Towards VALUE - A Virtual Almanac
for Logo Users and Educators


Iliana Nikolova
Department of Information Technologies,
Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics,
University of Sofia
FMI, 5 James Bourchier, P.B. 48, Sofia 1164
tel/fax: (+359-2) 656-157


The paper deals with problems accompanying the implementation of educational innovations and focuses on the need of effective support to teachers involved in the implementation process. The author’s ideas are developed in the context of an informatics education project which introduces "learning by developing" paradigm and Comenius Logo environment to a number of Bulgarian secondary schools. Our scheme for teacher preparation and support involves extending the traditional forms of in-service training by providing opportunities for tele-learning, interaction among teachers and experts and participation of teachers in collaborative development and evaluation of curriculum materials. This approach involves design of VALUE - an interactive Web site to embed the materials being produced, to mediate tele-learning and two-way communication; to enable and support collaborative development of materials. Through this Web site multifaceted support for the implementation process will be provided. The role of a facilitator to keep the whole process going is essential.


Implementation of innovations, teacher support, Comenius Logo, tele-learning, WWW, Intranet, Internet

1 Introduction

Anyone, who has participated in implementation of educational innovations, would agree that

Educational change is technically simple and socially complex

(Fullan, 1992. The New Meaning of Educational Change, Ch. 5)

Many actors are involved in the implementation process and the way they play their roles affects the success of implementation. Teachers are the most certain participants in this process. This paper is devoted to the problem of how to prepare, stimulate and support the teachers involved in the implementation of an educational innovation. We develop our ideas in the context of an informatics education project which introduces "learning by developing" paradigm and Comenius Logo environment to a number of Bulgarian secondary schools. Our scheme for teacher preparation and support involves enriching the traditional forms of in-service training by new options offered by the developments in communication and information technologies. Important aspects of our approach are: opportunities for tele-learning and collaboration over distance; interaction between teachers and experts and among teachers themselves in order to share ideas and experiences and learn from each other; teacher participation in the development of project-related teaching and learning materials. This approach involves design of VALUE - an interactive Web site to embed the materials being produced, to mediate tele-learning and two-way communication; to enable and support collaborative development of materials. Through this Web site multifaceted support for the implementation process can be provided. The role of a facilitator to keep the whole process going is essential.

2 The Project "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo"

2.1 The context

In 1994 a national program "Educational Initiative of IBM for Bulgaria" was initiated by IBM-Bulgaria, Open Society Fund-Sofia and The Bulgarian Ministry of Education which aimed at supporting the integration of informatics and information technologies in the Bulgarian schools. Twenty seven secondary schools from different parts of the country were chosen to participate in the program and they were equipped by IBM computer labs and appropriate software. A teacher training center was established at the University of Sofia to provide courses and support for teachers from all participating schools. After the first two years several more specific projects derived from the program, one of which is the project "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo".

2.2 Project description

The project "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo" aims to bring the spirit of Logo and Logo educational philosophy in regular or elective informatics classes at middle and lower secondary school level. Comenius Logo [14, 16] - an attractive and sophisticated environment with considerable conceptual and operational power, was chosen as software. The project-oriented approach and the educational metaphor "learning by developing" [4, 15] are completely in tune with Logo traditions in Bulgaria [23] and were adopted in the project. The project was announced and sixteen schools out of all the twenty seven expressed interest in participation.

Long before the announced commencing date of the project a small team of initiators began the preparation activities, which involved, among others, producing a Bulgarian version of the software and translating the on-line help system into Bulgarian language. When the pilot versions were ready, the teacher preparation could start. Almost none of the participating schools had Logo-like activities before. A one-week intensive workshop for teachers (one teacher per school) was organized in the teacher training center. The main instructors were the authors of Comenius Logo who introduced the basics of the Logo language and the underlying educational philosophy and demonstrated many of the environment specifics. Sample projects and microworlds were also shown. An initial set of reference materials, handouts, work-out problems and problems for self-practice was developed and every teacher was provided with a copy. The purpose of this resource was to ease the teachers’ work during the workshop and to serve as a reference and learning aid for continuing self-study. At the end of the workshop the next steps to be taken at everyone’s classroom were discussed, trying to predict potential problems. Follow-up actions including purposeful communication and collaborative development of materials were planned.

