Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When it is OK to say "NO" - An Twitter-based #edtech Reflection about IWBs

Today's post comes out of a conversation that happened out of a twitter chat that caused me to do a lot of reflection on whether or not my responses were a) appropriate or b) contradictory to many of the "Rules" that I laid out in my post from a few weeks ago (note: "10 Rules for a Successful #Edtech Department that have Little to do with Technology" is now the 3rd most popular post on this blog all-time -- thx)

Context: How Twitter Got me to this Topic
The premise put forth by @edtechempowers (Educational Researcher in Canada and great conversationalist), originally posted this comment:
Through the course of our conversation, it became apparent, that while he and I agreed about a number of things in the use of technology and the running of an IT department, he had little context for a technology department that is build around student learning, school mission, and teacher support.
This discussion continued the next day, as we outlined the difference between a collaborative tech department vs. one which is adversarial:

Again, the conversation was more about a frame of reference for a different kind of technology program than a fundamental disagreement about technology or programs. Where the discussion got interesting was when we talked about specific tools and the role of IT in determining use.

Then we started talking about SMARTBoards...


A Topic for Discussion -- The Interactive White Board (IWB)
Many of you know that I am not a huge fan of Interactive White Boards

I was given a whiteboard in my second year of teaching and had a blast discovering interesting ways to use it (my favorite was using the interactive pens to show specific cinematography choices while deconstructing Shakespeare movies).

When I became the Head Geek of Brebeuf Jesuit, I was in favor of installing IWBs as part of our build-out. We hedged our bets a little by only putting the boards in 1/3 of the classrooms -- technology moves so fast that we didn't want all our technological eggs in one basket.

We put forth a lot of training efforts -- more traditional than our flexible model now -- but with a lot of teaming opportunities, modeling of creative ways to implement, and idea sharing.

One year later, while generally disappointed in implementation  we approved a SMARTBoard-in-every-math-room proposal to respond to competition and because of the use-case presented by the teachers. After two years of training, implementation, and reflection we found that:
  • The most common use for a SMARTBOARD was as a screen.
  • The most common "interactive" use for a SMARTBOARD was as a mouse.
  • The most common response after "do not use" regarding the digital "markers" was "I occasionally circle or underline something" (A common reason written in for why it was not used more was "I just forget")
  • There was little use of screen-shading, use of SMARTNotebook or other templates, or any features that would make it a more student-centered activity.
We finally determined that there were two teachers effectively using the SMARTBoard: one teacher had converted most lectures to a SMART format that would allow the teacher (and in some cases, students) to fill in sample problems using the inking feature and another teacher had a variety of student-based activities including puzzles, word searches, "races" etc.

After another attempt to "spread the word" on these techniques and offer more individualized PD, we as an IT department made the preliminary decision to quit buying Interactive Whiteboards. This was discussed with Academic Department chairs and we closed the book.
  • Follow-up 1: Teachers still wanted to be able to provide classroom interactive notes electronically.
    The most common use of our IWB - with Donuts
    and BatMonkey via @40ishoracle
    We found using a pen-based tablet PC, classroom computer, and UltraVNC (free software) adequately did the job -- for less money than a SMARTBoard.
  • Follow-up 2: 2 years later, a teacher commented on a constituent survey regarding the IT department -- "When am I getting MY SMARTBoard?" -- it was anonymous. Communication Fail.
  • Follow-up 3: 4 years later, we purchased an ENO board for our Teacher Resource Room. It is an excellent magnetic whiteboard. Each time we think "ooh. we could use the pen!", the computer has been re-imaged and does not have the software. Now we just take pictures of the board -- like the students.

The Challenge: Is It Ever OK for a Tech Department to Just Say "NO"?
Ouch. Talk about hitting me where it hurts. We are a 1:1 BYOT school. To argue that denying access to an IWB is a violation of our general premise of Access, Evaluate, and Use really caused me to pause. As we begin to gear up for the next capital project, a major renovation of classrooms, were we turning a blind-eye toward technology that could be used because of our bias?

JD's 3 Rules for When It is OK to Say "No"
(with an Two Important Corollaries): 

1. The primary method of evaluating classroom technology should be impact on Student Learning (Secondary, impact on teacher productivity).

When we developed our informal walk-through evaluation system for teachers, we placed a strong focus on "what are the students doing?". The activity of the students: collaborating, note-taking, reflecting, board races, presentations, etc. are one major focus of our environment. We should encourage techniques, tools, and behaviors that enhance student learning and discourage the same when it takes away from learning.

2. The metric for student learning should be informed by the teaching methods, student context, and objectives of the school's mission
School's have personalities that are based in part on the mission and culture of the institution. In a Jesuit school, there is a heavy focus on student-teacher relationship (an understanding of student context, a trusting and caring atmosphere) and the time and space to reflect on new experiences. If a tool or technique does not provide substantive new experiences or new ways for each individual student to reflect, then the tool runs counter to the mission and should not be adopted (it is for this reason that many of our school consultations begin, not with a "state of technology" report but with an analysis of a school's context and mission).

