Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bridging the Gap Between Tech-Geek and Teach-Geek

I may expand upon this later, but since it came up in the #edchat today, this is the original handout for the presentation that @40ishoracle and I do on "Bridging the Gap". We usually offer it as a mixed group round table with a few introductory comments and then a moderated Q&A.

It is showing its age (ZIP DRIVE), but the upshot is still true: Teachers and Techies have certain mindset differences that can cause communication friction. Know the differences and it goes a LONG way toward easing the tension.

Also, the "What Kind of Geek are You?" still makes me laugh.

Bridging the Gap Between Teach-Geek and Tech-Geek

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Practically Applied: A Month of Creation in #digcit

As educators, we need to bring back the curiosity that is
natural early in childhood. Unlearning the routines may help
One of the struggles that I have had teaching computer classes and even adult professional development over the years is the artificial nature of the exercise. While there are a few notable exceptions and tried & true lessons, the teaching of computers is typically taught as a series of artificial "problems" and walk-through solutions. Students for the most part recognize this and go through the motions to a greater or lesser extent depending on how much they value their grades.

Thus, when we decided to recast the curriculum for Computer Applications as a course in Digital Citizenship (#digccit) based heavily on the ISTE National Education Technology Standards for Students, one of our implicit goals was to make the student experience more real and more relevant. We had some ideas on how to do this: let students drive the agenda within the NETS forward through co-planning the areas to be covered, create a hands-on environment with real experiences whenever possible, integrate the students' own technology into the course, and make connections between the skills and content in the class and its application outside of the course.

The Rough Map for #digcit. The teacher resource room
has two large white boards for planning -- #win
But despite this ambition, when you frame a course based on themes like social media identity awareness and effective communication using technology...you end up with a lot more time in the semester than when you are teaching a series of push-button steps at the pace of your slowest learners. (Note: I credit the individualization that #flipclass affords me for a lot of this added time as well)

So we made the decision to step back even further...and give the last month of class to the students.


Brebeuf Jesuit runs a modified-modular schedule. In practice, this means that in a typical five-day week, my class will be 4 times: 2 40-minute periods and 2-one hour periods with a one day break (plus weekends).

The course has built-in discussion time where students bring in articles on technology trends, news, or events that they have discovered and share with the class. The ultimate goal of this portion of the project is to give student an opportunity to analyze claims and evidence made in articles as part of the information literacy practice. In practical terms, it means that one day a week becomes "discussion" day.

Thus we are looking at a 12 days for complete student control:

Students have been operating in a flipped-classroom environment, thus they are used to operating with some level of independence during the class as the assignments and context are given the night before and projects and work time are used in class with the teacher giving most guidance 1-on-1.


Students were given a review on the elements of #digcit and the NETS-S. They were walked through a reflection of the types of activities and experiences they had encountered for the last semester. They were encouraged to identify the "lights and shadows" of the semester.  They were then told that this reflection should serve as the lead in to their next assignment: The Pitch

The Pitch: Students were asked to write a memo explaining a final project. The project should deepen their understanding of some portion of the themes covered before. If it used similar tools, they should be enriching the use, exploring new ways or techniques.

Students were also encouraged to create workflow timelines for how they would use the class. These timelines were to incorporate conversations with teachers from other disciplines, so that if there were integration activities in other classes, the Computer Science classroom became the instructional lab complete with brainstorming partners and guidance in all-things-geeky.

When it became clear he needed two hands...
...a truer collaboration was created.

The operations of the day mirrored the conduct of the #flipclass. Students worked independently, but often shared work that they were doing with others:
Struggling to make magic with MotionPaths

  • One student helped another film his step-by-steps for solving a Rubik's cube. These clips were edited and tied into an instructional website complete with diagrams created using AVIARY and GoogleDraw.
  • The entire class would occasionally stop and stare at the student who decided to test the limits of PowerPoint MotionPaths.
  • Another student, struggling to build an interactive game, got help from another who used Photoshop to tweak the shading, lighting, and perspective of game elements.
Check-ins were made daily with the teacher. As necessary, the focus was drawn back to the student-created objectives and the identified connection to a standard or element of #digcit. Very little time was spent off task for almost all students. Students who were consistently off task began to panic as the final project deadline drew closer.


