Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bialik Montreal and online real-time homework help

Our project is an experiment in extending Hebrew homework help by allowing teachers to support homework in real-time using lower-tech videoconferencing and laptop tablet technology. The program is both hard/software and people-ware based:

We have two laptops with webcams and microphones that we have got in and are being set up by our school IT wizard. This entails ensuring that a few softwares are loaded - including dedicated accounts on popular VideoOIP programs: Googlechat, Skype, and Oovoo - so that students can dial in during scheduled hours and teachers communicate with them by voice and video, where students have the capability at home. The goal with the tablet technology is to enable teachers to write directly on PDFs (more on this in a second) for students to see on shared screens.

The hardware part has been pretty straightforward. We have a strong history of unionized teachers, and mandate and buy-in are firm institutions. In the people-ware part, the following pieces are finally coming together:
1) Not every teacher is comfortable with the technology, which includes the willingness to identify or commit specific homework assignments to be put up into the school intranet area as PDFs to ensure teachers' ability to access them from home (or wherever they will post themselves for this tutoring time).
1a) Participating teachers are in rotation with equal access, and will be "on call" during identified homework help hours. They will be expected to help with homework of any student who calls in, and not only their own students.
2) Not every teacher is participating. It's unclear at this point whether students in other sections will still call in for help. The homework-helping teachers have committed to making their assignments available.
3) We had some discussion about compensation in comparison to their normal teacher salary rates. What we are doing is not tutoring (this was a concern strongly voiced by the teachers, and one with which I agreed). How is this being on-call different from teaching, per se?
3a) Some of the teachers were concerned that they're going to be asked to help "do" a student's homework. I think that our students who would go that direction will simply copy their homework from a friend in the hallway before class. We are keeping it to ensuring that, at the beginning of an assignment, students have the basic methods they need to meet the exercise goals of the assignment.
4) The teachers wanted to keep some hours clustered nearer to the exams, rather than an even distribution; this will require tweaking of our scheduling of these hours this week.

Hopefully more on this during or just after Sukkot.... but the teachers are excited about using the technology and this is good for homework assignment in general and bringing our Hebrew department further forward into technology use (which has become a piece of our school's mission platform).

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