One of our Biology teacher's put it succinctly, "Even if you have a great interactive student-centered lesson for the SMARTBoard, it's still only one student at a time. I need more efficiency in class."

3. Because there are limited resources to buy technology, time to spend with students, and opportunities for learning experiences and reflection, some technology should be discouraged or avoided - even if it "could be good".

Ultimately, decisions have to be made on a global level. Will every classroom have a projector? a document camera? an IWB? a textbook? a computer along the back wall? a tablet in each student's hand?

Once decisions are made about the impact of a particular technology on student-learning within the context of the school's pedagogy and mission, then choices must be made about universal classroom technology. These choices can be upsetting to some teachers, but if the decisions are made out of student-impact and mission, the conversation, while painful can be authentic and even a good thing.

Corollary 1: The Admin Variation -- It is important to understand that the determinations described above are seldom in the realm-of-care of most tech.staff in an IT department. This is the realm of the Principal, the Academic/Curriculum leaders, and the Educational Technology integrators -- that includes teachers! A decision to eliminate a technology tool or to stop pursuing a path should be one of academics in all but the rarest of occasions (I am picturing a bizarre conversation regarding "we need to stop filtering for viruses because of the following academic benefits...")

Corollary 2: The Open-to-Growth Exception -- Decisions made across the board should be open to variations based on effective teaching and student impact. Just as the initial evaluation of a tool is based on the use-case and real data, the unique implementation in a classroom may be an exception to the rule. I have told the two teacher's described above that they will have the last two functional SMARTBoard in the building. They have found an effective use-case that goes beyond the typical implementation of IWB-as-oversized-mouse-for-the-teacher. Their unique use-case justifies technology that may not be used anywhere else in the building.

In the same way that pilot programs can be used to build a case for new technology in a school, an effective IT/Administrative Team will be open to finding the exceptions in policy that allow for an individual teacher to leverage technology effectively in a way that other educators were unable to do.

So there you have it. Even the most open-to-ideas, student/teacher centered program can still reject an idea or tool or technology.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Answering "What's Next?" - Classroom Technology Beyond BYOT (with pictures and bullet-points)

One of the problems with pulling off an important (if small) Educational Technology revolution is the inevitable questions from excited faculty, students, and trustees: "What's Next?" While the temptation is strong to answer, "reading some comic books and 3-starring every level of Angry Birds", that is not acceptable and probably not good for student learning.

Thus, we began to embark on our next level of technology integration: What should a classroom look like in a BYOT environment.

We began in similar fashion to what eventually became our 1:1 BYOT solution -- we asked the teachers and students:

1. What is the most frustrating thing about teaching and learning in your classroom right now?
2. What would make you a more effective educator if we gave it to you next year?
3. What would the ideal learning environment look like?

And boy did we get answers!

Whether it was from teacher-teacher or from activity-to-activity, teachers wanted the ability to change the layout of a classroom quickly, without a lot of effort. This came from Social Studies (Harkness table configuration with Primary Source discussion), World Language (quick changes from pairing to small groups to teacher-centered instruction and back again within the same period), to Math (we like our rows, but it would be nice if we could get in between them faster without tripping over bags -- you have to stay mobile when ever kid has a device).

While the standardized testing advocates get a giddy little thrill every time they release a document that pretends learning is an isolated experience between the student and the electronic equivalent of a bubble sheet, learning is about engagement -- engagement with material, engagement with the teacher, engagement with each other. Teachers and students alike wanted a classroom where collaboration did not feel like a tacked-on after thought.

Space to Write, Tools to Share
Who needs an Interactive Whiteboard? Just give us colors!
After flexibility, the number one request was MORE WHITEBOARD SPACE. Three walls, paint the walls with whiteboard paint, get individual boards around the room. -- It was really a dream come true for a whiteboard aficionado like myself (totally had to look up that spelling).

As teachers begin to move from experience to reflection, sometimes the process of sharing that reflection is best written down where others can see (Think-Pair-Share and Gallery Walks are good examples of this). As the front of the classroom diminishes and students take more ownership in the classroom, a natural outgrowth of this is the need for more surface area capable of capturing ideas.

...and then there is technology
Ever try to have a beyond 1:1 discussion about technology with the interwebs? It is NOT pretty. It quickly degenerates into camps based on Android or iOS, or it becomes "Walls? Where we're going, we don't need walls!" from the blended-distance learning camps.

