In recent years, significant changes have been made to the way teachers are to be reviewed, leaving many with a substantial amount of extra work. Groups like NAF, a national organization dedicated to ensuring high school students are career, college, and life ready, have created new standards to help teachers provide evidence to support the materials and lesson plans they teach and showcase the successful work they do. NAF requires evidence from their over 700 academies, and in 2015, NAF academies reported 98% of seniors graduated, with 92% of graduates having post-secondary intentions.
According to NAF’s Director of Evaluation and Continuous Improvement, Patricia Smith, the evidence documenting process is designed to help academies self-assess to reach high standards. Said Smith, “The mission of NAF is to foster high-quality academies that will enable students to have strong college and career outcomes, and it’s important for academies to have a high fidelity to NAF’s educational design, which consists of 4 elements: Academy Development & Structure, Curriculum & Instruction, Advisory Board, and Work-Based Learning. NAF helps them reach that fidelity with a self-assessment tool that is accompanied by evidence . . . stored in a number of programs, one of which is LiveBinders.”
NAF’s educational design is centered on small learning community research that encourages project-based learning and teamwork, which ultimately lead to more efficient teaching and learning. The Academy Assessment (for which evidence is provided) is a tool academies use to track their level of fidelity to the design and to conduct strategic planning based on assessment results. These results are used to track the academy’s fidelity to curriculum design over time.
Said Smith, “Teachers, counselors, advisory board members and district staff participate in the academy assessment process. The process is one that builds community and strengthens each stakeholder’s understanding of their role in the process. For example, an advisory board member or local business person participates in the assessment process offering information and supporting data from a fundraiser or function they hosted, and can use the invitation or a sample poster as evidence.”
Documenting evidence should be as straightforward a process as possible, and NAF therefore sought organizational tools that teachers would be used to, and which would require the least disturbance of the organizational systems they already used. Teachers were used to creating meticulously organized hard copy binders that catalogued and showcased years of hard work to separate the wheat from the chaff in teaching materials.
When the inevitable move from hardcopy binders to online tools emerged, many teachers were understandably wary of the implications. Of concern were both their existing curriculum collections, and the ways that adopting new technology might force them to change the way they teach and manage their resources. Furthermore, teachers, as well as NAF, worried about the immense amount of time reorganizing evidence into a new format would likely require from each individual teacher. Said Smith about the challenges, “NAF has indeed had some concerns about the amount of time and what constitutes a proper piece of evidence. We’ve been concerned about the time it’s taken for teachers to upload evidence, based on their technological skillset, which is different for every individual. . . There are such quick turnarounds in schools and it’s crucial to have a place where practices and projects can be stored (such as a LiveBinders tool) as there’s a ton of information that needs to be accounted for when a new academy leaders arrive.”
Many of the options available to teachers for achieving the transition to digital presented too many barriers to entry. Digitizing hardcopy materials would be tough enough without having to learn to navigate the complexities of another online system, and uncoordinated efforts at digitization would eventually make the situation even messier.
Up to that point, time-strapped teachers would often use piecemeal approaches for handling digital resources, like storing files on USB drives, and transferring parts of their curriculum to online services like DropBox. While this represented a step in the right direction, it still threw a wrench in the system by forcing teachers to change the way they think about and organize course materials. It also limited collaboration, cohesiveness, and the visibility of evidence for learning that is increasingly demanded by organizations like NAF.
Sharon Schueler, facilitator at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Academy of Finance, describes how LiveBinders has helped make collecting evidence a seamless part of the school’s improvement plans. Says Schueler, “The key to the success of using LiveBinders is to add, organize, and update evidence on a regular basis. Our action plan, along with documenting evidence in the LiveBinders template, helps to maintain our focus towards continuous improvement. LiveBinders makes it so easy!”
Recognizing the opportunity to both help teachers demonstrate the effectiveness of their work as well as give them a tool for digitization that would make teachers’ lives easier, NAF recommends LiveBinders. As a platform, it allowed teachers to digitize their coursework in a format that would enable easy organization and sharing without changing the underlying framework of curriculum organization: the three ring binder. NAF recognized that since each LiveBinder is organized like a three-ring binder, with tabs, teachers moving from hardcopy binders would be able to make the transition without fraying their existing organizational system.
Patricia Breeding, an instructional support teacher in Orange County, Florida schools notes that the platform has helped retain the organizational advantages of hardcopy binders while eliminating their limitations. Says Breeding, “The organizational system before LiveBinders was hard copy binders, and it was difficult and inconvenient to lug around those heavy binders from place to place. LiveBinders makes the organizational and preparation process much easier, and is also a very affordable option for academies.”
Multimedia resources like video and hyperlinks can be easily added to the binder, as well as digitized hard copies, allowing teachers to put everything, including evidence of their work, in one place for the first time. Storing everything in the cloud--even for those who know nothing about the cloud--would make adoption easier and increase the immediate fruits of switching to digital.
NAF offers Google, DropBox, and LiveBinders as effective options for organizing course materials to show evidence of teaching and learning success, and NAF has found that introducing teachers to LiveBinders can be a boon to their course organization overall, and to other trainings and certifications. Said Smith, “Another benefit has been that academies have been able to use evidence for purposes beyond NAF such as for Career and Technical Education reviews, or regional certifications. NAF supports the idea of academies documenting their story and sharing that story widely to increase enrollment, recruit industry partners and great teachers and to raise funds. Measuring fidelity to NAF’s educational design should benefit academy students in multiple ways.”