Haram Upper Secondary School1 is located in a small rural community in the West of Norway. This is the only upper secondary school in the municipality, so they get students from islands and other rural areas quite far from the school.
The school building is very traditional, with one classroom for each class. The school has 240 students in the three upper secondary grades. The teaching staff numbers 36, plus the principal and a vice-principal, who has certain administrative responsibilities.
A2. School culture
The school espouses “collaborative learning,” with students learning from each other. Joint comprehension, and active, responsible students are important aspects of the school’s pedagogical vision. All the teachers we talked to seem to agree on this, but one of the teachers says they have an agreement on an abstract level, but when it comes to concrete practice, they no longer agree. Therefore they need to work more with the practical understanding of their visions.
The school has a long history of reforms. It has been a pioneer school for years. In 1983/84 they launched a two-year program in computers and media. Starting in 1990/91 the program was extended to three years. These courses were stopped by the 1994 national reform for upper secondary schools. They also have a tradition of collaboration with local industry, which is still very important for both parties. The collaboration is formalized through a project called “the Haram model.” An important aspect for the project is to see education from primary school to college as a whole, with industry as an integral part. The maritime industry is very important to the municipality, and in recent years they have not had enough local labor because young people move away just before or after upper secondary. Employers are therefore interested in holding on to the young people, while the school is interested in arranging more apprenticeships and flexible learning. “The Haram model” is the background for the Innovation. The teacher responsible for the Innovation is also an important person in this project. The principal says his role is to be an instigator and the person asking for results. He is also a member of the steering group in the PILOT project, a big national project involving ICT and learning2, in which Haram Upper Secondary School is a participant.
A3. ICT in the school and beyond
The school has long experience in ICT since they had a three-year computer program. They have not developed a written plan for their ICT vision, and it does not seem like the teachers and principal have a common vision either. The principal says it is important to embrace ICT and be good at it, because it is a stated goal of the national curriculum. The ICT coordinator stresses the importance of ICT as a natural learning resource in every subject; “ICT is not a open sesame or anything, but used correctly, it can be a very useful learning resource in all subject areas.” One of the teachers stresses a similar view when she says her vision is to make the subjects more dynamic, using other learning resources than the textbook. As the teacher responsible for the Innovation, she also stresses how ICT can create a more flexible learning environment. In this way the students get an education that is more relevant to society, she points out.
According to the ICT coordinator, between 51-75% of all the teachers use e-mail and the Internet to some degree in their teaching. Most of the teachers involved in the PILOT project use it as an integral part of their teaching. According to the principal the teachers are very positive towards ICT and new teaching methods. The teacher responsible for the Innovation and another teacher say, however, that the important thing now is to work to change the attitudes of teachers who do not use ICT. The problem is prevalent among older teachers.
Most of the students have computers with Internet access at home, but use them mainly to play games.
A4. ICT support structure in the school
The school has a total of 107 computers. They have two computer rooms, with 28 and 18 computers, respectively. In addition they have some old computers in each of the classrooms and in the science rooms. The old computers are scheduled to be replaced by 30 new ones. The principal believes collaboration among students will be enhanced if the computers are placed in the classrooms. The students say they do not have enough computers if everyone is working on projects at the same time, but they add that they are spoiled in comparison with many other schools. The school and the municipality are trying to get broadband installed since they now only have an ISDN connection. It is quite expensive, however, as they are located in a rural area far from any towns.
They have one half-time person responsible for technical support. He also teaches IT and math half-time. Compared to how many computers the school has, both the principal and the ICT coordinator say they need at least one person working full-time on technical support. A present, the ICT coordinator works nights and weekends to get the support done.
The principal says they have a lot of ICT training available to teachers, but they are just offered courses in software, not in pedagogical use. The teachers, however, do not complain about the available courses. Since the ICT coordinator is not responsible for the courses, the Innovation teacher has held some courses for the teachers who are interested.
