Bill MacKenty

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Technology, learning and choice…

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 02 - November 2014 at 09:03 AM (9 years ago) 290 views.

Slate has wonderful article about a professors choice to use (or not to use) technology in learning. The article resonates with me on many levels. As I reflect on the SAMR model of technology use and learning, I see many cases where technology use really doesn't benefit student learning. And I believe this question, does this use of technology benefit student learning must be central in our thinking to use it. 

I've also seen technology use that fantastically improves on the way students learn - but this has more to do with instructional design rather than the actual blinking thing. There is nothing automatically better about learning when we throw technology in the mix. We must carefully judge and balance the benefits of technology in learning. This requires time, testing, and a clear vision of your learning outcomes. 

A last point about distraction. As I work in ed-tech, I see more and more how distraction and divided attention fractures and fragments learning. I believe a great gift teachers can give to their students is the experience of deep thinking. 

To spend a significant amount of time deeply knowing a poem or a part of a song is to know the "truth of a thing". And isn't that why we teach and learn? Sometimes I worry that technology makes knowing the truth harder. There are all kinds of yucky implications about a generation of kids who blink from one thing to the next, but that's a discussion for another article. Great article in the ongoing conversation about technology use and learning.

Interesting article and online discussion about “teaching computers”

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 29 - April 2014 at 10:23 AM (10 years ago) 275 views.

Hello Readers!

An interesting read that discusses different cultures between programmers and users. If anything, this article helps me remember the "spotify" world students live in today makes teaching computer science more of a cultural challenge.

I originally found this link in a very interesting online discussion about programming education making a comeback in primary education.

I am becoming more interested in the Computer Science Teachers Association efforts to teach computational thinking in schools (ISTE also has some excellent resources on the same topic: computational thinking).

As I reflect on what kind of technology education schools should provide, these articles and resources just seem right.

I am curious what you think about computational thinking and how K-12 schools should "teach technology".

PD, ed-tech conferences and student learning…

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 28 - April 2014 at 07:47 AM (10 years ago) 263 views.

This article far better expresses my thoughts about conferences and student learning. I post this after asking if big ed-tech conferences make a difference in student learning. #edtech

Well worth reading.

Silence is success in IT

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 17 - April 2014 at 03:32 PM (10 years ago) 220 views.

We are completing MAP testing. This involves setting up four rooms with about 25 computers each and ensuring networks, networking, client software, and system settings are prepared for testing. We also ensure the tests, students, and data is correct prior to testing. We use older laptops to facilitate testing, our MAP coordinator ensures the testing schedules are distributed and proctors are trained.

Setting up for MAP testing isn't rocket science. But everything went especially well. No client computer computer problems, no data issues, everything worked really well, and it was quiet.

This has happened before. When we transferred to google apps for education. Everything went well, and it was just quiet. Kind of a funny thing about IT, we only hear from people when something isn't working.

There is a tremendous incentive in IT to design services well. Sort of a "measure twice cut once" kind of thing. When things are working well in a school IT department, things are quiet. When technology as a service is managed well, life is easier for everyone in a school.

We still have issues, but these come through our trouble ticket system, they are prioritized and addressed.

Parents, students, teachers and Moodle: who see’s what??

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 13 - February 2014 at 09:11 AM (10 years ago) 239 views.

Moodle is a learning management system designed to support the learning / teaching relationship between a student and a teacher. Our middle school shares the student username and password with parents because we recognize parents want to support their students. Please know the window we use with parents is different than the window we use with students. So when a parent logs into moodle using thier student credentials, they will see a system designed for teachers to communicate with students. We believe part of middle school learning is to take responsibility for their own learning (in fact in our school vision says in part "we see the future reflected in our students' independent thinking"). In the high school, we do not grant access to Moolde for this very reason; the relationship is between the student and the teacher.

In cases where there is real academic trouble or difficulty, then of course, this rule can be bent. But overall, Moodle is about facilitating, supporting, strengthening the conversation between teacher and a student.

Geeks on the difference between training and learning

Posted in Educational Tech Design Teaching Diary on 28 - November 2013 at 07:20 AM (10 years ago) 328 views.

Great video and talk about the difference between training and learning.

The Digital Citenzship Opportunity

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - December 2011 at 09:33 AM (12 years ago) 208 views.

Digital Citizenship has always been a nebulous idea for me. I always appreciated and referred people to Zen and the art of the internet when understanding "how to be" on the internet.

At my current school digital citizenship is not at the front of our ship right now; however, I do see evidence of digital citizenship infused into our curriculum in the form of "laptop drivers licenses", AUP's, (and RUP's), and we also have a very well defined cyberbullying protocol which is sadly used more than I'd like to. Our middle school employs a monitoring tool to support students to make good choices. We had our very first "red-card" situation this week in the MS, where two boys were playing games after being warned repeatedly. We have a pretty good system to support abuses, and we have an excellent system to communicate with parents (not just about digital citizenship, but everything else related to technology).

Perhaps the best opportunity we have to help our community understand digital citizenship is when there is a problem. We had a case last year where, literally, 2 days after a 3 week digital citizenship course some kids made a gossip-girl-style facebook group with extraordinary hurtful things on it. This after an intensive course! The real teaching and learning happened at that moment of opportunity, parents, students, and teachers were all hot about this issue, and that is when we saw real change and awareness in student thinking about digital citizenship. I've found the cyberbullying protocol to be especially effective in resolving specific issues.

The 10 moms doctrine

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Personal Teaching Diary on 29 - July 2011 at 03:59 AM (12 years ago) 346 views.

If you ask 10 different moms what they would do in a given scenario, you will get 10 different answers. Especially related to computer use, filtering, and behavioral standards. Last year our school had a strong parent technology partnership program (I intend to build on it this year). One of our activities was to present a scenario and ask parents what they would do (this was led by the indomitable Nick Kwan). One of the questions was "what would you do if you walked into your child's workspace and they quickly minimized a window?". The answers ranged from "nothing" to "take the computer away for a week".

Our school has a one to one laptop program. The school owns the laptops and the students take the computers home with them. We use open dns for filtering. The students have admin access to their laptops (which is a topic for another blog post - I love it).

We got several (well-placed) criticisms last year which stated students were coming home with laptops, and parents had no way to control this device. I considered this complaint fair, because there really are a wide range of parental attitudes and beliefs to technology use. I tend to be fairly liberal and open about tech use, but many parents are not - they are conservative and very careful about technology use. Is it fair to send kids home with no way for parents to control their device? Of course we talk about social contracts, and talking with your child, and trust - but some parents have strong beliefs that a computer should be locked down (the 10 moms doctrine).

The obvious choice is to install filtering software and teach parents how to use it (or teach them to use open dns). It's an option. If parents want to activate filtering, we tell them how to do it. If they don't want to activate filtering, then they don't. We are clear that there is to be no filtering during school time, only at home (from 3:00pm to 7:00am). We also talk about parenting advice and tips and offer parents a venue to discuss technology issues and share solutions to problems with each other. We talk about the technical weakness of filtering, that filtering alone can't solve many problems, and that at the end of the day, there has to be some kind of involvement with parents and their child's technology.

tl;dr: people have different values, ed tech should do what they can to respect and support those values.

Differentiated Distraction and blocking?

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 03 - June 2011 at 08:28 AM (13 years ago) 207 views.

I was speaking with a seasoned classroom teacher yesterday about our 1:1 program in the High School. This guy is no luddite, but he’s also not on the “bleeding technology edge”. He is a consummate professional and well-respected amongst our high school staff. I asked him to share his thoughts about our 1:1 program.

“Well, Bill, you know the 500 pound elephant in the room is...”

I started praying his next words weren’t “..our horrible technology director...”

He continued, “is distraction.”

We started digging into this. There are some kids in his classes that are using technology in ways that make sense for him such as taking excellent notes and then sharing them online. However there are some kids in his class who are measurably suffering because they are distracted. Instead of notes, they are doing Other Stuff. Fill in the blank, playing games, on facebook, chatting, etc...

I hear from many teachers, parents, and even students that distraction is a major concern. I get it. I know divided attention (aka multitasking) hinders learning. I also know when technology is used effectively it really transforms teaching and learning.

As we were talking, I kept coming back to this idea that some kids were doing well with technology and some weren’t. I taught for 10 years, I moved kids around my classroom if they needed to be closer to the front. I made every effort to differentiate my instruction so different learning styles could access the content.

Why not do this with technology? If a student has a problem focusing, or is easily distracted, why not support that student by blocking all but the most important applications? If a student has special learning needs, we make accommodations. However in technology what I see is a “block everything or block nothing” approach.

I think of this an potentially important tool in the “how can we support students” toolbox.

Now for the obligatory explanation stuff:

1. I understand effective classroom management is intimately related to effective teaching.
2. I understand selectively blocking alone will not fix anything about distraction - but it will help.
3. I understand teaching and learning in a 1:1 classroom requires a different way of thinking about learning and teaching.
4. I understand kids can always become distracted. But I know there is something about technology that magnifies this.
5. I understand blocking will not keep a determined student to become distracted. If a kid wants to not pay attention in class, there is little we can do to stop them 😊

Curious to hear your thoughts...

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death - Part 1

Posted in Educational Tech Design Games in education Practical Advice Text-based gaming on 06 - May 2011 at 07:58 PM (13 years ago) 351 views.

I'm developing a new game, Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death. It's a text based game with an integrated (hardcoded) space system. What this game means, and why I'm developing it, is what this post is about.

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death (herein qczsd) is a game where players take on the role of humans desperately trying to save the earth from quivering communist zombies in space. The game is deeply educational, deeply funny, satirical, blatantly ribald, and of course most of all, fun. Basic mechanics are all textual! The player creates a persona (over-the-top stereotypical), get's a ship, and flys on different missions to take out the zombies. There is a leveling up mechanism, and "buy better crap for your ship dynamic". The zombies will be AI bots, and there will be all sorts of funny in-space dangers.

Here's the website:

I'll be blogging frequently about qczsd - talking about my journey of learning as I create this new game. Let's start, though, with the first task to make this game.

We are using trusty pennmush, which can be found by clicking here and hspace, which can be found by clicking here.

Let's start off with the first student assignment. Let's see where they go with this one:

We are going to work with an accurate model of our solar system. What does this mean? It means that we are going to try to accurately model the planets, their distance from one another, mass, and even their moons. We of course also need to know their location from each other. What we are NOT modeling is orbits and gravity (I'll write the "difference between fun and realistic" post later).

So, finding the names, mass, and distance of our solar-system planets is as easy as a simple google search. It might help to cross-reference them so we know the numbers are right. But we will eventually need to represent the location of the planets on a XYZ grid. Here's where it get's kind of interesting.

How do astronomers (you know, the dolts who didn't even see the communist zombies coming) measure and represent distance in space? What scale of measurement do they use? How do they represent mass? Let's start with a simple assumption (that might be wrong). Let's say the very center of the sun is 0,0,0. Where would the center of the sun's closest planet, Mercury, be? Students should answer these questions and have the answers in the comment of this blog post as soon as they can.

7 highly effective Facebook habits

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - April 2011 at 04:37 AM (13 years ago) 211 views.

A colleague passed this article my way, a quick 7-point primer on the psychology of Facebook.  If you are going to use this medium, you should at the least be aware of some interesting research.

Technology Professional Development

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 26 - March 2011 at 09:54 AM (13 years ago) 202 views.

Why do we professionally develop a staff?

Because I want our teachers to effectively use technology to support student learning. I want our teachers to have skills, practice, and confidence in their use of technology in the classroom. I want our teachers to not only know how to use the actual tools, but to understand how technology can improve learning.

The best professional development I ever had was from a peer. I invited her into my classroom to watch my teaching, and 40 minutes later she had 4 pages of notes. It was a powerful experience. As I moved from a classroom teacher (grades 3 to 8 computer classes) to an instructional designer, I had great value from interactions with my peers.

These experiences have informed my thinking about professional development. I buy into the idea of personal learning communities, and learning from our peers. I think our school should create time for teachers to meet together to discuss "what works best". At the start of faculty meetings, one of our teachers spend 5 minutes describing a tech integration project they are working on.

So as a technology director, I am thinking about professional development and what is the best type of professional development for my staff. I believe that very specific professional development is better than general professional development. For example, I would prefer our 4th grade teachers to attend training specific to the task of technology teaching the 4th grade instead of a general non-specific training.

