In June 2011, Bærum municipality in Norway switched from Fronter to itslearning. After just two months the schools were ready to use the new learning platform. But how did they manage to get the system up and running so quickly?
Bærum municipality, Norway's fifth largest municipality by number of inhabitants, has 43 schools, 1,500 staff and about 16,000 pupils. While performing among the best in the national tests, the Bærum schools had a huge potential for improving in ICT, says Frank Baklid, project leader for development of digital skills in Bærum municipality.
Based on this, the politicians in Bærum agreed on an action plan in March 2010 where one of the goals was meeting the Knowledge Promotion Reform's1 requirements for developing digital skills for increased learning outcomes in all subjects. One of the measures was switching to itslearning.
Frank is quick to admit that Bærum was lagging behind other municipalities’ ICT efforts. The main problem was low usage of the existing learning platform, Fronter.
"Fronter was not being used, mostly because teachers found the system too complicated," says Frank. "Where the lower secondary schools had a low usage, the primary schools didn't use it at all."
Getting everyone on board
Four primary schools and two secondary schools were chosen as pilot schools for the itslearning implementation. The pilot schools tested itslearning during the school year and received extra follow up from the municipality. They were offered training from four ICT coordinators who functioned as resource people in relation to training and supporting the schools. All other schools were offered training from two ICT coordinators.
Although the municipality gave the schools free rein during the implementation, certain guidelines were established, for example, that all assessment in itslearning should be digital.
"The most important thing was getting all schools started with itslearning. How each individual school chose to use it was less important,” Frank explains. “We knew our staff wanted to achieve good results, and the teachers even taught themselves how to use itslearning on their own time."
Clear success criteria
All schools are now using itslearning, and Frank has identified four success criteria that contributed to successful implementation: digital resource groups, lots of training, leader involvement and financial resources.
"Early on, all schools were instructed to establish a digital resource group of ICT coordinators and school administrators whose task was to support the rest of the staff with advice and guidance during implementation. They were supported by the project group and those responsible for pedagogical use of ICT in the school. The central resource group assisted the schools with competence raising, but the responsibility for this lies with the individual schools."
The municipality started a huge training project with a focus on administration and pedagogical use. An important distinction was made between the roles of the technical system administrators responsible for the day-to-day operation of itslearning and teachers who concentrated on the pedagogical use.
A solid leader focus was an important success factor, and Frank concedes that the school leaders should have been involved at an earlier stage. To begin with Frank's team focused on training administrators and teachers, but the school leaders were also interested in finding out what itslearning was.
"It's important to involve the principals early on," says Frank. "You can’t underestimate the effect of principals sharing knowledge, inspiring each other and driving development forward."
While it was crucial that the municipality allocated financial resources to the important implementation phase, the need for these resources will eventually decrease and turn into running expenses connected to maintenance.
Many examples of good use
Frank has already identified several excellent and creative examples of using itslearning among teachers and pupils.
"One teacher uses the test tool to motivate his English class," Frank explains. "He regularly posts assignments that his pupils receive automatic feedback on. The feedback motivates the pupils, who refer to it many times in order to prepare for the test. Because the pupils practice more beforehand, the results on the end of week tests improved. The same applies to pupils who record reading homework assignments with the itslearning's inbuilt sound recorder: they read it several times in order to perfect themselves.
The methods are simple but effective. Frank says another teacher takes screenshots of Word documents, opens the images in Microsoft Paint and removes all the commas. He then uses the itslearning test tool to create click assignments where the pupils insert the commas in the correct spots.
Frank, who wants to see "everything" in itslearning, hopes to see about 90% of all users become active users on itslearning during spring 2013. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, Bærum municipality wants to incorporate week schedules, assignments and assessment into itslearning.
1. An education reform introduced in 2006 in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education and training.