And that was the end of "the easy" part...

2.3 The problem

As one can expect, going back to their own places and having to continue working on the project more or less on their own, teachers faced a variety of problems: conceptual; organizational; technical; psychological: isolation, fading motivation, resistance to change, uncertainty; problems with time, overload, communication, shortage of adequate materials. The scenarios differ at different schools and some are quite successful but, in general, these problems slowed down the process of implementation and called for a careful analysis and search for adequate solutions. For us, as project initiators and facilitators, the question is:

How to effectively help teachers overcome the multifaceted problems accompanying the implementation? What scheme for initial preparation and further support for teachers would be successful?

2.4 Analysis from an implementation perspective

Interviews with teachers helped zoom into the problem. One source of difficulty appeared to be the insufficient information provision: Logo-beginners want to read more about Logo philosophy, applications, examples of practice; a wider range of learning materials for the teachers is needed - they have to deepen their own knowledge on the language and environment; materials for classroom use both for teachers and students can help significantly - being not enough experienced in the subject area, some teachers feel more comfortable with strict guidance for their classroom activities, while others prefer designing the learning environment in their classroom by their own, but still need some examples. Another difficulty concerns unavailability of affordable means for regular communication with experts and colleagues, which leads to isolation and decrease of motivation. These and other related problems have been in the main focus of our efforts to improve the chances for the successful implementation of the project.


3 Theoretical background

Well, the hard work is done. We have the policy passed; now all you have to do is implement it...

Outgoing deputy minister of education to colleague

As simple as that? Many educational projects, even carefully planned, fail in the phase of implementation. Why does it often happen? There are many factors influencing the success of implementation and they have to be taken into account when planning educational changes. "The proof is in the puTTing" - putting a new curriculum into practice is a process which requires considerable effort and a balanced combination of creativity, common sense and systematic procedures. It is a learning experience for both - adults and children involved [1] and teachers play a major role in it [17, 24].

3.1 Key factors and key issues in implementation

The process of innovation involves: initiation (adoption, mobilization), implementation and institutionalization (continuation) [13]. In the most authoritative overview [12] of factors affecting the process and results of implementation, Fullan identifies four categories of factors: characteristics of change itself (need, clarity, complexity, quality and practicality), local factors (school principal and teachers), implementation-furthering strategies (in-service teacher education) and external factors (policy and support from national and lower administrative level). Below we consider the first and third categories and try to find appropriate solutions in the context of our project. To enhance clarity and quality and reduce complexity of the proposed change in the school informatics curriculum we have to make the content and pedagogy proclaimed by the project clear in meaning and direction of use, rather than diffuse and abstract in message, otherwise it will be rejected by teachers. Carefully designed and validated materials can make a major contribution provided that the materials are of high quality and practicality. [1,2].

A key issue in implementation is the dimension of change: the change should not only affect curricular materials - new textbooks, teacher’s guides, etc., but also the behavior of teachers - higher self-initiative, teacher interaction, team spirit; and teachers’ beliefs - over time ideas of teachers about good education, promising approaches, etc. should change. Another key issue in implementation is the initiative-taking and empowerment - teachers should be stimulated, supported and rewarded to be initiative, even if it involves doing the wrong thing at times.

The highlights from the theory lead to the following main insights [11] about the implementation and the role of teachers in it:

3.2 "Teachers as learners" paradigm

Implementation implies a process of learning new roles (and probably unlearning old ones) for the teachers [3]. They have to master new content and new approaches. They are expected to change their behaviors and beliefs. New meanings, new behaviors, new skills and new beliefs depend significantly on whether the teachers are working as isolated individuals or are exchanging ideas, support and positive feelings about their work [11,13]. The initial opinions of users before concrete experiences with the new approaches are usually rather superficial. They get shaped in the process of interaction with the new products in the concrete context. To facilitate teachers’ learning and performance the availability of high quality learning and curricular materials is of crucial importance. There is an on-going discussion if these materials should have a more "open" or more "structured" nature. Whatever approach is taken the materials should help teachers consider such questions as: what is the intention of the change, how does it relate to my current ideas and practice, how can I use it in my classroom, how will it influence my pupils? [3,13].