At the end of the day, students were comfortably drawing applications from work they completed in class to the standards and norms of digital citizens in an authentic way. That alone justifies the time spent.

Things to improve: 

Putting Teachers in the Loop: Teachers in other areas were not prepared to have students come to them with a month to go saying "will we have any opportunity to integrate technology into our assessments? I need it for my computer class". Some of them were actually pretty upset, as if we were sitting in judgement. So, what was originally another assessment opportunity, became a "take the time if you need it..we'll be here to help."

Incorporating Language: The focus on #digcit and NETS-S, while there from the inception, was not an explicit part of the language of the classroom until late in the semester. It felt tacked on to the project by some students and took more discussion than necessary to draw the themes through all the previous work after the fact.

Reflections: Increasing the number of formal check-ins (written) as part of the ongoing reflection might help improve the overall quality of work. What was fascinating was that, as expected, some students were aiming for the minimum quality to get X-grade. But since there was no real clear rubric (beyond -- enrich what you have done previously, connect it to a standard you care about, be excellent) then the students kept tweaking and improving based on the quality of work they were seeing from other in the room. Some projects were completed very early but went through three or four informal drafts!

Adaptation and Struggle: There is some struggle with time and...well...struggle. It is not uncommon in this environment for students to hit roadblocks and the need to walk away, do more research, talk through the issue. For someone used to working in technology or any environment that is not mechanical repetition, this is the essence of value. But our students don't know that. As one student put it in her final reflection:
"I would have taken more time to outline how I was going to make the game. I had a lot of "malfunctions" throughout that it took me a little while to figure out what the problem was and then how to fix it. If I had planned better and worked more in an order some of the problems could have been avoided."
It is difficult to explain to a student who is not used to this environment that the struggle cannot likley be planned away and that the results from it are of a better quality, from a learning perspective, than having an experience with no "malfunctions" at all.

Achievement Unlocked: We needed to build in time to showcase the work of the students who worked right up to the deadline.

In the end, this may have been one of the most useful twelve days of the year. The projects had ownership. The standards were a natural part of the learning process and not an afterthought on an evaluation form. The creativity was inspiring. And all it took was handing control of the class over to a bunch of Freshman.

Creativity = Freedom within Structure*

This final project, created by a student who self-describes as "struggling" with the final project,
uses over 30 photos, some drawing, lots of filters...and a touch of creativity. 

*You should have seen the Final Essay :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crosspost: #Edtech Lingo Bingo with @40ishoracle

Many of you will recall the wildly popular EdLingo Bingo from last year. As you gear up for a tech integration heavy summer of webinars, conferences, and personal reflection on curriculum while bon-bon eating (aren't you glad we get #summersoff), the @40ishoracle and I have you covered. 

Introducing our new-and-improved #Edtech Lingo Bingo (now supporting hashtags). Please use with caution, this analog application will not beep, whistle, or buzz. Use of bingo markers on your #shinypretty is NOT recommended.

JD will have prizes at ISTE and BbWorld for whoever calls out first at a session I am attending.

When High Stakes Testing Comes to Sunday School - A Reflection

Disclaimer: I truly don't think there are any bad guys in this story. Each person, although they have some personality quirks, is a caring individual trying to do his or her best. I am obviously the hero of the tale, but take that with a grain of salt as well...I write the blog.

Once upon a time... ok, this isn't going to work. I am not nearly that creative.

Context - A Pluralistic World of Competing Objectives

No deep thoughts. I just like this cartoon.
Many of you who follow my twitter account know that my three children are affectionately named Prime (the 10 year old), the Undivided Middle (7), and Ender (3). Each year, we wait with baited breath to see what the Sunday morning catechism class will hold in store for us. Each year it is a little different. This year, our downtown parish, about 60-70% Hispanic, was holding the Undivided Middle's COMMUNION class as a mixed language class immediately after the Sunday English services.

Having discussed issues of language and culture in a mixed ethnic parish before, I knew that it was important to our parish priest to have more opportunities to have the two different parish populations have more experiences together.

OBJECTIVE 1 (PARISH PRIEST): The English- and Hispanic- speaking parish populations should worship and learn together.

As the class began to meet, a number of concerns began to arise from my perspective as a parent. My daughter described classes as "boring" (never a good sign) with a significant portion of the class presented in a way that she could not understand. Working in schools, I held off judgement and tried to keep the rotor-blades of my every-present helicopter in check.