B. Macro-level context of the Innovation
B1. National and State/Provincial policies
There is support in the national curriculum and policies for initiating innovation in schools. In 1994 Norway adopted a national school reform restructuring the three years at the upper secondary level. Under the new system, students take a one-year foundation course followed by two years of follow-up and specialized studies. In the 1990s there was an increased focus on problem-based learning and project-orientation at all levels of the school system. This was combined with an increased interest in perspectives on life-long learning and student-centeredness. With the reform in 1994 all the students have to take a course in information technology. Before the reform, ICT was one of many electives. The ICT coordinator says the students’ ICT skills improved when they implemented the reform: “With “Reform 94” the students´ ICT knowledge improved, and all the students started to use it, in one way or another.” The ICT coordinator says that while the county3 supports the use of ICT in the upper secondary schools, the schools have to put pressure on themselves: “We sort of got special treatment compared to other schools in the county. It is dependent on how committed school is to ICT.” The county has initiated projects, but as one of the teachers says: “They initiate a project, and the next year they jump over to something else. They do not follow up on the initiated projects. So the challenge now is to get some continuity.” The municipality views use of ICT as very important. As mentioned before, the school has a lot of collaboration with the municipality.
C. Thematic analysis of the Innovation
C1. Curriculum content, goals and assessment
The subjects addressed in Storyline are primarily Economics and Information Technology and Norwegian. However, other subjects, such as English, Mathematics and Science are used when necessary.
Central to the Innovation is a more flexible learning environment, with an extended learning arena. The pedagogical method used is called “Storyline,” where the learning process happens in a realistic context. With the use of narratives, knowledge is obtained in a context that is meaningful to students. This pedagogical method is used to a certain extent in primary and lower secondary schools, but not in upper secondary schools. It is not common to use ICT in connection with the use of Storyline either.
Haram got the idea to do Storyline from Ringstadbekk lower secondary school, a school that has a long tradition with project-based learning (Ringstadbekk is also a SITES school). When they discussed it at a staff meeting at the school, they agreed they would combine Storyline with the contact they already had with local business and industry. The business community was also positive to this idea. The principal sees the Innovation as a continuation of PILOT, “Through the PILOT project, we worked on computer-supported collaborative learning. So for us Storyline is a further development of this project.” Storyline consists of two parts this school year. In both part one and two, the students start with relevant theory at school. In the first part, the students, in groups of three or four, were assigned roles as an employment seeker, a costumer in a bank, insurance company, tax office, an employment office or as different types of costumers in the municipality. The teacher selected the scenarios, but each of the groups chose the theme they wanted to work on. One of the groups put together a story about a financially troubled family with a handicapped child. The father had to look for a better-paying job and they had to inquire about the benefits they were entitled to through the National Health Services. The students say that they learned a lot from the project because they played realistic roles, even though it was fiction.
The second part of the Storyline, however, is what the students call “more serious, exiting and challenging.” This time, each of the groups plays the role of a consulting firm hired by one of the businesses in the municipality or the municipality (local government) itself. They get their scenario from the business that “hires” them. One of the groups has been asked by an electrical engineering firm whether they should lease or buy cars. Another group are consultants for the municipality. During the Innovation, the municipal council was considering whether they should say yes or no to a proposal to build a power plant in the municipality. The students were asked to look closely at the social and environmental impact of having a power plant in the local area.
Each of the groups has to write a report for the company they are working for. They also have a presentation at the school, and some of the groups have presentations in other forums, such as a meeting with regional representatives from the PILOT group. The principal stresses both the process and the product as important in project-based work.
The goals of the innovation are stated in the project proposal:
Students will gain an understanding of both opportunities and demands in relation to founding a company and running a business. They will learn about handling actual priorities and conflicts of interests within a company. In addition to this, the students will gain an understanding of the company’s role in managing resources related to economics, ecology and technology. The students will learn how to use ICT to solve problems if such equipment is available.
The students will gain an understanding of society’s limited resources and how priorities affect humans and the environment both today and tomorrow.