3.3 Tele-learning: Light in the end of the tunnel?

Teacher’s learning - where, when, how? The development of computer-based communications gave birth to a new form of learning - tele-learning - defined as:

"...making connections among people and resources through communication technologies for learning-related purposes"

(Collis, 1996. Tele-learning in a Digital World: The Future of Distance Learning)

Thus "tele-learning" presumes: (a) availability of relevant resources and motivated people; (b) accessibility to these resources and people via communication technologies (including skills to apply these technologies); (c) interactiveness and self-initiative; (d) purposeful use of the resources and technologies.

The concept of tele-learning extends the traditional notion of learning (e.g., to be instructed in a course, self-learning using written materials, etc.) to a multi-faceted and a multi-partner on-line activity, in which the learner can be initiator and navigator of his own learning process, taking the advantage of the technology to surf for resources and establish contacts with people for learning-related purposes [5].

Teachers’ problems related to distance, flexibility in time, access to materials and need for communication with experts and peers can be well overcome by employing the technological developments in computer networking. Intranet and Internet based solutions can be designed for this purpose, provided that it is technically possible for the teachers to use them. The World Wide Web phenomenon is one challenging opportunity for education. It offers a number of possibilities and can be successfully used as a medium for learning, communication and collaboration. To mention some possible uses of WWW for learning-related purposes, as identified in [6]:

There are many examples of using WWW as both - process support and a common product, for example [8,9]. WWW-based resources can be implemented on either Intranet or Internet, depending on their purpose, target users and existing constraints. The situation in Bulgaria is promising in this respect in terms that a project to link universities to the Internet is under way and some teachers from schools near to universities are already using these facilities. Another option are the regional Open Society centers spread over the country where access to the Internet is available and it is an organizational matter to enable teachers’ access to their facilities. In the near future the schools participating in the project will have modems as well.

3.4 Towards a solution

Highlights from the theory of implementation together with the world-wide technological developments and their resonance in Bulgaria led us to the following solution to the problem of teacher preparation and support within our project: to extend the traditional forms of learning and support for teachers by providing opportunities for tele-learning; enable and stimulate interaction among teachers and experts and encourage teachers to participate in the development of curriculum materials; provide access for all teachers to the materials produced. The implementation of this solution involves design of a virtual Logo place for teachers - an interactive WWW resource, for which we use the acronym VALUE (Virtual Almanac for Logo Users and Educators).

VALUE has an important role to play for teacher preparation and support within the project. After a short introductory face-to-face course, VALUE will provide teachers with various materials and resources which facilitate self-learning and help them design the learning environments and learning processes in their classrooms. The teachers are not seen as transmitters of ready-made knowledge and actors in pre-defined learning scenarios. Rather, we believe in their creativity, initiative, intuition and unique teaching styles. We rely on the interaction in order to be able to help teachers "just-in-time". Another concern is to create a sense of ownership and commitment in teachers. For this purpose we involve them in the development and evaluation of project-related materials. VALUE will be a mediator for this collaborative activity. VALUE will not be a static body of information, but a dynamic entity, being constantly enriched by new materials developed by experts, teachers and other Logo users.

4 VALUE (Virtual Almanac for Logo Users and Educators)

The concept of VALUE is inspired by the overall research and development in the Department of Information Technologies, University of Sofia, in the field of Flexible and Distance Learning through Telematics Networks [10, 19, 20, 21, 22].

4.1 Purpose

VALUE (Virtual Almanac for Logo Users and Educators) is planned as an interactive on-line WWW resource related to the scope of the project "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo". It is intended to be used mainly by teachers, but not only - through it students and other Logo users can find useful information and perform interesting activities. VALUE will be a virtual place where "Logophiles" can find relevant materials and resources, "meet", discuss and collaborate. Its purpose is to promote Logo philosophy and tools, facilitate Logo learning and successful classroom applications. Through VALUE feedback on existing materials will be collected and these materials will be revised accordingly. VALUE will facilitate establishing of a virtual community of people with similar learning and professional interests - a Logo "learning web" [7] and will enable communication and collaboration within this community. Thus a synergetic effect of the efforts of experts, teachers and learners can be achieved and the introduction of newcomers to Logo ideas, developments and achievements will be considerably eased.

