to those for whom it matters most. The information is easily accessible and not confined to attachments sent via emails. It is a place where I am starting to house links to important websites and video clips that I think might be useful for me and for others. And, it is a place where I am collaborating with others through shared groups and documents. I know that I can collaborate this way through Google docs (and I do that) but I can also collaborate this way through our district site. I find it easy and convenient. I can work on a document anytime, anywhere AND I can set up an alert so I know when someone in my group has made a contribution, altered or added to the document. I haven’t set alerts on all my groups but I have it in those groups where I want to ensure that I know if something has changed. For example, if my Superintendent has posted a new article for members of Leadership Team to read, I want to make sure I see it.
When I sign in to use SurreySchools.ca, I have a ME page. It recognizes that I am a Director of Instruction. I realized that I wouldn’t really understand all that this platform could do unless I was able to sign in both as a teacher and a student. I wanted to know what SurreySchools.ca would allow both teachers and students to do and what the experience might feel like for them. Although I had sat through demonstrations and been told about the capacities of SurreySchools.ca, it is not the same as doing it yourself. Thus, I became the test teacher Ms. Roberts and the student Alan Mahal in the test setting. Here’s what I learned.
What does it do for me as a teacher? As a teacher, my classes are conveniently pre-loaded. All my student information is connected from BCeSIS to my class. I do not have to enter any data. As well, it is updated when students transfer out and or move schools. I can provide an overview of who I am as a teacher, share my course outlines, make announcements, include key calendar information, post assignments, collect assignments, share links, have students engage in discussion and keep their own personal blogs. Not only are my students seeing this information, but their parents can see it as well. As a teacher, I can control how much of this information I want to include and to what degree I want to make it public to others. I can also create my own group for key teachers in my school or across the district with whom I want to share information, lesson plans, or links to resources.
Students can also tailor their own pages. They can decide what to include in their profile: their picture, links of interest, shared documents and more. They also have a space to create groups for collaborating, they can engage in discussions as well as the opportunity to write in their own blog space.
Our new platform is an exciting opportunity to try something new this school year. Teachers who may have felt reluctant to bring their classes into a digital space have a controlled, easy and simple way to try it. Now that the launch is official, the website is available to staff, students and the general public. It is just the beginning as there are many more improvements planned (better support for iPads, for example) for SurreySchools.ca. It is worth exploring. For me, it is about my learning and how I choose to dive into the water. Sink or swim, I’m in.
Thanks to the team at IMS (and @dj_turner) for all their work in putting together SurreySchools.ca. The project has been 3 years in the making. Special thanks to Project Leader Peter Schmit for walking me through its features.