So here is our context:
  • We already start with learning objectives and student engagement in mind. Technology is a tool that gets us to stronger relationships, better (read more authentic) experiences, and opportunities to engage in personal and collaborative reflection (what Jesuits call LEARNING).
  • We already have a device in each student's hands and the device is one that they chose based on personal experience, reflection, and context.
  • We are working to create a learning environment that is flexible and student centered, focusing on the learning activities that maximize our mission and pedagogy.
Our thoughts so far:

  • Maximize flexibility and sharing with Multiple Displays and Student Device Connections
  • Create simple control systems that allow teachers and student to quickly do what they want
  • When possible, hide wires and connections and make the systems tamper-proof
  • Use Document Cameras and Classroom Recording technology to make access to notes and activities flexible in time and space.
  • Even when items must be fixed for electricity or network, give a teacher the option to clear the space for other activities

Our Teacher Resrouce Room -
Brainstorming Central
Over the next few weeks, teachers will begin to give feedback on the tools that they would like to see in their classroom and we will begin the process of designing our next generation BYOT classrooms. Feel free to peruse the document below. We will be hanging it in our Teacher Resource Center for discussion and feedback and finalizing the look and feel of our next iteration of the classroom.

  • What did we miss?
  • What do you like?
  • What will transform teaching and learning in your classroom AFTER you are 1:1?
  • What are the goals that you have in mind when considering classroom technology?

Feel free to leave comments down below or on social media. We appreciate the feedback and will use it in our decision making process (which the Jesuits call Discernment - they have a word for EVERYTHING)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gadget talk: A Windows 8 Tablet Review - an #edtech perspective

One of the basic things that the IT department has to do at our school is play with toys (yay!). Since we are a 1:1 BYOT school, we are often testing devices to see a) how well they work in our environment (the network, the classrooms, etc.), b) whether they are worth recommending to partents, and c) what we need to know when there are problems.

My latest test was the ASUS VivoTab SMART. I first saw this tablet at #FETC13 and was very intrigued with it for a number of reasons:

VivoTab SMART w/ Transleeve Keyboard

  1. Full Windows 8 - none of the RT Only stuff*
  2. Really thin and light - made my ASUS Transformer Prime seem a bit heavy
  3. I'm a fan of the ASUS Brand - My favorite miniTab is my nexus 7 (which i carry around regularly despite having a Galaxy Note "phablet") and the aforementioned Transformer Prime (which i dutifully carried around before realizing that I only used it to read comic books).
  4. The 64gb version of the tablet comes in under 500 dollars. the Transleeve keyboard and cover add an additional $125. So for a little more than an iPad you get a full windows computer, in a tablet, with a keyboard -- color me intrigued (it's kind of a dusty purple color).
* Ok, for the non-geeks out there. Windows 8 comes in two (ok, three) flavors. The full version of Windows 8 has the familiar desktop and apps but ALSO has a tablet-style interface which is called RT. There are also tablets that strip out the Windows Desktop portion and only have the tablet stylings and tablet-specific Apps. These are RT tablets. -- To be continued

Origami folding cover w/ incredibly thin bluetooth keybaord
Since I am not yet famous enough to have companies throwing their wares at me for review (what is UP with that?), I had to find one on my own. As is the case with most ASUS products, finding the device proved simpler than finding the Keyboard/Cover combination that makes this unit really appealing. Once I had the product in hand, I put away my beloved Samsung Chromebook and dedicated myself to using the VivoTab as my primary device for four weeks. I made it about 3.

Rather than give a lengthy play-by-play review of Window 8, the interface, the hardware, etc., I am going to try to keep this focused on a few basic themes that I think will be relevant to educators and other users curious about the Windows 8 tablet environment. 

Windows 8, the RT Interface, Oh My
A new "Start"  interface for selecting programs
There has been a lot written about the confusion that is inevitable with the Windows Desktop vs. the Windows RT environment. How will normal human beings every be able to cope? We have a number of our teachers who have requested the Windows 8 upgrade and, I am pleased to report, learning is still taking place.

PD Tip: think of the RT interface as a very fancy START button (this is easy, since one of the ways to access the RT screen is to hold your mouse in the bottom left corner).

From this screen, you can access a variety of Apps and a market place to add more. Some of them, such as the People App, Photo App, and the Mail App are live tiles that rotate with updates of recent posts, pictures, subjects. All of these apps tie-in with major email programs and social networks. In addition to the apps on the RT side, you can create shortcuts for frequent websites and buttons for frequently used programs (I made a group of tiles for the full MS Office, a tile for tweetdeck, etc.)

A press of the desktop app and you are at a classic windows screen complete with file folders, "my documents", all the classic programs, etc. 

The "Killer" Feature: It's Windows - Full Windows - On a Tablet
I cannot stress this enough. You have a full version of Windows. In a package that is as light and portable as a tablet. Need to screencast using camtasia? - you can. Need a heavy duty word processor? - it can be installed. The first night I was using the computer I was getting ready for a hashtag chat and realized that I hadn't looked for a decent twitter app yet. "Oh. Wait. I can just install Tweetdeck!" 