David Warlick is a guy I pay attention to. I don't quite agree with everything he says, but attending his session cultivating a personal learning network really helped to reinforce my thinking about good professional development. He spoke mostly about how hyperconnectedness makes learning easier (you cant help but learn when you are connected to people - I like that) - I add this to my list of "things that are actually different with technology". Teachers can connect and learn from a community of people in ways previously unimaginable. The Personal Learning Network isn't about people who are close to you geographically, but of a common mind (or common question).

The point? A personal learning network makes a lot of sense to me. Any time spent working on the facilitation of a personal learning network is time well spent.

Presentation: the SAMR model of integration

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 26 - March 2011 at 09:12 AM (13 years ago) 199 views.

Here’s the SAMR presentation notes. PDF here.

Moving from a drop-off model to an integrated model

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 16 - March 2011 at 04:30 AM (13 years ago) 198 views.

The question popped up on a moodle forum about moving from a lab environment to a more integrated environment.

Right now, and for several years, we've had a weekly schedule where teachers bring their classes to the lab and work with an ICT Teacher. (The teacher stays for the lesson; it's not a send-them-away special class like Music or Physical Education.)

The “drop-off” model plagues many school tech integration efforts. If your teachers are already involved and invested in integrating, the transition will be less disruptive.

I see you say, “stays for the lesson” - is that “stays in the back with coffee chatting / checking email” or “stays walking around the room looking / commenting on content”? The distinction is important.

Another key question to ask is who is “responsible” for the lesson. Is there collaborative planning, developing the assessment, sharing responsibility for teaching necessary skills during the project in addition to monitoring students during lab time? If your ICT teacher consistently finds ways to involve the teachers in taking the lead on the lessons, the transition to teachers working with students independently (either in the lab or classroom) will happen naturally, or maybe with a little nudge.

But essentially the lab is fully booked with those scheduled classes, so there's not a lot of wiggle room for extra time in the lab or extra time with an ICT teacher.

Ask 5 random teachers: why do we want to change this? If they can’t answer the “why”, then you’ve got a vision problem. Although you can’t make 100% people happy 100% of the time, this change will ripple into teachers classrooms. Observe good change management.

We're looking at changing that and making it more of a flexible sign-up approach, so that during units where more technology integration is appropriate, classes could book more time with the ICT teachers.

This makes sense. At ASW we use google-shared calendar to manage lab time. The Tech Integrator also shares out her calendar so folks can schedule a project in the lab (or classroom with netbooks) when she is free if needed. Many teachers just sign up for the lab (we use our lab for the higher end projects not feasible on our classroom netbooks).

Also, we'd like to free up the ICT teacher's time a bit more so that they could push into the classroom more often, and not always be in the lab. At the same time, we don't want to lose the contact time with each class.

How do you view the primary role of your ICT teacher? Tech teacher or coach? If it is coach, it is imperative that you free up your ICT teacher to work collaboratively with classroom teachers. Is there technology in the classrooms as well, or is the lab the only technology available?

We're a bit worried that less-tech-enthusiastic teachers would choose not to sign up as often. There's also the concern that students wouldn't get the necessary ICT skills if they weren't taught explicitly, the way we have done it in the past.

This points to vision. There is also clear empirical evidence that administration expectations of technology use stimulates use. I don’t mean to beat this point to death, but vision, vision, vision. If teachers have a plan how they will integrate, you are in luck. If not, oof.

We're thinking of having a trial year to phase it in, maybe cutting every other scheduled class next year so that we could keep some but still free some time up for sign-ups.

Um, no. This way, your reluctant teachers would just wait it out until the model went back to the old way. Do the vision thing right. Spend a year at it, throw some money at it, and get everyone on board. It’s so hard to bring reluctant faculty on board if they haven’t bought into a vision. It’s so much easier when everyone is on board.

Have any of you had experience - positive or negative - in switching from a set schedule to a more open one?

At ASW we have just moved to an open schedule is the ES tech lab. Funny thing, the teachers we spent a year with clearly explaining “we are moving to an integrated model” didn’t have a lot of hard bumps. But there is one grade level who was never told “we are moving to an integrated model”. Guess where we are having our biggest pushback? And this grade level isn't composed of luddites! They are enthusiastic, experienced and willing to try new things - but they didn't hear (or buy into) our move to an integrated program.

Ideas or suggestions for us? Things to watch out for?

Please see above. Really. Visioning isn’t a sexy bold thing, but it SO CLEARLY realizes effective integration.

If you've made this transition, was everyone happy afterwards?

Most people are - but we have a very veteran, experienced, and vocal grade level who wasn’t on board with this change. To be fair, we are actually down an integrator. Our Elementary school should have 2 integrators; we only have 1. Our success this year really belongs to our elementary school integrator, who has been working very hard to push into classrooms and meet with teams on a regular basis. She deserves the credit for our successes.

Looking back, would you do it differently?

Sure we would - spend a year visioning, have 2 full time integrators, and really make sure this change was going to improve student learning. As it stands now, this change feels like an awkward start to a race. But we are finding our stride, and moving forward.

More tools to combat cyberbullying

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Leadership Security on 15 - March 2011 at 06:59 PM (13 years ago) 312 views.

Hat tip to our fantastic elementary school integrator, Cheryl Bohn, who found this great news, .

From the article:

Facebook is announcing a new suite of tools to protect users from bullying, foster a stronger sense of community in the social network, and “create a culture of respect” among Facebook users.

Facebook’s latest changes boil down to two main aspects: an improved safety center with more multimedia resources, and better, more social tools for reporting offensive or bullying content.

You can see the Facebook parent and teen safety center by clicking the links below.

Thanks, Cheryl!

The four noble truths. Explained, part four.

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 10 - March 2011 at 05:50 PM (13 years ago) 200 views.

Original germ here

1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect.
2. Program
3. Participate
4. Sift

I spoke about part one here, part two here, and part three here.

The last noble truth speaks to sifting through information. This is a new cognitive skill that most kids simply didn't need 20 years ago. You went to the library, grabbed an encyclopedia and got your answer. Today learners need to sift through several layers of information to find their answers.

They need to find the answer to their question
They need to navigate layers of information (media, images, sounds, text)
They need to carefully evaluate the information they find
They need to correctly source or cite the information they find
They need to put the information in their own words, or make it their own
They need to see the debate or discussion about their question

To sift is to cull - to look carefully at the noise and find the signal. No better argument for the neccesity of a teacher. Kids have access to an unparalleled amount of information. But they need to sift through it and look for their answer.

It's a specific skill, to sift, to cull through a torrent of flashing images, pictures, and movies. It's a specific sort of thing to do.

How to sift?

Well, google does this well, by elevating information based on who links to it (although, google, I think you need to be better at comment and blog spam, and efforts to game your search results).

By analyzing arguments, debate, and discussion.

By deeply knowing about one thing, and then hooking other knowledge into that.

I'll sum all this up and probably write a book based on it.

The four noble truths. Explained, part three

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 03 - March 2011 at 04:37 AM (13 years ago) 182 views.

The four noble truths. Explained, part three.

Original point here

1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect.
2. Program
3. Participate
4. Sift

I spoke about part one here and part two here.

Here’s part three.

What does it mean when a kid can learn about anything, anytime, from anywhere? What is the socio/spirtual meaning of google? Informal learning is this idea that kids learn outside the classroom. The things that aren’t really taught in school. The things that kids are really interested in. The third noble truth states kids should deeply participate in a community they are passionate about. You want to use the word affinity space? Fine. One of the things that is “different” in the 21st century is how kids can learn deeply and quickly about something they are passionate about. When you hold an internet-connected device in your hands, you are able to access and learn about almost anything. But you can also contribute and create for your community.

A word about the inevitable “I’m only interested in boobs and computer games”. We have a duty to ask our kids to think deeply - when I ask a 17 year old student about his passions, and he says “boobs and computer games” I get it. That is, technically, what many boys are passionate about. However even a brief conversation and time for reflection will reveal deeper more meaningful passions. “Hey kid. What really matters to you?”. This is related to point 1, about time for reflection. It’s also kind of normal good teaching, asking kids to stop and think. Encouraging kids to use the affinity space amplifies my idea about teacher as guides.

Then our kids connect into a community of like-minded, passionate people who share their interest in making the world a better place.  And this beautiful thing emerges about their age not mattering as much, their socio-economic status, just their ideas. And as teachers, that’s what we want to grow - a kid’s ideas and thoughts. Our kids will access these like-minded communities on forums, social networking, instant messaging, inside of games, websites, youtube, and every other manner of digital expression.

When you have deep knowledge in one area, you can connect and attach new knowledge into it. I am told it is easier to teach a student a new language when they already have mastery of a primary language. It is much harder to teach a new language when there isn’t mastery of a primary language.

To ignore, dismiss, block, or marginalize affinity space is to ignore, dismiss, block, or marginalize authentic learning.

The 2011 Horizon Report released

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 23 - February 2011 at 04:44 PM (13 years ago) 212 views.

Want to know what technologies are going to emerge and be implemented in the next 1 to 3 years? What’s happening that is important? Check out these choice bits from the 2011 Horizon Report (PDF here) - 

1. The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.

2.  People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.

3. The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.

4. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.

On the near-term horizon — that is, within the next 12 months — are electronic books and mobiles. Electronic books are moving closer to mainstream adoption for educational institutions, having appeared on the mid-term horizon last year. Mobiles reappear as well, remaining on the near-term horizon as they become increasingly popular throughout the world as a primary means of accessing Internet resources. Resistance to the use of mobiles in the classroom continues to impede their adoption in many schools, but a growing number of institutions are finding ways to take advantage of a technology that nearly all students, faculty, and staff carry.

The four noble truths. Explained, part two.

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 21 - February 2011 at 07:12 PM (13 years ago) 251 views.

Original seed here

1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect.
2. Program
3. Participate
4. Sift

I spoke about part one here.

Here’s part two.

Thou shalt program. This is the difference between being a consumer and producer. Computation is more than making a powerpoint presentation. 21st century learning is more than just using a website. It’s about understanding code. The numerical, clean, clear code.

Am I saying every kid needs to be a geek? No. Not everyone CAN be a geek. But they should know how to code. It is the next literacy. Really. Alice? Ok, if you must. Our kids need to learn to create programs. Not just use them.

I want to be clear here. I am not saying that kids should only program. I am not saying kids should exclude all the great “web 2.0 stuff” instead of programing, but I am saying that programming a computer is a necessary literacy.

As all my students will tell you, I prefer the command line. Use IDE’s, I really don’t care. But kids should know how to code. Even to know what code looks like, to program a computer, to “make a computer do stuff”. It is the center of things in 2011.

Ask, what if kids don’t know this? What if kids don’t know know how to program?
Many people drive cars without ANY IDEA how they actually work. I get it, I only have a passing familiarity with how cars work. I can change a tire, change oil, and I have a personal understanding of the horribleness of a CV joint that has failed. But if kids don’t have a passing familiarity with programming, and the act of creation, won’t they be a distinct disadvantage?

Math, science, even (gasp), the humanities, offer an opportunity to understand and learn programming. Schools should offer programming classes to all kids as part of the “normal curriculum”.


The four noble truths. Explained, part one.

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Teaching Diary on 17 - February 2011 at 05:05 PM (13 years ago) 276 views.

Orginal thought here

The four noble truths of technology and learning.

1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect.
2. Program
3. Participate
4. Sift

I believe it is important to stop, reflect, turn off, and consider when we we are using technology in the classroom. This happens naturally when teachers are using technology to reinforce an idea or concept. The classic pattern is "let's learn about XYZ, a discussion, activity, and then a closing discussion". When teachers are using technology to teach, they must remember to stop using technology, and allow their students to reflect and think about what they just did. Take a look at that mashup - is it any good? Does it demonstrate learning, or just that you know how to use the tool? Does it meet our ideas for learning? This is the classic idea of kids who get caught up in the tool, and not the learning. Not rocket science, but very important for learning with technology.

I think we can extend this idea further. When we are asking our kids to use technology and media, we need to ask them to stop and think. We didn't need to do this before the rise of 1:1 programs or ubiquitous computers. Why?

1. Divided Attention. This idea of multitasking really is bull. The more I understand about divided attention, the more I believe that we need to ask kids to focus and input on one thing at a time - sometimes. Part of being a digital learner is sifting (see my discussion on noble truth number 4) and learning to process and filter multiple streams of incoming data. Sometimes, kids should be free to "open the hose" and get drenched in the information flow that is the internet. But sometimes, they should stop, discuss, and think deeply - you know, Zen.

2. That so much of the internet is about commercial posturing, marketing, eyeballs and selling. Kids need now, more than ever, to separate the "froth from the foam". To carefully evaluate the information, the idea, the "sense of truth" they have. Kids need an adult to guide them in this maze of stilted information.

