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Edtech Conferences - worth it?
I recently tweeted: Does participating in #learning2 (or any big ed-tech conference) make a difference in student learning? I've always been "meh" about them...
Are they worth it?
1. I've always felt these conferences were of dubious value. When I pay for staff to go to them, I usually get a standard bell curve one or two staff who had a life-changing experience, and one or two staff who were bored to tears and everyone else falls in between. My personal experience echoes this observation. Kids aren't benefiting.
2. I believe teachers grow best through self-reflection, peer coaching, and good professional evaluation. I'm not sure how ed-tech conferences facilitate this. Sure, teachers can learn about tools, and they might learn about some ideas for project-based learning, but how much of that is making a difference in the learning for kids? Is the learning return worth the time and money invested?
3. I see a wide variety of presenting skills at these conferences. Although this is related to point 1, the content and delivery can be variable. The keynote speakers are often more known as keynote speakers, and less as authentic innovators of classroom learning. I've been to many edtech conferences, and all the keynote speakers are compelling, but then there is that whole "our context and your great idea" problem.
4. One of the failings of these conferences is their focus on Nouns over Verbs. The conferences attract advertising and make money by selling advertising space. Many sessions are dedicated to advertisers who do not discuss how learning can be different, but by perpetuating the horrible myth that the tool is magic and will change things! This, by the way, is a disease in educational technology, that the tool alone will fix what’s wrong with learning. It never has.
5. If the goal is to learn new things / try new things, why not try a speedgeeking session? I think about locally produced organic produce being much better for you than crap made thousands of miles away. Back to point 2, I believe teachers learn best when they are engaged with a colleague and are learning with them (see also: plc). There is less of a translation cost when you learn locally.
6. The problem is that sometimes (sometimes), a teacher goes to one of these conferences, and the stars align, and there is star-trek sound effects, and they return profoundly changed. Sometimes that happens. Maybe we need to pay more attention to preparing our teachers to attend these conferences to increase the likelihood of Eureka.
I am curious what the 2 regular readers of this blog think about the big Ed-Tech conferences. Are they worth it?
Stack Exchange: better questions and answers
This email describes a neat site I've found and I wanted to share with you. Please let me know what you think by replying to this message.
For as long as we've had the internet, we've had a place to ask questions and get answers. In fact, the very first internet spaces were called BBS's (Bulletin Board Systems). They were designed to facilitate questions and answers. Fast forward 30 years, and communities are still one of the most important parts of the internet. Asking, answering, and connecting are still at the heart of what it means to be online in 2013. However, most forums for communication are flat. Someone asks a question, and several people give different answers, only some of which may be right.
If only there was a way for us to interact with questions and answers that let the good stuff rise to the top. Enter Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange has some pretty interesting features:
1. all questions are tagged. This means if you click on "structure" tag in the writing stack exchange, you will see all questions and answers related to structure;
2. all answers are voted on, and the top-rated answer is easily visible;
3. there is an ongoing comment stream for all questions. This gives you a sense to what isn't right about a question or answer;
4. you can contribute to answers or ask questions;
5. all stack exchanges have an indicator if a question has been satisfactorily answered;
6. when someone asks a question on a Stack Exchange site, the community reviews, revises, and proposes answers to it;
7. answers are rated and ranked by the rest of the community;
8. members also vote for questions they find useful, or against those they see as unclear or unproductive. The more votes, the more visibility – so when you search, you get the best answer to the best question;
9.questions and answers can be edited by other members, Wikipedia-style. This lets the community continue to polish and update content even when the original authors aren't available.
(features 7, 8 and 9 are taken from this page)
Please take a moment or two to explore Stack Exchange. Stack exchange is an umbrella of many different areas of interest. Perhaps some of these may pique your curiosity:
Ask Different: a stack exchange for Apple users
English Language Usage: a stack exchange for serious linguists
Cooking: a stack exchange site about cooking
Photography: a stack exchange for questions and answers about photography
Physical fitness: a stack exchange about everything
Bicycles: you get the idea...
Math: for you know, math stuff
Biology: why did we evolve bladders, anyway?
German: questions about German language (or French if that is your thing)
Here's a list of all the different stack exchanges ordered by name.
I think Stack Exchange represents a modest but nice step forward in our quest to ask and answer questions about, well, anything online! Please let me know what you think, I'm curious to hear your reaction to this site.
Evaluating Technology Coaches with NETS-C
How do we know technology integration is bettering student learning?