Having worked with students in our 1:1 BYOT environment for almost a year now, the strongest cases of buyer's remorse come from tablet users who love the design but want more power, fuller programs, etc. As I look to the future, I am somewhat reminded of the early days of netbooks. While netbooks started with Linux and Android, and custom software, eventually, Windows became the dominant operating system. There is just something about a full-feature OS that is part of a regular workflow, be it for a student or teacher. Add to this the ability to break out of an app walled-garden and install full versions of software and you have a lot of potential. I saw jaws drop when teachers noticed that i was taking attendance on our windows-only web-based gradebook from a tablet.

...But it's a Tablet - A very early Tablet
There is an incubation period with all tablets. When the iPad debuted, it was months before people really started to figure out what to do with the real-estate. When I bought my first Android phone (a Nextel phone that was still using Cupcake while all of my friends were eating Froyo). I remember thinking that it had 80% of what I was looking for on a phone but was nowhere near the maturity that I had imagined.

A big finger must for non-touch apps
Switching from a Nexus 7 (running Jellybean) to the Windows RT side, I am forced back into the nascent incubation stage where developers and manufacturer are waiting to see if the product is worth the investment.

Up until last week, there was no Twitter app for the Windows RT side of the tablet. While it was wonderful being able to install tweetdeck, the interface is not optimized for touch. This meant either using the keyboard (not bad for chats, but annoying for quick tweets) or constantly trying to use my finger to scroll up by aiming for that way-too-thin scroll bar (it was frustrating enough that I bought a Wacom Bamboo pen - that is a handy little device).

I was constantly running into things that were either not-ready-for-primetime (the evernote app, while present has a very constrained feel compared to the more mature apps on the other mobile platforms) or non-existent (a quick photo editor, messenger app such as gtalk or Kik, Instagram, Pinterest, good RSS reader, etc.). Some of this is a result of market issues - Google is playing coy with the interface, creating a search app and a chrome browser, but not RT versions of other major products. Part of this is the wait-and-see. Regardless, for those used to full feature tablets on either side of the ShinyFruit-CuteRobot divide, they will have some frustration.

Design - It's All about the Use Case
In some ways, everything about the VivoTab that I liked in Florida is absolutely dead-on. It is light and thin and easy to hold and feels very natural in my hand. It is as comfortable as any 10" tablet when I fire up the Comixology App and settle in to see how Batman reacts to the death of Robin (spoiler alert: not well).

There is not comfortable way to do this
But the devil, particularly in design, is in the details. A primary use case for me is to take notes and live-tweet during presentations, keynotes, meetings, etc. I can comfortably do this on my chromebook and on my transformer prime. It is nearly impossible for me to do this comfortably on the VivoTab. There is a minimum amount of surface area required for a device to rest comfortably on a lap. The Microsoft Surface pulls this off by using a kickstand and a magnetic attachment to the keyboard (we tried it, MS naysayers). Because the VivoTab keyboard does not attach to the device, you have very little surface area with which to work. So you end up using the onscreen keyboard (which is not bad, but its no SwiftKey) or you end up with some awkward positioning (see photo).

My best #FETC Swag - Avid AE-36
One presumed must-have in a Windows computer is a USB port. I was surprised when I went to start a Google+ Hangout that there is no full USB port, thus no USB headphones and no wireless mouse with micro-USB dongle -- both things that I would have made part of my regular use case. Luckily, my Avid headphones (another #FETC find) worked great by maximizing the Input/Output Combo port work like a charm.

Final Thoughts -- The Race is On
oh so portable. Keyboard
magnetically stored inside cover
I think that many parents and students, given the choice between a mobile tablet OS and the potential of a full-function machine will find full-Windows 8 tablets very appealing. While they will have to be careful to think through design and power choices (for example, ASUS is about to release a larger VivoTab that will have a high-res screen, a keyboard identical to the Transformer (with spare battery and full attachment), and a digitzing stylus to boot, there is something very appealing about having one device that does it all.

But essential to the tablet experience will be the tablet-side of the OS, namely RT. While it is wonderful to be able to open a full OS and have programs on there that I cannot access in iOS or Android, sometimes a user just wants a tablet...and a tablet is only as good as its apps. All too often, there are no results or, even worse, 3rd party crap-ware that claims to do that which it does not do (there are SO many "instragram viewers" that just link to the website). Without a satisfying tablet experience (particularly as so many people have not had a good app experience from Google&Co. or Apple), the Windows 8 advantage will be overshadowed by dissatisfaction.
I started to dread the "no apps" screen

So I see this as a race. Can Microsoft entice developers and upgrade the RT experience fast enough to be comparable with its competitors? If it can, the current "full OS experience" advantage is a huge boost, particularly if the prices stay competitive. But the pressure is on.
  • Because each day, more and more people are realizing that a "tablet" experience, while limited, can fulfill most of their day-to-day needs.
  • Because the ChromeOS experiment is bearing fruit and the winds of change are forecast the merging of ChromeOS with Android (oooh a chromeOS tablet).
  • Because the not-so-hidden cost of a full OS is the price of programs (Office and Camtasia are wonderful, but they are not a $1.99 in the App Store). Consumer realize this.
For schools and educators and students, these products have the potential to be very appealing. But I believe that the current RT/App experience is enough of a drawback that it does not make up for the ultraportability of the form factor.