The students get a group evaluation of their written report and their oral presentation. They will get an individual evaluation of their performance, the quality of the PowerPoint presentation, how they present it and the content of the report. They will also have an individual exam at the end of the year. The project teacher planned to base the exam in Economics and Information Technology on the principles of Storyline. The principal stresses the importance of changing the assessment strategy: “It is not of any use to do project-based learning, collaborative learning and then give an individual five-hour written exam. I think that it is very important to have a relationship between the pedagogical method and the assessment strategy.”
C2. Teaching practices and outcomes
The principal says many of the teachers at the school are interested in pedagogical development and participate in innovative projects, both with and without ICT. One of the teachers, who is not a part of the Storyline project, but is a PILOT teacher, says the Internet is a very important tool in her teaching, because it provides different kinds of information than textbooks. She also uses the Internet for synchronous communication between the students and teachers. We would not say, however, that this teacher’s Innovation-related approach is common among all the teachers at the school. The exception is the PILOT teachers, who can be characterized as innovation-oriented teachers.
The teachers are organized in teams. There is one team for each grade. The team discusses teaching methods, projects and other questions related to teaching. The teachers and the principal all say they find the collaboration of the teachers very important in balancing pedagogical and organizational aims. The PILOT group at the school also has regular meetings.
The Innovation teacher says his role as a teacher is to facilitate, organize, evaluate and give feedback: “If the students do not know what to do, it is important to give suggestions based on what is possible for the student to achieve. You come up with different suggestions for the student to choose from.” The students say the teacher helps them “get organized.” In relation to Storyline, he has some contact with the companies and advises them on who to contact when they have a question. If the students have problems with the company, e.g., if they do not respond to e-mail, the teacher contacts the company. “So you can say he has a broad view of things.” (Student) The students say they have the main responsibility, not the teacher. Compared with the responsibility they had in part one of the project, the students do not think they have as much responsibility now, since it is the companies who have to come up with the scenario. In addition to that, they also have to give the students necessary information and have regular meetings with them throughout the period. The students are very satisfied with their contact persons in the company. They all stress they are taken seriously and treated like adults: “They treat us like we are real consultants. And at the same time they know that we are just students. So it is quite professional.”
C3. Student practices and outcomes
All of the teachers we talked to stress the importance of learning theory in practice. This is not a new way of working for the school, since many of the students have periods during the year where they work in one of the local industries two days a week. The principal thinks the students learn more than they would at the school’s engineering workshop. About the Innovation, the teacher stresses: “When they work outside school, they get the same business plan we have in the real world. What they learn is not just parts of a whole, but the true facts of the case.” This corresponds with the students’ view of the project, when they say it is realistic, challenging etc. The students say: “You are treated like you are an adult in a real job interview! He went through everything - the ordinary job contract - just like they do with regular employees. This was real!” The students think they develop a more realistic and independent attitude towards the challenges and problems of adult life; they learn how to take out a loan, they learn how to handle poor personal finances, how to inquire about benefits they are entitled to through the National Health Services etc. Both the teacher engaged in the Innovation and other teachers report how independent the students are and how they take on responsibilities differently than they used to. One of the social science teachers says: “They gain more insight into what happens in society. When they write essays their discussions are more realistic rather than moralistic.” According to him, the Innovation has positive outcomes for the students in other subjects too.
An important aspect of the project is collaboration. As one of the teachers puts it: “When the students leave the school as a learning arena, and encounter real working life as they do in “Storyline,” it is important that they know how to collaborate, have self-confidence and have learned some techniques for task solving.” Students who are used to collaboration are good at distributing tasks. They decide who goes to the library, who looks up information in the textbook and who searches the Web. When they are not used to collaborative learning, the principal says, all the students run to the computers at once. The students enjoy working in groups. But they stress the importance of changing groups, since they get tired of working together with the same people all the time. They do not find collaboration as a problem in their class; most of the students work well together. And if it is a problem, they know how to solve it:
Girl1: If somebody does not bother to work, we say he has to. When we are working on a project like this, you cannot just sit still.
