Welcome to part 5 of my Paperless Classroom series of blog posts. In part 1 I discussed general paperless technology; in part 2 I talked about my own classroom progression through the available tools; in part 3 I discussed my own tool I created and used in the classroom; and in part 4, I discussed my second version of the tool I created. In part 5, I want to discuss what has happened since I created it, and what I hope it will become. This post will contain a few excuses and will be a bit more personal than many of the other posts, which I intentionally try and stay away from. However, I feel that it's necessary to give a full explanation of thoughts and actions. So, here we go...
In part 4, I explained that I had paused development of the Joomla Wurkbuk teaching tool in 2017, and hadn't done much since then. The main reason for this was that, life got in the way. This is the part where I list my excuses: I handed my notice in a few months prior as I wanted time to complete my then PhD (which I didn't complete) and a few months after that, I got the fantastic news that my wife and I were expecting our son. When I did eventually leave my role as head of department, in the school, I initially started work as an educational researcher looking into international development aid for education and global leadership competences. I then moved to a position in higher education working as a Senior Learning Technologist and did some freelance work as a tutor, and ed consultant for a small edtech startup. All this took me away from my classroom motivation and led me down different paths. The main person I was developing all this for was me. So when I didn't really need to use it anymore, I pretty much stopped using it and therefore stopped developing it. Even though I did have the intention of picking it up again, it hasn't happened until now.
So what has brought me back? In 2018, I moved to the UAE to work in the secondary sector, initially as a Teacher of Design Technology (pretty much computer science for junior high school students), and robotics tutor within the school. I'm now a Curriculum Developer for the same organisation and so am now back in the same environment that enspired me to develop Wurkbuk. Although, I'm not in the classroom anymore, and Google is not used here at all, I still feel there is a gap for what I was doing. I also have the time to give to the project.
Paperless Classroom methodology
There were two main things I was trying to achieve with Wurkbuk. The first was to create a tool that would allow students and teachers to easily see the work that was produced. The second was to develop a tool that would allow teachers to use technology to create teaching spaces in the same way or better than they did without the tools. Using the VLEs currently out there, it seems that neither of these are yet perfect. Let's look at the first.
"Visual review of evidence of learning progress" is a long phrase that nearly doesn't mean anything. But what I mean is that as a learner, it's good to see what you've done as evidence of your learning. This would usually take the form of a written report, a diagram, a program, a drawing, a spreadsheet or something else. It's good to look back on that to see progress and as a teacher, I would often set time aside for students to look back on what they had done. Using the traditional paper workbooks, this was easy as all that the students needed to do was to flip through the pages. Using the more modern technological systems, this wasn't as easy. It would include clicking on multiple links, closing tabs and would be a bit disjointed. I wanted Wurkbuk to be like a workbook, where students could easily go through the work that they had done, lesson by lesson. This is why I wanted the Docs, Sheets and Slide and other creation tools embedded within the page without having to click into it. With the Joomla site, it was editable without opening, straight from Joomla, which was an improvement. I feel this is a powerful teaching and learning method which many Edtech companies have overlooked in the interest of modernisation and seeking a technological solution. The removal of this ease of review is a symptom of the edtech revolution.
The second issue is the ease of use for teachers. Boiled down, the teacher's tasks are to Plan, Teach and Mark. So why not create a tool that concentrates explicitly on those three things. Anything else is secondary. For the Plan part, the questions needed are: What does a teacher need to plan? How do they want to plan? What are the different ways we can allow them to plan? What environments do teachers teach in for planning? One thought I had which I would have embedded into the planning module for Wurkbuk was different planning templates. The standard lesson follows the traditional 3 part lesson: Starter, Main, Plenary flow. In the most recent school I taught in, they promoted the 4 part lesson: Connection, Activation, Demonstration, Consolidation. A template for different styles of teaching and flow would be baked into this module. The Teach Module, similar to how Wurkbuk already works, would enable the teachers to distribute activities and resources to students and would enable the teacher to monitor the students as they worked. The Mark module, not yet created in Wurkbuk, would allow the teacher to mark work, either on the go, during the lesson, automatically, if it was a self marking test, or after the lesson with marking kept on the joomla database. This is quite standard and is already done quite well by many existing systems, with analytics and reporting. So this would be nothing new. Part and parcel of the designing for teach of use, is also designing for efficiency and effectiveness. One metric I want to make a "thing" is number of clicks per task. This is something that is not concentrated on enough in the edtech world, but is of extreme importance for teachers. The more clicks it takes to do something, the longer it will take to do, and teachers do not have time to waste! It is important that every task is designed to have the minimum number of clicks possible. Multiply each task by 30 for a class, or 150 for 5 classes. That's how long it really takes a teacher. An extra 3 seconds per task equates to an extra 7.5 minutes for 5 classes. Considering this and planning around it should also indirectly, should make it more easy to use and more intuitive.
The project is still very much in development, and has improved considerably over the last few weeks, however, still has a long way to go. I'm hoping on launching a beta service within the next few months, so watch out for it. If you're interested in the methodology explained above or have any thoughts on it, I would love to hear from you.