And if you are curious, I am glad to be back on my Chromebook
(and carrying my nexus 7 for tablet needs).

Have other questions? Different experiences or thoughts? Share them down below or hit me up on social media -- I'm around :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

In Memoriam: Google Reader -- Why This Matters to Digital Citizenship

Note: The top half of this will be about Google Reader -- the best product that few people new about. Feel free to ignore it. The bottom half will tie this product and the philosophy behind it to Digital Citizenship and Information Literacy. If you are a non-tech Educator, skip to the picture of the three girls.

So Long and Thx for all the Well-Organized, Pre-Selected Push News

If you were reading any blogs about...well almost anything or on social media...just about any of them. You probably heard that, as part of its Spring Cleaning Project, Google was putting the nail in the coffin of a service called Google Reader.

The reason that the cry was so loud, in part, is because so many of the non-traditional news sources (blogs, website reporters, active tweeters, etc.) used Google Reader on a daily (and in some cases hourly) basis. The sunsetting of this product will change the way that many of us (myself included) operate as we maneuver through the techno-informatic complex called the modern world.

What is Google Reader?
Google Reader was/is a news aggregator that uses a back end technology called RSS. Many websites, blogs, news agencies have the RSS symbol (seen in the picture) on their site. If you click that button, you will be given the opportunity to "subscribe" to the information on that site. This subscription is collected and available to you in an RSS Reader which can be found on the web or on phones, etc.

The reason the reader was so popular was because it did what it was designed to do very well. It delivered subscriptions in a clean format that could be sorted by subscription or by recency. It synced between online and mobile. It did not inundate the reader with too many advertisements, nor did it get overly complicated with graphics or flashy (or HTML5-y) formatting tricks.

Why Shut It Down?
Google reader (and RSS in general) is a quirky entity on the internet. For those people who use it, it becomes essential. It is a way to quickly filter information because you, as a user, have pre-determined that the content has some value.
This NSFW (language) post went up hours
after the announcement. May be worth a Google.
From a Social Studies teacher: What am I supposed to do? That is how I read all of my blogs. It is how I get new ideas for the class, news to share, commentary. This is miserable. What is next?
From Hitler: What? I am supposed to rely on getting my news from what Stalin retweets? (see photo)
 Conversation with my wife:
+Elizabeth Ferries-Rowe (@wishbabydoc): I don't know what that is
Me: When you wake up in the morning what is the first thing you look at?
+Elizabeth Ferries-Rowe: Facebook.
Me: For me, it is reader. It tells me what happened that was worth knowing overnight.

...and that is ultimately the issue. Google's spring cleaning focuses on eliminating products that don't fit its core mission components -- Search, Social, and ...something else that I am drawing a blank on. Now, it could be argued (and has been on a lot of blogs) that when Google refocused the "Sharing" from a broad choice down to Google+ that their insular vision caused a lot of people to drop the service. It could be argued (and also has been) that this is yet another example of Google backing away from its promise to "not be evil". Some see it as a problem with the Google-as-Free model, offering to pay money toward the service so many rely upon.

I signed the petition, but I don't think it will do much good. Google made its choice. Here is why I think it is the wrong one:

InfoWhelm, #DigCit, and the Need for New Methods of Information Acquisition

The next gen of Digital Learners will need to Find & Filter info
When Brebeuf Jesuit revamped its curriculum from Computer Applications to Digital Citizenship (a move now being adopted, at least in name, by the rest of the State of Indiana #nocredit), one of the areas that was important to consider was research. As we delved deeper into this topic, talking to teachers, interview students, looking at research in our curriculum and expectations of colleges, we realized that this was going to be a significant focus of the new curriculum. As with most of our units, there are a lot of goals that branch to a number of areas, but today I want to focus on three issues we uncovered:

1. Data, Data, Everywhere - In 2010, Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google told an audience at Techonomy that there is more data generated in two days than was produced from the dawn of human history to 2003. IBM notes that 90% of all data available has been created in the last two years alone.

2. Inability for Traditional Filter Mechanisms to Address - Traditionally, people relied on large organizations to filter through the data for reliability, veracity, accuracy, etc. These institutions included the government, academic settings with their peer-review system, and even publishers and editors. But most data is now user generated. Whether it is pictures shared on instagram, tweets of the snark or share variety, or blogs like this one, we publish with no filter.

3. Need for Intelligent Filtering - But at the point that so much data is produced, human beings still have to find a mechanism for sorting through that deluge of information. We need to setup systems and processes that will help us filter that information based on a number of factors, including:

  • Usefulness - does the data help me in my daily life or in achieving long term goals?
  • Accuracy - does the data match my real world experience? Can it be independently verified?
  • Timeliness - is the data relevant now or has the digital ship already sailed?
  • Variety - are there enough different sources of data to avoid falling into traps of confirmation bias or silo thinking?

