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N.Y.C. Teachers Didn't Embrace District's Digital Collaboration Tool, Study Finds

A district-developed online tool intended to foster collaboration and resource-sharing among New York City educators has generally fallen flat, according to an independent evaluation.

Many classroom teachers expressed interest in using so-called Web 2.0 tools that might allow them to easily exchange ideas, information, and instructional resources, according to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, an independent research center at New York University that studies the city's schools. But only about half of New York public school teachers even logged into the system, known as the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) Connect, during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. And those who did log into the tool were primarily administrators and teachers with school-wide roles who made use of only the most basic function in ARIS Connect—and even then primarily for compliance purposes.

"Our research suggests a disconnect between the DOE's objectives for ARIS Connect and how educators actually perceived and used the tool," the report reads. "By providing a space for resource sharing and discussion, Connect was intended to spark innovation and save time. In general, these goals were not met."

In 2008, the department of education overseeing the 1.1-million student New York City district rolled out ARIS, described in the report as "an online platform designed to help teachers and administrators improve classroom practice and better manage schools." The ARIS system is comprised of four components: ARIS Data, for viewing and analyzing information such as student transcripts; ARIS Parent Link, for giving that information to parents; ARIS Learn, which provides professional development tools, such as training videos, to teachers; and ARIS Connect, "designed to encourage collaboration among educators through resource sharing and online discussion."

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools began studying the use of ARIS in 2011. The next year, the group issued its first report, which found that taken as a whole, ARIS was used widely but not deeply, with little impact on classroom instruction.

The new report focuses specifically on ARIS Connect, which includes tools that let educators post lesson plans, notes, presentations, ideas, or questions and respond to similar ideas and materials from other educators in their schools and across the district. Every New York City teacher and administrator has access to ARIS Connect, which includes a resource library for uploading and sharing files, discussion boards, blogs, and wikis. 

The researchers describe the tool as a "first-of-its-kind effort" by a district to encourage teacher collaboration via the use of such Web 2.0 tools.

But overall, they found through an analysis of two years' worth of user data, only about 50 percent of teachers logged into ARIS Connect, and use of ARIS connect accounted for only about 20 percent of overall ARIS usage.

And qualitative data gleaned from administrator interviews and teacher focus groups at nine middle schools found "many educators who rarely or never used Connect" for reasons ranging from lack of buy-in to general confusion about its purpose to a perceived lack of training and professional development.

When ARIS Connect was used, the researchers found, it was primarily to record meeting notes as part of a district-mandated process for addressing the needs of struggling students.

"Eight of the nine schools we visited did not make use of Connect beyond its most basic functions—recording Inquiry team notes, as required, as well as posting and download resources.  None of the teachers we interviewed used the blog and wiki functions," the researchers wrote.  

One big issue, the researchers found, was that many teachers used other digital tools—such as Skedula, Edmodo, Engrade, Google Drive and Google Docs, and Dropbox—for the purposes that ARIS Connect was intended to fill.

The report recommends that districts "avoid developing redundant products that teachers can satisfactorily address elsewhere," as well as do a better job of involving educators in the creation of new tools and providing better training and professional development when such tools are rolled out.


Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends. 

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