Many educators I work with are interested in ways technology can be used to support their professional learning community. DuFour and Eakers (1998) stress the importance of using class time for learning (p. 224), and the importance of smooth and efficient routines (p. 225). One strategy that can decrease the time teachers spend on mundane tasks and reduce the loss of instructional time is to use a shared online calendar system such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange (if your district provides such a system) or a free web-based calendaring system such as Google Calendar.
Math Teacher, Computer Teacher, and Tech Lead Teacher Andy Crisp at Thurston Middle School in Laguna Beach has spearheaded an effort to get important campus-wide calendars online. Crisp has helped migrate the school master calendar, the library sign-ups, computer lab check-outs, and the gym schedule onto Google Calendar. The entire faculty is now able to keep informed of the latest changes to the school calendar - and no one is ever viewing an old copy. Teachers can also check library and computer lab availability from their classrooms (or from home if planning lessons in the evening). Even local coaches and maintenance staff can check the gym (and field) schedule online. (Want to see an authentic example? Check out the public view of Thurston's Master Calendar.)
When I asked Andy about the benefits he sees in using an online calendar, he suggested that it can be accessed from any location, it reduces paper load, it's editable by several people (such as administrators, school secretaries, and the librarian), and it's always updated whenever anyone looks. He also found the efficient flow of information to have an indirect impact on instruction... in short, teachers have more time for other things. In addition, he found Google Calendar in particular to be user friendly and easy for the staff to use.
As for more instructional uses of such a tool, Andy and I discussed the potential benefits for team teaching (in fact, physics teachers at Laguna Beach High School are using Google Calendar for common curriculum planning). We also brainstormed ways it could be used as a class calendar, including homework assignments and due dates -perhaps including notes and resources related to these events. Students could even use an online calendar for their projects - anything from this day in history, to historical reenactments or speculative timelines. And I've always been a fan of helping students develop personal time management skills using real world tools such as handhelds; now, even without a handheld, a student can access their online calendar at home or at school.
Online calendars were not the first tool I thought I'd be writing about here on the Infinite Thinking Machine, but it sure got my brain working this morning. I hope that some of you will find my chat with Andy Crisp inspiring, too.