I did this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I had experienced clashes before with the Director of Sunday school when I was a catechist. As an English-only speaking catechist, it was difficult for me to teach within a bilingual structure. I tended to assist. But my beliefs in education (student-based, deeper understanding, you know, constructive stuff) tended to grate on the nerves of head teachers who preferred a more by-the-book, memory intensive style. I will never forget my shock early in my participation in this  system to discover that if I presented a lesson in English (as a translation to the few Caucasian students), every student in the class, Hispanic and white, understood me. Almost all of the students in the class were English-only or bilingual. So when I went in to discuss this phenomenon with the directors of the program (through translators), I approached it from my basic premise:

OBJECTIVE 2 (ME): The purpose of catechism classes is religious instruction

Boy, was that off base. It was explained to me (by three people no less) that the only opportunity these students (meaning English-speaking bilingual or English-only Hispanic students) had very little opportunity to use their real language out in the world. The whole point of the system in this parish was to teach culture and heritage and give a circumstance for language use outside of the home.

OBJECTIVE 3 (DIRECTOR OF SUNDAY SCHOOL): The class is an opportunity for culture and heritage transfer and language application

Friday, May 18, 2012

Keeping it in Context -- A disjointed rant about getting along, the common core, dreaming big.

One of the things that I absolutely love about my job is that, in its present form, I have the time and the ability to meet with other geeks, #edtechs, and teachers and talk about improving schools for everyone.

I have worked with public and private schools.
I have consulted with large and small corporations.
I have recommended 1:1 chromebooks, and carted laptop models, and my beloved BYOT

In one rare case, I was even asked to help shape a professional development plan for a 1:1 iPad implementation that would be starting in less than 4 months (and to the credit of my previous speech coaches and directors, I did not even crack a smile, let alone say:

I consider this consultation experience educational for me, helpful for others, and part of my mission in life as both an educator and a Jesuit employee (we are meant to serve and work to bring about the greater glory of God, afterall).

So it is somewhat surprising to me when I review some of the twitter #hashtag PD chats that I have participated in and read some of the blogs and news articles and e-mails from THE_Journal's partners that insist there is an absolute right way to do technology -- my favorite of that last group being an email with the subject "BYOT is coming" -- sent to advertise a webinar about centralized control for Apple Tablet roll-outs.

We have let go of one essential part of the educational experience: CONTEXT.

In the Jesuit educational system, everything starts with context. The relationship between the teacher and the student is supposed to mirror the relationship between a spiritual director and someone on a prayerful retreat -- guiding the learner, advising based on the experiences at the moment but ALSO based on the experiences that that are being brought from the outside and from the past.

Context: What has been learned? How does each child learn?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ed Tech Reflections: Invisible Integration - The Challenge of Communicating Progress

from my BYOT partner, the @40ishoracle.

I wandered around the school yesterday looking for shots for our "What BYOT Looks Like" marketing -- It is difficult. The students that are doing the most amazing work, don't look like they are doing "Tech" as it is traditionally viewed.

The #shinypretty is easy to visualize... its the factory model of education with some glowing brushed steel added for effect. Real innovation? well, I'll let her say it. She does it well...

Ed Tech Reflections: Invisible Integration: The Challenge of Communicating Progress:

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To the Clouds! - An Educator's Guide to the New G-drive and Associated Apps

Normally, I am not a person to do product reviews, but enough buzz was being generated and enough people have been asking about how we are looking at it, that I decided it was time to lock myself away for a few days and play with the new Google Drive...

To be fair, it was also an excuse to geek out and avoid thinking about a "long range plan for technology" which in my world is the equivalent of tossing a 20-sided die into a cup full of tea leaves and hoping that the result looks plausible.

The Google Drive:

What is it?
How does it compare?
Why use it?

What it is:

The Google Drive is the long-rumored (it was in secret beta a few years ago and caused quite a bit of excitement) cloud-based storage provided by Google. For the last few months, we have known that it would be similar to other cloud based systems -- a certain amount of storage for free, additional storage available for more money. We assumed (correctly) that it would have some way to easily move any type of file from a traditional desktop to the cloud and back. We assumed (also correct) that it would be linked to Google Docs, the cloud based productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets, etc).

