Blips not to overlook

Posted by Butch Owens on January 31, 2013

Radar screenAs we venture forth into 2013, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at some items that should be on every administrator’s radar.  We all need to be developing a plan on how we will incorporate each into our schools.

Learning Management Systems

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process. Typically, a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. A learning management system may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, and discussion forums.  Read more.

Flipped Classrooms

Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly being done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time. It is also known as backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching.  Read more.


Bring your own device (also referred to as Bring your own technology (BYOT), Bring your own phone (BYOP), and Bring your own PC (BYOPC)) is a term that is frequently used to describe the policy of permitting employees to bring personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smart phones) to their place of work and use those devices to access privileged company information and applications.[1] The term is also used to describe the same practice applied to students using personally owned devices in education settings.  Read more.


A massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources. Examples include Khan Academy and free offerings from Stanford and MIT.  Read more.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It also was a storage service but has since been replaced by the before-mentioned Google Drive. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Google Docs combines the features of Writely and Spreadsheets with a presentation program incorporating technology designed by Tonic Systems.  Learn more.

California Student Bill of Rights Initiative

The California Student Bill of Rights Initiative did not make the ballot last November, but had it qualified for the ballot and been approved by the state’s voters, it would have:

  • Authorized school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to claim average daily attendance funding for student participation in approved online courses.
  • Authorized school districts to contract with public and private providers to deliver online courses taught by credentialed teachers.
  • Allowed students to take online courses offered by any school district, regardless of student’s residence.
  • Provided students access to courses required for admission to state universities.
  • Established the “California Diploma”, which would have demonstrated completion of courses required for University of California and California State University admission.

If students need flexibility in their schedule or a teacher in another district has a great online course, students will definitely seek out that option if available—and the ADA would follow the student for that course. Students will no longer be held hostage to what their local district, school or individual teacher of a course is offering.

Huffington article on California online bill of rights
Click image above to read this Huffington post article.

Personal Learning Networks

A personal learning network (PLN) is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.  Read more.

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Educational Paradigms

This is a great 11 minute video by Sir Ken Robinson to open up the dialog about the need to change and adapt our schools to meet the needs of students today and into the future. Pay particular attention to the section on divergent thinking. As Sir Ken points out this is one of the most important traits students will need to be successful in our changing world.  Learn more.

A Question

Let me finish by posing a question. If students truly have a choice about what courses they take and where they take them, will they choose to stay enrolled in a course that is textbook-driven and without access to technology or any expectation to use technology to produce evidence of their learning? Or would they choose a hybrid or blended course with online,24/7, access to highly interactive threaded discussions, media rich resources, and the ability to schedule the class around other commitments and activities?

Take for example this brief blog post.  It starts with a brief description and includes links to other resources for those looking to explore a topic in depth.  Compare this to a one page article with definitions of each trend. Which would provide a better understanding of the topic? Which would lead to a deeper understanding? Which is more engaging?

If you are looking to continue this conversation you should consider attending the Leadership 3.0 Symposium sponsored by TICAL, ACSA and CUE.  It takes place April 11–13, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency, Irvine, California.  Learn more.



Predictions for 2012

Posted by Butch Owens on January 31, 2012

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That’s especially true in the world of technology today, but I think we can, at least, predict what the hot topics will be as we head into 2012.  Most important is how we respond to these issues.  Let’s take a look at some of my top picks which should be on every administrator’s radar.

BYOD – Bring your own device:  We have been talking about  1:1 computing for a number of years with very little progress other than a few pilot projects.  With the current budget situation I don’t foresee any changes in funding coming forward to make this a reality.  If we truly embrace getting devices into student’s hands we must look past the restraints of budget.  By embracing a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) model we will succeed in getting devices into a lot more student hands in the classroom this year rather than have the devices sitting at home because of current school policy that forbids their use on campus.  I spoke of this earlier this year in a TBLOGICAL post called Digital Deprivation.  All students having access to digital devices capable of enhancing their educational experience is becoming even more realistic when you consider cheaper and cheaper devices such as the Kindle Fire, inexpensive netbooks, tablets, and Smart Phones on the market today.

Key topics to address:  BYOD Policies, Wireless Access, Bandwidth, Devices supported

24/7 Access to Information: Just a couple of years ago sites like Khan Academy were seen as a novelty.  A few tech savvy teachers might download a video to help explain a topic or give students a link to follow if they needed extra help with a concept.  Today it is no longer a novelty to see a short video clip on a subject.  Just go to YouTube and type in a topic you would like to know from replacing a valve cover gasket on your car to DNA replication.   These sites and videos are growing at a phenomenal rate, both proprietary and open source.

