Taking a breath for reflection

It’s been a whole school year now starting with 400 schools elevating the network to over 1500 –  time for reflection. eEducation Austria is the network for developing digital competences in the Austrian school system – starting at the primary level where the main focus is not in using digital devices but rather focusing on the development of logical skills reaching all the way to upper secondary schools that prepare students for the work life or tertiary studies.

Starting in October 2016 the primary goal of this federal initiative was to strengthen digital competences of teachers so they would use digital media for classroom work in a meaningful way.

The topic seems to be trendy because there was a seemingly endless stream of schools joining the network however there are several reasons for this success:

  1. All participating organizations are highly motivated. For the Federal Ministry of Education this is an initiative that goes hand in hand with current school strategies focusing on school development. The Federal Center eEducation has been allocated to the Pedagogical College Upper Austria which was chosen over several other colleges because of the integrative concept that was presented during hearings. The administrative structure of the Pedagogical College Upper Austria is used to manage the budget that has been transferred from the Federal Ministry to the Federal Center eEducation.
  2. The online platform works well and has been adjusted collaboratively with the whole elearning community in Austrian schools. Almost 9000 activities have been added to the system documenting the work of schools related to using digital media. State coordinators for each school level are informed per mail when a new activity has been added to the system for quality control if budgets want to be accessed.
  3. All state coordinators work together with the Federal Center eEducation involving some more staff members with special interest topics totaling 70 highly motivated pedagogues that share their experience and hold direct contact to all schools involved in the network.

When I was asked by the Federal Ministry of Education to take up the job I knew that I was in for a very big challenge. I’ve known the elearning community especially with my focus in being a teacher of an Upper Secondary College for Business Administration for years.  In the past years I have seen a slight decline of interest on the topic of using digital media with students and the general problem that early adopters would actually be the only ones that would jump up on the topic of digitalization but not reaching all teachers of a school.

Also, there were different cultures in the original elearning networks depending on the school level and this would be the first time that all school types would have to communicate and work on the same strategy. What a task!

We decided on a cloud based authentication service that was easily usable by all but had the problem of partially old data of former elearning coordinators of the so called expert schools (the one’s we started out with) resulting in many login problems in the starting phase.

The task of levelling out different ideas of the former communities and transforming these in a new network was not unsolvable but a communicative task at the beginning, actually even until now. After all, we had to develop understanding for the new system trying not to lose anyone. I could not anticipate the overwhelming trust that we were able to develop in a short time. A handbook was created collaboratively being a reference for confirming budgets that are used for different projects. If you will – this was a true form of using crowd intelligence.

Many questions were asked, most of them answered and decisions made together. The final act was the eeducation quality matrix that shows the expanse of the concept giving entry points for schools starting with zero and showing development scenarios also emphasizing on school development issues.

The network has grown rapidly and the target of 2000 schools by the end of 2018 will probably be reached even this fall. We have rescued some ideas of previous networks like the etapas-concept of small learning nuggets produced by teachers for teachers as open educational resources and made them available to all school levels. Most problems have been solved and I would also like to express my gratitude towards my highly motivated team.

Countless hours have made this year exhausting but also rewarding – so many new contacts, wonderful people and the feeling that everything in on a right way despite some ups and downs. The last conference we organized attracted over 600 teachers that shared their experience and have become part of a movement that focuses on teaching students to use digital media in a responsible way.

For me it is now time to take a step back and look at the development as a whole. We have gained a big width of schools participating, now the focus will have to be set to gain more depth. I will concentrate these concepts knowing that for my sabbatical the network is in good hands and leave with one small message:

I’ll be back!