Evaluating the effectiveness of technology integration is tricky because many different forces influence effective integration. We must speak with teachers, talk with students, evaluate integrators, reflect on learning goals, and look at academic achievement. We must understand the context and culture of technology use in a school. Just as understanding teaching and learning is complex, so is understanding technology integration. My point? Evaluating technology integration is not a simple thing.
I have not seen a good instrument for evaluating technology coaches (formally called technology integrators). Commonly, teacher evaluation forms are used with technology coaches. Wholly inappropriate. Coaching is different than teaching, the aims are different, the process is different, our understanding of successful coaching is different than our understanding of successful teaching. Where teachers must demonstrate an improvement to student learning, coaches must demonstrate an improvement to student learning through an improvement to teaching practice.
Working with the technology coaches at the American School of Warsaw, we have created an instrument based on the NETS-C (http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-coaches.aspx). Please find an editable version here, and feel free to use it.
Differentiated Distraction and blocking?
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...
Technology Professional Development
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.
Moving an enitre school to dropbox?
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?
School websites and information overload
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.
Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction
Full story here
My first reaction? Anger.
My second reaction? Yea, about that….
I’m reminded about the call for balanced parenting and computer use. Oh wait, that’s me.
Really? Microsoft? Do you really write such bad code?
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
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).
Is 250 sheets of paper a year enough?
After some data gathering last year, we realized we were using a case of paper every 2 weeks in one computer lab (we have 4 in our school). That is 5000 sheets of paper every 2 weeks, or 500 sheets of paper per day in ONE LAB. My informal observation was kids would print out a webpage (10 or 15 sheets) and call that “doing research”. Blech.
We instituted much stricter print quotas this year - each student only has 250 sheet for the entire year. Now as we enter into our second semester, we are starting to get visitors into the IT office asking for an increase. We oblige them, but ask them to be careful about their printing needs.
I’m honestly surprised. Many of our teachers accept emailed assignments, and many students use turnitin for papers.
I’m keeping a careful watch on our heaviest users, and targeting those teachers with professional development for electronically submitted assignments.
Stunning: One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers
Eschool news writes "One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers".
Do you hear that thumping sound? That is me hitting my head on my desk. Repeatedly. The article should of said "study confirms what everyone in educational technology already knows: good teaching is more important than blinky-things."
To be fair, the article links to some nice research:
Laptops and Fourth Grade Literacy: Assisting the Jump over the Fourth-Grade Slump (PDF)
Evaluating the Implementation Fidelity of Technology Immersion and its Relationship with Student Achievement (PDF)
After Installation: Ubiquitous Computing and High School Science in Three Experienced, High-Technology Schools (PDF)
One to One Computing: A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative (PDF)
Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Settings (PDF)
Here's a choice quote:
Across the four empirical studies, it is evident that teachers play an essential role in the effective implementation of 1:1 initiatives and that the onus of responsibility for implementation often falls to the teacher. For example, Bebell and Kay (2010) concluded that it is “impossible to overstate the power of individual teachers in the success or failure of 1:1 computing”
What's my take away?
1. It's about the "how" not the "what".
2. Before we give teachers technology, they should have a a very clear idea about how they plan on using it - never push tech into a teachers face
3. Teachers should evaluate if teachers should use technology in their classroom, ala learning communities - so for example, a teacher would go to a committee of teachers and say "I want 25 iPads" and THAT group of teachers would hack through the proposal - what learning is happening? How is this different than what we are doing now? Will this materially increase student achievement? Does this make learning better? Is this a sound investment? etc...
4. It's always good to let a teachers play with technology before actually using it in their classrooms to teach. Teachers need to have a cognitive model of how they are going to use the latest widget to make our kids smarter
5. Clear outcomes are critical. Before embarking on a tech initiative, outcomes should be very clearly defined and understood by everyone.
Reference: Bebell, D. & O’Dwyer, L.M. (2010). Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Settings. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(1).
Retrieved FEB 16 2010 from http://www.jtla.org.
Why ROI is hard to measure for school technology
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.
Lesson Plan: Using wikipedia
This PDF is my lesson outline for teaching students how to read a wiki - it is quite utilitarian in nature - we don’t talk about evaluating information, or triangulating sources. Instead, this lesson is about the nuts and bolts of using Wikipedia. It presumes the teacher has a moderate amount of knowledge in using Wikipedia.