Girl2: We have learned that we have to speak up if somebody does not want to work. We have to tell them.
Girl3: But it has not been a big problem in our class though. Mostly, all of us do what we are told to. But I know it has been a problem in other classes.”
In the initial phase of the storyline, each group of students had to decide on a name for their firm or group, and they had to formulate questions to pose to the representative of the company they were visiting. During this phase, there were a lot of discussions and negotiations going on among the students. Our observations showed that the students took the fact that they were going to visit important people in the local community very seriously. It makes it more realistic.
All the students we talked to liked collaborative learning, and they think they learn more than working individually.
You have to collaborate when you are in working life. You have to collaborate with your colleagues. With collaboration I really think you learn that other people can contribute where you do not have as much competence, and then you can contribute in another area.” (Student)
As part of the project, they were taught PowerPoint by students a year older than them. Each of the groups had one student helping them. The students found this very practical since they got help faster than they would with the teacher.
Some of the teachers say the students who usually do not like to work become more visible with collaborative learning. In this way, it is easier to communicate more directly with each of the students. The Innovation teacher thinks the students have a need to be visible in collaborative learning. There has been an increase in e-mails to the teacher, and many send them from their personal address instead of using the group’s address. And they are very eager to receive a personal response.
All the persons we talked to mentioned the positive outcomes of the Innovation. They have much better computer skills and their critical analysis of the findings is getting better: “The students who have used Internet for a while, have seen they have to evaluate their findings and what they can use.” (ICT coordinator) The students do not agree whether or not it is easy to find relevant information on the Web:
Girl: It is quite hard to find information on the Web.
Boy: It depends on what you are looking for. Most of the companies have their own web site.
Girl: I still do not find it easy.
Girl2: But we do get help to find where to go. The teacher gives us different sites to go to.
Boy: And if you don’t find anything there, you just search for another site.
Girl2: And if you don’t find anything then, you go to the teacher!
In this sequence, we can see differences between the way boys and girls talk about Internet. The boys seem to find it easier to search for information than the girls. The ICT coordinator at the school says that boys are more superficial and think of the web as more of a playground than girls do, who are more preoccupied with the use of what they are doing.
The students seem to enjoy school and the principal refers to a survey that shows that the students at Haram enjoy school. The Innovation teacher also says the students are more enthusiastic about the project than he thought they would be. The students confirm this. Part of their enthusiasm for the project stems from not having to listen to a teacher for many hours and getting to work on something meaningful:
Girl1: It is so much more fun when we can work independently, which is what you have to! We do not have to sit and listen to the teacher for two hours. Now we can use computers, the Internet and other learning resources we need and in this way we can obtain good information the way we find best.
Girl2: We can work at our own tempo. In this way, you know what you are doing. You really understand it.
Girl1: We are learning through what we are doing. In a way you are living it out. You are doing things in the company and when you have a test at school, you know it. You have done it so many times in the company; you have seen it. Instead of reading and reading and forgetting what you read. That is the problem with just reading books, suddenly you are not concentrated and then you think `what did I read?` We can see from what the girls say that they are more motivated about school and they also think they learn more. Before they started the project, the teacher says the students had more fragmented knowledge; now they have the ability to put theory into a context they understand. Teachers, students and the principal stress that the students are very good in presentations. Presenting their findings to the company, the rest of the school and teachers from other schools, e.g. PILOT conferences, is seen as an important part of the project. The students say they do not have any problems with giving presentations; “I do not see that as a problem. We are so used to it. But when we did it the first time for the class, we were really nervous, looked down and stuttered. Now we have done it so many times, so it is not a big deal.” The principal says he thinks the students learn a lot from presentations, because they have to think through what they are going to present and how they are going to do it.
Everyone we have talked to reports very good student outcomes. We think the principal has a good summary: “Facts are something they can memorize. But they cannot get social competence without collaboration. So I think they have learned a lot there. You also learn methodological and learning skills this way.”