Key Topics to Address:  Teaching students to discriminate the good from the bad,  Providing Open Access at School,

24/7 Delivery of Course Content:  Yes, this does relate to 24/7 access, but takes it a step further.  Not only can students find information anytime and from any place, they can also elect to take all of their courses this way.  What that says to me is that if we don’t have it, they will go somewhere else to get it.

I recently had an opportunity to hear Dr. David Hagland, Director of Educational Options with the Riverside Unified School District, speak.  He has found that students don’t necessarily want to take a course completely online, but rather like to expand the classroom and teacher’s influence to an online blended format that includes lectures, class notes, videos, et cetera posted for student access before and after the traditional classroom lesson, and to have 21st Century technology tools available in the classroom.  For example, as I sit here typing this post in Google Docs, I know that I can access it on my computer at home, my iPad on the road or even share it with colleagues to get input and advice.  I’ve also clipped a few articles from the web into my Evernote account to reference as I write.  All of these tools and resources need to be incorporated into the teaching and learning environments of our students.

Key topics to address:  Learning platforms/management systems, online storage capabilities, teacher training for blended instruction, access to information.

School Libraries:  I know this prediction will not be a popular one, but the changing purpose and function of the school library needs to be addressed.  Schools are no longer getting the best bang for their buck when it comes to building and sustaining the traditional school library.  In a recent conversation with Dr. Devin Vodicka, Assistant Superintendent of Business for the Carlsbad Unified School District, we were discussing the new high school they were in the process of building. He stated that after much discussion on whether or not to build a traditional library it came down to the following question, “If we are really having such a difficult time deciding whether or not to build and stock a new library with books in the traditional way, we already know the answer, which is no. It’s just that it’s uncomfortable for our generation to picture a library without rows and rows of books.”

Are we still making decisions on what is comfortable for us or best for today and tomorrow’s students.  I’m not saying we need to do away with the library, just look at its role and function in our schools.  It will always be needed as a place to meet for that first date using the excuse as getting together to work on a school project.

Key Topics to address:  Digital books/textbooks and a system to checkout them out, installation of access points for students to connect at school, mobile devices,  workstations



Digital Deprivation

Posted by Butch Owens on September 12, 2011

President Truman

Today’s problem is not the digital divide, it’s digital deprivation.  It’s difficult to find a student today who does not have access to the Internet, own a smartphone, communicate with friends all over the world and collaborate online with others to plan events—except, of course, when they enter the schoolhouse walls.  Instead of embracing and encouraging the use of the technology students bring with them each day, we forbid its use or even presence on campus.

Last month a colleague and I were asked to do a board workshop highlighting the use of mobile technologies and their value in the classroom.  To demonstrate the power of this technology we designed an activity around the iPad.  We divided the board members and senior staff into two groups.  One group was given the approved district textbook for world history, which was a rather new edition.  The other group was given iPads.  The assignment was to take 15 minutes and come up with a presentation on The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.  (I know many of you are probably scratching your heads right now, knowing you’ve heard the terms but perhaps don’t recall the details?  California’s content standards expect 10th graders to know!)

What we observed

Textbook group:   The group had a very nice looking book with 328 pages of which three quarters of one page was devoted to the Truman Doctrine/Marshall Plan.  Their report consisted of one page of bulleted points on chart paper which highlighted the year it was introduced by guess who, Truman, and who was sent to Europe to help design and carryout the plan, George C. Marshall.

What did it look like for the Textbook Group? Five people sitting around a table with one making the notes on chart paper, one talking and one sitting away from the group not engaged.

iPad Group:  The group with iPads quickly went to work and found thousands of resources including a video of Truman giving the speech outlining his reasons for sending aid and helping to rebuild the countries recently defeated by the Allies.  Another found a UK site that helped give a European perspective of the plan.  The group’s presentation consisted of Truman’s speech, video and pictures of Europe after the war and included a video of George C. Marshall touring war torn areas.

What did it look like with the iPad Group?  All participants actively engaged accessing different information, all related to the topic. Sharing their findings with each other.

I forgot to mention that the textbook group was forward thinking and pulled out their smart phones and began quickly looking for additional information.  We just as quickly had them place them in a box on the front desk per our school policy on cell phones on campus.

Think of your own life

So it’s no longer a digital divide, but digital deprivation.  Even one smartphone, laptop or tablet with access to the Internet would have provided an abundance of additional information above and beyond the limited information in the textbook.

Think of your own life.  When you get lost, do you pull out your old Thomas Brothers guide?  When you need a phone number, do you grab the phone book or the yellow pages?  When you want to know what’s playing at the movie theatre, do you reach for the entertainment section of the newspaper (do you still subscribe to a newspaper)?  My hunch is you use technology to find answers like these.

