Integrating technology to personalise learning
Digital platforms can facilitate formative assessment and the sharing of data and practices among teachers and students across multiple subjects within the same school. At the San Gregorio School, the “School 365” (Escuela 365) program provides the adequate tools for parents, teachers and students to collaborate effectively. In the project teachers had the role of mentors not only among themselves but also among families and students. Finally, students and teachers had a common space to do their collaborative work and assessment.
The policy context
Spain defines by law that the assessment of students should be continuous, formative, and integrated. For the Ministry of Education and Vocational Education and Training, it is important for teachers to not only include technology in their daily educational practice but also in the assessment of their students.
The Spanish curriculum guidance recommends teachers to incorporate strategies that include student participation in the assessment of their achievements. The national curriculum includes opportunities for self and peer assessment in, for example, Spanish, foreign languages, biology, science and technology and physical education. All subjects have strategies to develop key competences. This encourages students to reflect on their own difficulties and strengths. It also encourages them to participate in collaborative activities with classmates and monitoring their own progress. It reinforces the motivation to learn and self-efficacy, thus favouring autonomous learning.
San Gregorio is a school funded by the Christian La Mennais brothers and located in Aguilar de Campoo, a city in the north of Spain with a population of 7,000. San Gregorio is a rural school with 500 students that offers a La Mennais educational project in which faith, culture and life come together. The school seeks the cognitive, ethical, and spiritual growth of its students in which collaboration with others is developed, while they prepare themselves for the future. The school’s three fundamental lines of work are: attitude, competencies, and values.
Student training sessions were carried out intensively on the 2nd day of the course on knowledge and recognition of applications, and on the 3rd day with hands-on workshops. Periodic workshops that include changes and updates on the application were later carried out as refresher courses. After receiving their own training, the teachers were responsible for training the students.
The Escuela 365 (School 365) is an initiative implemented by the San Gregorio school to integrate the advantages of technology in the classroom and is aimed at improving the personalisation of learning, as well as improving student ICT skills needed in the digitalised world.
The official curriculum does not support, whether it be related to training or resources, the integration of new technologies in schools for the continuous improvement of the student. For this reason, it is necessary to provide the necessary tools to personalise students’ education and help them to reach their maximum potential within their capacities.
Introducing Microsoft tools was a financial challenge which was overcome thanks to parents who were engaged in the development of the project. Fortunately, it was sufficient to invest in the Microsoft applications because all the students already had digital devices.
The innovation coordinator, who was appointed by the school management, developed the proposal for this project. Families were involved not only due to their donations but also through their commitment to monitoring and supervising their children’s evolution.
The learning data are stored in Microsoft’s servers, which guarantees compliance with data protection laws in Spain and the European Union.
Digital tools used
The school uses Microsoft 365 Environment in general. This includes:
- Teams for communication and asynchronous work in groups;
- OneNote for collaborative work among students and for teachers to monitor their work and give feedback;
- OneDrive for sharing documents;
- Stream for recording and sharing videos.
Furthermore, Flipgrid is used for discussing topics by sharing student-filmed videos.
Despite the lack of official support, the school could implement a Microsoft environment with the parents’ support. Teachers first received a practical training. All teachers obtained Microsoft Innovative Educator badge, whereas half of them received certification as Microsoft educators to also work as trainers. After the initial training in 2016, specific teachers were appointed at each stage to support and continuously train their peers.
Having half of the school’s teachers certified is also a requirement to be labelled as a "Microsoft School". The label enables the school to test the company's educational solutions in beta version and participate in working groups that provide feedback to Microsoft development teams to improve their products.
The trained teachers then oversaw the student and parent training. It was a challenge for the 46 teachers, who were in charge to train at least 600 students and 450 families. All the courses were repeated with hands-on workshops so families could be able to follow the development of their children.