3. We have so many students who see the first three google results as gospel. This is lazy. Again, stopping and reflecting, digging a bit deeper, look for a different facet on this gem. Using different databases, different repositories. Even wikipedia (which I love). Students could benefit so greatly from simply reading the discussion page and seeing the disagreements people have about the article. I often find more truth in the argument about a wikipedia page than the actual page!

4. And finally, the way our brains work. A cognitive scientist I am not. But I know when we step away from the screen, and give ourselves time to digest, we tend to remember better.

There is balance here. There is this unending stream of intense information, media, images, links, connections, and fun. It is not ok to turn it off, but better to teach our kids how to engage and then disengage. And then engage.

Interview with scholastic - Play to Learn

Posted in Educational Tech Design Games in education Practical Advice on 16 - February 2011 at 05:36 PM (13 years ago) 318 views.

Many thanks to the folks at Scholastic for this great story about computer games and learning (pdf here). I was interviewed for this, and it's always nice for people to ask what you think.

I'm getting my "first year as a tech director" stuff out of the way, and then I plan on aggressively adding games to the learning at my school, and evangelizing games and learning here in Poland. For the curious, I've set up a doorway portal for games and learning here.

Moving an enitre school to dropbox?

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform Support on 15 - February 2011 at 08:39 AM (13 years ago) 244 views.


I love online storage. I love the syncing, the backup, the cost, the ease of use, all that stuff here’s a suspicious looking review site with some online storage tools

I especially think dropbox is a great tool. We are piloting it in our 8th grade now, and it’s coming up pretty nice. students are saving everything, and already when a kid comes in and complains about a dead hard disk,  lost data isn’t an issue.

Again, as with everything, insane monitoring and optimization of our network is in order. As long as the network connect in robust, reliable, redundant, and secure we don’t have anything to really worry about. We monitor bandwidth, monitor switches, monitor the top 25 users (thank you iftop). We monitor incoming and outgoing traffic, internally and externally. we have a 30mbps line, which only occasionally becomes saturated

But come on, 5 gigs of free storage, synced here at school, and on the kids computer? What’s not to love?

disabling private browsing: a pain in the neck

Posted in Educational Tech Design Security on 03 - February 2011 at 04:51 AM (13 years ago) 214 views.

I was working with some parents last night discussing internet safety.  These parents had children in our elementary school (ages 6 to 11). 

Parents want to know where their tweens are going online, and were shocked to learn all major browsers support private browsing. Of course, we discussed putting the computer in a public place, making an agreement with your child, looking for furtive gestures, etc… But part of being a good digital parent is snooping.I know, kids can install a USB-based browser, or revert your changes, but all kids aren’t as savvy.

If you are on a public terminal, I can see the utility of private browsing, but for the cases of home computers, the only reason I imagine private browsing exists is to look at adult sites.

I have discussed filtering at the router as a great solution, but many parents simply don’t have the technical skill, time, or inclination to set that up.

The options for disabling private browsing are a pain in the neck, more technical than filtering at the router, and in some cases may actually break the browser, but for the curious:

Disabling private browsing in Safari
Looks like you actually can’t disable private browsing in Google Chrome
How to disable private browsing in Internet explorer
How to disable private browsing for Opera

All of the solutions above are highly technical. For a slightly better solution parents might want to check in with open DNS.

Great Prezi from Nick Kwan on the SAMR model

Posted in Educational Tech Design HOWTO web 2.0 on 09 - December 2010 at 08:33 AM (13 years ago) 316 views.

Please click here to see a fantastic Prezi from Nick Kwan, the High School tech integrator. Nick hilights the SAMR model and some good resources for our teachers. Enjoy!

Online cyberbullying - a real challenge for parents

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Leadership on 07 - December 2010 at 07:50 AM (13 years ago) 300 views.

Amazing article in the New York Times about parents struggling with Cyberbullying  (PDF here).

I often rest my feet at “parents are responsible” for monitoring their children. They must take computers out of the bedroom, have clear rules for computer use, and look at website history. Let’s see your facebook account, let’s see your twitter feed, etc… I really do believe there needs to be a technology partnership with parents. They might not know how to check facebook settings, or profile pages, or even web browser history.  Parents might not know what kinds of threats are out in the world of cyberspace. Thats where schools come in. We have the technical expertise to help parents use computers and tools to monitor their children.

School websites and information overload

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 06 - December 2010 at 04:17 AM (13 years ago) 217 views.

This is in response to a query about how to approach school web design.

Finalsite, Silverpoint and Whipplehill seem to be the big players here. They all charge a premium, but have excellent design and back-end control panels. A word about design, all the companies do design beautifully. I’ve no doubt you can craft up something really nice, but these companies make world-class website design. Clean, elegant and information rich.

The issue I’ve had with these sites is keeping them up to date and current. Whipplehill especially, which is based on a really neat portal system, seems to have the right idea about ow websites should work. But without long term “web person” in your organization, and without a clear, clean connection to your LMS, how useful will your site be?

We are using silverpoint, and we love our site, love the support, and I like the in-page editing; intuitive and easy. Also, Silverpoints design process is great - they actually bring their design team to your school - instead of design taking weeks or months, it takes a week.

But we are a moodle school, and increasingly a google-docs school. So our information is fragmented across those three major systems. We have teachers using wiki’s, blogs, yadda yadda yadda - so I’m constantly looking for ways to index all the different content so people dont have to look “in 20 different places” for relevant information.

I think your question also hits a really common theme I hear in student information systems; do we roll our own, or go with an outside company? There are genuine benefits and drawbacks for each approach. As I mentioned, the support we get from silverpoint is top-notch, but the meta-issues here are how the site will stay current, and how we can make fragmented information easier to access.

Great slideshow about searching - a question to Dulcinea, though…

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 22 - November 2010 at 04:37 AM (13 years ago) 215 views.

I stumbled upon this great slideshow about effective searching - great points, and it fits with my understanding of how we should search on the internet. The questions it raises are valid, and important:

Click here for the slideshow here is the embedded version:

There is this thing about Dulcinea that bothers me; I can’t quite put my finger on it. but They don’t implicitly say this, but they seem to say “don’t trust anything on the internet unless we say so”. From their home page they say:

“Dulcinea Media is the Curator of the Internet. Its mission is to help change the reality that most students cannot effectively conduct research on the Internet”

I agree with the idea that most students (and adults) don’t search effectively. But I think the answer to this problem isn’t to direct students to a “curated” search experience, I think it is to teach them how to sift through the mess out there and think critically about the information they encounter.

When you are offering a service for effective searching (supported by ad revenue) and you write about the dearth of good search resources and a problem with search reliability, your commentary on bad search sounds a lot like FUD.


Why Gaikai is important

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform on 18 - November 2010 at 11:58 AM (13 years ago) 230 views.

Streaming games to the desktop - any browser, all you need is a browser and a connection. This model works well for email and simple apps, but surely not for streaming video games?

The way the high-end computer game model works now is for game players to download a client and then connect to a shared server to play. The graphics and animations are stored locally on a users machine, and are rendered by the users computerGaikai (and onlive) are changing this - now the game servers are sending rendered frames to the user - there is no longer any need for the users to have souped up computers. All the processing is done on remote computers - the network is king.

This is important because as we transition to web 2.0 applications and move to a cloud-based idea of computing we can see where it is going. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar business,  with global video game sales surpassing movie industry income. I think our paradigm of technology use is changing - or rather, returning to an idea of thin client solution we had in the 70’s and 80’s.

Now, I’m not saying there is no need for local processing power. I cut my teeth on an IBM PCjr, TRS-80’s, and TI-99a. I learned how to hack on these machines, and I still believe it’s important for students to learn how to program. However, as a trend, the action will be on the cloud.

Now, for education: how can we teach our kids to create cloud applications (real applications)?

Middle School Laptops: a heavy burden?

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform on 18 - November 2010 at 04:53 AM (13 years ago) 220 views.

We are deep in the process of procuring new laptops, docking stations, and service for our middle school (275 users including teachers and students).

As may be expected, there are many different factors we are considering when we look at which machine to buy.  Here’s my current list of considerations in rough-priority consideration:

1. Service. We need on-site, accidental damage, rock-solid, no hassle, no fine-print stupidity, service that serves. I don’t want a maximum number of issues, I don’t want some bean counter telling me I can only fix X number of machines per day - nonsense. I don’t mind paying for good service, but if service fails, the whole boat sinks (what good is technology that doesn’t work)

2. Processing Power. Funny thing about Middle School teachers, they do really cool stuff with their laptops - stuff like rendering movies, rending sound files, and doing media-intensive work. That sort of thing requires actual processing power and real ram. Also as we look towards a three year lifespan, we would want these computers to be capable. I know 802.11n isn’t technically processing power, but it’s important that these computers are capable of the fastest possible connection to the network.

3. Existing-system compatibility - mainly, do these computers have standard I/O, is there anything silly about their network cards, wireless cards, USB ports, etc… Do they work from a hardware point-of-view with our existing infrastructure? This is normally not a problem, but it’s important. This usually isn’t an issue, but I’ve seen weirdness with wireless cards, touch screens, and audio inputs.

4. Durability. These computers will be used by 12, 13 and 14 year-old kids, who on their best days don’t always manage to walk in a straight line. Laptops are banged, bashed, squished, and dropped.

5. Great sound - I want great sound and an integrated microphone.  We had some tablets that had horrible sound playback - not so good for multimedia programs.

6. Weight. Every teacher has seen a student carrying a bag that weighs more than they do.  Imagine a young tween, carrying a 5 pound computer plus charger, plus bag, plus books - you get the idea. If all the above conditions are satisfied, and I have 2 choices, I’ll choose the lighter of the two.

So, I’m looking for a light-weight workhorse with exceptional service and standardized i/o that can’t be killed by a 13 year old with great features.

Weight is part of our consideration, but not the only thing we think about. I balance all the above considerations as I think about what a good machine should be.

Really? Microsoft? Do you really write such bad code?

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform Security Support on 12 - October 2010 at 10:59 PM (13 years ago) 243 views.

This Tuesday, October 12th, I'm going to have over 600 machines downloading a patch so big that Microsoft needed to warn system administrators about it.


Massive Link here and here's the PDF in case Microsoft wants us to forget this ever happened.

So now I need to buy a Windows update server so I can serve my updates internally. I'm going to have to pay for an update server and manage it; can someone please explain this whole "macs are more expensive" things to me again?

How we name our servers, and Apollo

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support Teaching Diary on 12 - October 2010 at 09:35 AM (13 years ago) 318 views.

Seems like people have pretty strong opinions how they should name their servers. I understand in an enterprise organization you would want a corporate naming convention for your servers. Especially if you have billions of them. I'm sure google doesn't sit around and think how they should name their servers. The probably call them something like borg_7121_location_8 and borg_7121_location_9.

But in small organization, there is something to be said for having fun names. This is actually one of the many small pleasures in the life of an IT guy in a school. Naming servers. People still call our fileserver Zeus, and we refer in-house to different servers around the school by their Greek names. I think it adds a sense of fun and playfulness to an IT department. Moreover, when a server has an issue, we ascribe the issues to a Greek Deity.

Here at the American School of Warsaw, we are using Greek Gods as our server names. Today, we are setting up a virtual print server, and decided to name it Apollo. Seems to make sense for a print server (even if it is virtualized).

Interviewing for a data manager

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 11 - October 2010 at 10:59 AM (13 years ago) 212 views.

If you work in schools, you know this person. They enter / edit / delete information from you Student Information System. They keep the data clean, they write SQL, they run diff's, yadda yadda.

We are interviewing for this position at my school and I'm asking some fairly straight forward technical questions, so I can ascertain the technical competence of the people applying for the job.

1. Using SQL, how do you select data from multiple tables?
2. Using SQL, how do you identify unique records?
3. Please look at this regular expression. [0-9] what would this find?
4. Please provide an example how you compare two different tables?
5. Do you know any shell / script programming? Give me an example of a shell / script program you've written.
6. How do you identify duplicate data in your tables?

These strike me as fair questions, no "gotchas", and reasonable.

Why are the applicants having such a hard time answering these questions?

It’s quiet

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership HOWTO google on 06 - October 2010 at 11:13 AM (13 years ago) 268 views.

Maybe this is what a successful IT transition looks like.

We moved almost 200 users to google apps for education today, October 6th 2010.

We have 30 in-house support people wandering around looking for trouble. We have loads of support and assistance. We've been busy the last month planning, meeting, talking, and acting. And now, the day of the transition - it's quiet. I've personally visited every classroom in our school, been in the business offices, and it's quiet.

