When I first met Rob, he was a 10-year veteran teacher with a great deal of energy and a strong background in both social studies and technology applications. He had taught ninth grade Global History for ten years and had been teaching AP World History since 2001. He was teaching at West Genesee High School, a suburb of Syracuse, NY, and for the past two years also supported a college-level social studies course in the high school. During the summer of 2003, Rob was given access to a course management system provided by Blackboard.com.
During the first level of training in this new course management system, it was evident that Rob would be self-directed. While I was still teaching others to place documents into their course sites, Rob was gathering and placing automatically-opening audio files into his. Each folder he created, when opened, automatically “spoke” a small humorous sound clip. It was readily apparent that Rob would move at his own pace and put his own style into the courses he developed..
Well, Rob’s “own pace” was lightening speed. Within several weeks he had placed all of the textbook publisher’s electronic material into his Advanced Placement History site as well as all of his class support documentation. Most of this involved Microsoft Powerpoint shows and Microsoft Word documents. He had also used the course manual to figure out the discussion board and placed a number of discussion topics into his course.
Those of us who had administrative privileges, with Rob’s permission, reviewed his site over the past year, observing how he was implementing all the tools available to him. We were very curious as to how he would support face to face classes in a high school with the tools provided in the Blackboard system.
We were not disappointed. We noted two particular activities that showed the level of learning taking place within his course and classroom:
- The posting of student-created projects. These were done by teams and were every bit as sophisticated as the textbook materials posted within the course. Here are his online descriptions of the projects from the spring of 2005:
As the assignments were submitted, he posted them back to the class in a project folder.
- The use of forum topics that carried limited classroom conversations into after-hours discussion. Analysis of the discussions showed postings at all hours of the evening and morning, often reflecting the late night hours used by older teenagers to communicate with each other. The “conversations” ranged from the banal to the deeply involved, single word comments to multi-page reactions to topics such as “Should the United States have dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki?” and more. The nature of the responses showed the norms set in Rob’s class for such discussion, and reflected the voices, energy level, and commitment of his students.
While it would be nice to post some of the actual commentary, Rob has just started his new classes and has few interactions at the time of this writing. Here are his recent topics:
And here is an idea of the students’ responses:
As noted earlier, the times are all, by design, OUTSIDE of normal school hours.
Rob tells me his new students
“…are usually pretty reserved for the first few weeks, still testing the waters and waiting for someone else to take the risk of posting. Around December, they start to feel more comfortable and become more willing risk takers.”
Another particular aspect of Rob’s use of the course management system is that his work has blurred the boundaries between high school and college. As a talented young teacher, Rob has been hired by Syracuse University to offer a college credit-bearing course entitled “SUPA Public Affairs“. Part of Syracuse University’s program entitled “Project Advance” (the SUPA in the course title), this program parallels a college syllabus and course taught by Professor William D. Coplin (PAF101), which Rob teaches in the high school. It is a face-to-face course, supported online by his course management site. Students desiring 3 credits for the course may earn them.
What is very interesting about this is that Syracuse University’s Project Advance has access to Blackboard for its instructors, but Rob’s course is on our K-12 server, which pre-dated the Syracuse University access. While he could export/import his course to the college server, and while most of the content is accessible through Dr. Coplin’s online site at Syracuse University, we manage Rob’s student base and can easily support him through our authenticated Blackboard services which are provided to West Genesee Central School District (along with 19 other districts).
At this point we are interested in supporting Rob’s work, while examining the SUPA affiliation. We hope to work with Syracuse University to support the college’s efforts there since there are many other area teachers and SUPA course offerings in our regional high schools. How this will “shake out” in the future is an interesting question. It also has licensing implications that must be considered by Blackboard since we cross institutions in this circumstance.
For now, we support Rob in any way possible since his students are the benefactors of his hard work and innovative use of technology. We think this connection is the first of many that will challenge our separation between “Grade 12” and the Freshman year of college.