"I decided to play around and not take myself too seriously. It worked surprisingly well. After just one weekend on a self-instruction course I could start using itslearning for the first time," says language teacher Tove Savland of Ytrebygda Lower Secondary School in Bergen.
Tove returned to Norway three years ago after a long stay abroad. While she was away the school had started to use new computer tools and she felt that it was fait accompli: she had no choice but to learn it. Completely blank, she sat down on Friday afternoon. Come Monday morning she had the first English texts ready for her pupils on itslearning.
Trial and error
"I first thought that I had to make my own systems, but I was wrong there. I followed the self-instruction courses online and discovered that there was no magic to it, it was just simply fun. I suppose my curiosity was also an important factor.
She understands that many of her colleagues are afraid of starting out on something entirely new, though Tove consciously chose another strategy. "You have to dare to, you have to venture into it and play around and even fall on your face. I would far rather make mistakes than do nothing. The worst that can happen is that you delete a document, but it does not disappear into the cosmos. You will find it again!"
Tove felt her fear of the new technological world to be worse than that of her pupils, but there too she persevered.
"I quickly came to realise that the last thing I needed was fear. I rather looked at it as being a matter of them having the computer skills that could be a resource to myself. Underway, I have asked them what they think, like, dislike and in this way I have learned little by little. Nobody becomes an expert overnight."
More interesting teaching job
As Tove sees it, we are all dependant on mobile phones and SMS to varying degrees, and for her it's become the same with itslearning too. Going back to pen and paper is unthinkable. "It's like with mobile phones - how did we manage without them? I don't mean to sound like a preacher but I have actually gained a new and far more interesting teaching job."
Tove doesn't need too much time to explain what she means. "I work much more systematically and I am especially pleased about the opportunities for feedback. Previously my pupils mainly got my response in the classroom, now they get it at home. Those who previously felt that oral presentations were scary, can now record audio files and send them to me. I comment on and correct them and return them directly."
Do kids get any cleverer by working in this way? Tove has her own clear perception. "itslearning in itself does not make them cleverer, but I can see more easily where the shoe falls, learning takes place more rapidly and I see more quickly what they are strong and weak at. I've been following one class for three years, and everyone - 100% of the class, dares to do an oral presentation in front of others. I think that's amazing. Their self-confidence has been built up and many of them have become very good orally in language subjects."
Daily use is important
Colleague and language teacher Jorunn Sørtveit is one the school's most experienced itslearning users with six to seven years of active use behind her. She agrees with Tove that using itslearning daily is the most important factor if one is to get the hang of it. To her itslearning is more than just a learning platform.
"I would rather say that it is a learning arena, a place for dialogue, humour, learning and teamwork between the school, pupils and parents/guardians."
She feels that variation and the opportunity to get to grips with each and every pupil is far better than it was in "the old days". The classroom atmosphere is also more positively charged than it used to be, and Jorunn believes that many pupils feel more comfortable.
"Stigmatisation has in many ways disappeared. Before, teachers went around the classroom handing out tests. We remember all three of them that for various reasons always received special tasks and shamefacedly accepted their tests. The tests arrive by computer now, adapted to the pupil - both for those that need easier tests and those who want more challenging tests. Teachers don't go around handing back graded tests either - a difficult moment for many when everyone is curious about your marks. Pupils now get their results sent to them on their computers at home, they can read the feedback in peace and make their own assessment."
Jorunn has 27 pupils in English, a fabulous class according to her. They play around with audio files, many of them record themselves on their mobile phones and send clips to her. Where teachers previously struggled to get the whole class to talk, the opposite is now the case.
"I have to limit their talking, they are so talkative and love to over do it, they want to shine a little. I give them a maximum of 2 minutes when I ask for a short presentation. I teach them that we must laugh at and with each other too, we can handle that. In my experience they like being pushed. My role is far less authoritarian than it used to be, now I guide, work together with them more, without it having any impact on respect. That has remained the same."
People with good judgement
With itslearning Jorunn can more quickly detect who is not doing their homework. "Us teachers can see who has logged in and read the task, and that is a good thing. If a pattern is established, we can quickly intercept individuals."
She feels that the learning platform also presents other advantages in terms of the future working life. "The pupils can clearly see what competencies they have in relation to the competence measures, these are good experiences to take with you into the working life. "They simply become more aware of what they know and what they don't know," says Jorunn.
Where the grading book previously said "4 in English" and "that's it", the grade can now be broken down into different fragments. A pupil can get a 6 in written, but a 3 in oral presentation, or vice versa. This means that a student with a standard 4 can become a first class translator, while another can be a great interpreter.
"We can also make overall assessments in an entirely new way than previously," the teacher explains enthusiastically.
"This can be of great help to the pupil in the future. She will be able to market herself to an employer more easily when she knows what she is really good at," says a satisfied Jorunn.
Tove and Jorunn's tips and tricks
More confidence when presenting
Let the pupils use webcams to present; speak, read, sing, hold a mini speech, presentation. Prepare small tasks to start off with, things which the pupils are interested in. They can give reasons why they like a book, CD or film. Or they can explain why more people should ski, skateboard, etc. Pupils normally try several times. Eventually they manage it and then submit the folder and get the teacher's feedback in peace.
Get the pupils to log in
You want the pupils to log in to itslearning everyday. And they do - if they think it's important or fun enough. Always upload something nice, funny, surprising, such as pictures from a trip, a link to YouTube or maybe even a MPG contribution in the native language? If you want the pupils to login every single day, then you have to put up something that captures their attention! Not just information about the subject and dry warnings of "have you remembered to do your homework today?"!
Are you new to itslearning? Start with something you are passionate about. How about recording your favourite poem? You always get the best results and find it more enjoyable when you do something you like. Take small steps, and use the platform everyday. A common mistake made by many is thinking that you have to be able to do everything at once.
Get a mentor or lecturer
Be open to asking a more experienced colleague to be your mentor. You can also ask an experienced colleague from another school to hold a guest lecture on itslearning at your school.