Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.



Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 1, 2013

Cartoon hands with many tech devices
See “Security Amidst The Mobile Chaos” for a business perspective on the BYOD issue.

Unimaginable not all that long ago, growing numbers of schools and districts are launching programs where students are permitted to bring their own mobile devices to school for classroom use. The work I do makes it possible for me to spend time in schools and districts across the country. In the last two years I’ve had numerous opportunities to see several different manifestations of BYOD in action. It’s probably no surprise that some approaches to BYOD are more effective than others. However, I’m learning that irrespective of overall program design there are five specific issues that must be addressed to lay the groundwork for successful BYOD programs.  They are described here.

1. Infrastructure: The state of your network matters—a lot. I’m not a technician, but from what I’ve seen and been told at multiple schools struggling with network problems, a common problem is that folks who design the infrastructure typically underestimate the amount of traffic that will be generated by a BYOD program. As a result, teachers and students can’t get online, become discouraged, and abandon BYOD altogether.

Schools and districts must have a realistic understanding of what their infrastructure needs to support BYOD. Until the network is at the point where it can handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by students using their own devices (and then some), limit the scope of the rollout to what the network actually can support. This may mean initially planning a small pilot that can be expanded as the network becomes more robust. While a staged approach may not please everyone, it is preferable to a situation where the network isn’t functioning reliably for anyone.

2. Hardware specs: BYOD does not mean that students must be allowed to bring to school any mobile device they happen to have on hand. It’s important to take time to identify the kinds of learning activities the technology needs to be able to support and then establish minimum specifications for the devices students may bring based on identified uses. When students’ devices meet a pre-determined baseline, it’s easier to for teachers to plan lessons and for students to fully engage in classroom activities.

3. Policies and procedures: I’m surprised at the number of schools I visit that launch BYOD programs having given little or no thought to how they will handle a range of issues from devices that are lost or broken to students who circumvent the school network using their device’s 3g or 4g connection (not to mention procedures for downloading apps, troubleshooting student-owned hardware, charging batteries, and much more). Of course it’s not possible, or even desirable, to craft policies and procedures that attempt to cover every possible circumstance, but a few clearly stated, reasonable expectations shared with students ahead of time and then enforced will set the stage for success.

4. Professional development: Incorporating effective use of student-owned technology into classroom activities requires far more than a mandate. Few teachers have expertise in use of multiple mobile platforms or are comfortable designing learning activities that require use of mobile devices to support collaboration or critical thinking. Yet it’s common for teachers to be asked to participate in BYOD initiatives with little or no professional development. Even teachers who embrace more traditional technology use benefit from training focused on strategies and tools for addressing academic content in mobile environments. Ongoing professional development that includes a coaching component is an effective model, but requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources.

5. Parent involvement: The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Educators must include parent representatives in BYOD planning as early in the process as possible. In addition to garnering support for the initiative within the community, parent representatives can provide very useful information when determining minimum specifications for mobile devices that may be brought to school and as school officials design BYOD policies and procedures. Recent Speak-Up Survey reports indicate strong parental support for BYOD initiatives nationally. Capitalize on this to shore up local support for local programs.

Take the time to work through these five issues. Your teachers, IT staff, students, and parents will thank you.


iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.



Same Song, Second Verse

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 29, 2013

Image of The Prune Song sheet music 1928Do you remember The Prune Song? A camp classic, this silly ditty reviews the travails of life as a prune. The pleasure in singing the song comes from repeating over and over its first verse —“a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” A fun way for nine-year-olds to wile away the time perhaps, but not so amusing when adults persist in this same behavior.

Two decades ago Apple Inc. hired independent researchers to evaluate the impact of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. One important outcome of this report was the recognition that when technology use is limited to supporting traditional instruction or increasing student productivity, any improvements in student performance cannot be attributed to the technology. Subsequent studies and models (e.g., the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model) draw similar conclusions.

What kinds of technology-supported activities actually make a difference? The research is clear on this as well. When students engage in project-based learning experiences or solve authentic problems using technology as one of several available tools, increases in achievement can be attributed—at least in part—to technology use. How does this information impact classrooms today?

In their eagerness to incorporate use of mobile tablet devices into classrooms, some educators are taking the same-song-second-verse approach instead of taking time to think through how this technology could be used to significantly change classroom instruction. As has been the pattern with earlier technologies, it’s not uncommon to hear about schools and districts that have purchased equipment with minimal planning for actual classroom use. Or to run across teachers who envision primary use of tablets consisting of apps that cover discrete Common Core performance indicators. The upshot of this is teachers spending their time searching for and deploying stand-alone apps that have a limited shelf-life and use minimally effective instructional strategies to teach or review very basic concepts.

What can school leaders do to reverse this trend? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to deploy mobile tablet devices to ‘see what will happen.’ Take time to plan thoroughly. The College of William & Mary School of Education Learning Activity Types wiki offers a variety of technology-supported activities based on the TPACK model.
  2. Work with staff to revisit Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Several talented educators have posted work online designed to help teachers rethink classroom use of touch technology. Check out Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and Bloomin’ Apps for ideas.
  3. Think beyond drill and practice or task automation. The most effective use of tablets is for content creation, not content consumption. Encourage teachers to explore ways students can use tablets for project-based learning and to solve authentic problems.



Education Technology Guidance

Posted by Michael Simkins on April 22, 2013

GPS screenYesterday, I received an email from an aspiring administrator with the subject line “Education technology guidance.”  He wrote that as the “closest thing my school currently has to an Education Technologist,” he’s been tasked with writing a grant proposal for funding to help his school implement a blended learning environment.  He described his dilemma as follows:

As part of the application, I am being asked to forecast the annual costs for digital content licenses, learning management systems, and data management systems. I am unsure as to whether I understand the difference between all three, never mind how to estimate a cost. As I understand it, the digital content license would be for programs like Aleks’ math program. A learning management system would be something like Edmodo or Moodle, where a teacher could deliver other content and communicate with students. I am unclear as to what a data management system would be. Could you please help clarify these three terms or guide me in the right direction. Examples of each would help.

Bless his heart.  He’s been handed a task with the expectation, apparently, that he’ll do it alone when, in fact, it should be a team effort informed by thoughtful discussion with all stakeholders.  Of course, grant proposals are rarely developed methodically. Typically, one of two things happens.  Some money is dangled in front of us and we go after it, regardless of how it fits our strategic plan; or, we find money in the offing that actually matches our plan but the window for submitting a proposal is so short we have to slap something together in a huge rush and get it out the door.

Well, we have to work in the real world and this fellow wanted guidance now, so here is what I wrote.

You’re on the right track.  Content licenses are any fees you pay to make online content available to teachers and students (e.g. NBC Learn, Discovery Education, ProQuest K-12).  Moodle is one example of a learning management system; Blackboard is another.  A data management system would be something you use to collect, house and analyze information such as student demographics, tests scores, e-portfolios, etc. (e.g. TestingWerks).  Some, like SchoolNet or ObaWorld, are hybrids and combine features.

Before you can forecast costs, you need to determine what tools you need and what you are going to use them for.  What does your school already have?  How does it keep track of student information?  What curricular materials do you use already and will still use in this new program?  How does the school track student data now?  Do you need a different system because of this program or will the one in use serve the purpose?  Basically, you can’t work on a budget until you know what you want to do and what you’ll need to do it.

That’s how I responded; how would you?