We are monitoring every system, and staring at our support inbox. we are absolutely primed to react quickly and decisively to email problems. We've communicated to everyone, many times, about this switch.

I'll be honest, I didn't sleep well the last week, and had some nightmare scenarios floating through my head. Of course, we had a last-minute-almost-kill-the-whole-thing emergency. We were working on the issue until 11:00pm last night (someone in our organization had previously registered our older domain, so we couldn't create an alias to it - we had to delete the old apps, but in order to do that, we had to prove domain ownership, and yadda yadda yadda). Now, however, it's working.

And it's quiet.

Transitioning to google apps for education

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership HOWTO google Text-based gaming on 02 - October 2010 at 12:37 PM (13 years ago) 314 views.

In four days, our school will be transitioning to google apps for education. I'm leading this transition, it's my first big organizational change as a director of technology.

When I started as the director of technology here, half the school was using google apps for education (using one domain) and the other half of the school was using Novell Groupwise (using a different domain).

Messages were being forwarded, pop'ed, filtered, and missed. It wasn't a great situation. Moreover, there was no school-wide calendaring solution; again, the result of two different systems.

Usually, when you want to create change in an organization, you really need to get buy-in. You know, all those buzzwords like stakeholders, collaboration, shared-vision, etc. All that stuff is important. If you don't bring people on board when you change, they won't buy it and the change won't work.

However, in this case, we just did it.

I believe the success or failure of this change will hinge on the professional development, training and support our staff receives. The actual technical change is minor (we are simply pointing the old domain MX records to google's MX records - not rocket science).

However for end users, this is a big change. Like any organization, we have a bell-curve of technical ability. Some uber-users, and some people who, well, aren't uber.


1. Setup a gmail moodle course chock full of resources, links, videos, PDFs, FAQ's, etc.

2. Recruited in-house gmail experts (calling them gmail ninjas). Out of 170 end-users, we have 30 people who will be walking around on "switchover day" ready to make a difference, offer assistance, and ask for help.

3. We have already moved all email, contacts, and cabinets from groupwise to gmail. I think this is a key point: users need to know what they don't know before you train them. This way, when training starts, they have a long list of questions.

4. We bought this fantastic video training from boost elearning. I'm no shill, but these guys do a whole lot right. My entire staff has a full year of gmail web-based training. From anywhere. And the courses are designed so users can just learn the part they are interested in; want to make a vacation responder? It's a two-minute video.

5. I met with each faculty and carefully explained WHY we are moving, and what benefits we expect to realize as a result of this switch. I listened carefully to concerns (what happens if the cloud blows up and data ownership). Based on these concerns, we purchased a backup solution for our school - all users have their documents, emails, and calendar data backed up on a third-party server.

6. Setup increased monitoring - monitors with outgoing / incoming status, monitors looking at every device in our organization (thank you Nagios), monitoring for our wireless status. We have a control center where everyone can see everything that is happening on our network.

7. I will be sharing our communication strategy on Monday - who calls who if a user cant access email, regular check-in times through the day. We've also setup a hot-support line with our external ISP. They will be on standby if we need anything.

8. Our in-house support help will be wearing t-shirts on the switchover day. I think it matters to actually see the people who are helping.

I'll keep my finger crossed, and of course look forward to any comments or questions as we move forward.

understanding your network

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 22 - August 2010 at 10:04 PM (13 years ago) 205 views.

I’m off to a great start as a director of technology at the American School of Warsaw.

My first goal: getting organized. I’ve been monitoring everything I can get my hands on. I’m using Xirrus management tools to monitor our internal wireless network (love the tool, need some more training).

I’m using Nagios to monitor every freaking piece of equipment we have; and IPCOP to keep track of our outgoing / incoming traffic.

I’d like to set up a few big-ass monitors in the tech office, so all this information is available to the techs at a glance. I think the more information they have, the better.

We have still to install our printers on our nagios system, but that is in the pipeline.

I’m already looking at trends and asking questions. I’m also starting to dig deeper into traffic patterns. Information is power.

Lazy Credibility?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 26 - July 2010 at 11:39 AM (13 years ago) 231 views.

Neat article from the International Journal of Education about how young adults evaluate credibility of a website. Article is here, and the full pdf is here.

My read on this article is users click on the top of the search results when they are looking for something, and consider that search result to be the best.

This fits with what I’ve seen in the classroom and schools. Search for History of Warsaw, and we see these top 4 results:

Students will click on the top few links and assume this is the best and most reliable information. When we teach students about evaluating websites, I feel like an adult voice in Charlie Brown “wa wa wa wa wa wa wa wa”. The students like my lesson, and I have evidence they are learning the content, but they do not apply what I teach them. I see them using the top two or three search results - usually wikipedia.

My students choose the top search results because they want the information quickly, and the information is usually “correct enough”. I can’t help but think of Pavlov’s dogs. These students have clicked the top search result, and that search result is “good enough”, they have developed this habit, “top of the list is the best”. The only time I’ve seen this behavior change is when a teacher (or ed tech person, or librarian) is conducting a class on other search strategies, or using search databases.

One teacher made sure in every assignment there was a clear expectation that students would use a 1:3 ratio for wikipedia. For every 1 wikipedia reference, there had to be at least 3 non-wikipedia references.

In the interest of full disclosure, I usually use wikipedia for my day-to-day information needs. I usually glance at the discussion page for any hot areas of discussion. If I’m researching something important, then I usually turn to something like ERIC, or another source for peer-reviewed, journaled research.

repost: worst practices in IT

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 03 - May 2010 at 05:36 PM (14 years ago) 206 views.

This is worth reading.

This blog post absolutely fits into my mental framework for how IT doesn’t work well in schools. The antidote? Careful planning and clear learning goals. So before we adopt a new technology in an organization, one of our first questions should be what are we learning? As I am want to say, it’s not about what, it’s about how. I really believe that this is truly innovative in education - that technology is carefully and wisely linked to actual learning goals.

I think this is the challenge in edtech.

Why Wikipedia?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 17 - March 2010 at 04:07 PM (14 years ago) 202 views.

Interesting research here (pdf here) that discusses why and how college students use wikipedia.

We have pushed wikipedia as a beginning source for research, and asked students to triangulate their data - that is, find other sources which support the data found on a wikipedia page. This research seems to confirm students are using this strategy. The findings:

  1.    Students’ driving need for background context makes Wikipedia one of the predictable workarounds that many students use, especially during the first stages of their research process.
  2.    Course–related research may begin with Wikipedia, but it rarely ends there. In our study, students employed a complex information problem strategy in their research processes, reliant on a mix of information resources that were from scholarly sources and public Internet sites.
  3.    In our study, we found the combination of coverage, currency, comprehensibility, and convenience drives Wikipedia use, in a world where credibility is less of a given — or an expectation from students — with each passing day.
  4.    Overall, college students use Wikipedia. But, they do so knowing its limitation. They use Wikipedia just as most of us do — because it is a quick way to get started and it has some, but not deep, credibility.

My favorite part of this quote is “credibility is less of a given”.  Things actually are not as sure as they were in the past, and students seem to understand this.

Slashdot:  Looking Back From the 1980s At Computers In Education

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 19 - February 2010 at 02:40 PM (14 years ago) 209 views.

This is why I love slashdot.

I’m not sure how many different ways I can say this.  Ed tech really isn’t about the technology, it’s about the teaching. It’s about focusing on learning first. It’s about understanding learning, defining outcomes, and knowing what good teaching is. Is technology fantastic? Of course. Am I an ed-tech evangalist? Yup.

Are we wasting SO much money, time, and people on technology that makes a marginal (if any) difference in learning? 

Yes. The conversation should be less about what we have, and more about how we are teaching, and how our kids are learning.

Ed Tech and Elementary School

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 11 - February 2010 at 05:22 PM (14 years ago) 205 views.

Had another interesting question a few days ago.

What is your philosophy around elementary school and technology?

1. I think students aged 6 to about 10 shouldn’t use technology a lot.  I think kids this age should explore and learn with their bodies.  I think these kids should visit a computer lab about once a week, and when they do use a computer it should be linked to basic skills and their curriculum.  For example, if the second grade is studying ocean life, we might find an online activity that let’s them practice mouse skills and explore under the ocean.

2. I believe teachers in grades K to 4 should feel very comfortable using technology. Teachers in these grades should show short videos about topical issues and then discuss.  For example, perhaps teachers could show a short clip of an octopus, and then discuss the video with their class “why do you think the octopus moves like that?” . I also think teachers in these grades should use technology to showcase student work. For example, teachers could take a picture of their “dress-like-a-crustacean” day, and post these pictures on their blog or classroom website. It would also be neat to have the kids record themselves explaining what they thing whales think about, and then share those recordings with parents and other students.

3. Grades 5 to 6 (ages 11 to 12) present rich opportunities to begin project-based learning.  These students can begin making appropriate presentations, web pages, and even documentaries (with the right support, of course). They can begin to create advanced documents, incorporating pictures and graphs. 

4. I was part of a team that developed standards and benchmarks for our elementary school. Here is an excel file with our standards and benchmarks..  i is for introduce, r is for reinforce, and m is for master. If a teacher wanted to do a project, we would teach the requisite skills for that specific project.

Why ROI is hard to measure for school technology

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 09 - February 2010 at 08:17 PM (14 years ago) 223 views.

I had an interesting question today: how do you measure ROI on a technology project for learning * ?

The answer? It's really hard. Suppose a school bought a couple of laptop carts for their 8th grade - 60 computers. The average laptop cart is about $30,000. If we add all the stuff (licensing, staff development, extra wireless nodes, etc) let's say the total cost for the whole shebang is $75,000. That's a pretty hefty chunk of change. How do we know if we are getting our monies worth?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Why? All these questions are indicators, but none of them are definitive.

If all the kids get A's after implementation of the laptop carts, does that mean they are learning more?
If all the kids are using the laptops everyday, for every class, does that mean they are learning more?
If the kids produce stunning web pages, documentaries, and interactive applications are they learning more?
If the computers have a very low failure rate, does that mean the program is successful?
If the teachers report the kids are learning more, are they?
If the students report they are learning more, are they? This is especially tricky, because we know kids LOVE technology.
If the parents tell us they see a positive difference, is it working?
If we see increased attendance, is the program working?
If behavioral issues drop (which is common) does the program work?
If the students write substantially more, does the program work?

This question is also completely appropriate. If a school spends $80,000 on 2 laptop carts, they have every right to ask if this investment is worthy.

I believe teachers know best; when I want to know if technology is working, I ask a teacher. I also trust in "supervision of instruction" - so effective instruction is effective instruction is effective instruction. Part of being a school leader is supervising instruction to increase student achievement. If a teacher is using technology, or if a teacher is using dramatic arts, is the teaching making a difference?

The fact is learning is difficult to measure - and it's really hard to comparatively measure this stuff also.

Are we getting $75,000 worth of better education? I would need to look, ask, and assess the whole picture. I would want to understand the context, kids, school, and teacher. I would say, technology opens doors and windows that cant be opened in any other way.

* If you are using technology to increase operating efficiency or make your school run better, finding ROI is much simpler. This blog post is about using tech to teach.

A disagreement on the iPad potential…

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 08 - February 2010 at 04:41 PM (14 years ago) 199 views.

I got a nice comment respectfully disagreeing with my point of view about the iPad and education. For reference, the commented post was here, and perhaps he might of missed my pre-tablet hype post here).  Trevor M, (who I haven’t met, but I suspect we are kindred spirits in educational technology) lists these ideas about how the iPad will revolutionize education: 

1.  Textbooks
2.  Note Taking
3.  Paperless Classroom
4.  Studying and Reviewing
5.  Student Interest Level
6.  Individualized Curriculum

He then goes on, in another post, to talk about three concepts for iPad applications:

1. Note Taking
2. Studying and Reviewing
3. Individualized Curriculum

His enthusiasm and excitement is clearly evident in his writing.  I wish he had been a bit more verbose when he discussed what he didn’t agree with in my post.  Anyways, in the spirit of fostering healthy conversation about something that hasn’t seen the light of day yet, I remain skeptical.  Why?


iPads look like fantastic textbook readers - really great. I’ve even written a piece that they may be version one of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  But is that what we want technology to do? Just be a textbook reader? Thats not revolutionary at all - it’s just more efficient “same old same old”.  So kids go online and look at

flash-based animations

Wikipedia, national geographic, and other fantastic resources. Then what? I would like them to be able to use the images and ideas they find to create their representations of knowledge. But without multitasking, how will they do this? 