I’m encouraging teachers to use our school wiki for written assignments instead of written papers. This lesson is part of my effort.
Tablet Frenzy - FAQ for the interested
I am burying my head in the sand until the stupidity that is “tablets-are-an-educational-game-changer” goes away. I fully expect to see several respected journalists and bloggers having carnal relations with a tablet any day now.
I’ve decided to write a mini-faq with my views on tablets in education:
Q. Will tablets revolutionize education?
A. No. Tablets will not change education (read this post) good teaching is the single most important variable for good education, not a shiny thing that blinks.
Q. Will tablets revolutionize education?
A. Yes. The same way the VCR did, the same way overhead projectors did, the same way computer labs did, the same way Windows 3.1 did.
Q. Will tablets revolutionize education?
A. Yes, because unlike other pieces of educational technology, tablets:
1. magically don’t need to be maintained, upgraded, configured, supported or linked to other systems in your school (like printers, file servers, user directories, etc)
2. never break
3. automatically train their users - no staff development required
4. run software that automatically makes students smarter - no instructional design required, no critical thinking, just plug it in, and ** poof ** you are smart!
5. don’t require license fees for software
The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change
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.”
It’s not my job
How this phrase and attitude infuriates me. I get angry when I hear people say and act like they don’t care. However, a series of conversations with a building assistant principal has slightly changed my thinking about this. She said “sometimes, it’s good to let a system fail”. I was providing technical support for all the smartboards in the building. Every time there was a problem, I stopped what I was doing, and went to fix the smartboard. I was responsible for inventory, maintenance, training, and professional development. Not a great situation. Other important projects took a back-seat to smartboards. Her point was well taken - I’m propping up a system and feeling resentful about “doing it all”. Heh.
Of course, this problem did not magically appear. The smartboards were purchased and installed without thinking about support. This is the original sin - and in my experience, a common problem in technology and education.
So, I did what she said. I carefully explained this to my leadership team. I didn’t have time to handle the smartboards. I had a daily schedule, and explained the important work that was taking a backseat to the smartboards. Soon, the boards starting failing, teachers started to complain - teachers actually stopped planning on using the smartboards because they were so unreliable. It was hard to see this, and I know I took a small political hit for this. But fast-forward 3 months. Now we have hired a part-time technician, who is totally dedicated to smartboards. We have consolidated our efforts to keep the smartboards up and running. The system is still far from perfect, but I am getting far more done than I was.
Because I let a broken system fail.
How do you effectively manage technology in an organization with low resources?
Resources = people, time, and money
When you don’t have enough resources to realize your vision, what should you do?
1. Your school should develop a clear vision, and a clear plan. What do you want your technology to look like in 5 years?
This is especially important for schools. Why? I have seen SO MANY TIMES when a company comes into a school and says “we have 27,000 copies of (old obsolete software or hardware thing here). We are going to DONATE it to you! When the “I have free stuff” fairy comes to your school, it helps to look at your 5 year plan and decide what fits. By the way, just as having a plan is important, so is advertising and evangelizing your plan.
2. You should use open source solutions whenever appropriate - especially in the server space
I can’t think of a decent reason not to use open source in education. Of course, closed source has a place - especially if it really answers your problem well. But by and large, open source should be the defacto choice for schools unless there is a compelling reason to choose something else.
3. Hire and work hard to retain smart people.
In the last 4 years, we’ve fired 4 people who were MSCE, A+, Cisco certified, etc… They didn’t know what they were doing! What matters most in technology is being smart. Does your programmer eat and sleep in MYSQL? Yea, good. Keeping high-technology people should be a very high priority.
4. Articulate your vision often. Hone your elevator pitch
Education is often a victim of “tyranny of the immediate”. Very easy to lose focus or forget what is important. I heard a seasoned NYC principal say “the most important thing a principal can do is stay on message.
The bandwidth usage of Youtube
One of the lame excuses I hear about schools who block youtube is the “bandwidth-whaaaaaa” excuse. One of the reasons schools block youtube is because of bandwidth concerns. I always thought this was suspect, so I decided to investigate this myself.
1. I downloaded and installed wireshark
2. I found a suitable disgusting youtube video entitled “HOW TO CARE FOR GIANT AFRICAN SNAILS” Really. Blech. Gross. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weUGei2waw4 - it is 1 minute, 26 seconds.
3. I cleaned my browser cache, and made sure my school doesn’t use any type of proxy filtering - which would alter my results. I also made sure I didn’t have anything else running which uses bandwidth (although that isn’t as important, because the filtering on Wireshark is great.
