The Digital Learning Collaborative. Where we’ve been and where we’re going.

This is a post which lives at the St. Vrain Instructional Technology Blog.  Share your thoughts here or head over to the original post and let us know what you’re thinking.


Back in October, we kicked off the Digital Learning Collaborative program here in SVVSD. The program was formed from a desire to revamp our existing practices in technology PD. It’s not enough to give one-shot professional development to people and hope they use the digital tools in their classroom effectively. In order to ensure that technology is used effectively, we need to do more.

We framed the program around three thoughts that were at the center of our beliefs on professional learning:

We know three things:

  • Learning takes time. Time to play and explore and analyze and reflect.
  • Learning is a social process. We learn best together and with each other’s help.
  • Learning about technology should be embedded within sound instructional practices. But often it’s not.

And so we began with a vision of a two year professional development process which gives teachers time to explore and learn technology as they build their own personal professional proficiency and then guides them through an action research process where the technology skills they’ve gained will be used in support of student learning.

From our application:

The Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC) is applying what we know to what we do. As part of a two-year commitment to professional growth, teachers work in collaborative teams to develop personal and professional proficiency with technology and innovative instructional practices, ultimately resulting in increased student achievement. Participating teachers will receive a laptop, projector, document camera, and sound amplification system in year one along with time, training and support in using the equipment. Teachers will have opportunities to enhance their practice in a supportive environment of constructive risk-taking.

While year one will focus on building teacher skills, year two is all about giving teachers the time and resources to think about the intersection of student learning and classroom technology. Teachers will engage in an action research process where they identify areas of student need and apply technology resources as tools to increase student achievement. Each team will focus on an identified need and work with curriculum experts on actively engaging students in learning through collaborative practices, inquiry, and challenge-based projects.

Joining us this year were 21 teams from 15 schools. Our teams are varied, consisting of a team leader who works with between 3 and 5 peers. We kicked off the program with a two day training for team leaders in which we spent a majority of our time helping them develop skills in working with adult learners and learning to create and implement professional growth goals with their teams. Much of that training came from our office of Professional Development and incorporated skills from the Adaptive Schools program which has been widely implemented here in St. Vrain. Less than half of our training time was spent in actually teaching tech skills. Our reasoning in that decision was that while they have the remainder of the year to build skills in technology use, the importance of starting out as a productive, functioning team would influence all their future work.

We’re about two-thirds of the way through Year 1 with our first groups. Mostly, it’s been a successful opportunity to build both leadership capacity and technology proficiency within our staff. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

1. Building a frame for the work helps to guide team leaders. Keeping the frame as open as possible keeps the work from becoming “worksheeted”

What we’ve required of participants can be boiled down to a few simple instructions. We’ve used our district’s Google Apps for Ed space to provide supports for these required processes:

We’ve not mandated what those goals should focus on. (And we’ve seen everything from iPods as learning tools to building virtual class spaces.) We’ve only asked that they share those goals and their progress with us and with other teams. Which leads to the next point…

2. Time and space to learn need to incorporate both the physical and the virtual connections and include connections beyond the school walls.

While monthly team meetings build the collegiality and collaboration within an individual team, there are two other levels of collaborative support to provide:

  • the support among team leaders as they share successes, challenges and resources with their fellow team leaders and
  • the space for “cross pollination” between teams.

We’ve been providing this through Moodle. In our virtual community, we’ve created a space with a forum and resources that are open to all teams and team leaders, a space that’s exclusively for team leaders , and spaces for each team. What’s powerful about this model is that all teams are open for viewing by all other teams. If one school is interested in following along in the work of another team, they can. The cross-collaboration is just starting to build, but we’re hoping it will continue to grow into an important part of the process.

3. The most important quality in a team leader isn’t tech skill, it’s team skill.

Our most successful teams aren’t those where the leader has the most tech proficiency. It’s the teams where the team leader sees their role as a co-learner. We’ve developed a process to help teams direct their learning about the hardware and tools they’ve been provided and so far it’s been a successful part of both framing their learning and sharing what they’ve learned with the entire community.

We’ve learned a lot so far, and as we move forward, there are also a couple of things I think we’ll work on improving:

  1. Developing connections beyond our district boundaries to support our teams in their learning.
  2. Building more opportunities for reflective practice and feedback.
  3. Offering opportunities for peer mentoring through class visits among teams.

It’s exciting to see how far our teams have progressed and even more exciting to see where Year 2 will take us. In just a couple of months, our second cohort of teams will begin. Our vision is that the Digital Learning Collaborative model will be an embedded part of professional learning in our district for years to come.

We’re always interested in hearing how others are going about this work as well as feedback from our existing teams and team leaders about what we can do to improve the process.

Who’s doing similar work?

What lessons can we learn from one another?

What can you share that will make this process even better?

We hope you’ll let us know.

Edublog Award Nomination: SVVSD Help Desk Blog

Most districts have a Help Desk phone line to deal with day-to-day questions that might arise when users face a problem.  In St. Vrain Valley, the Help Desk Blog is evolving into a one-stop shop for information and updates. It’s my nomination for  the Edublog Awards Best Educational Tech Support Blog, because it’s truly a model of what good communication practices look like in district-level IT work.

Dan and Becky (the SVVSD Help Desk Team) use the blog to gather information relevant to users (such as the Contacts listings at the top of the blog), provide links to common resources, and add posts related to the questions or issues they’re seeing often on any given day.

Check out their blog and pass it on to your own Help Desk folks as a model.