The details are these: it is 5 GB of free space that can be tied to you gmail account. If you are an Apps-for-Education partner, your administrator has to flip a switch (for now) to allow the service to activate, although this should become part of the regular service as the drive is phased in.

Gdocs meets Gdrive
It is a replacement for Google Docs, in that all of your "Docs" are now stored in the Drive which looks very similar. There is more of a traditional drive feel to it with folders at the top (when sorted by Title), and the traditional "Create" and "Upload" buttons to the left, along with a folder tree, some quicksorts and the "DOWNLOAD GOOGLE DRIVE" Button.

The Google Drive download puts a file folder on your Mac or PC that allows you to treat your G-Drive in the same way that you do with traditional file folders. It becomes a quick way to save in the file system and docs that you click on from the traditional folder open in native applications or their Gdoc-in-the-browser window. Syncing happens in the background and is relatively seamless. (note: if you are a Google Cloud Connect user, documents that are synced using THAT product are ignored by G-Drive syncing. I actually uninstalled the cloud connect so that G-Drive could take over completely). There is also an app for Android (it is the replacement of the Gdocs app if you have it installed already and one is in the works for iOS, giving you syncing in all the ways you would need except one (more later).

(comparisons and google apps after the break)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Attempting to Teach Digital Citizens about PLNs, Teaching the (non)Controversy part III

This was originally going to be a blog about how kids communicate based on my reflections of the last two weeks of the #BYOTchat (Thursdays 9pm...where all the cool educators hangout).

I was going to talk about the increase in students using twitter over facebook. How a huge factor in this seems to be the adoption of facebook by the students' parents. This was going to branch into a decision making matrix about distinguishing when we are trying to reach out to kids (in which case, be where they are) from when we are teaching kids to be attentive to their communications responsibilities (in which case, set the expectation and don't coddle). I would have concluded with some tangent about developing social media policies for schools that respects the privacy of teachers but encourages interaction with students.

This will not be that blog. Instead...

Teaching the (non)Controversy, Revisited

Note: this is part three, but can be read without the other two. Of course, if you want the whole picture...

In part one of Teaching the Controversy, I discussed the big picture idea of how our modern system with infowhelm and a dissolution of the forces that shape the Marketplace of Ideas is making it more difficult to determine truth and accurate information.

In part two, we analyzed how this impacts today's students and how creating assignments which embrace controversy might help us build the tools of critical analysis and discernment in students that a) they lack and b) desperately need.

I thought that would probably be the end of the discussion (for the time being).

[Interlude One]

One of the assignments I give in the last month of the #digcit class is a weekly analysis of a technology article. This analysis serves two functions: first, it allows students some exposure to current trends in technology that interests them. Second, students are challenged to identify a claim made by the article and analyze the evidence (or lack thereof) given to prove the claim.

.02% is really small
One of my students chose Twitter's response to the leaked twitter passwords picked up by a number of news agencies last week. In his summary, he challenged the claim that "it was not a big deal" because out of 60,000 leaked passwords, 20,000 were duplicates. He pointed out that twitter was concerned with 20-30,000 accounts when they should actually be worried about 40,000.

In the class discussion, we were able to use this example to point out a few things:
  1. The source article that was cited was not very well written. It skipped a lot of information from the original Twitter talking points. (note: you would only know this if you did some digging).
  2. In terms of significance, the difference between 20,000 accounts and 60,000 accounts when there are 140 million active users, is probably not enough to sway an opinion change one way or another.
At that point, another student asked why I was critical of the information from the article...enough so that I went digging for the full statement. The answer, surprised even me: "They [the writers on that particular site] are not the best journalists -- I only use that site for product reviews...so i just assumed something was off"
[End Interlude]

Think of these levels of information analysis nuance that have to be taught to understand this:
  • Don't believe everything you read at face value -
    We teach that. Check
  • Even if that source is credible by every measure you have been taught -
    Check? (said with hesitation)
  • Understand that an expert in one sub-section of a topic might not be an expert in another -
    hmm. we don't teach that as much
  • Evaluate all the facts from multiple sources from different points of view to determine the significance of the problem -- go beyond just the ability to explain the situation -
    That is getting really nit-picky. These are freshman. There are only so many hours in the day...

