Teachers make dozens of observations daily about students but have little time to share them with their colleagues. Students benefit when teachers have detailed knowledge of their talents and needs, yet often students exhibit different patterns of study and learning in different classes. How may teachers use technology to share their day-to-day student observations with each other? Doing so deepens the personalization of student instruction, a distinguishing feature of independent schools. It becomes invaluable during teacher-parent conferences, when teachers summarize the student experience for parents and simultaneously collect so much new information. A school that emphasizes awareness of student learning profiles needs such a system, because
In a web-based world, the core functionality of such a system is pretty straightforward. We even piloted this functionality in Moodle using a standard discussion forum and restricted course enrollment. The system needs a database to store the comments and a front-end for posting and viewing.
The fun lies in configuring the details of such a system. We have so far added the following features.
- Notes follow the student from year to year, so that institutional knowledge is retained.
- Blog-like format — notes post in reverse chronological order.
- Student and teacher lists pull from school database, so they automatically stay up-to-date.
- Limit access to adults who currently have contact with student.
- Flag student learning profile information so that it’s easier to find.
- Expire sensitive posts shortly, so that teachers may share urgent information with lower risk of exposure.
- Add second layer of password security so that system is not vulnerable to one lost password.
- Require SSL to protect information from packet sniffers.
- Each post generates an email notification to teachers, except when the teacher disables it or conferences are taking place.
Last year, we used such a system with two grades. Having declared the pilot a success, we have expanded the system to eight grades. Greater participation in the system has generated new, insightful teacher questions. Should we more narrowly define what kinds of information we post to the system? How does it alter the school’s legal liability to permanently store information in a mySQL database that was previously either shared by email or not recorded at all? How much additional structure should we add to the system to keep notes organized as they accumulate? Is limiting access to current teachers too strict, considering the other meaningful teacher-student relationships that exist?
I am excited to continue to study and modify