Teachers with GUTS (TWiG) needed an online community space to support teachers in integrating the modern scientific practices of computer modeling and simulation into their school day science classes.
Many teachers lack the skills and confidence to effectively integrate computer modeling and simulation into their science classrooms. Research studies show that it takes more than a single professional development workshop to build the necessary skill and confidence. Online communities have been proposed as a means to address this problem. Teachers with GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) offers an engaging middle school curriculum and accompanying professional development for teachers.
Through the use of an online community of practice, Teachers with GUTS is able to support teachers in mitigating challenges, gaining expertise by providing additional training and resources, and providing answers to teachers; questions as they bring computational science experiences into their classrooms. To truly teach with GUTS, teachers needed a community they could turn to.
Social media platforms and existing online discussion forums were considered, but research showed that these platforms lacked the features specifically needed. Instead, they needed a platform tailored to their needs:
Through our discovery work we specifically identified that a forum, resource library, practice space, and faceted search would provide teachers with support and resources and tools they need to teach the curricula with confidence. TWiG would then support the website with both drip and push marketing to promote the resources and encourage activity.
Project GUTS CS in Science curriculum is the heart of TWiG’s work. There are several learning modules as well as supporting documents such as rubrics and supplementary activities. We built the resource library that displayed the most recent additions front and center, while providing a faceted search option so teachers can drill down to specific resources.
We also took advantage of the collaborative spirit of the TWiG community by allowing teachers to submit their own resources. These resources are then reviewed by TWiG staff and published after review, revision if needed, and alignment with standards.
To support online discussion and peer assistance, we built a forum. We built off of Drupal Core’s Forum module and extended it to include an area accessible only to facilitators with a custom module.
We customized the forum further by disabling threaded comments, as that structure did not work well for the teachers using the site. However, in doing so we learned of a longstanding issue with Drupal and comments in which converting threaded comments to a flat structure risks deleting the nested comments. In response, we ported the Flat Comments module to Drupal 8.
Even with faceted search and thoughtful categorization, the number of resources and discussions on the site can be overwhelming. We created a Drupal 8 version of the Backpack module that allows teachers to save pages to their “backpack.”
These backpacks can either be private or shared with other members. Curating specific lists is another way teachers can share knowledge with one another.
You can download and use the Backpack module on your Drupal site at https://github.com/agaric/bookmark
While a custom site was more advantageous than an email list or Facebook group, the reality is that most teachers’ daily routine does not include visiting teacherswithguts.org. In order to keep teachers engaged they needed a way to know when relevant activity was taking place.
We built a notification system, configurable by each teacher, so that they could be emailed about activity pertinent to their work. Teachers can choose to receive the following notifications:
Additionally, teachers choose the day to be sent emails, as well as the frequency. This was all made possible by enhancing the Personal Digest and Comment Notify modules.
To build upon the networking happening in the forums, we made it easy for teachers to find one another based on shared on interests, experience and geography. Each teacher customizes their member profile with key information about themselves, their areas of expertise and the areas they wish to grow. We then surfaced that in a filterable search of members, helping teachers mentor one another.
With an onboarding process much improved from their previous site, plus the ability to bulk invite users, TWiG was able to sign up over 700 teachers when the site launched in 2016. We’ve continued to improve the site to increase participation and surface useful metrics for site administrators and researchers.