The New Authoritative Source: Personal Learning Network

At this point, I went into full-on Jesuit educator mode and asked the students to put away their phones and do some reflection (this is common practice, so they did it with a minimum amount of eye-rolling):

  • What are the three sources of information that you rely on most?
  • What are the next 5 sources of information that you use? (can you name eight sources of trusted information? my students struggled)
  • What are the distinguishing characteristics that makes you put something or someone in your top 3, not your next 5?

After a few minutes we began to discuss. Some quick hit answers:
"I don't think that I have that many"
"I don't know why I trust them. I just do"
"I think it is because they say some things that I already know is true, so I believe other things"
"I like them"

At this juncture, I gave them the term "Personal Learning Network". For the purposes of the discussion, I am thinking of a PLN as any source that you believe prima facie (at first glance) unless proven otherwise -- A trusted person, agency, source.

One student volunteered to be our class case study. He explained that his most trusted source was trusted in large part because he felt they spoke about things that he felt strongly were true (similar worldview). He contrasted it with other competing sources that he felt were very biased. When pressed, he acknowledged that this bias was not scientifically determined, but a general feeling of unfairness that was confirmed by others.

If our most trusted sources are chosen in part, because they reinforce the ideas that we already have and we are likely to suspect data that comes from a source outside of our PLN, particularly if they have a different worldview, then how hard is it to change our minds about something we feel strongly about?

"It would be very difficult", our case-study student responded.
"They will just keep telling you things you want to hear."
"It would be impossible. How could you do it at all?"

It's Baaaack...
[Interlude Two]

Student 1: Is that why there are still people who believe the Earth is flat?

Teacher: Can your prove otherwise? I can only think of one way and I don't have an eclipse handy.

Student 2: It's what we were taught. There is something about the Coriolis effect.

Student 3: Well, most of us know it because we learned it in school. So teachers are part of our PLN?

Student 4: Do all teachers have to be a part of your PLN? As a group? Or do we pick and choose?

[End Interlude]

Human Development, Learning Networks, and Infowhelm

If you have read the previous two posts, I won't bore you by going into details. We had a robust discussion about how we live in a world that is set up to force their to be two sides to everything, even when it is really unnecessary, and how that becomes the source of fact for particular worldviews. From there:

The thoughts and feelings that help shape our
PLN may happen when we are very young

  • We talked about how the sources we choose to trust come from thoughts and feelings that may be developed before we even know what research or bias is.
  • We talked about distinguishing fact from opinion.
  • We talked some more about distorting facts and pseudo-controversies.
  • We talked about how most of the facts we know come to us second or third hand, from school, from our PLN, from Wikipedia.
  • We talked about how boring and difficult Peer-Reviewed journals are to read, even if you can access them.

...and then the bell rang.

One of my students stalled as the others shuffled out the room, more thoughtful than usual on a Friday afternoon. "So what is the answer? How do we solve this problem?"

  • I thought the answer could have something to do with an awareness of self - how we filter information and the blinders that we put on as part of human nature's way of dealing with the chaos of input.
  • I thought the answer might lie partly in making the conscious choice to include people in our PLN whom we respected but with whom we often disagreed.
  • I thought the answer definitely entailed developing new skills that included critical reading and rapid/regular crosschecking of facts.

"I don't know," I said, "but I think the topic is an important one, particularly as more and more information is thrown at you on a daily basis.

"You should teach this to the class next year"

Indeed. We all should.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Digital Trojan Horse: Changing the Classroom through Technology

Psst. This Blog post is a secret. Don't tell anyone.

Scalzi's Agent to the Stars
I just finished reading John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars (ok, listening to the @wilw narration -- he is good!). In this sci-fi book, a Hollywood agent must devise a way to introduce an alien race to humanity. One of the concepts that comes up early in the book (trying to avoid spoilers) is the "Trojan Horse" -- Get people thinking about one thing, and give them something even bigger at the same time.

I think that is what technology is doing to education.

One of the common questions that we get as we have announced and begun implementing the 1:1 BYOT model for Brebeuf Jesuit has been more-or-less the "Why didn't you just get them all iPads?" question.