The Escuela 365 Program is aimed at improving the personalisation of students' learning. The actions are based on the Microsoft learning space that offers multiple tools. For instance, teachers use OneNote as a collaborative notepad that also makes it easy to supervise student teamwork and give feedback. Students use Sway for setting websites and digital portfolios.
However, the learning space needed a source of adaptable content to help teachers to develop their courses. AulaPlaneta provided a platform of active methodologies and that are editable, so teachers founded the perfect complement to the Microsoft environment by linking both tools.
The school carries out interdisciplinary projects that encourages teachers and students to use the digital tools to achieve educational synergies. The idea with student projects is to make students content creators, and have teachers guide them in this process. Their work must also cover the basic competencies determined by the curriculum.
For instance, the school carried out stage-wide projects that are developed throughout all the courses of a school year, such as the project ‘A Fishbowl of Emotions’ (original title in Spanish: La Pecera de las emociones). The project taught students the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, through emotional learning. The project received the National Vicente Ferrer Award.
These projects involve students from 5th grade until they finish secondary school, when the use of devices is mandatory in the classroom. The projects are adapted to school age groups, considering the developmental level of students in each age group.
Figure 1 A page from a portfolio made by a student in MS Teams
In the first week of the course, teachers provide an initial training for the students to get them familiar with Microsoft tools. It is necessary to repeat this training every starting course to refresh their skills.
Students are asked to create their digital portfolios that contain all their work during the course through a description of the interdisciplinary project.
The projects are designed to make students carry out scientific work, acting as scientists of the project. To achieve this, the activities focus on the gathering and analysis of data from students’ research and observations and building knowledge from that starting point.
The objectives of the projects include:
- Making a methodological change in the classroom based on the scientific method
- Making the use of multimedia educational applications possible
- Using a standard and open format for finding data
- Creating a more powerful, simple, and intuitive activity design environment, adapting it to the characteristics of the students
- Creating a space in which both the proposed activities and the students’ work are made public, making it easier for them to share their work and material
Research – Factors that affect ICT use in classrooms
Evidence from Spain has shown that while schools have good access to classroom ICT, is use is relatively infrequent. Using data from the Spanish sample of the OECD’s 2013 Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) (based on 3,339 teachers from 192 secondar education centres), Gil-Flores and colleagues (2017) found that use depends on availability of educational software, ICT training for teachers, teacher collaboration, teacher self-efficacy, and teaching concepts. They found that the availability of school hardware and internet connections were less significant.
Digital platforms are very useful for learning. However, they are still merely tools. The interdisciplinary projects can make their use meaningful. The critical element of a classroom is still the teacher, although the protagonist, without a doubt, continues to be the student.
This work model can be easily implemented in any school and classroom. Each teacher can focus on what is most appealing in their school and when to carry it out, ranging anywhere from quarterly projects to large, annual multidisciplinary school projects, or even micro-projects on one specific topic or classroom to start small. Using communication and collaboration applications makes each student learn easily at their own pace. Teachers can easily follow their students continuously and evaluate their strength and weaknesses. It fosters the inclusion of all students in classroom activities, minimising the chance that certain students fall behind academically or socially.
This methodology has been well accepted by all members of the educational community. Although at the beginning parents/guardians may be reluctant for their children’s computer use, once the process advances, they recognise the benefits of this and the progress of their children’s skills.
The combined use of MS Teams and OneNote provided a fluent communication between teachers, students, and families. Due to the initial doubts and concerns shown by families, all the online classes were opened not only for teachers and students but also for families. The dynamics and the fluency generated among students and teachers were monitored by parents and they could also establish parental control over the devices at home.
It should be noted that not all the families were convinced to develop a complete virtual environment for all the classes. At least ten percent of the families transmitted their concern about the consequences of using technological devices by children. Therefore, schools should guarantee that they will be on the lookout for data protection risks. Although all data is collected in compliance with data protection laws in Spain and the European Union, schools should remain vigilant about any changes in the data handling policies of Microsoft. A recent research in the Netherlands underlines how important this is.