And there is the idea of support. Do textbooks break when you drop them? Do they need to be charged? Who fixes them when they break? How do we ensure they are all running the same version of the same stuff? What happens when one gets stolen (1 textbook = $70.00, 1 iPad = $500.00)? How long will they last? Textbooks are good for about 10 years. Same for iPad?  Technology is, for all it’s coolness a high-maintenance spouse.

I’m not asking these questions to be a curmudgeon, but these exact questions and issues have stymied growth in technology education for years. I’ve always thought we should get away from textbooks and use laptops or full-blown tablets.

Note Taking.

You write “One of the largest complaints I hear from my students is that the lost their notes.  They either don’t know where they put the paper or it got thrown away by mistake.  The same thing goes for homework.  Students tend to not be very organized, but how can you blame them?  They have grown up in a digital world.  They are used to having the things saved automatically on a computer or iPod.  If they need to find something they just do a keyword search and it finds it form them.”

Yes. In fact, I do blame them.  One of the many tasks we need to teach our kids is to be organized and responsible.  It is utterly foundational.  I repeat my systems argument above: a lost notebook is $5.00 an iPad, $500.00. And are iPads really better? Digital devices are just as prone to failure and data loss as losing a notebook - but far more catastrophic.  Do the kids bring the iPads home with them? Really? I live in New York City and I’m not sure how I feel about 100 7th graders toting around an iPad…

Paperless Classroom

I’ll stop with this one, because I’ve always thought the “paperless classroom” was some kind of Nirvana we should all aspire to. But it isn’t. You can’t draw on a tablet like paper (try shading), tablet handwriting recognition is an oxymoron, and flipping through pages isn’t the same as a paper notebook. You cant easily draw a table or venn diagram on a iPad or incorporate all those yummy meta cognitive skills into normal note taking.  My point?  An iPad isn’t paper - it cant do the same thing as paper. Why are we trying to bend it to do the same thing as paper.

Just so you know Trevor, I’m not knocking you here - I would love to have an iPad for my hour-long commute. But for my classroom? I just don’t see it. At least not yet.

Frontline’s digital nation documentary

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Games in education Practical Advice Teaching Diary on 03 - February 2010 at 08:37 PM (14 years ago) 364 views.

I sent this email to my faculty - in the high school and elementary school:

Last night PBS aired a remarkable documentary about digital life in 2010.  I found the documentary truly, truly, exceptional. I would really appreciate if you could take the time to watch this - perhaps this evening or this weekend.

Last week I sent you a link to a study that stated the average child spends 10.4 hours a day using some type of media. I think we could all benefit from a discussion about how technology is changing the way our children learn, think, and see the world.

I hope to lead a more thoughtful discussion about computers, media, and learning this year. Until then, I would really appreciate if you could watch this documentary.

Here is a reply I received from a teacher:

I did watch the Frontline documentary, “Digital Nation,” last evening, and I must say that it was, as is customary of Frontline, very incisive and comprehensive.  Many parts of the program, particularly those addressing the effects of technology on young people, were very unnerving.  The situation in Korea should be seen as cautionary to the western world, particularly to us here in America with our almost idolatrous love for all things technological.  That poor Korean mother has already “lost” her son to computer games, as far as I’m concerned because the son as lost his soul to the machines.  I felt both sad and angry when I saw that part.

For my part, as an educator and specifically as a language educator, I have very mixed feelings about the use of technology in the classroom.  On one hand, it has made it possible to access, literally, the world with the click of a mouse.  But I am equally concerned about the “losses”:  the loss of true attentiveness; the loss of the printed word; the loss of community and relationships and the increase of anonymity and the impersonal.  “Digital Nation” posed many, hard questions about this but offered no easy answers.  That’s where we come in.  But it is very important that those questions get asked.

Digitally inclined: new research report from PBS

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 29 - January 2010 at 04:00 PM (14 years ago) 172 views.

Ok, just to be a curmudgeon here, this is a research report commissioned from a media company that talks about how great media is.

Still though, Digitally inclined is a great report that discusses teachers attitude and views about using media in classes.

From the report:

Reasons for Using Television and Video
87 percent of teachers say it reinforces and expands on content they are teaching
76 percent of teachers say it helps them respond to a variety of learning styles
74 percent of teachers say it increases student motivation
66 percent of teachers say it changes the pace of classroom work
57 percent of teachers say it enables them to demonstrate content they can’t show any other way
51 percent of teachers use it to introduce other learning activities
38 percent of teachers say it helps them teach current events and breaking news

Here’s the thing.  We often talk about what is effective in technology.  How do we know technology is working? We can look at test scores, but that is fraught with problems.  I have found the single best way to ascertain the effectiveness of technology is to simply ask a teacher.

How do you teach web design in 2010?

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design on 19 - January 2010 at 05:16 PM (14 years ago) 303 views.

Tom Hoffman asks if anyone remembers web 1.0 anymore.

I doubt it. The idea of creating or visiting a website that doesn’t do anything is almost a quaint notion. No video, no sound, just images and text? Bwah. Why bother?

Here is my high school web design lesson plan (in docx format) (pdf here)

I think every kid in America (cue patriotic music) should understand and be able to use basic HTML (end patriotic music).  But for web design?  Here is what I think are basic web design skills in 2010:

1. Basic HTML

2. What is the difference between a web page and a website?

3. Web pages, domain names, web hosting

    3.1 ftp, sftp, ssh

4.  Static versus dynamic

      4.1 Building dynamic websites with javascript or PHP
      4.2 Discuss databases, database design, and very basic SQL
      4.3 talk about how databases are related to dynamic content using a membership model

5. Building a website with expression engine

      5.1 Templating and URL’s
      5.2 Hello world
      5.3 CSS and DIV’s
      5.4 jQuery, jQuery UI
      5.5 Using the other kind of template
      5.6 Images and image paths

6. Adding common interactive elements

      6.1 Forums
      6.2 Search
      6.3 Email lists
      6.4 Blogs
      6.5 RSS feeds
      6.6 Membership systems
      6.7 Contact forms

7. Games

      7.1 Use flash to make games, no I won’t teach you.

8. Standards-compliant website

    8.1 Why open web-standards are important.

The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 06 - January 2010 at 03:27 AM (14 years ago) 210 views.

It’s about the HOW, not the WHAT.  Good teaching is good teaching, is good teaching.

The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change - this is an excellent report on technology and education. Wow.  I’m freaking BEGGING you to read this. Here are some choice quotes:

“What does exist are replacements:
books replaced by web pages, paper report cards with student information
systems, chalkboards with interactive whiteboards, and filing cabinets
with electronic databases. None of these equivalents addresses the core
activity of teaching and learning. Each merely automates the practices of
the prevailing paradigm (a) non-differentiated large-group instruction, (b)
access to information in classrooms, (c) non-engagement of parents, and
(d) summative assessment of performance (Weston & Brooks, 2008). “


“Advocates of 1:1 computing who engage in such replacement exercises
use the tree to hide the forest. They believe that educationally beneficial
uses of computers will emerge spontaneously from the deployments of
laptop computers in ratios of one computer per user. In other fields, this
has not been the case. Form and function of usage have driven access to
computers, not vice versa. Educators should think similarly.”

Outsourcing a school website

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership News on 30 - December 2009 at 05:09 PM (14 years ago) 296 views.

I’ve written about this before, but again I am confronted with a dilemma.

Our elementary school is in dire need of a new website - the current design is static, the information out of date, and no one “owns” the site.  When I think of “what makes a good website, I use this rubric.  Our current elementary school website meets none of these criteria. To be clear, our problem is both technical and organizational.

I could redesign the site and throw it into my favorite website publishing system.  In fact, I did this with the High School website, and it is working fairly well. But I won’t be here forever, and someone will have to take over.  Herein lay the point of this post:

If I buy a solution for my school, I get consistency and accountability but I lose flexibility and control.  If I have someone on my staff who is smart enough to write a beautiful website, I’m lucky…until they leave.

How to deal with this?

1. If I buy a solution, buy an open-source solution that can be extended, and data can be easily be extracted.
2. If we homebrew a solution, be clear about code ownership and write very clean and clear code.

I investigated a proposal from a well-known company to redesign and run our school website. It was about $30,000 for the whole deal, and it looks like top-drawer work. Is it worth it? I think so.  We have outsourced the following services for our school, and they are working extraordinarily well for us:

1. Our counseling department uses Naviance for everything counseling
2. Our athletic department uses oline sports for all games
3. Both schools use Net directories for bulk email communications
4. Our after school program uses Imperisoft for registration
5. We host our moodle using remote learner

All of these systems directly support our school and they work. Perhaps more importantly, we could not host these services ourselves (and do a good job). 

I hope to add school website services and google applications to this list soon.

Alternative Assessment with technology

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 30 - November 2009 at 08:34 PM (14 years ago) 201 views.

I’m meeting with a group of teachers to discuss alternative assessment using technology. This is the message I sent to them detailing our first meeting:

During this lunch period, I’d like to:

1. Show you some alternative assessments that other teachers have done with their students.
2. Talk about how to make alternative assessments rigorous
3. Discuss the time and support involved in making alternative assessments
4. Discuss appropriate next steps

Please look at the following links - it will really help when we meet!


Student created websites


Presentations (usually powerpoint)

How to integrate technology in schools?

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 14 - November 2009 at 04:36 PM (14 years ago) 233 views.

1. Have free “technology lunches” where a peer describes and highlights their technology use.  For example: this Monday, I’ve invited all our Moodle-using-teachers for a free lunch.  We’ll show teachers Moodle sites, and talk about what works / what doesn’t.

2. Visit schools.  The key thing? Classroom teachers need to see other classroom teaching actually teaching with technology.  It’s not good enough to hear a teacher talk about teaching with technology, the classroom teacher has to actually see another teacher teaching with technology.

3. Find teachers interested in alternative assessment.  Standard assessments are usually quizzes, papers, poster-boards, tests, and maybe a presentation.  I’m interested in helping students use wikis, websites, and video to demonstrate learning.  The key point? Alternative assessments need to be academically rigorous, and evaluated by rubric.  I’ve found a common theme when we ask students to use technology to demonstrate learning, it is all glam and no substance.

4. Support, support, support.  If a teacher has a technical problem, fix it.  This isn’t complicated, but terribly important.  If a teacher cant trust the technology to work, they won’t use it.  This is why in-class or near-real-time support is critical in schools.

5. When a teacher comes in with a Big Idea, support it.  I’m often surprised when I hear stories about teachers who are eager to do something cool with technology, and then they are often shot down!

6. Make sure technology serves the needs of the teachers. Are your policies so strict that teachers cant do anything on their computers? This doesn’t make much sense, does it?

CDW thinks technology adds value to education. And they have charts to prove it.

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 04 - November 2009 at 04:42 PM (14 years ago) 179 views.

CDW has recently released a stunningly well-colored report entitled CDW-G 2009 21st-Century Campus Report.

The report is an excellent resource for students, colleges, and IT folks to look forward and frame their ideas about where should technology should go.  With the one small exception that the report completely sucks.

Let’s pick this apart, shall we?

1. Thank you CDW (a computer company that sells computer stuff to schools) for telling us schools want and need technology. Never saw that coming…

2. You have erred in your idea of value.  Let’s look at this quote, found on page 3. “Students increasingly associate educational value with campus technology”.  This is perceived value and not actual value. We could throw smartboards in every room, but do they actually make a difference in student learning?. I’m sure students value not doing homework, having easy professors, and coming to class at 11:00am as well.  By the way, distance learning isn’t a panecea in education - you really need to think about how you use it.

3. Again on page 3, “Students rate faculty lack of tech knowledge as the biggest obstacle to classroom technology integration and see it as a growing problem”.  I agree, many faculty don’t use technology because they don’t know how - and support is hard to come by.  But I personally know many faculty who don’t use technology because it doesn’t fit with their idea of teaching and learning. Our math teachers like to use our whole-wall chalkboards to explain formulas.  Some folks in another department think that students should write down their homework instead of finding it on a lms.

4. Again, on page 3, “Just 32% of students and 22% of faculty strongly agree that their college/university is preparing students to successfully use technology when they enter the workforce”.  The “prepare students to enter the workforce” argument is the strongest point of this study. However, using the technology tools are secondary to critical thinking, evaluating and analyzing information (hi Bloom).

5. Page 8 “When it comes to the latest technology in higher education, faculty should look to students’ lead”.  Oh my God. No. No. no. no. no. no. twitter is not educational.