There are a lot of reasons for this question:
  • They are the shiny pretty
  • Two of our direct competitors have announced fall iPad programs along with a number of our feeders
  • The mantra of consistency and efficiency (I have covered this previously) on the network
  • The simple story -- I have talked a lot with our marketing people. The Indianapolis Business Journal, picked up our competitor's iPad press release and left our BYOT announcement sitting in the bin.
It is easy to picture an iPad rollout. students sit in rows with a silver square on their desk where paper, pencil, and a textbook used to be. It is even easier to visualize because it has been reinforced by millions of dollars in marketing. (note: this is not how the rollout HAS to be, but how most could picture it)

BYOT is not simple.

What Google and Apple put together, let no classroom put assunder
For years, students in science have been taken through the demonstrative motions of science, working with partners or in groups to perform the same experiment, using the same equipment, filling out the same lab reports. -- It's no wonder that the collective Department's of Education are ready to let robots take a stab and grading.

Now take a moment to imagine a BYOT lab...seriously, try this one out.

You still have students.
They are still working in groups.
But each group is a little different.

Let's look at one table:

  • One student takes pictures (phone), 
  • another plays back recorded video of the prep lab (another phone), 
  • student three researches some of the terminology since the numbers don't seem to be matching the predicted outcome (tablet), 
  • that outcome was measured by student four (PC laptop w/ a Vernier probe). 
  • Each student shares the results of this information (dropbox, or gdrive, or a USB key) and the group writes a report (on a Macbook).
[End Interlude]

In some ways, BYOT is exactly what we have been saying: We are shifting the tool the choice of tool from the teacher (or more likely the IT department with some input from a few teachers or administrators) to the students. This allows students to work on the tools which they are most comfortable. It frees educators to focus on the content and skills of their discipline instead of specific programs and buttons.

But, in other ways, BYOT is a Trojan Horse:

What BYOT Looks Like

  • Increased critical assessment
  • Increased problem solving in a real-world environment
  • Increased opportunity to make decisions about one's own education

Students in a BYOT environment are encouraged to be more critical consumers of applications, of information sources, of tools, and of the content they are being given. They want to know what the value of a particular program is going to be in their world, particularly if they have already mastered the method or task another way. As I write this, a fellow Jesuit CIO just posted to our forum a question about cloud storage and cloud tools -- how do we choose which one to use? -- We don't, the teachers and students do.

Students in a BYOT environment share their experiences in a way that is much more natural. They compare problem solving strategies, think through barriers, and do not hesitate to jump to another app/program/hardware if it will be more efficient or give a better experience. -- I enjoy watching Android, Mac, PC, iOS, and Chromium users discuss "how to do this" and share ideas and collaborate. It is actually more fun than teasing the iOS users about the data-sharing limitations of their operating system.

Students in a BYOT environment are forced to choose between the easy-way-out (google it, use the calc app, open the shared notes) and the more difficult route (use google to answer the facts, but reflect on the information to draw inferences; master the technique before letting the calculator solve the problem; contribute to the shared notes with unique insights drawn from your interpretation).

Classroom Impact: Here there be Monsters

Because of these changes, professional development becomes the key. It is not professional development in the push-button sense or to force teachers to develop X amount of "integrated lessons" to guarantee some arbitrary minimum of student computing seat time. It is conversation and reflection. It is returning to learning objectives. It is separating the learning from the assignment-clocking. -- It is pedagogy. It is curriculum.

It's a Trojan Horse.

With access to so many tools and so many "quick solutions", teachers have to rethink assessments and lessons to maximize this new environment. I think this happens in most 1:1 implementations, but when you are in a command-and-control environment (lock down those tablets, control which apps are deployed), it is easier to make the technology (and students) bend to the will of the educator without much change.

As we have been working with teachers on professional development (@40ishoracle's BYOT Bootcamps), the discussion with teachers have been amazing:
  • Teachers have been talking about leveraging the information at student's hands to reduce the amount of direct instruction and lecture. 
  • Other teacher's are taking advantage of the consumption capability to offload content to the "homework" time so that the classroom time can be maximized (increased collaboration, increased one-to-one time with teacher and student, increased individualization -- #flipclass)
  • Assessments are becoming more open as the teachers and students identify different ways to demonstrate student based objectives. This increased choice is influencing the types of skills that are being pursued by students -- in our Digital Citizenship class, I have one student who has spent more time, effort, and brainpower mastering motion-paths as a part of presentation technology than i could have ever required...and he is enjoying it.
  • The advantages of Digital Textbooks (ubiquitous access, quick lookup, notation) are becoming a part of the conversation in the classroom and among teachers instead of as a new thing that publishers showcase.
These conversations happen to some extent in all schools. The best schools have an environment that encourages collaboration among professionals, regular reflection on the skills and content taught, and an ability to integrate the trends of the wider world into the life of the school.