4. I fired up wireshark and started capturing packets - I used Mozilla Firefox (3.5.5)I ran the test 4 times, each time thoroughly cleaning my browser cache. Here are the results:
a. 3679607 bytes (3.5 MB)
b. 26034 bytes (0.02 MB)
c. 153738 bytes (0.1 MB)
d. 23879 bytes (0.02 MB)
Hmmm. That’s rather odd. I’m quite certain my school doesn’t do any web caching, and I am also sure I nuked my browser cache, so these results may be from youtube’s content delivery network. Needless to say, the first video was alarming, but subsequent views were really no problem. I decided to test this with another video of about the same length, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScLDQDKwzxs using the same methods above. Here are the results.
a. 8291621 (7.9 MB)
b. 8277143 (7.9 MB)
c. 8281093 (7.9 MB)
Alarming. 8 MB is significant - and that is only one person! In my school of 1600 end-users, I estimate at any one moment during the school day, there are 5 youtube streams being played (40 MB). During a class, 25 streams (200 MB), and in the morning (when all the students and faculty are checking their email and watching a funny movie) I estimate about 100 streams (800 MB).
My suspicious are unfounded. Youtube does eat massive amounts of bandwidth. I suspect a caching solution would really go a long way towards aleviating horrible bandwidth spikes.
Thanks to Itai for helping out.
How to integrate technology in schools?
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?
So many systems to manage….
I’m filing this under “educational technology - support”
My 3 person department supports (in no particular order)
1. Novell groupwise
2. Destiny Library catalog (textbook)
3. Norton ghost services
4. IIS webserver
5. Apache webserver
6. Antivirus server
7. VOIP server
8. Powerschool server (and dev box)
9. File server for students
10. File server for Elementary school
11. File server for multimedia lab
12. LDAP server (of course)
13. DHCP server
14. OS X server (used for cloning)
15. Print server
... and then there are switches, hubs (yes, we still use them), and other network devices.
ALL of these systems are very important. I’m thinking of all the people who be inconvenienced if even one system went down. Part of managing resources and attending to a school’s technology infrastructure is communicating what you do. I’ve found a periodic review of “systems, processes, and projects” technology is responsible for is helpful.
How about using the technology for the actual learning rather than just to demonstrate it afterwards
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.
Technology Support Index
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.
Using Expression Engine as a event / building and grounds request system
I’ve used Expression Engine for years in K-12 schools. Far from just a normal content management system for our website, I love how easy it is to bend expression engine into interesting shapes and uses. I just finished working on an event / building and grounds request system and wanted to share our story.
A few years ago, I used EE to create a trouble ticket system (part 1 and part 2). Then, I used EE to create a very simple inventory system for our interactive whiteboards.
The latest project can be seen here (I’ve removed the generic logon so EE community members can see the front end. Normally, our teachers need to login to access this page). The system allows our teachers and staff to submit requests for building and grounds services, and requests to setup for events. There is a control panel page that our building staff uses to see open requests, new requests, and urgent requests.
We used solspace’s free form module to create the forms for our end-users, and the control panel for our building and grounds staff. Our chief of building and grounds uses EE’s control panel to edit entries (usually, to just mark them closed).
This project was a success. It was very easy to implement, it is customizable, and meets the need of our high school and elementary school. For our building and grounds chief, though, the system is a godsend. He is responsible for three different building in three different locations in New York City. This system allows him to login anywhere to see what is going on at our school.
I would be happy to discuss this with the community, or give a tour of the system.
The doubt of the cloud
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.
I like the cloud - sort of.
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:
2. DNS, DHCP
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:
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.
is twitter educational?
Got a comment question I wanted to respond to here:
Just curious, what are your thoughts about incorporating Twitter into the curriculum.
Don’t use a piece of technology just because you can. Edward Tufte spoke about this very eloquently. Just because we have (insert new technology here) doesn’t mean we should try to cram it into our curriculum. This is why we need to be very careful about powerpoint - think about what you need to teach, and THEN think about the best way to teach your material.
However, part of my passion in life is looking at new technologies, and wondering about them . Ever since I figured out what twitter was, I’ve been rolling this question around in my mind. I don’t have an answer, but I have some initial ideas.
How would you approach that?