The next time you become involved in a discussion about whether students need regular access to technology at school, stop and try an activity like the one we did with our board members.  See if anyone really wants to be in the textbook group!


“What path innovation?”

Posted by Butch Owens on October 12, 2010

Are common standards and national tests the panacea for our nation’s woes?  Some seem to think so, but I’m not so sure.    Just last April I had the opportunity to hear Yong Zhao, author of Catching up or Leading the Way,  speak at our annual Leadership 3.0 Symposium.   He argues that while for years, politicians and the public have been looking for what is wrong with American education by constantly comparing the test scores of American students to those of students in such places as Russia, Japan, Singapore, and China, test scores don’t measure how well a country itself is doing. One striking example is how far America is ahead of all other countries in the number of patents issued; China, by contrast, is ahead in toy production.

The irony is that while we are busy trying to catch up with countries that have better test scores, those very countries are trying to emulate our educational system—or at least the one we used to have.  China, Korea, Japan and Singapore, for example, all have national initiatives to move their educational systems toward more local control, more autonomy, less emphasis on test scores determining a student’s or school’s future, and greater choices for the individual.  These are traditional characteristics of our system which have contributed to our success in turning out well rounded and innovative citizens.  And all of the latest literature argues that the ability to innovate is what we need in the future.

How would you judge an effective school?  Here are some top criteria on my list:

  • The number of  varied opportunities a student has beyond the core academics
  • The degree that students enjoy their school and feel they are important
  • Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students can learn
  • Opportunities for students to progress at their own rate
  • Strong art and music programs and curricular activities that connect students to school

When you look back on your school days, is it the test scores that really motivated you to excel, or all of the opportunities you had to be an individual and find your own purpose and passion?

Take away those things that have enabled our system to produce the inventors and innovators of today and what will be left?  At best, a technically capable American engineer competing for the same job as an equally capable engineer from India who will do the job for $7500 a year.  A better alternative is an educational system that creates an American engineer with not only the technical skills but the imagination, innovation and creativity to design the new ideas that will need the $7500 a year engineer in India to help develop.

In an earlier post I wrote about what students really need to know and learn in school in this 21st century and ended with  the comment, “If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize, and if it’s easy to digitize it can be done easily by a computer.”  What we really want are well rounded, innovative students prepared for a lifetime as productive, innovative citizens.  Will common standards and national tests ensure that outcome?

As you ponder that question, listen to Harry Chapin’s “Flowers Are Red“; how common do we want our standards to be?


The $64,000 Question

Posted by Butch Owens on May 9, 2009

Again and again we hear that we must get students ready for the 21st Century.  Yet,  here we are nine years into the 21st Century and we’re educating students the same way we’ve been doing it for years.   We’re doing a pretty good job; in fact, we could probably continue the status quo for the remainder of our careers with fair results on measures such as test scores, college entrance rates, and graduation rates.   The downside of continuing with our present way of doing school is, of course, that our children—and they are our children—will be totally unprepared to compete in a globally connected society.

What do I mean when I say “our present way of doing school?”  I’m talking about our current preoccupation with constantly testing students’ accumulation of knowledge, without ever stopping to consider if the knowledge we’re forcing them to accumulate will be of any use to them.  Consider this:

If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize.

Hank Rubin, president of the Institute for Collaborative Leadership, heard that remark made at the release of the 2007 PISA study.  It piqued his interest enough that he contacted the person who said it: Andreas Schleicher, the study’s lead author.  Says Rubin:

…in subsequent correspondence with Schleicher, I confirmed the deeper meaning of his observation: if you can ask a person a question for which we know there is a limited number of appropriate responses, then we can teach a computer to run through those same responses and select what evidence tells us is the most correct response. In other words, if you can test it then you can delegate the task, knowledge or skill to a computer! The implications are profound: why in the world will we need to invest education dollars in preparing students with knowledge and skills that will be the domain of computers by the time they are ready to enter the world of work?

The $64,000 question is, “What will students need to know to be successful in the future?” For starters, we must ask, “Is this something that a student can access in a nano second with a web search which yields thousands of references?”

I can’t count the number of times a day I do a quick search on the web to find the answer to a question.   It would seem very archaic to only have one textbook sitting here at my desk to look up needed information.  Yet students in our schools face this challenge daily due to limited access and our tight filtering policies.  It’s not until they leave school that they have unlimited access  to the rest of the world.  Until we find an answer to access, we will continue school as usual.

But wait!  The answer to the $64,000 question has changed since I started writing this post a couple of days ago.  I was operating on the assumption that when we want to know something, we make a quick search for the answers we need.  Not necessarily, it seems; the answers may find us on their own!  Puzzled?   Take a look at this TED Talks video and you’ll see what I mean.