Wales High School is a large comprehensive school to the south of Rotherham catering for 1589 pupils aged 11 – 18. The catchment area covers several villages in the surrounding area and pupils from beyond the Rotherham boundary have also chosen to attend Wales. In the latest Ofsted Report (2010) the school was rated as rated outstanding. In September 2003, Wales High School was designated as a business and enterprise college and is now considered a High Performing Specialist School. It is also an Applied Learning Specialist School offering courses in Construction, Motor Vehicle Maintenance, Engineering and Hairdressing. For almost all pupils, English is the first language.
Michael has been a teacher at the school for three years and is responsible for the delivery of Key Stage 4 English. This project stemmed from a dissertation Michael undertook as part of a Masters degree in applied professional studies in education; it emerged in response to training and development needs in the area of digital literacy at the school and an identified need to enhance communication and sharing of practice between various departments. It is closely tied to the school’s priorities, which include the sharing of good practice in assessment, and had the key aim that any work undertaken would be sustainable over the long term and could be continued after the project funding period was over. As well as Michael, the project included members from five departments at the school: Art, Maths, English, Modern Languages, and Physical Education.
188.8.131.52 Digital Literacy Practice
Setting up a blog as a staff resource
Michael began his research in school by piloting a whole-school Facebook forum on digital literacy to encourage teachers to share good practice. He regularly published posts with ideas for innovative teaching and learning, inviting members of staff to offer their comments. Although he was satisfied with staff engagement, a major drawback of Facebook was that the platform was blocked in school so teachers had to access it outside working hours. This defeated the purpose of the forum as a professional development resource that teachers could access as and when needed to support their practice.
To move the project forward, Michael’s criteria for choosing an appropriate platform were
- Ease of access within the school network
- The ability to upload and/or embed files in various formats such as video, PowerPoint and pdf documents)
- The facility to moderate content and add comments
- Privileges that restricted the adding of content and comments to invited users only
Initially, Michael considered using a wiki and investigated a number of models for creating an interactive framework for professional development developed in the context of other OER projects in the UK. However, he was not entirely happy with the options for moderating comments submitted to wikis and decided that a blog based on WordPress was best suited to his needs.
Michael set up Teaching and Learning@Wales High School and piloted this with five teachers representing the English, Modern Languages, Economics, Arts and Physical Education departments from May to July 2012. By September 2012 the blog had over 750 posts, with 61 views on its busiest day.
The introductory section outlines its aims and objectives as an online space ‘designed to encourage the sharing and reflection of pedagogic practice’ at the school and identifies how the space will be used for discussions focused on a variety of teaching and learning strategies, lesson ideas and pedagogic approaches.
Participants can consider, trial, disseminate and then reflect upon any resources or ideas they find on the site and then reflect on how their practice, but more importantly students’ learning, has been enhanced.
It also notes that the blog is aligned with school’s principles of embedding assessment for learning and is underpinned by the broader aim of developing dialogue between teachers in different departments.
Contributions to the blog are currently restricted to teachers at Wales High School. However, Michael envisages the possibility of opening up editing to a broader audience. The ‘About’ section therefore includes a discussion of issues related to e-safety. All contributors are reminded that they might want to consider the implications of posting their thoughts on the blog for their professional and personal identities.
Posts to the blog
Posts currently fall into two broad categories: those featuring teaching resources to support assessment for learning and those exploring the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Most have the same structure: a brief description of the resource followed by an account of ways in which it has been used by Michael or other teachers in their practice. All posts are tagged and can be rated by the blog contributors.
Standard, Challenge, Super Challenge! (below) Is a representative example of a post where a maths teacher introduces an online video-based resource and describes how he used it in the classroom to support peer learning.
Since the key objective of the blog is to support communication and sharing of good practice between departments, the comments in response to the post above indicate the ways in which that goal has been accomplished (below)
Exploring the Potential of Mobile Devices
A number of blog posts focus on the applications of mobile devices for teaching and learning. Michael took advantage of resources provided by the project – five iPads 15 iPods and two flipcams – using them first in his own classroom and later sharing them among volunteer teachers involved in piloting the blog. He then created two blog posts (‘Flipcams for assessment’ and ‘Using iPads in the classroom’), which invited comments from teachers on the use of mobile devices in their classrooms.
The posts demonstrate a wide range of applications of mobile devices for enhancing digital literacy of pupils. For instance, teachers commenting on the ‘Using iPads in classroom’ post mention the following uses:
The culmination of the project was the dissemination event, that took place in July 2012 offering Michael and volunteer contributors an opportunity to share their experiences with colleagues in school. Issues related to digital literacy across the school were raised and the day also gave pupils an opportunity to take part in art and English lessons incorporating the use of mobile devices: pupils in the art class used the Brushes app on the iPad to digitally enhance photographs and pupils in the English class used flipcams and iPads to create interactive presentations on their key reading.