6. Page 9 is especially offensive. Why didn’t you ask “is technology making your teaching better?” or perhaps “does using technology increase student learning outcomes?”.  Great. 64% report teaching in a smart classroom. But does that make learning / teaching better?

7. Page 10: “When asked if their college/university supported distance learning, 72% of IT staff said “yes” compared to just 55% of students”. What the hell does IT staff know about effective teaching and learning? 

I’ll stop.

The real question, CDW, isn’t the presence of technology, but the effective use of technology.

Schools Interoperability Framework

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 24 - October 2009 at 01:29 AM (14 years ago) 194 views.

Picked this up from Chris Dawson’s excellent blog. 

From wikipedia:

The Schools Interoperability Framework, Systems Interoperability Framework(UK), or SIF, is a data sharing open specification for academic institutions from kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12). Until recently, it has been used primarily in the United States alone; however, it is increasingly being implemented in Australia, the UK, India and elsewhere.

The specification is composed of two parts: an XML specification for modeling educational data, and a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) specification for sharing that data between institutions.

SIF is not a product, but an industry initiative that enables diverse applications to interact and share data. As of March 2007, SIF is estimated to have been used in more than 48 states and 6 countries, supporting five million students.[1]

The specification is actively maintained by its specification body, the Schools Interoperability Framework Association.

How SIF works

Rather than have each application vendor try to set up a separate connection to every other application, SIF has defined the set of rules and definitions to share data within a “SIF Zone”—a logical grouping of applications in which software application agents communicate with each other through a central communication point. Zones are managed by a piece of software called a Zone Integration Server (ZIS). A single ZIS can manage multiple Zones.

Data travels between applications as a series of standardized messages, queries, and events written in XML and sent using Internet protocols. The SIF specification defines such events and the “choreography” that allows data to move back and forth between the applications.

SIF Agents are pieces of software that exist either internal to an application or installed next to it. The SIF Agents function as extensions of each application and serve as the intermediary between the software application and the SIF Zone. The ZIS keeps track of the Agents registered in the Zone and manages transactions between Agents, enabling them to provide data and respond to requests. The ZIS controls all access, routing, and security within the system. Standardization of the behavior of the Agents and ZIS means that SIF can add standard functionality to a Zone by simply adding SIF-enabled applications over time.

How about using the technology for the actual learning rather than just to demonstrate it afterwards

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 19 - October 2009 at 05:05 PM (14 years ago) 238 views.

This was a beautiful comment question to this blog entry  I’d like to respond to.

I am all for using technology to actually teach with tools like:

1. Interactive whiteboards (or projectors)
2. Multimedia (you tube, podcasts, pictures)
3. Click response systems
4. 1:1 laptop work
5. Science probes (Vernier stuff)
6. Math calculators

I note your asked about “learning” rather than “teaching” I see a difference between those.

Using technology to teach is trickier than using to assess kids because it’s harder to see if technology is making a difference. So if Mrs. Smith teaches a unit on Columbus, or decided to explore “ethics and morality” in the 1400’s, is teaching with technology better than her non-technology methodology? This isn’t a trite question.  It actually goes to the heart of technology in education - is teaching with technology making it better? I know that kids seems more motivated and enthusiastic than when they are using technology.  I know that kids can see and hear more with technology and I believe teachers are the ones who ultimately must make this decision.

This is why I wrote about assessment - it’s a bit easier to see a product that demonstrates understanding than the process of learning.

I personally believe technology is superior tool for learning. It is, of course, a disruptive thing, as the students are leading the learning.

How do we know they know?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 18 - October 2009 at 02:53 PM (14 years ago) 173 views.

Interesting conversation with my boss.  We are talking about how to integrate technology into the curriculum, and I mentioned students should have a broader choice to express their understanding. Students need to be carefully supervised, and rubrics need to be used in order to ensure quality of the outcome.

So, after teaching the kids about conjugating the spanish AR verbs, the students could:

1. write a paper / story / report / news report
2. take a quiz or test
3. make a short presentation
4. make some sort of project (diorama, presentation board, etc…)

- and -

5. make a website that uses sound files, images and maybe primitive game to demonstrate how they know about spanish verbs
6. create a podcast where they interview their peers in Spanish, and ask the about AR verbs
7. make a short video / documentary about ar verbs - interview people or record themselves speaking in Spanish
8. make a stop-motion movie about the letters A and R and how they get along in a conversation
9. add to a school wiki, editing or creating a page that explains AR verbs or perhaps a long list of carefully organized conversational helpers with a focus AR verbs

I think all of these projects, if done right, would demonstrate learning. We could look at the work and say to ourselves (as teachers) Yup, this kid knows how to use and apply AR verbs. Coupled with a well-written rubric, we could ensure the student knows their stuff.  Of course the natural advantage of digital products is they are easy to share and store, and, especially in the case of wiki’s, they can be extended by the next class.

Teachers should be thinking about how students express themselves and their learning. Our job as educational technology folks is to teach the kids how to make these things, and to help the teacher design rubrics so the outcome isn’t all “fluff”.

At the end of the day, I think this is the most important question we can ask as educators. How do we know they know?

Technology Support Index

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 06 - October 2009 at 06:42 PM (14 years ago) 254 views.

The technology support index describes support capacity and efficiency for schools.  It is published by ISTE, and is a wonderful resource.

The only part I don’t like?  The document views having only one operating system as high efficiency - I agree that one OS is efficient, but not ideal - I think offering faculty a choice between 2 or 3 supported systems is the best way to go. I often talk about “what works best for the system administrator isn’t what works best for the school”.

For school administrators, I heartily recommend reviewing this document as a template for “how IT should function” in schools. 

The doubt of the cloud

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 25 - September 2009 at 03:57 PM (14 years ago) 212 views.

I’m a strong advocate of google and cloud-based services. I wrote an entry about my feelings of cloud-based services here

Recently, there have been some high-profile outages with google applications which naturally raise doubts and uncertainty about cloud-based services.  At our school, we are debating moving to google apps for education, which makes the outages poignant. 

I am still a believer, and when compared to our email server uptime, google seems to hold it’s own. I believe google offers best-of-class services that genuinely work in education, save time, and help “the mission” in schools around the world.

However, I think these latest events serve as a necessary humbling reminder that google is just another technology - susceptible to all the foibles, problems, and issues of technology anywhere.

Technology integration matix

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 02 - September 2009 at 02:16 PM (14 years ago) 171 views.

I’ve certainly seen worse. The Florida Center for Instructional Technology has produced an excellent page describing different levels of technology integration. A PDF copy is here. This is a great document describing what integration might look like in a school.  I often have to explain technology and education. It really isn’t about “learning to use computers” It’s more like, using computers to do make learning better.

What goes in the image?

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform on 12 - August 2009 at 04:15 PM (14 years ago) 221 views.

I’m pushing the elementary school image out today to about 120 OS X laptops.  I used to do this with a firewire drive on each freaking laptop.  We bought a mac mini and installed OS X server on it.  Now I can use OS X system imaging tools, and push the image out to all the laptops over a local network.  I should finish all 120 laptops today. 

So, in the interest of helping me remember for next year, and sharing my default image settings:

1. Latest version of OS X - patched up
2. Norton Anti Virus - setup for mount scans and latest virus definitions
3. Firefox
4. Flash and shockwave installed and tested for safari and firefox
5. Inspiration
6. Timeliner
7. Sharing preferences setup for Remote Desktop
8. All printers installed and tested
9. All shared resources (fileservers) loaded and bookmarked
10. Disable damned dashboard
11. Office (don’t install messenger) - patched up
12. VLC
13. Google earth
14. All browsers should have homepage changed and favorites added
15. flip4mac
16. Mavis Beacon Teaches Touch Typing
17. Smartboard drivers and Notebook - updated and patched
18. Configure student account - open all applications to make sure they work
19. Put common application in the dock
20. Disable bluetooth and adjust power-savings features in laptops

...I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but that is about what my image looks like this year!

What I like about wiki’s (and wikipedia)

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 10 - August 2009 at 07:13 PM (14 years ago) 183 views.

I’ve written about wiki’s before, but a recent conversation with my supervisor has spurned additional thought.

1. I hate wiki’s inside of learning management systems (like moodle or blackboard).  I think the value of wiki’s is from their long-term collaborative use - so why erase it every term? I also like sharing information with folks outside an organization.

2. I love wiki’s when they are used for creation of a student textbook. Students write articles as graded assignments. Soon the class has created a full textbook!

3. Wiki’s are great for clubs and extra-curricular activities - easy to update by large groups of people.

4. I find students are excellent sysops

5. Wiki’s are built from the ground up for multi user editing - recent changes, user groups, categories, etc…

6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I like the way wiki’s force users to evaluate the information they are seeing. Very important.

Tablets, netbooks, and refrigerator’s

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform on 27 - July 2009 at 09:04 PM (14 years ago) 203 views.

I’ve always thought a device that works like an appliance would be ideal for education. I like tablets and I’ve played with netbooks - there is something about the simplicity I like. Word processing and internet services? Great.  When there is a problem, I just reset the device and poof, it’s working. Kids can use wikis, blogs, videos, all that yummy web-based stuff.

I’m willing to trade refrigerator-like reliability and simplicity over complexity and features we barely use.  The only sticking point I see is creating multimedia.  I want my kids to create multimedia (they can already do this online with tools like voicethread and these online video editors). And I see a huge change coming in the way video can be delivered and manipulated online (hi onlive).

I understand the rumor mill about an Apple tablet is churning up and the idea excites me (Chris Dawson has a nice take on this - I agree to a point, but there is already so much fantastic content on the web to offset lack of texbooks). Apple has this secret sauce that makes the user interface so completely pleasant.

How should teachers use technology?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 24 - July 2009 at 02:44 AM (14 years ago) 175 views.

Bit of a trick question, actually. The proper answer is “however it works best for them”.

I’ve talked about how I see education in two interrelated spheres; administrative and pedagogical.  I don’t think there should be any question about using technology for the administrative tasks for your school. However, for pedagogical uses of technology, I believe a great deal of thought is required.

However, as I think about my three year goals for technology integration for my school, I think the question deserves a slightly more detailed answer.

Teachers should:

use technology to be organized. They should save lesson plans, websites, images, movies, and digital resources.
keep electronic records - so their schools can analyze data and make data-driven decisions.
use learning management systems.
use technology to communicate with parents, students, and other teachers - via blogs, wiki’s, email, video conferences, etc…
research and reach out so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel
save and display their student’s work.

use technology to teach - but only when it makes sense.
use presentation devices (smartboard, and projectors) when they think it will make their content clearer
ask students to create high-quality, academically rigorous multi-media presentations, and then share them
use multimedia - but only when it really strengthens their lesson

Finally, teachers should remember the sage advice that I heard from Edward Tufte. Teachers shouldn’t use a piece of technology just because it is there. They should use a piece of technology because it meaningfully deepens their lessons.

Expression of Learning?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 22 - July 2009 at 08:44 PM (14 years ago) 192 views.

This is part one of a series of blog posts focusing on my three year vision for my school.

My principal has asked me where I’d like to see my school in three years, from a technology perspective.

I’d like to start with how learning is expressed.

In three years, our students will demonstrate mastery of learning through academically rigorous multimedia projects.
Students will create academically rigorous project-based outcomes, for example:

1. Rich websites (rich = lots of linked content, multimedia content, interactive content, linked in with social networking sites, etc…)
2. Highly developed wiki’s. I imagine students essentially writing their own textbook for their classes - including all the “rich” material I mentioned above.
3. High quality videos. Topical, high signal, low noise videos - preferably on you tube, or another site where we can easily share / embed material. Production value must be excellent as must content
4. Effectively mod a game to support classroom content. I don’t want kids creating their own games, because they always suck. Better to mod exsisting games. Again, rigorous academic standards must be present.
5. At least 15 episodes for at least 3 podcasts. High standards, high quality academic content.

You might notice a theme here.

1. I want all the material to last beyond a class; I want it shared and helpful for years to come.
2. I want high academic standards. Why are so many high school multimedia projects full of eye-candy and no content. Sigh.
3. I want all our projects to be extendable by the next year’s class. For example, Joe writes about cell structures. Next year, Mary includes an in-depth multimedia presentation about one of the cell structures. All this material is available online.
4. I want the students to create rich content with the idea of sharing it with other students. I’ll get into where I’d like to see our teachers in the next blog post.

I like the cloud - sort of.

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform Support on 16 - July 2009 at 06:48 PM (14 years ago) 213 views.

As a point of practice in educational technology, I believe web-based (and cloud computing) is the way to go.  Why?