I’ve been reading about the backchannel lately, and I really like the idea - for kids over 18. I think twitter (and google chat) are like passing notes in class - that kids (under age 18) can’t really focus on a teacher AND a side conversation. I think if I asked a group of 16 year old kids to create a back channel, they wouldn’t be able to stay focused. I think if we twittered during class, we would need to review the twits before class ended.
How would you use it to help kids learn? Especially elementary school kids.
Well, I would think of twitter as a reflective device. So as I’m teaching (or reading) something, I would ask them to take notes via twitter. With about 15 minutes left of class, I would review the twits, and have a discussion. Or, I might review the twits for the next class (what great feedback for a teacher).
I’m afraid that this Twitter thing is just going to take up a lot of the kids time and stuff instead of having some real evidence that it’ll help kids learn.
I share your fear. The thing is, twitter doesn’t try to be anything BUT a 140 character update thingy. I see twitter mainly as a tool to reflect on a back channel conversation. But is back-channel reflective communication a useful thing for young kids? I’m not so sure.
I mean Twitter is a great idea, but I’m just not sure of it’s educational value.
I agree. I think the REAL value of twitter comes in from teachers learning / sharing with each other. I’ve already picked up some very useful information from twitter, and I’d like to add more people to follow (this is why I’m looking for a way to categorize / read) twits.
Some equipment went missing at my school - discovered today (Monday), after a school vacation. It’s a pity. We have an inventory of the computers serial numbers, MAC addresses, etc, etc, but it doesn’t help our kids.
Times like these I find myself asking, what could we have done differently? The machines are secured - admin passwords are good, there is an admin password on the bios, so it won’t be easy to start from a CD or USB stick. We had them locked in a cart. I just don’t know what we could of done differently. Maybe change the combination lock password more often? Who does this? We recently had inventory management come - thank God -
I know there are stolen laptop programs but when we buy 30 laptops at a time, and we are pinching every penny, this is the sort of thing that gets cut. I’m investigating adeona as we speak.
Should schools totally ban electronic devices?
In response to this question:
Since you are a fantastically prolific tech nerd, I am wondering if I could
get your thoughts on what to do about the flood of personal electronic
devices that kids bring to school. Currently, our school is proposing a total
ban on all electronic devices during the school day. My concerns are many
but the most simple being that if we are teaching kids to be ready for jobs
that don’t even exist yet, how can we ban a kid from using his/her iphone to
schedule assignments due?
Anyway, before I pontificate, would you mind piping in?
I wrote this answer:
I disagree with the idea of a total “technology device” ban for several reasons:
1. It’s like throwing the baby out with bathwater (there are some genuinely good technologies out there that actually help students organize and learn)
2. It signals a message of distrust and authoritarianism - are kids and teachers not capable of making this determination themselves? We keep this is as a per-teacher rule at my school. Some allow it in their classrooms, and some don’t.
3. Safety. If there is an emergency, (some kids shoots up the school, medical emergency, etc) it would be nice having cell phones so the kids could call for help
4. Practicality. If a kid misses the bus or forgot a book at home - who uses a pay phone these days?! Who even remembers phone numbers?!
5. Making teaching better. Have you ever REALLY played around google earth? It kicks SO MUCH ASS as a relevant, useful, and cool classroom teaching tool. ASK YOUR KIDS to use google earth to demonstrate their understanding about (anything). I find kids are often at the front lines of appropriate technology use - and probably know a lot more about technology than you (or me) in the classroom).
I want to more directly respond to your notion about preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist yet. You are right - we need to prepare them for entry into a job market that is utterly dominated by technology - some people don’t even listen to voicemail anymore (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/fashion/02voicemail.html?scp=1&sq=voicemail&st=cse) because it takes to much time. Kids need to be technology literate as they enter colleges and universities. There is also a distinct competitive advantage to being able to fluidly move around the technosphere (really - there is).
However, I think a teachers job is to teach kids to think. Teachers need to scaffold content, and to put into context. Teachers also need to help kids think about the relationship between content and their real lives. This is something educational technology ISN’T very good at. Want to know the major points of the civil war? Easy. Want to know how the civil war impacted our lives in 2009? Much harder. My point? Technology is only a tool, and teachers need to associate MEANING with the content. I know you know this, but we have to be careful when we associate technology = better teaching. It’s not quite that simple.
The Destiny of OPAL?
Our school is considering 2 new systems for our library. We had used Spectrum for several years, but Spectrum is no longer supported.