BYOT facilitates this change.

...but don't tell anybody. It's a secret.

Special thanks to John T. Spencer. His most recent blog shaped how this post developed and his posts on twitter shape how I think of education in general.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What BYOT Looks Like: Computer Science Workflow

If you want to see more of these, click on the Pinterest board to the side (or on the pic). I just really liked this one. It was created using @aviary and Google drive and drawing entirely on a Chromebook #nothingbutweb

Source: Uploaded by user via JD on Pinterest

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why I want to be a VIP BbWorld Blogger.

I absolutely cannot decide how tongue-in-cheek to make this blog entry (see reason #3), but I am always up for a challenge, so let's do this.

Top Ten Reasons I want to be a BBWorld Blogger- An Exercise is Selling Out for a Purpose

Ego: I love writing about tools that can be used in the classroom (heck, I even have Klout and Kred in tools and educational technology, so you know - kind of a big deal). Since Blackboard now owns like 90% of the LMS market through acquisitions, this is the place to be. I can speak to the efforts that Blackboard is making in being crossplatform, promoting student empowerment, reaching out to the open source community (go MoodleRooms!), etc.

One Desk - Three OS. Let's do this.
Cross-Platform: Brebeuf Jesuit is a 1:1 Bring Your Own Technology school that supports 5 different operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and Chromium. I will be carrying a minimum of three of those operating systems with me (ok, @40ishoracle is carrying iOS - don't get me started). If you want a full analysis on cloud tools and how it works cross-platform, I am the blogger that you want reviewing you. #byotchat will be watching :)

Competition: The @40ishoracle got her trip paid for since she was the one officially asked to present and I feel a little left out -- and really, who wants to see the fat, hairy guy cry?

Integrating Technology: Avoid Being Derailed by the Details

As my regular Teach-Geek and Tech-Geek readers know, I spend a lot of my time ranting about the big issues of technology and education today. However, in a change of pace (and to keep up with @40ishoracle who just killed it with her shiny-pretty post today), today i want to talk about the little things.

[Interlude - Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on?]

Anyone who has worked the level one helpdesk in tech has had the experience where one simple thing has caused so much frustration (In fact, the phrase "did you turn it off and turn it back on" made famous by The IT Crowd is a result of the tendency for restarts to wipe out a lot of user faux pas).

An example:
A relatively tech saavy user comes into the office clearly frustrated. "I usually keep my laptop plugged into the network because someone told me it was faster."

[this line is usually said in a complex tone that implies a) they are dubious that this is true and b) in saying this, they want to convey a level of tech knowledge that says "don't you dare laugh at me"]

"Now I am unplugged and my laptop wont connect at all!"

A quick glance at the screen shows that the wireless card was disabled and a quicker look around the computer locates the swtich on the front of the machine. Click-and-done (wish all tech problems were this easy). The user thanks the tech in that way that says a) I am grateful, b) why is technology so annoying, and c) if you tell anyone about this, I will end you.

And at the risk of suffering that ending at the hands of a vengeful user, I think that this issue, common to hardware techs, lies at the heart of a large issue in Educational Technology today: Being Derailed by the Little Things.

This user was stuck. There would be no surfing, no collaborating in Google docs, no lolCats. And yet the problem had a very easy fix if you knew where to look.

[End Interlude]

For the last 6 months, as we have been rolling out the BYOT program at Brebeuf Jesuit (a two year preparation), I have been struck by the lack of push back. I wasn't expecting the IT-stuffies to be burned Wizards-and-Glass Style around a Charyou Tree, but I figured there would be more than we got.

There wasn't. With one notable and respected exception, most people went with the flow. They got the major concept and idea behind BYOT.

But there were lots of little questions. -- And answering those little questions might be the key to any successful #edtech implementation.

[Interlude - The Kindle Question]

One of our top-tech users was in our Teacher Resource Room the other day (we use the wafting smell of coffee to draw them in). She was completely enthused about the BYOT model and had plans for student note-taking, cloud based podcasting, and, of course, writing papers. But she was hesitant about eTextbooks -- very hesitant.