A staff meeting was organised as part of the event organised with senior management and members of staff interested in getting involved with the blog; it was agreed to roll it out across the school
The case study demonstrates the potential of blogging to encourage professional interaction and exchange of ideas in relation to resources and to teaching methods. It offers a model for reuse and repurposing of content, where teaching materials are provided with pedagogical rationale and descriptions of use in the classroom. The Wales High School model offers an insight into issues related to sharing of teaching materials online and embedding OER in the school sector; it is replicable and scalable
184.108.40.206 Reflections on Teaching
Michael suggested that the awareness of digital literacy he had gained from his dissertation had been put into practice in the current project, confirming his understanding of the benefits of communication using digital media:
In particular, it has confirmed how, through collaboration and the use of media devices, individuals can change and enhance their cognitive process for learning in a positive way. It has also enabled me to understand the need for responsibility and careful thought when being digitally literate.
For Michael, being digitally literate and proficient at communicating in digital spaces enables participants to think and collaborate more effectively, reflectively and creatively:
This in turn enhances the sharing of good practice, develops a greater understanding of its value. It consequently enables teachers to gain a greater understanding of the processes involved in new literacies and positions them as learners. Furthermore, communicating and engaging in digital practices encourages different ways of thinking and makes new and potentially powerful dialogues possible.
Reflections were also gathered from other teachers involved with the blog. For example, the English teacher commented that after maternity leave she had felt a little deskilled so sharing practice collaboratively online:
…enabled ideas to be shared easily, without meeting face to face, and to see other practice that is occurring around the school.
A physical education teacher added:
The blog has enabled practice to be shared easily and has enabled colleagues from different departments to work together in a way not normally possible in school.
220.127.116.11 Reflections on Learning
The ‘Flipcams for assessment’ post elicited four comments from teachers in different departments on the ways in which they incorporated the devices in their teaching. This included an account from the PE teacher who used flipcams to allow the pupils to give instant feedback to their peers and assess the level at which they were working. Michael blogged about his experience of using flipcams to support peer assessment during a class debate in English where students assessed group presentations by indicating areas of strength and areas where further development was needed. The comments also demonstrate the capacity of blogging to facilitate communication of ideas between teaching professionals and encourage them to try out new ideas in their practice:
Overall, the teachers reported very positive experiences, saying that the mobile devices enhanced the learning experience. For instance, when commenting on the use of the Educreations app, Michael argued that it encouraged students to structure their thoughts and organise their research more carefully; as a result, it supported the process of ‘stealth literacy’. The maths teacher said that the free drawing app was more intuitive and easier to use than the traditional graphical calculators, adding that the use of iPads helped make a dry topic more engaging for students and allowed them to work at their own pace while providing them with instant feedback. However, the PE teacher pointed out some of the potential pitfalls of using iPads in the classroom and said that he had had to redirect pupils attempting to use the devices to access their Facebook accounts.
18.104.22.168 Reflections on Digital Literacy
The Digital Futures in Teacher Education project is underpinned by three key elements: engagement with OER and digital literacy and a reflexive approach to pedagogy. These elements are linked through a participative approach to professional development. This case study focused on digital literacy in the context of hybrid community of practice, which combined a purpose-built space of a blog with face-to-face interactions between teachers at Wales High School. It built on approaches to continuous professional development that sustain transformation of practice by encouraging situated peer learning and dialogue, classroom trialling of new ideas and ongoing reflection on pedagogical practice (Nehring, Laboy and Catarius 2010). The emphasis was on digital literacy understood as practice that exists ‘in the relations between people, within groups and communities, rather than as a set of properties residing in individuals’, where the focus is on ‘what people do with literacy’ (Barton and Hamilton 1998: 7–8). This approach seems to be more empowering for the teachers than conceptualisations of digital literacy which focus solely on technical competency and often leave teachers feeling inadequate in comparison with their pupils.
This case study illustrates the issues involved in using blogging as a tool to build an intentional community of practice, where groupings involve dynamic interactions between participants who share experiences, stories and tools around a common domain of interest. In doing so, they build relationships of trust and develop shared practice (Wenger 2006).
While the term ‘community of practice’ is not explicitly mentioned, it could be argued that, at its core, the project aims to create dynamic interactions between participants to share experiences, stories and tools around a common domain of interest and, in doing so, to build relationships of trust and develop shared practice (Wenger 2006).
