This series of blog posts is a little different than what I usually write. The first post in the series explains how it is different and tells the story of the teachers of Spring Lake Park High School (SLPHS) involved in a partnership with Infinite Campus. The second post gives voice to the students in the class and this final post introduces a few Infinite Campus employees and lets them share what they learned from the partnership.
Behind the software
Because Infinite Campus creates software for schools, people here were excited about more than having a chance to meet with young people interested in technology. But this partnership also meant having a chance to talk to teachers and visit classrooms to see how technology is being used everyday.
Nine Infinite Campus employees took part in visits to SLPHS. I sat down with three of them after their visit to see what they learned.
Katie, who writes content for teachers about how to use Infinite Campus (and has been a guest blogger for Teachers On Campus) said she wanted to find out how teachers learn about the software they use. “They are trying new things all the time and I was curious about how they learn about them. Specifically, of course, how they learn about their SIS (Student Information System) because that’s what I write about. I wanted to know: Do they read things? Do they like videos? Do they bother learning [in advance] or do they just dive in and start clicking around? Do they wish they were trained more? Those kinds of things,” she said.
Devon, a software engineer, said he wanted to visit because “when I design and develop stuff, I have an idea in my head about what a teacher would want based off my past experience with teachers… I wanted to challenge some of those assumptions I was making about teachers to see what it was actually like in a classroom.”
Janeen is a test analyst. She said she “wanted to see how much they used Infinite Campus and how well they used it. Also, we were working on the Discussions project at the time, so I wanted to see if they were using anything like that.”
Answering the questions
Each of them came away with answers to their questions. Katie found that to learn something new, “it seems like they just dive in and click around. They don’t have a lot of time to consume training about the stuff they are using, but overall they do wish they could have more training. Really what they want is a trainer. They want someone to come and talk to them every so often so they can ask questions rather than have to dig around and find what’s going to answer their question.”
Devon wanted to challenge some of his assumptions about teachers. He found some of his assumptions to be completely wrong and others to be spot on. “Teachers were more able to handle technology than I expected and also they had just as much no-time-at-all as I expected,” he said. “They didn’t have any free time for the frills or any of the cool tools. I would say ‘hey have you ever tried this?’ ‘No, I haven’t tried that.’ Because they just don’t have time. But they aren’t quite as afraid of [technology] as I had assumed they were or my experience in my little hometown high school told me they would be,” he said.
Whereas Devon was surprised about how much teachers embraced technology, Janeen was surprised she didn’t see more technology in use. “They still had some worksheets,” she said. “I was surprised that they are printing things. We never print things here. You know, we never have handouts. Last year that teacher said they tried this thing – he had the students take a picture – but it didn’t work. So that’s how they went back to the handout type thing.” She also learned about Discussions and one teacher’s pain points. “So hopefully some day we can solve [his] issue and they can use our Discussions,” she said. “But I wish they knew more about Infinite Campus so they could use it more,” she added.
All three noticed that things have changed a lot since they were in students in high school, even for Devon who graduated eight years ago.
“It seems like [teachers] trust students a lot more,” Katie said. “There were a lot of kids that were spending time outside of the classroom. There was a lot more self-guided learning, where they would just give them a project and they could just work on it rather than hear an hour of lecture and then 15 minutes of homework time. It was a very different structure to how education worked,” she said.
The amount of technology everywhere is what surprised Devon. “I know this is a very tech-forward school, but just tv screens everywhere, kids on iPads, and with headphones. It was super interesting especially because kids were both more and seemingly less engaged in that a lot of them had headphones on but I think they were still doing the work in some way … there was some level of engagement that was … different than when I was in school.”
On the right path
Teachers were using a variety of online tools to meet their needs. Katie noticed a lot of the tools they were using were for things “we have in Campus Learning. It was a testament to me that we’ve been building the right stuff,” she said. “All the stuff we’ve been building for years is the stuff that they need.” She did acknowledge, “there were some things we don’t have yet,” but also noted there are other things Infinite Campus does a lot better than what they were using, like with standards-based grading. “They didn’t really have standards integrated with general grading. They used standards in shaping their teaching, but not for reporting grades. And their system didn’t really support integrating the two. Which I think Campus does better and has been improving on,” she said.
Working with teachers
One thing all three agreed on was that the visit gave them a better sense of what teachers want. Teachers didn’t necessarily ask for anything, but seeing teachers use different products for specific purposes was informative, as was seeing just how busy teachers are in a day.
Devon said, “it doesn’t matter if we say ‘hey Infinite Campus does all the stuff that system does’ because they know how that system does it. They have to learn that Infinite Campus does it,” which is a whole separate hurdle. “I feel like it just kind of shapes the way I see how teachers interact with the product.”
Katie applied the same idea to how teachers consume training material. “We have to make it super accessible,” she said. “It needs to be right there because if there’s a step in the middle between having a question and even just knowing where you can find the answer. That step, that’s an unbridgeable chasm.” One possible solution she was noodling: “We have to bring the content closer to the product and make it right there if we ever hope for them to read it or watch it,” she said.
Another take–away was the realization that different teachers work in vastly different ways. Katie said, “I feel like when I was in school, most of my classes had a similar structure.” That was not what she saw on the visit to SLPHS. There, she saw the use of interactive notebooks juxtaposed with courses that were all online. One teacher who was “constantly finding new things and trying them out in his class and seeing what worked and then abandoning what didn’t rather than having to have it all decided at the beginning.” Essentially, she said, “there was a lot of variety in how teachers worked.”
Anyone in education knows that while working with kids remains the same, what’s changed dramatically in the last 10 years is the technology. Anyone not in education doesn’t always get the chance to see that. For the work we do at Infinite Campus, Katie said “it really contextualizes our job because we can be kind of removed. We try to engage people and do usability [tests with teachers] but we are still looking at them through our technology rather than just looking at them and all the breadth of what teachers deal with and how they operate.”
The partnership with SLPHS is continuing for the 2019-20 school year with a new class of students and a new group of Infinite Campus employees visiting the high school.