From a post about setting up RSS filters
These filters are not a part of the natural make-up of a human being. In fact, we are biologically/psychologically programmed to have the opposite reaction to some of this information (we tend to ignore information that does not already fit within our pre-existing belief system; we discount information that goes against immediate bio-feedback).

At the point where we do not have a natural ability to sift through information and the social structures in place are inadequate to the job, we must design new systems. RSS Feeds are one of the most powerful tools for this information-filtering, if the people subscribing do so with deliberation and thought -- and Google Reader was one of the best.

Practically applied -- Teaching Infowhelm and Data Management
It is insanity to expect a student to run through a full cross-referenced search process every time they want to read about a controversial issue or topic of interest to them as an individual or to society at large. But in the age of bias-journalism, government/corporations limiting curriculum to easily testable/gradable items, and infowhelm, students need something to combat the deluge of bad data. Click SUBSCRIBE

As we teach our students the skills of finding accurate, relevant, and useful information, we should also be teaching them a method to collect that data on a regular basis. Once a source has been confirmed useful, it is a source that has a good chance of being useful in the future. Click SUBSCRIBE.

As we teach students to find items that present different viewpoints on the world (by finding sources that go against our natural inclinations, discovering writers and reporters from outside our geographic/cultural bubbles, or by finding snarky bloggers who make our blood boil), we should make those viewpoints part of our daily intake of information, if for no other reason than to know the perspective of those who disagree with us. Click SUBSCRIBE.

Why not Social Media?

Social Media Aggregators serve a different function
In class, we work with our students to have them identify their primary sources of information. A growing number of teenagers cite social media as their number one source of news. But relying on your social media circle has two negative #digcit impacts.

  • First, it adds a layer of choice between the user and the information that is outside the user's control. You are not receiving information because has been pre-screened as reliable or relevant or useful (at least not be you). You are receiving information because it meant some criteria that was relevant to whoever decided to share it. Not good.
  • Second, it is almost guaranteed to lack any form of counter viewpoint since we are not likely to follow/friend those with whom we fundamentally disagree. While we can intellectually view material with which we disagree and evaluate it for truth and accuracy, we don't necessarily want that in our social feed, so we avoid it.
  • Finally, our social feeds are SOCIAL. Although I am a huge advocate for social media for its connective and professional development potential, the use of it as a news aggregator gets diluted by the barrage of snark, hashtags, LOLcats, and Hitler-throwing-a-fit videos.
I am sad to see Google Reader go. I have begun to search for alternatives and have been disappointed in the bells and whistles that have been added, usually in the name of "making it more social" or "adding visual appeal". 

But I am also sad because I think of Google as a partner in the #digcit world. Through gmail, google docs, and drive, they have done a lot to empower the individual and close the gap that the Digital Divide throws at our students (granted at the cost of a little/lot of privacy). When they made this decision, they decided to remove an effective tool against information glut and overload. They decided to separate the core functionality of SEARCH from the parallel human need to SORT. Rather than close down the service, I would have hoped they would have made its use a key part of their educational drive.

So, Thank you, Google Reader. My mornings, mid mornings, early afternoons, just-before-leaving-for-work, standing in line, and late nights won't be the same without you.

(You have a few months left. Go ahead. Click SUBSCRIBE).

Monday, March 11, 2013

#Flipclass in an Ignatian Context

Last week, the @40ishoracle and I along with two teachers got to visit one of our fellow Jesuit schools to talk about creating #edtech friendly environments. The keynote was a hybrid of our "Why we went BYOT" combined with a lot of the reflections from last week's blogpost "10 Rules for an #Edtech Department"

One of the breakout sessions that I was asked to give was on the flipped classroom. I will expand the presentation a little more this week (fill in some of the words that I used), but I have had some requests to post the slides, so here you go.

The presentation was a lightning round break-out (20 minutes total with at least 5 minutes reserved for questions), so the focus of the presentation is the reason to consider #flipclass in a Jesuit school -- namely, how does #flipclass support the Jesuit mission of education.

Elements of Jesuit/Ignatian Pedagogy that I focused on were:

  • Understanding Student Context as an element of education
  • Providing time and space for actual learning experiences (now with teacher availability)
  • Providing time for reflection on that experience as a part of authentic learning
More later...

Note: Information in Pink-Boxes is an attempt to capture the spoken content

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ten Rules for a Successful #edtech program that have little to do with technology

Zooming out to see the big picture:
The @40ishoracle and I have spent a lot of time travelling and talking about BYOT and Digital Citizenship, and professional development techniques (including free coffee, comfy chairs and Twitter chats). In the last few trips, we have been asked to modify some of our presentations to focus on something that we constantly touch, but very seldom present on specifically: How did we get ourselves into the position as a school to be able to do some of the cool things that we have done?