The number one issue? how will i get them on the same page when we are discussing? Without page numbers, it will be chaos. For those of you who have been looking at or implementing eTexts, you know the stock answer:

  1. most eTexts preserve the page numbers in some way, even if the text is reflowed for the screen size.
  2. most students can quickly click a search bar and type in three words to get to the exact page.

"Students, I want to start the discussion on chapter 5. keyword 'exquisite little creature'" (no-prize if you name the book in the comments section)
[End Interlude]

It was a relatively minor concern that had an easy answer. But it was a roadblock to this user adopting technology or even letting that technology be used regularly in the classroom. These little questions become mental firewalls that can shutdown being open to possibilities. Even worse, unlike big issues (how are you going to pay for this? do you have the infrastructure ready?), you will often not know these issues exist in anyone's mind until they tell you.

5 Tips to avoid being derailed by the little things:

Create an Environment where it is acceptable and encouraged to ask questions

Self-selected Titles: a new trend
Nobody wants to feel like their questions are unimportant and no one likes to be dismissed out of hand. The IT Crowd is funny because it takes an amazing "Relationship Manager" to teach the geeks to talk to the norms (incidentally, @40ishoracle has a nameplate on her desk that says "Relationship Manager" -- and she's a redhead...and named Jen).

A person's legitimate concern, whether it is how to integrate a piece of student-technology into the classflow or how to reconnect wireless is a real and troubling to them until it is resolved. One of the first presentations we created was "Bridging the gap between Tech-Geek and Teach-Geek." One of the main points: make the users feel comfortable to ask questions. This is even more important when integrating technology.

Know the Context of the User: The 20-60-20 Rule

We follow a general rule called 20-60-20. Twenty percent of the people are on-board with you as soon as you announce. They may have questions but are actively ready for the solution.

Twenty percent of the people will not be convinced by you. For them, the questions are asked to poke holes in the proposal and either force you to give up or to convince others its a bad idea. These are some of the best people to talk to, because if you can address their concerns, you will have just about everything covered. But just because you have the answer, does NOT mean you will convince them in particular. They will come on board eventually, but not due to your charisma or encyclopedic knowledge.

The other 60% are waiting to see if you have answers and what other people will think. They want to be treated with respect, have their questions answered, and know that there will be support for them when they need it. 

A tip about FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions are great. They keep us from forgetting the answers that we have already come up with and give us a resource to reference. When answering a question, ANSWER THE QUESTION and follow up with the FAQ. Do not lead with "have your read the FAQ?" -- I've been bitten by that one.

Be Honest When You Don't Have the Answer:
Copyright 2006 by Sidney Harris

Because we are talking about the little things, it is likely that someone will stump you. That isn't the end of the world. Legitimately saying that you do not have the answer isn't failure. It is an invitation to converse. Clearly describe the problem or question back. Brainstorm together what some solutions will be. Find someone to be a test case. Get feedback. The person who sees you at your most vulnerable and helps solve the problem is your ally for life.

All Answers are New Answers to People Who Haven't Heard Them:

I have answered the "what if student's run out of power/forget their device/break it/lose it" question in the triple digits -- from students, teachers, and administrators. It has been asked in a panic. It has been asked with a "I have got you now" kind of snark. It has been asked in a box. It has been asked with a fox.

(The answer? multiple chromebooks in each department center for grab-and-go productivity. Short term loan-out backstock for students who need replacement or repair time -- about 10% of student population)

But each time a person asks the question, it is new-to-them. Respect it. Answer it. Move on.

Believe in the Silent Majority

There are days when I have been answering questions for the umpteenth time and feel despondent. It takes someone to remind me that, when considering the population of our school, we have received less than one-tenth of one percent negative feedback. And our "I have a question" rate is below 5%. The majority of people are positive (or apathetic). -- They just aren't the ones dressing you down in the parking lot. :)

In education technology, the devil is absolutely in the details. Those details are real and important. They are mystical and frustrating for users who do not spend their life immersed in code the is sensitive to misplaced semi-colons. Our job is to have answers at the ready and have an environment that can invite and work on those answers when they aren't within reach of our FAQ. As with all great classroom movements, its about the environment, the relationships, and the little things.

May the Fourth be with you. Happy #starwars day!