From computer literacy and technology integration to transformation of the educational process within a school

Article by Grigory Vodopyan (ORT de Gunzburg School, St Petersburg) and PhD. Alexander Uvarov (Computing Center, Russian Academy of Sciences) published in the Educational methodical journal for teachers of computer science “Informatics” #05 (687), 1-31.05.2016, September First Publishing House LTD, Moscow. Read the full article in Russian here

This article describes ORT de Gunzburg School’s practice of executing the transformation of the entire educational process with an aim to achieve the result where each and every high school student understands computer science at a level allowing them to progress into further study in higher education establishments without having to take other courses. Transformation of the learning process and achievement of the goal was made possible by making the learning process individualised.

This article touches on the historical timeline of developments, certain needs as well as pre-existing conditions that allowed the new models to be implemented and accepted within the school’s environment. Over the 30 years of the computer science course existing within the school, the world of technology has drastically changed, which has also affected the process of introduction of technology into the school learning process as early as the first grade.

The course for advanced ICT learning described in the article is designed for high school students in 10th and 11th grade over the duration of 34 study weeks. The course comprises consecutives modules, which in turn consist of several content blocks. Each block is followed by the corresponding assessment of knowledge, each module is completed by a final test. Content of this course is the same for all the students, but demands for the results differ for individual students. Thus, this course can be visualised in a shape of a staircase, where each step has its height, depth and width; where height is the expected result, depth is the time needed to achieve this result and width is the volume of the material. Every step can differ in each criteria. There are three levels available: basic, extended and advanced.

The school takes development of the in-school standards of educational achievement (ВНОД/ISEA) very seriously, which serve as an instrument for monitoring the quality of education as well as sustaining the effectiveness of the learning process within predetermined parameters, regardless of the organisation of the learning process. ISEA are a set of educational, methodological and assessment materials, which according to the school, should cover all the aspects of the educational process within the school. The development of such materials is a time-consuming collective work of the educators, which is conveyed according to the school’s standards, needs and facilities.

The development of such a complex system of indicators and assessment instruments is impossible without the use of modern technology, thus a specialised database was developed in the school, allowing educators to create result tables, prepare, store and edit tests for each educational result. A Moodle based learning platform is constantly updated; it is used by students both at school and at home also allowing the educator to track all the achievements within the learning process. Data such as this allows the forming of dynamic study groups, the ability to define the individual pace of learning as well as the ability to track certain tendencies in the learning process and to present information to the parents. Moreover, this data is important to make improvements and developments in the methodology and to assess the effectiveness of the study materials. A special e-diary was developed for this purpose to store the results and view the results in a graphic form.

Drastic deterioration of the academic results as well as lack of interest in the IT subject were the main reasons for the described development of high school students. In a class with different levels of academic performance, weaker students move slower while more advanced students get bored, which leads to both groups being demotivated. Thus, a special model was developed to allow personalised learning – (ЛОМО/POLM) personally oriented learning model.

POLM has been used in ICT learning at the Gunzburg school for five years, with yearly assessments of student satisfaction showing it has been viewed positively by students. Amongst main advantages, students have said that such a model ensures that each student sets his/her own goals and desired results and it shows direct correlation between the results achieved and the formal assessment and gives an opportunity for students to plan their own study time. Some students have also mentioned that POLM has opened their eyes to the various ways of learning not only in Computer science lessons but in general. The average score of the students who chose ICT as a state exam is higher than the average score in St Petersburg.

Surely, such a switch requires commitment from educators. Two changes were noticed: in the past education was for all, now it is for each and every student, with the goal is that every student passes the examination. In the past it was teacher’s responsibility to ensure good results, now the responsibility is on the students and parents. Other challenges for the educators include: organising the learning process according to everyone’s pace, which would involve increased workload; adjusting the assessment to the national system; making sure that every single student has motivation and is completing the program.

With all the advantages of POLM it is only possible to achieve results with multi-aspect transformation of the entire learning process, which is impossible without constant collective work of the educators, collaboration with parents and students as well as methodological support.