It's an intriguing question, particularly as a school that went 1:1 BYOT but often recommends other solutions for schools based on their mission, school population, infrastructure and student needs. The more I thought about it from the head-geek standpoint, the more I realized that, while there is not one-size-fits all magic device or magic LMS...That doesn't mean that there aren't some nearly universal mindsets that will help a Information Technology department work effectively within a school and in partnership with teachers and students to make learning awesome. Thus, I humbly submit:

JD's Ten (or so) Rules of a Technology Department that have Very Little to DO with Technology!

1. Form Relationships

The six months that I spent at Brebeuf Jesuit was an interesting time for me. I was hired to make significant changes in the way that educational technology was used in the classroom and the school and some administrators were waiting for me to wave the magic wand.

The Teacher Resource Room is one key to keeping the
conversation going about tech and education
They became frustrated because I spent most of my days walking around the school, watching classes, having conversations with teachers. I was learning about the school, its mission, and its people. While this is difficult and draining for severe introvert, it was the key to identifying problems (with the computer networks and the human-communication ones), beginning to plan, and getting people to see what was possible. Ten years later, this basic maxim is still true. The most important network the technology department can have are the teachers who leverage the technology and the students who use it as an extension of their being.

Practically applied: We created a space for teachers to meet, gather and plan called the Teacher Resource Room. We stock it with free coffee, bring in donuts on Thursday, and use it for informal gatherings, idea sharing (the brown-bag lunch), and brainstorming (whiteboards!).

2. Find People and Processes to Bridge the Gaps

This nameplate sits on @40ishoracle's Desk
The most important role in a school that wants to expand its educational technology program is the #edtech coordinator. This role became so vital in our school that when it became time to reorganize the Principal's office the natural person to help with faculty development, evaluation, and curriculum was the #edtech who had been informally doing that job for five years.

The key to the #edtech role is not based on an expansive knowledge of educational gadgetry or lists of links to include on the ubiquitous "Website Wednesday" Newsletter. The best #edtech is an educator who is capable of discussing learning objectives with teachers and then translating those objectives and dreams into concrete work orders that can be understood by techs. They serve as the bridge between two very different types of personalities (for a tongue-in-cheek look at Tech-Geek and Teach-Geek personalities, check out this post).

Practically Applied: Processes can also help to alleviate tensions between the classroom and the technology-cave. One simple method that has immediate impact is a triage system of tech issues that prioritizes classroom issues. If teachers have confidence that issues in the classroom are going to be solved quickly, they are more likely to devote class time to integrate technology.

3. Start with Learning Objectives 
Our BYOT reflections during "Boot Camps" began
with learning objectives, not tools
Want a quick test to see if a the latest cool new thing was designed by teachers or test-them-all advocates? Count the number of minutes before the sales person refers to a practical and specific student-base learning objective. If they generically refer to "personalizing education", "appealing to learning styles", or "providing data driven solutions" then it is likely that this device has never been seen in a regular classroom.

At the #edtech and brainstorming level (note: this means in the TRC, not the tech room :) ), we start almost every conversation with a teacher, "what are you hoping to have your students learn?" -- When the initial focus is on the content or the skills of the students, then it becomes difficult to derail the activity with shiny-pretty smokescreens.

Practically Applied: The grand design for our BYOT initiative started with focus groups of teachers and students: "What would you like to see in your classroom in the next 3-5 years that would transformational to the way students learn and the way you teach?" Questions like these began students and teachers thinking about how the most basic things they do in order to learn.

4. Think of the Use Case
ASUS VivoTab: Full Win 8  w/
SmartSleeve Keyboard, great on table
Similar to starting with learning objectives, we often evaluate new tools or initiatives at the most basic level of Use Case, namely, "how will this be used day-to-day." This seems to particularly apply to large implementations. Rather than being dazzled (or from the teacher point-of-view, overwhelmed) by a piece of technology, run it through paces. This can be done as a mental exercise or ideally as a pilot.

When the test of technology is use-case and not the spec sheet that is provided by vendors, the way the data is interpreted becomes different. The Learning and other
...but a laptop fail

Practically Applied: I spent two weeks playing around with an ASUS VivoTab. It was one of the best Windows 8 (not RT) tablet experiences that I have had (yes, I am working on a review). BUT, on the most practical level, it was nearly impossible to use the tablet/keyboard combination comfortably in my lap -- a requirement when trying to send out snarky tweets about a keynote speaker.

5. Build it Before They Come
Most teachers can describe a training initiative in technology that failed miserably. Often, if you listen closely, there are certain similarities to the tales. One of the most common occurrences is a promise of a technology, or tool, or method that either a) never materializes or b) shows up so far past the training, that teachers have moved on in both practicality and enthusiasm before ever integrating the tech.

Practically Applied: Tech departments should begin to speak of initiatives in very consistent and easy-to-understand terminology outside of the technology room. In our school we talk about "Investigations" (surveying technology, gathering ideas, tweeting), "Pilots" (limited tests by people who are giving feedback about classroom impact, stability, etc.), "Burn-in" (Technology is available but glitches are still being worked out) and  "Rollouts" (technology is available and ready to use).

