Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Abandoning the One Ring -- Breaking out of the Ultimate Platform Mentality

Apologies to Tolkien, but i write what pops into my head...

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor  Schools where the Shadows lie.
One Ring Learning Management System to rule them* all, One  Ring Learning Management System to find them,
One  Ring Learning Management System to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of   Mordor Schools  where the Shadows lie.

*Them = Teachers, Students, undersea Sponges, etc.

5 minutes long but oh so nice for GenX memories

Searching for the Miracle
As Brebeuf Jesuit has been moving to its 1:1 BYOT model, part of the internal preparation for classroom teachers has been meeting with individual departments to begin discussing what the classroom could look like next year. There have been many positive implementations during this pilot year and it has been exciting to be able to share what some of these implementations look like (see for some examples.

The two concerns that have been brought up most commonly for teachers who have not already embraced BYOT are twofold: 1. how are we going to be assessed as educators for proper implementation (have i mentioned the assessment culture that is killing me recently? great post from the Educational Technology Guy on this) and 2. what is the TOOL that will make BYOT work beautifully.

I am going to defer to @40ishoracle for assessment. she has dug up some awesome resources that we are adapting. I want to deal with the second issue in today's blog.

What is the TOOL that ties all of the BYOT sparkle into one pretty package?

Letting it Go
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a one-stop shop that does all of the educational things that I want my students to experience and is aware enough that it continuously improves as technology and users evolve. I have heard promises from Blackboard (cross platform! lots of options! but the gradebook doesn't take attendance), EdLine (now a part of Blackboard...good on the basics, slow to innovate), Google (I am a fan)...I even remember sitting at ISTE over a decade ago and watching Steve Jobs keynote about the Apple School. I get excited each time. I get disappointed each time.

and then I stopped.

I stopped expecting one company to have all the answers.
I stopped looking for the company that would integrate new methodology into their behemoth
I just stopped.

and when i stopped looking for the universal solution, I realized that I was now on very comfortable ground. 

As a teacher and a technician, I am used to asking the question: "how do i best do X?" and searching and asking and experimenting until I find the answer. This is not just a good practice, this is an essential behavioral skill that should be developed in our students. Unless we want our children and students to be at the mercy of 1-3 major technology companies decisions' about what is good for them, they need to know how to:
  1.  Identify their learning need
  2. Assess tools that could fill that need
  3. Use the tools appropriately.
This might fall into one of those "If you learn nothing else, learn this" categories.

Need storage space? use dropbox or or google docs or...
Need to create a presentation? keynote or powerpoint or google docs or...
Need to collaborate on a paper?
Need to change a video codec?
Need to...

The Flip Side
A complaint that we have had, and I think it is legitimate takes two forms:
From students: Depending on the teacher, I have assignments in multiple places and they expect me to keep track of it all...
From administrators: how can we keep up with the teachers (track progress, view content, gather data) when there are so many different tools being used?

I think for the benefit of school personnel, teachers, and students, there should be one central jumping-off point. The "if I forget everything else, I can go here". This is our Learning Management System: 
  • Each class has a page. 
  • Each page has Grade updates, and places for  links, news items, notes, etc. 
  • But from there teachers can link to an educational blog (teacher or student maintained), a plagiarism monitoring system, a collaborative document creation site, a site for my dream #flipclass software (still hasn't been made...but progress!) 
Develop in students the ability to comfortably adapt to different technologies. Develop in teachers the ability to articulately explain the advantages of one system over another (this demonstration of critical choice is part of the student learning process).

If it is necessary for administrators to track the data through various tools to create charts and graphs, then that is the next field for educational technology development. Do not force teachers and students to use inadequate tools because INSERT-EDUCATION-COMPANY-HERE has not figured out how to write a decent API yet.

In short, let's give up on the ONE RING and put it back into fantasy where it belongs.