Michael’s work for this project was based on a hybrid approach, where an online community of practice was combined with face-to-face meetings. Its key premise was to involve participants in conversations that encouraged them to reflect on digital literacy issues in their existing practice and consider new methodologies such as open approaches to sharing resources (Attwell and Pumilia 2007). Hildreth and Kimble (2004) note that the use of technology can sustain communities of practice between face-to-face events; a teacher’s daily schedule does not usually allow much time to interact with other professionals so this is important. However, in an online community of practice, teachers have a place to share experiences and discuss teaching strategies outside the school setting. On a related point, Killeavy and Moloney (2010) suggest that the use of technology deepens relationships in a community of practice and, rather than replacing personal contact, technology could be conducive to facilitating professional dialogue and connections with other communities.
Blogs offer new avenues for professional learning by providing teachers with new forms of participation and unique learning opportunities (Luehmann 2008). Blogs also offer users the ability to easily and rapidly publish ideas, record personal experiences and reflections and exchange opinions with others without requiring high levels of technical sophistication (Herring et al 2005). Resources in Michael’s blog are enhanced by rich pedagogical description, which provide principles for embedding the resource into teaching practice and addresses any challenges that might arise in that process. Given that lack of description is one of the key barriers to the reuse of open educational resources (OER) (Conole and McAndrew 2010), this feature of the blog should ensure its sustainability beyond the end of the project. Blogs have been shown to be an effective way of establishing and maintaining online communities of practice and helping members reflect on professional practices (Yang 2009). Ray and Hocutt (2006) note that blogs offered an effective and timely way to engage teachers in reflection and communication with peers. Similarly, in their study on teacher professional identity development, Luehmann and Tinelli (2008) argue that blogs provide a valuable venue for social networking and allow for meaningful discussions among like-minded teachers.
In conversations with Michael during follow-up visits, various issues related to embedding OER in the school context emerged. On the one hand, there is a well-developed culture of sharing in the teaching profession, and teachers in the UK have access to a wide variety of banks of online resources such as Times Education Supplement and Teachfind, which aggregates resources from various education repositories. Michael relied on these resource banks for blog content; however, the copyright status of teaching materials found on these websites is not always clear. While the resources offered are described as being free for teachers to use, they are not licensed through a creative commons licence (or equivalent), which would clearly indicate if and how the resource should be shared, attributed and reused (Atkins, Brown and Hammond 2007). This issue will need resolving to allow teachers to fully take advantage of the benefits offered by OER.
22.214.171.124 References/Links to Further Information
Atkins DE, Brown JS and Hammond AL (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. Hewlett Foundation. Available here (accessed 22 February 2012).
Attwell G and Pumilia PM (2007). ‘The new pedagogy of open content: bringing together production, knowledge, development, and learning. Data Science Journal, 6, 211–219.
Barton D and Hamilton M (1998). Local Literacies: Reading and Writing in One Community. London: Routledge
Conole G and McAndrew P (2010). ‘A new approach to supporting the design and use of OER: harnessing the power of web 2.0’. In M Edner and M Schiefner (eds) Looking Toward the Future of Technology-enhanced Education: Ubiquitous Learning and the Digital Native, 123–144.
Herring SC, Scheidt LA, Wright E and Bonus S (2005). ‘Weblogs as a bridging genre’. Information Technology & People, 18(2), 142–171.
Hildreth P and Kimble C (2004). Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice. Hershey (USA)/London (UK): Idea Group Publishing.
Killeavy M and Moloney A (2010). ‘Reflection in a social space: Can blogging support reflective practice for beginning teachers?’ Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4),1070–1076.
Luehmann AL (2008). ‘Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: a case-study’. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287–337.
Luehmann AL and Tinelli L (2008). ‘Teacher professional identity development with social networking technologies: learning reform through blogging’. Educational Media International, 45(4), 323–333.
Nehring J, Laboy WT and Catarius L (2010). ‘Connecting reflective practice, dialogic protocols, and professional learning’. Professional Development in Education, 36(3), 399–420.
Ray BB and Hocutt MM (2006). ‘Teacher-created, teacher-centered weblogs: perceptions and practices’. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 23(1), 11–18.
Wenger E (2006). ‘Communities of practice: a brief introduction’. Available here (accessed 10 August 2012).
Yang S-H (2009). ‘Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community of practice’. Educational Technology and Society, 12(2), 11–21.
Links to Further Resources
iPads for learning (2012) Retrieved 2/11/12
Flip: Flip support technology, accessed 2/11/12
WordPress: A free and open source blogging tool and a content management system accessed 2/11/12