6. Avoid Myths and Hype
Giving up on the One LMS Myth
There is no one gadget that will fulfill the needs of every student and every teachers
There is no one technology that transforms every lesson to a multi-variate experience that meets all students learning preferences
There is no Learning Management System that makes every teacher a data-driven-decision-making automaton capable of raising test-scores with the blink of a mentor-camera's electronic eye

Technology tools are designed to accomplish specific tasks in specific ways. Leveraging those tasks and methods into a learning experience takes experimentation by teachers and students. The more experienced the teacher, the more willing the students, the more focused on the learning objective, the easier it becomes to evaluate specific technologies for their educational impact.

but there is no magic wand. Period.

7. Deal with Conflict Openly and Honestly
The best of technology departments are servants to a variety of people, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, and Departments of Education. Any one of these constituents may be able to play a trump card that can frustrate another group. This can happen when the Testing Overlords declare that no device that cannot be managed can be used for high stakes testing. This can happen when parents demand online grade-updates as a matter of competition within the schools. This can happen when teachers insist on a specific program regardless of compatibility with student devices.

In these cases, it is best to let those who disagree have the conversation. Parents and Administrators, Teachers and Students, etc. can have productive, student/learning centered conversations about what system will ultimately meet the mission and student objectives of the school. Note: Technology has almost no dog in these races. Outside of network integrity, data security, and a few other practical matters, technology (see #2, Relationship Manager) serves as an implementer, not a decision maker.

Practically Applied: During our BYOT implementation discussions, the math department, a high-functioning technology department, had an extended discussion about requiring all devices to be pen-based, preferably digitizers and even more preferably windows-based tablet PCs (the device of use for all math teachers). This conflict had the potential to sidetrack the entire initiative. As the discussion progressed, math teachers and techs began to isolate the underlying student-based needs of the class apart from the technology:

  • the need to take notes that included drawings. 
  • the need to have access to digital notes. 
  • the need to turn in assignments for homework. 
Experimentation and conversation about learning objectives showed that while some technology may better enable student learning, no specific device or technique hindered the learning irreparably.

8. Acknowledge Non-negotiables, Plan Accordingly
Occasionally, there will be non-negotiables. They are becoming increasingly rare in a world where BYOT and consumerization are impacting the classroom so strongly, but they do exist. Again, the best approach to a non-negotiable (examples include caps on bandwidth, requirements to post grades, forced authentication to wireless networks, etc.) is to be honest about it and let it frame the discussion.

A non-negotiable should be:

  • explainable in terms of student learning or some other mission-based part of the school (we have to cap individual student bandwidth to ensure that classrooms have access to enough of the data stream).
  • agreed upon by a variety of constituents (we usually use tech, teachers, admin, students or some combination) as a necessary if not preferred course of action
  • able to be reviewed as technology, classroom methods, demographics, etc. changes.
Practically Applied: The transition from a command-level wireless network to an open wireless that allowed student devices was a study in "what are the non-negotiables". This included discussions of mandating virus protection (ultimately we decided to not to require) and authentication (we require students to use a name and password so that if they engage in inappropriate activity we can have that discussion with the student as a learning opportunity).

9. Lead as Required
Excellent leadership position: sitting at the table
Rule number nine has gone through a number of drafts. It included "don't lead from the top-down" and "don't lead at all". Ultimately, the technology department operates best when its primary goal is to facilitate learning and teaching to the best of its ability. Because a well-run technology department has time to explore new ideas and new techniques, it is often in the position of recommending methods that some teachers may not have seen.

Leadership then becomes a hybrid of many of the rules discussed. It is a system of using personal relationships to identify needs and desires and frustrations. It is putting in systems that address student needs quickly and thoroughly. It is running a technology plan that is driven by learning objectives, clear in its goals, effective in its implementation, and open for review as times change.

It requires openness and flexibility and patience and a lot of caffeine.

10. Respect the Classroom as Sacred Space
Its not about the robot
When we put away silly debates over test scores and manufactured crises in order to increase sales of testing materials and test-prep textbooks, we remember something important: Classrooms are sacred. More specifically the learning that happens when a student and a teacher are engaged in a give-and-take that opens the mind to new experiences and lets a student authentically reflect on that experience -- that is a magic that I would put above any unibody construction with a glowing piece of fruit (heck, I would even put it above a lime green robot).

Any technology department in any school should begin and end with an understanding of how learning works. Without this foundation, programs will miss the mark and teachers will be frustrated because they do not understand how decisions are being made or what is truly important. Does this mean every tech has to be a former educator? That might not even be ideal. But the department as a whole should understand its position in the school is one of serving the greater mission of the school. It is less about authority than it is about facilitating. Less about command and more about service.

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So there you have it. An attempt to distill our secret formula for running a technology department. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas, additions, or changes to the departments that you run or have encountered. Drop a comment down below or reply to us on social media.