We are considering 2 systems: Destiny and OPALS. Opals is open-source, Destiny is commercial. They are functionally equal, each having slight differences. Destiny costs a lot more compared with OPALS. Destiny is a more “polished” product.
Which solution will our school choose?
I am an open source advocate, and when all things are equal, I push for open source solutions. I also really like the idea of hosted solutions - less work for our overworked IT staff, and ubiquitous availability. Our school uses naviance for our guidance / counseling department, and it has worked very well. Both Destiny and Opals offer hosted solutions. Both offer technical support for a yearly fee (destiny is a bit more expensive).
The discussion amongst our technology team eventually settled into the classic FUD I’ve heard for years about open source software.
“Will it be supported?”
“Is it stable?”
“Is it compatible with our data?”
“What if we want to change something in the program? Can we?”
“How will it work with older browsers?”
Fortunately, unlike in the past, I had an excellent rebuttal to their concerns. One word, and the room was silenced.
Rolling your own in education
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!
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.
Your elementary school needs a supercomputer
I belong to an invite-only listerv for New York City independent school technology folks. It is a wonderful resource - and especially fantastic as a sounding board for all things technological and school.
Recently, a question was asked to allow vendors onto the list. The question was batted around a bit, and I don’t think there is a resolution. I personally don’t like the idea of a vendor on this specific list, but I might be open to flagging their posts with [VENDOR] in the subject line.
When I make decisions, I need good advice, and I rely on ideas and suggestions from my peers. Like many people, I evaluate products, read specifications, and read ratings. But the advice I get from my peers, who have similar support systems, similar budgets, and similar headaches is truly invaluable. We recently had an interesting discussion about evaluating the educational effectiveness of smartboard; I wonder how a smartboard vendor would of contributed to that discussion? We also regularly share the reputation of certain vendors, and our experience with different technology solutions.
Net Restore and niceness
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.
The way IT is supposed to be…in schools?
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 ITshould
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.
Today I helped one of our technicians update some laptops. We don’t have a push server, so it’s a manual job - each laptop for 25 minutes.
I have spoken about the importance of support before, and I suppose I just wanted to say it again. Technology is more than equipment and blinking lights (to be sure, that’s the fun part for me). However, without technical, and in-class support for the teachers, it really won’t shine.
a $400.00 lightbulb - part 2
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.
Today I overheard a conversation about standardization it went something like this:
A: you know, many schools are standardizing.
B: well, it only makes sense - standardized technology is easy to manage, and support
As I listened to this, a familiar feeling emerged; discomfort and the sense there was something “not-quite-right” about this line of thinking.
In short, I think we can standardize choice. Offer a standard linux machine, a standard windows box and a standard OS X machine.
In a well-managed network, we try to consolidate as much as we can (LDAP, DHCP, DNS, etc…) Especially LDAP, which almost any modern operating system can connect to, offers ubiquitous user and home directory management.
The problem I have with standardization is the subtle, chilling effect on innovation, curiosity and freedom of choice. Do we teach all our students exactly the same? Of course not, we account for different learning styles. When everything is the same, we encounter a style of thinking that wants all the kids to be in the same box, the same row, the same tests.
Being careful of extreme thinking here, we must strike a balance between good IT management, and good educational practice. We must not design our IT management around what works best for a manager, but what works best for our teachers. I also call this “whose side of the desk are you looking from?”.
We can get into proper support later.
The Water Cooler Effect
Teachers talk to each other when they are excited about something. If they are excited about technology, they will share this success with each other. Recalcitrant teachers then might begin a tentative exploration process to try something new - and when they do, a friendly face and real support is waiting for them. I like to call this the water cooler effect.
However, teachers will not get excited about tech if they aren’t supported well. As I’ve discussed in the past, if a teacher is using technology in their classroom, with a class, they need to be able to get support in a very short period of time (usually within 60 seconds). However, if a teacher is using technology for administrative tasks, then support should be available within 24 to 48 hours.
Finally, technology needs to be available and accessible. I have seen a very good jump forward in productive technology use as our teachers find technology is available, accessible and easy to use.
That Beautiful moment of aha!
After almost a decade of working in educational technology, one of the things that really lights me up is watching a teacher “get it”. I was helping an art teacher today, and I was showing her how to use an online gradebook. After a few moments, her eyes widened, and she had this really cool response.
“Thank you”, she said with a warm smile. It was great…her students can login at any time and see their grades, and she has a convenient place to keep her grades.
It was very rewarding.