4.2 Content

At this point we plan the following types of materials to be offered through VALUE [18]:

As a future endeavor the delivery through the WWW site of an on-line course "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo" with options for children, elder students and teachers has been planned.

4.3 Design considerations

Being a WWW resource, VALUE will inherit the advantages of hypermedia. Its interface will enable easy orientation and navigation through the site. As teachers may have modest hardware and software facilities, our approach is to design an attractive, but still simple site, i.e., avoid fashionable design features which impose higher hardware and software requirements to the user. Interactiveness of the site is essential: through it discussions will be possible as well as e-mailing to the authors of materials for questions and feedback; forms to register a user and deliver information to him will be available; FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list will be maintained, "newflashes" will be provided when new items appears or an item has been modified. Next to the WWW discussion facilities an e-mail list will be maintained for users with only e-mail access.

Taking into account potential technical and administrative constraints for teachers’ access, it will be important to enable both on-line and off-line use of VALUE. Most of the materials will be supported in more than one format in order to allow browsing (HTML), convinient downloading and off-line use (ZIP, DOC, LGP, LGO, LGW, BMP, etc.). An off-line version of VALUE will be maintained to enable dissemination on disks for users who do not have Internet access. In this case the interactiveness will be lost but the materials still can be used. The off-line version will be frequently updated to reflect changes in the original resource. VALUE will be a bilingual environment - the materials concerning Bulgarian teachers and students will have a Bulgarian version and will be implemented as an Intranet resource, while those which are considered to be of interest to an international audience will have an English version and will be accessible via the Internet.

4.4 How far are we now?

The process of material development started almost an year ago. The initiators and teachers identified together the types of materials needed and assigned priorities to them. Small teams of teachers were formed to work together on the development of a particular type of material in close cooperation with the subject matter experts from the teacher training center. Due to the problems mentioned in previous sections of this work this scheme did not work as it was expected and only a few teachers were able to participate actively in the process. Their results are very promising. Master students from the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics who chose Comenius Logo as a basis for their master’s projects contributed as well. The most active VALUE developers are the members of the project team at the teacher training center. They take care for the overall content and design of VALUE and facilitate and navigate the process of material development. The coordination and interaction with the other partners involved is considered essential and considerable time and effort is spent on that.

The process of material development is not a linear one, but iterative: draft versions of materials are discussed with subject matter experts and after a first round of revision are given to potential users for user evaluation. The feedback collected is the ground for subsequent revisions. Then a material is considered ready to be included in VALUE, i.e. offered to a broader audience. Interactiveness of the WWW site will enable further refinement of materials based on on-line users’ feedback.

At the moment of writing this paper the following materials are under development: "Learning by developing with Comenius Logo" - project description; Bulgarian on-line help, Comenius Logo reference materials; list of problems for self-practice; set of developed problems; lecture notes for teachers; sample curricula for small children, middle school and in-service teachers; sample lessons on topics of the curricula; student projects; teachers projects; teachers reports on classroom experiences; Logo-related bibliography with references to on-line resources; interactive multimedia microworlds on Bulgarian history. The VALUE itself - as structure, user interface, interactive layer - is also under development.

5 Reflections and conclusions

We see a great potential in VALUE and at the same time we are aware of the many problems which do and will evolve, for example: quality and validation of materials; teachers’ on-line access to VALUE, further VALUE design and maintainance, social organization and technological support of virtual collaboration, popularization of VALUE and stimulation of teachers’ use (teachers need some "push"...). The pilot version of VALUE and its testing will probably reveal even more problem but will also provide useful feedback for finding relevant solutions.

6 Acknowledgments

This work has been partially supported by INCO Copernicus 960106 - MATCh project.


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