1. I don’t have to pay for software on every computer
2. I don’t have to worry about compatibility - only web browsers
3. I don’t have to deal with server maintenance and expensive server licenses (oracle, microsoft, cisco, yadda yadda)
4. I get best-of-class features
5. I get “any time, any where” computing
6. I can focus my limited resources on strengthening my network, such as building in redundancy.
7. Most cloud services can authenticate through my LDAP services (usually AD)

...but this is the stuff most schools need to manage in-house:

3. Student Information System (but it needs to be web-accessible)
4. Maybe a fileserver (if it’s also web-accessible)
5. Imaging server (cloning)
6. Library system
7. Print server
8. VOIP server
9. Wireless network stuff
10. Hard-wired network stuff

That leaves for hosted / cloudy solutions: 

1. Email
2. Groupware stuff (shared documents, calendars, etc..)
3. School website / school CMS
4. Guidance / college system (ala naviance)
5. Learning Management System (moodle)
6. Large group email distribution systems (we use net directories
7. Project management (like 37 signals)

So, basically, hosted solutions / cloudy solutions saves me time and money. For the time I save in dealing with SPAM, google is worth it’s weight in gold.  But I’m still up to my neck in IT systems. Heh.

Thou shalt not use stuff the Wrong Way

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 15 - July 2009 at 06:48 PM (14 years ago) 201 views.

Powerschool is a student information system (SIS). It makes administrating your school easier. Part of powerschool is something called power teacher.  Powerteacher is web-based gradebook, that looks like it doesn’t completely suck.

Moodle is a learning management system. Moodle is designed to support online learning, blended learning and stuff like that. Moodle also has a gradebook, which looks like IT doesn’t suck.


The easy thing about powerschool (and powerteacher) is your students, teachers, and courses are all linked together, in one big happy family. However, powerteacher isn’t a learning management system. It’s a good gradebook.  We shouldn’t use moodle as a student information system, and we shouldn’t use powerteacher as a learning management system.

BoinxTV - I’m a fan

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 09 - July 2009 at 05:26 PM (14 years ago) 186 views.

I picked up a copy of BoinxTV when the last macheist was run.  I really like boinxTV - simple, intuitive, and especially good for teachers.

Video tells a good story, but only if it’s used well. A single camera, on a single person talking gets very boring very fast. However, with tickers, picture-in-picture (or video-in-video) the video becomes much better.

The advantage of well-made teaching videos are obvious.

1. You only need to make it once, and you can use it thousands of times
2. Your content is available anytime, anywhere
3. It is easy to share your videos with others
4. When uploaded to youtube, you incur no storage hit (typically the biggest problem in ed-tech for working with video)
5. Students can make videos easily - and more importantly, student organizations can make videos to keep the school community informed.

There is probably the same danger using boinxTV as powerpoint; kids will be tempted to fill it up with “glitz” and no content - this is easy to manage with a good rubric, though.

I’m looking forward to pushing this forward next year - I think we only need a few people to start sharing their videos, and everyone will become interested in it.


Emerging software architectures and non-relational software

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design on 23 - April 2009 at 10:06 PM (15 years ago) 260 views.

Fantastic article by Dion Hinchcliffe’s about emerging software architectures (PDF here).

The most interesting thing to me? Non-relational databases - which I know NOTHING about. I mean, I’ve played with trivial flat file databases before, and XML, but what else is there? Here’s a quote:

Non-relational databases.  Tony Bain over at Read/Write Web recently asked “Is The Relational Database Doomed?”  While it’s far too soon to declare the demise of the workhorse relational database that’s the bedrock of so many application stacks, there a large number of promising alternatives emerging. Why get rid of the traditional relational database?  Certain application designs can greatly benefit from the advantages of document or resource-centric storage approaches.  Performance in particular can be much higher with non-relational databases; there are often surprisingly low ceilings to the scale of relational databases, even with clustering and grid computing.  And then there is abstraction impedance, which not only can create a lot more overhead when programming but also hurts run-time performance by maintaining several different representations of the data at one time during a service request.  Promising non-relational solutions include CouchDB, which I’m starting to see in more and more products, as well as Amazon SimpleDB, Drizzle (from the MySql folks), Mongo, and Scalaris.  While many applications will continue to get along just fine with relational databases and object-relational mapping, this is the first time that mainstream database alternatives are readily available for those that are increasingly in need of them.

The problem with URL shortening…

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design on 21 - April 2009 at 06:39 PM (15 years ago) 288 views.


More talk about potential solutions here. But as things stand, I hate link-rot (which is why I try to host everything locally).

Rolling your own in education

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 16 - December 2008 at 03:06 AM (15 years ago) 254 views.

Went to an interesting meeting today.  We are trying to create a system that will let our students register for their AP exams.  With over 500 students eligible to take the exam, the old “turn in a paper application” thing isn’t really working. We have billing, test assignment, and room assignment to think about. 

We hobbled a solution together last year, which involved using a web-based survey tool and then exporting the results to excel, where we were able to sort and sift through the data.  Still, though, registration is more “databasey than spreadsheety”, especially when we think about all the different ways we need to query the data (select all the kids who havent paid their bills and are taking more than 4 exams).  I suggested we use our school website CMS, Expression Engine. It is perfect for this, with a registration system, member tools, and good tools for building forms and input validation. It is built on a mySQL database, and allows for custom queries, so I thought it would be perfect.  I actually built a registration system for our school science fair using expression engine, and it works like a charm. 

My supervisor made an interesting point. “who is responsible for this system?” She asked.  I paused, and mentally ticking off the major projects I had, and realized that the most efficient system (building my own web-based app) wasn’t necessarily the best choice.  It would be fun, and it would would be an effective solution to the problem. But what about maintaining it? I am already stretched thin, and this project most likely would of been designed and made well, but the organization should spread technical projects around. 

We voted to give this project to our DBA, with some front-end help from me.  Interesting project, actually.

Interns, support, and the relaxing summer life in ed tech!

Posted in Educational Tech Design Smartboards Support on 09 - July 2008 at 05:49 PM (15 years ago) 203 views.

It’s been a busy summer for me. I’ve got 15 fairly large projects to finish before September. Here’s a list:

1. Create student / teacher image for Elementary school
2. Reimage 90 macbooks
3. Move the elementary school to a new CMS (we use and love expression engine)
4. Setup 26 new smartboards
5. Clean, inventory, and check 38 older smartboards
6. Create smartboard training materials (for the new 600i series)
7. Train faculty over summer - offer classes and individual training sessions
8. Create inventory solution for new phones (barcode scanner - maybe we’ll whip up a online database)
9. Purge graduated students files
10. Transition high school website to beefy new server
11. Create materials / ideas for next year professional development
12. Create / update technology handbook - full of common problems and solutions
13. Create training for new shared calendar

This is a pretty hefty list - and doesn’t represent other major technology projects we have going on during the summer.

I was delighted to learn I would be getting an intern this summer - there is a student from Stuyvesant HS who is here - it is amazing how much time he is saving me - he is sharp, quick, and works hard. It is like a breath of fresh air. It is an amazing difference when the extra support comes…what a difference. He will be helping with our inventory scanner today - we are going to steal a barcode scanner from the library and try to scan the MAC and serial numbers on our new phones - I think it will be fun!

From the list above, I consider the most important items to be #7, #11, and #12. That is, training and staff development. I think last year, we had several major changes at our school: a wireless network, faster netowrk speed, a laptop for every faculty member, and 2 laptop carts for our elementary school.  For the 2007 - 2008 school year we were getting used to the technology. Next year, I will be pushing, supporting and encouraging our staff. Stay tuned.

Net Restore and niceness

Posted in Educational Tech Design platform Support on 22 - May 2008 at 03:58 PM (16 years ago) 228 views.


Mike Bombich really deserves the Nobel Prize in being an amazingly helpful human being.

Our elementary school received some new laptops, and I was creating an asr-ready image.  I was using net restore to create the image and it worked beautifully. Once I was done, I was able to quickly churn out 3 laptops in under 30 minutes. In the future, when we get new laptops, I’ll be able to quickly image them without any hassle. This saves my school time and money, and it saves me precious time. To make it even better, I can serve these images and net boot my client machines.

Creating an image is a time-intensive process. I was browsing through the forums at Bombich’s site and was so impressed by the communities responsiveness and his long time commitment to these tools. Mike doesn’t charge money (but he has a tip jar) - and as a result of his hard work, I have more time to work with my faculty. Today I’ll be helping a French teacher with iMovie, and then an industrial arts teacher with claymation software. I couldn’t do that if I was sitting around trying to update a bunch of computers.

Thanks Mike.

Edward Tufte is a smart guy

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - May 2008 at 06:51 PM (16 years ago) 303 views.

I recently attended a conference by Edward Tufte.  The topic was entitled Presenting Data and Information.

The presentation was brilliant, if for nothing else the thinking about charts and visual data. I read Tufte’s essay on powerpoint and agreed with the main points, but now I am thinking more deeply about how to create more effective and intelligent graphs.

Tufte elaborated on some key points. Most of these are his words (I was taking notes during the lecture).

1. The reason we look at evidence is to establish causality
2. our displays should be formatted to demonstrate causality
3. Anything complicated will require diversity: a plurality of evidence
4. “how can I explain ______” should be the driving conversation when thinking about data. It should not be “how can I best use ___ to explain ___.” It should be how can I explain ____”.
5. Links should have meaning. So there should be information about links (visually and textually)
6. Design should be invisible, users should think about rich and luscious content not paucity of design
7. Maximize content reasoning
8. Minimize how long they are thinking about format
9. Anything complicated requires more than a simple explanation

He then went on to carefully explain the 7 principals of effective information design.

1. Show comparisons, differences, and contrasts
2. Demonstrate causality - how is A related to B?
3. Show multivariate evidence - show more than one thing at one time.
4. Integrate evidence. Completely integrate words, numbers, images diagrams
5. Document everything.
6. Content counts most of all
7. Try to show your stuff up front all at once - adjacent in space - look at comparisons

I’ll be surveying our faculty soon, and I hope to create a graphic using these principals.

The way IT is supposed to be…in schools?

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 09 - May 2008 at 03:09 PM (16 years ago) 211 views.

In the formidable book IT Governance Policies & Procedures by Michael Wallace, Larry Webber, there are hundreds of pages devoted to the effective management of IT in the enterprise. 

The chapters are sound, well thought out, and concise.  Every important topic is covered - from patch management, to software development, hiring, policies and procedures, to authoring ISO documentation to surviving audits. The enclosed CD is a great resource - with all the forms and documents from all the chapters.

As I was looking through the book, I couldn’t help but notice the discrepancy between corporate IT, educational IT, the way IT


be done and the way I’ve seen IT run in a school.

In the enterprise, IT supports the business operations and mission. If your company makes plastic frogs, then everything about IT works towards that end - it’s singular, focused, and a convenient measuring stick. Because enterprise corporations seem to love process, procedures, and clear goals, their IT structure reflects that culture. 

In K - 12 schools, IT also supports the mission of the education. IT is also an end in and of itself. I’ve previously written how I see IT in schools; that essentially the 2 things IT does in schools is help make administrative life easier for our teachers and staff, and strengthens learning for kids - that these are 2 different, separate areas of IT in schools.

However, the ideal falls short in the face of the real. Ok, we should patch all our computers regularly to keep them healthy. We have 4 or 5 different versions of two or three operating systems. We have very old computers that can’t be updated. We don’t have the staff to go to each computer - and in some places we can’t get auto-update to work because of network problems.

We are short of support, short of money, and short of time. And in that sort of context, Wallace and Webber’s ideas fall to pot.

We try to do it by the book - but this kind of process takes time and organization that most schools simply don’t have.

However, we are not short of expertise, and we can be nimble. Unfortunately, 3 highly skilled IT people with 1500 users doesn’t fit into a “policy and procedure” kind of place. It’s fits into a barely managed chaos model. So IT spends time supporting existing systems, and it’s difficult to move forward. Teachers are understandably nervous about adopting technology for their classrooms (who would want to start something that might break and never get fixed). So it is difficult to move forward - but we manage.

Great podcast and a comment about making tech easy to use

Posted in Educational Tech Design Smartboards on 06 - April 2008 at 06:43 PM (16 years ago) 206 views.

I found a great podcast today and as I was listening, I heard a teacher talking about how a smartboards might not fit into his curriculum.  This raised 2 very interesting issues for me. The interesting value of smartboards, and how technology isn’t always the best choice.

I wrote a reply as a comment, but wanted to elaborate on it here.