C4. Kinds of technology and ways they are used
ICT is seen as an important tool in preliminary work, the project itself, complementary work and the presentation. The Internet is an important tool with respect to presentation, coaching and documentation. Imaker and Yahoo are used for presentation and discussion groups. Beside e-mail they also use the phone and fax for student-teacher, student-student, teacher-company and student-company communication. In addition to a personal address for each of the students, each of the student groups has its own e-mail address. In addition to the Internet, the students use Word for letters, reports and tables. Excel is used for calculations, models and simulation, and PowerPoint/Multimedia lab for presentations. The school has some pedagogical software, but it is used to only a small extent. The ICT coordinator says they have not found anything interesting for upper secondary school.
The students write weekly logs for the teacher on e-mail so he knows what they are doing. They also maintain e-mail contact with the contact person at the company. They have had some problems with late response or lack of response from the companies. The teacher says they are not as used to e-mail as the students. Sometimes an e-mail is not opened for three or four days, and the students easily get disappointed.
One of the groups came to me and was very frustrated because they were promised a scenario yesterday or today. I had to make a phone call to the contact person, and he told me that he had had problems with his access to the Internet. So the students are very vulnerable. But at the same time, when it works, it is extremely good. (Innovation teacher)
Both the principal and the students say they do not need to use ICT to do the project. As the students say, they could make phone calls instead of writing e-mails and use pen and paper instead of the computer. But they think ICT does everything a lot easier. They do not have to remember many sheets of paper, because they have everything stored on the computer, and sending an e-mail is faster than making a phone call: “We could have made it without the computer, but it would have been very busy and hectic.” (Student)
C5. Problems and solutions related to the Innovation
Big problems have not been reported in relation to the Innovation, but the teacher responsible for the project thinks they should have started Storyline earlier instead of spending months on the theoretical part first. He says that he has also missed feedback from local industry and the students about their opinions. With their feedback they could have avoided some problems and frustrations.
The ICT coordinator, the principal and the students said that the network is too slow, since they just have ISDN at this time. And, as the ICT coordinator points out as well: It is important to remember that running the networkcosts. It is not possible to run a project like this with idealists.” The students are very positive to the project, and cannot point to any big problems except the network: “It cannot be totally perfect, nothing can be that. But I am very satisfied with everything.”
In the present school year, the Innovation only involves the two first grades. But as mentioned earlier, the school is a part of the national PILOT project, and 50-75 % of the teachers use ICT in their teaching. The principal says many of the teachers are interested in joining. One of the teachers who has the Innovation class in Math says she would like to join the project if they want math to be a part of Storyline. The Innovation teacher says they have to get other teachers to use it.
We have to get other teachers to use it. That is very important. But I think the project has gotten a good reputation at the school now. Students and their parents are saying very positive things about it, and the teachers who are joining, place great store by it. And if the other teachers start to think about it in relation to their subjects, I think we are getting somewhere! (Innovation teacher)
The students have reported to the teachers that they have very different practices concerning collaborative learning, which was supposed to be a pedagogical foundation for the teachers. The Innovation teacher stresses that it is essential for them to find a common denominator.
From our interviews with the parents, it is clear that they support the Innovation. They are positive and report back that their sons and daughters seem happier about schoolwork now. Some of the parents also said they wished it could have been like this when they were young.
The school is going to extend the project. One of the teachers not involved in the project thinks the teaching methods will gradually be embraced by the whole school.
The school leaders and the teachers involved in the Innovation find it very important to present their thoughts and what they are doing to other schools. However, the teacher responsible for the Innovation says that they do not have contact with other schools doing the same or similar things. He finds that very important for the future work of the Innovation. The school is about to start closer collaboration with two other schools in the county using a video conferencing system. The aim is to get the teachers and students at these schools to collaborate on different projects.
2 PILOT: “Project: Innovation in Learning Organization and Technology.” PILOT is a national effort to foster greater use of ICT in the schools.
3 Norway is grouped into 19 counties, each of which is responsible for all the upper secondary schools in that county.