I have an observation about smartboards. We have tons of smartboards in our school (23 of them, with another 14 coming soon). I understand it might not work for your particular discipline, but the interesting thing is what happens when you get technology close to your teachers

We found that having a projector / screen in the room, ready to go, makes using technology so easy, that even our low-tech teachers are using the smartboards.  It’s a real lesson in “if you make technology easy to use, and immediately accessible, teachers will use it!”. We are using the 600i series, so a teacher can use it to write notes, then easily save the notes, and upload them to a course management system. But basically, all a teacher needs to do is turn it on, and start writing. Very positive. Because our smartboards have speakers, teachers can plug in their ipods, dvd players, or vcr’s to show videos.

I also really respect your comment about how technology doesn’t fit into your teaching.  I know plenty of teachers who have thoughtfully considered using technology and decided it didn’t fit into their curriculum. This wasn’t a fear-based response, it was a result of carefully considering the technology, looking at the whole picture (support, pedagogy, student technology use, and budgetary issues) and then deciding it wasn’t for them.  We have a math teacher at our school who likes to use the entire board to write a formula, or work a problem through. She likes her students to see the entire problem, from start to finish across the board-space.  This particular boardwork wouldn’t fit on a smartboard, which uses a page-by-page style to display lots of information.

I suggest anyone who hasn’t heard of these folks subscribe to the blog linked above, and their podcast.


How to keep track of good websites?

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 01 - April 2008 at 01:00 AM (16 years ago) 193 views.

I got this question from a new instructional technology specialist - I think it’s a great question, and I wanted to share it with my readers!

Some teachers have asked me about bookmarking some websites that the children are using for research here in the lab. I have two questions:
1. Do you have a policy about bookmarking in your lab? It seems to me that over time there would be a ridiculous maze of websites favorited on each machine? Any suggestions or policies for me?

yup. we don’t allow it at all in the high school. In fact, we have software installed on our lab computers that, literally, re-formats the computers every evening and restores the computer to a nice clean pristine state. Please see my answer to #2 for an idea.

2. If I do place bookmarks on all the machines in the lab, is there an easy way to update all of them at once or do I have to place the bookmarks in each browser manually?

I would stay away from bookmarking websites on the kids browsers. instead, I would put only one bookmark, something to a shared bookmarking tool, like This way, you can quickly update the links only once, and all the kids see the updated link. If I am not mistaken, I think this is how our math teacher manages his links - he has his own website, and the kids are sent to the website, where they can see the links.  The nice thing about is you can share the links and sites can have multiple tags - so a site for math could have “math”, “4th grade”, “shapes”, and maybe “geometry”. Our librarian in the High School, uses a blog, where he updates with an assignment or some links - so all the kids need to do is go on his site.

You could also start a blog, or make a google pages site, but I think something like would be a good place start. The other reason I like is because if something horrible happens to our computers, we are not in trouble, and the kids can access the sites from home 😊 Hope this helps.



A $400.00 lightbulb - part 3 (final)

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - February 2008 at 06:56 PM (16 years ago) 181 views.

Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Technology in education is very expensive - especially when we account personnel, licensing, and legacy equipment costs. If we focus on student learning and take advantage of many exceptional free services technology can become less expensive and arguably, more effective. If you want to get all business-speak about it, technology in education should be really, really agile.

It’s not a simple formula.

The effective application of technology in education is a nuanced thing. Effective system administration,  centralized user data, robust and reliable networks, well managed and sensible security, correct technical support, pedagogical in-class support, clear and strong administrative direction, wise financial management, and clear thinking all play a critical role in a successful educational technology program.

So considering this, is it worth it? My answer is: it depends. If your school is willing to put in the mental muscle, time, and funding, technology can play a genuinely important role in student learning.

a $400.00 lightbulb - part 2

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 23 - January 2008 at 09:10 PM (16 years ago) 221 views.

A $400.00 lightbulb - part 2 (part 1 here). As I closed the last part, I asked: are we getting $350,000 worth of better education? As usual, the answer is: it depends. Here is a general list of questions and observations I’ve made about technology in education, and what we can do to make it work better.

Are the kids actually learning something?

It seems like a simple question, but as I often say - if you stick a kid in front of a computer for an hour and expect something miraculous to happen, you will be disappointed. Especially considering the price of technology, we have to be focused like a laser on this question. As with almost everything in education, instructional design is critical to the evocation of student learning.

A French teacher spends the first few minutes of class streaming live French radio over our wireless network, and the class discusses the broadcast to get the class started.

A math teacher downloaded a podcast which was discussing the fallibility of statistics (a topic they were discussing). The class then discussed the podcast.

Of course we could talk about how to measure learning, but that’s a much longer discussion - and an important one.

The point here? Kids are in school to learn; technology should be viewed as a tool to meet that end, not an end itself. This is one reason why integrating technology is so important, and points to the essence of the question: are we getting our monies worth? 

Are we taking advantage of the really good free stuff out there?

It really is a crime not to use FOSS and other free web-based services in 2008. Google applications for education alone could save tens of thousands of dollars. Couple this with Linux in the server-space and schools can save thousands of dollars - money that can be used for other educational programs, or as general savings. Open office is a stable, growing alternative to Microsoft office. There are hundreds of other free programs that schools can use to cut their operating expenses.

The advantage of web-based services are many; there is no software to install - (save for free quicktime, flash or shockwave plugins). Student work is saved on a remote server, updates and security fixes are made remotely, students can work from home, there are low technology requirements for clients, there are many rich internet applications for a variety of common tasks. Finally, some web-based sites offer reporting and aggregate usage data so teachers can keep track of student activity.

A $400.00 lightbulb

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 17 - January 2008 at 07:05 PM (16 years ago) 189 views.

A $400.00 lightbulb - part 1

Is educational technology worth it?

Another interesting conversation has emerged at work.  Does the cost of technology equal it’s benefit?

In business, this idea is referred to as ROI (return on investment). We invest X dollars into technology, support, and infrastructure. Does that equal the educational return?

In keeping with my idea of 2 realms in educational technology (blog post series: part 1 , part 2 and part 3) I want to approach the idea of ROI remebering technology serves different roles in education.

Spending - hypothetical high school with ~ 1200 students and 70 teachers
Disclaimer: This is a very rough idea of the yearly costs associated with running a high school technology program. I will demonstrate in another post how quite a bit of money can be saved.

Network Administrator: $50,000
Computer teacher (faculty position): $50,000
Part time technician: $20,000
Programmer (the person who makes the schedule - might be a guidance counselor):$45,000

Bandwidth (T1 or greater) : $12,000

3 labs with 30 computers each: $40,000
3 laser printers - one for each lab: $2000

70 teachers with a computer each: $25,000
1 printer per department (5): $2500

1 laptop cart with 30 computers: $5,000
5 projectors on mobile carts (example)  : $5,000

Windows OS licensing: $20,000
Office licensing:  $20,000
Server licensing: $10,000
Student information system licensing: $5000
Router / switch licensing: $5000
Anti-virus licensing: $5000
Course management licensing: $5000
Help desk licensing: $1000
wireless licensing: $1000

Office staff desktop computers:
Office staff printers: $1000

So this equals about $344,000 a year. Wow. Add in additional software costs (which I didn’t include here) and staff development and training, and our fictional high school is spending about $350,000 a year on technology.

Are we getting $350,000 worth of better education? As usual, the answer is: it depends

To be continued….

Gifted Education and Technology

Posted in Educational Tech Design Gifted on 09 - November 2007 at 07:52 PM (16 years ago) 211 views.

Gifted kids are different.

They score high on standardized tests, and show exceptional aptitude in music, arts, reading, writing, or mathematics. The instruction for these students is different - often very high level content with a focus on high-level understanding (not so much remembering details, but talking about the applicability and synthesis). For example, instead of naming all the nations in Asia, there might be a talk about why the nations are where they are. Often times, gifted programs are not beholden to bureaucratically imposed standards of instruction. 

I happen to work in a school serving these students, and I’d like to spend a few blog posts exploring technology use with these populations.

Technology is a means to an end


an end in itself

Gifted students should know how to use technology. This is a pretty good list.  So, in gifted education, there should be time for specific technology instruction. There should also be classes for computer science; programming, logic, etc…

Students should also use technology to enhance primary content. For example, if a math teacher is explaining symmetry of different geometric shapes, the students could use geometers sketchpad to create and manipulate these shapes - perhaps applying them to shapes they might encounter in real life.

These are 2 classic domains of technology in education; learning about technology and using technology to support primary content.. All schools should include technology in these 2 domains. However, what should be different in the gifted education realm?

slashdot tackles educational technology

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 05 - September 2007 at 05:04 AM (16 years ago) 175 views.

Good old slashdot

has a great thread answering the question “How should I use technology to teach math and physics in High School?”.  The discussion forks all over the place (typically slashdotty) but it also makes some great points (typically slashdotty).

Powerpoint get’s beaten, soundly and fully, as it should be (see my comments below). Some choice quotes:

PowerPoint is very useful if the person using that tool uses it correctly. Unfortunately, most people use it incorrectly and write down every single thing that they’re planning on saying on a slide. If you’re going to do that, students will catch on and just think that they can get by with printing off the notes and skipping class because listening to the teacher will not help them understand the material any better. The catch is, they won’t understand it at all. Active learning helps people learn and remember facts and concepts way better than passive reading or listening. That’s why the best way to use PowerPoint is as a guide or outline to what you’re going to talk about. It forces people to use more than one sense to take everything in, and if they want notes on everything important from the lecture, they have to write it down themselves and actually comprehend it in the first place. (thank you:  FieronEtnl).

The point is, (as Edward Tufte so eloquently writes), it is exceptionally easy to screw up a powerpoint presentation. For those teachers/business people who read, verbatim, from a Powerpoint presentation, I posit that they are COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT. The idea for powerpoint is to use a bulleted point to expand, extend and explain an important idea - not simply tick it off as something “our kids need to know”.

The slashdot conversation continues:

You’re using a display device for something that needs to be literally performed.
That’s a bad idea. When demonstrating a technique for the class to learn, you have to perform the act.
Students need to see how a solution is carried out actually, not just to see a solution. They are there to learn the techniques, not the results. _Displaying_ a solution is fine when all people are familiar with the techniques involved, and just need a quick glance about how you’ve applied them to this particular problem.
Displaying a solution when people are unfamiliar with the techniques is completely confusing.

The time spend rewriting the same things again and again is the time spent teaching.

“A result is nice, but a new way to look at things is great.” (thank you, Anonymous Coward).

The poster here is referring to multiple learning styles, and it’s important when we are designing a lesson to consider multiple learning styles. Some of our students will easily access flash-based animations, while other will do well with hands-on learning, while other will (gasp) respond well to lectures and didactic instruction.

There’s actually quite a bit more from this slashdot article, which I intend on covering in later blog posts. Until then, the penultimate lesson is “TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION REQUIRES DISCERNMENT”.



Student laptops in the classroom

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 15 - August 2007 at 12:00 PM (16 years ago) 202 views.

Should students be allowed to use laptops in your classroom?

Ultimately, the choice belongs to the teacher. No school should impose a policy of “yes” or “no”. Here’s some questions you should think about when you consider if students should have laptops.

1) Are the laptops in use distracting other students?

One of the most common complaints about student-laptops in the classroom is they can be distracting to other students. This can be mitigated by limiting wireless access during class, or filtering during class. It is also mitigated when every student has a laptop.

2) Are the students who are using laptops contributing their notes to a class-website, wiki, or the teacher?

Relating to the digital divide, we must ensure students with laptops are not afforded an unfair advantage over other students. If notes are uploaded and accessible to other students, everyone can share in their notes. Since the school has a public computer lab, and many computers are available in public libraries, sharing electronic notes is a nice way to help students who do not have a computer at home.

Students with laptops might contribute to a weekly notes-book that the entire class can share.

3) Are students who use laptops screwing around?

Laptops make taking notes easier (typing, editing, and sharing). However, the temptation to play games or instant mesasge may prove to great to your students. If you worry about this, you might make a general no-laptop policy. If you want to try with a few students, go ahead! When I suspect a student is up to no good, I approach them and look for a furtive gesture - a quick movement to hide a window. I also stand behind them sometimes to watch their screens.

4) Is your class is lecture-heavy (not experiential, discussion, or lab)?

Lecture classes are better suited for laptops than other types of classes. Whenever there is a large amount of didactic material, laptops can help.

No one knows your students or your teaching better than you. Try out a couple of laptops and see how it works. In some cases, it might be a perfect fit. In other cases, it might not!