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.

BYOD

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.

MOOC

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 It also was a storage service but has since been replaced by the before-mentioned Google Drive.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.

 

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One-to-Anything: Being Technologically Faithful

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 29, 2012

The letters NEW on springsA friend of mine called this week to see what I thought about my new Nexus 7 tablet.  My quick answer? “I love it!”  When we started talking about the Nexus 7 in schools, I gave a little more thoughtful reply:  “Would I trade my 200 iPads for 500 Nexus 7s?  Yes, in a second.”

The problem with my enthusiasm is that I am always ready to trade my previous favorite for next year’s new and better idea. In fact, it may not even be a year before Apple makes their own 7-inch iPad.  (They won’t dare call it an Ipad will they?)   What if the next Kindle offers a student-friendly device at an even more attractive price?  School leaders who make hardware purchases based solely on the “coolness” of the hardware may experience a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

When our fickle nature concerning educational technology hardware shows itself, I call it being “technologically unfaithful.”  We have a relationship with an attractive device.  We swear loyalty to.  Yet our faithfulness lasts only until the next cool innovation turns our heads.

What does this mean for technology leaders—and those administrators who write the checks to buy the stuff those leaders recommend?  It means that we have to refocus on student skills rather than hardware.

The Common Core Standards will require students to do what they know.  The National Educational Technology Standards for Students place the emphasis squarely on skills.  The new assessments we are so concerned about will not be device specific, nor require students to utilize a collection of apps to prove competence.  The new core curriculum will ask students to collaborate, think critically, and be creative.  Such skills are well served by technology, but not dependent on specific tools.

My new suggestion for the schools I work with is to adopt a “one-to-anything” approach.  Utilizing Web 2.0 tools, cloud-based resources, and a varied selection of hardware solutions, we can help students learn and practice common technology skills on whatever hardware they encounter.  For example, at Two Rivers School District we have wired labs, laptop labs, mobile netbook labs, Chromebook labs, and iPad labs.  Next, we’ll add a Nexus 7 lab.

The point is to focus on student skills that will enable our students to create, evaluate, and collaborate, regardless of the hardware they encounter. Our goal is technology-skilled students who will be able to use technology tools to perform relevant tasks, not operate specific devices.  After all, the next greatest thing is right around the corner.

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Administrators Need Tech Training, Too

Posted by Jack Jarvis on May 25, 2012

early surgery using anesthesia
First etherized operation (re-enactment)

A current buzz phrase in educational administration circles these days states, when it comes to classroom instruction, “The curriculum you get shouldn’t depend on the teacher you get.”  This refers primarily to the fact that some teachers still cling to outdated practices even when evidence to the contrary often exists right next door in a colleague’s classroom.  I would submit that the concept also applies when it comes to the quality of technology use at the school level; that is, the technology you get shouldn’t depend on the principal you get.”

I offer the following analogy to demonstrate how this concept translates to decisions made by top administration in regards to tech integration in the modern school:

Imagine you live in a society in which you may only seek medical attention from the physician or hospital in your Medical Attendance Zone (or MAZ). You are limited to receiving services only in that area.  Now, consider needing a heavy-duty procedure (like the knee replacement I just underwent) and being limited to receiving services from a surgeon and a hospital in your MAZ.

Your surgeon is new at your hospital, younger, very tech-comfortable, and entirely capable of using an MRI to evaluate what should be done.  However, the hospital administration doesn’t understand the whole “tech thing,” as they call it, and refuses to provide a modern MRI machine.  Nor has the administration provided training to the Head of Surgery in how to use even the hospital’s older technology so the Head can train the surgeons he/she supervises.

Now imagine your brother, who lives a few miles away, needs the same surgery.  His MAZ surgeon not only has state-of-the art technology available but also training in its use.  After your scan, his hospital sends the MRI data out to a company that  transforms that MRI image into a 3-D model of your arthritic knee and then virtually corrects any deformity to return the knee to its pre-arthritic state.   Using all this information, a set of custom cutting guides is then created for your surgeon’s use during your individual surgery.

This is exactly where we find ourselves in ed tech these days.  The technology experience students at a given school get depends greatly on the district, superintendent, central office educational supervisors, and site administration.   What makes the situation more serious is that we’re not talking about knee replacement surgery but about students’  survival in the future job market and the accompanying quality of life itself.

As a site administrator for 13 years in a large urban district, I can attest to the fact that in all the district meetings held to train us administrators, not one ever included or was devoted to tech integration within the classroom. I’ve known supervisors  who not only knew little about technology but discouraged tech use.  While most districts in the state have beefed up their tech infrastructure and put computers in classrooms, few have trained their leaders in how to integrate those resources into modern instruction.

On the bright side, there are clearly superintendents and principals who are now definitely “getting it.”  Through programs like TICAL and professional development opportunities like Leadership 3.0, these leaders are building a vision and understanding of how to use technology to advance learning.  Yet we still have a long way to go. Those of us who are tech pioneers and advocates need to continue to push our organizations to move ahead.  To return to the medical metaphor, no school leader should be encouraging students and teachers to bite on sticks when effective anesthesia should be the norm.

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Three Wishes for the New Ed Tech Task Force

Posted by Bob Blackney on April 30, 2012

I guess you know when you are getting old when you can say things like, “I have watched educational technology in California for thirty years.”  Unfortunately, this statement is all too true in my case.  From the days of AB 803 to the current state initiatives, the State of California developed many technology master plans and visions for technology in education.

Recently, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson called together a group of bright and energetic stakeholders from across the state to update the California State Technology Plan.  As this talented group headed to Sacramento, I thought, “If I could have three wishes that could actually be granted by this group, what would they be?”  After some hours of pondering—and lowering of expectations from grand to achievable in the present budget environment—I was left with these:

Wish Number 1: A simple tech plan

While Wish Number 1 would cost no money, it could save hundreds of hours of time at each school and district.  Right now we have the “kitchen sink” template for technology planning.  It includes detailed planning for the next three to five years out.  The resulting document easily exceeds 100 pages.  Much more beneficial would be a simple two to five page document that is updated yearly/bi-yearly in light of the changing technology and budget landscape that might be accomplished within that shortened period.  This makes particular sense given how quickly the tech environment changes.  Fives years ago, who could have foretold the present explosion of mobile technologies, software as a service, and lightweight operating systems?  Certainly not Microsoft.

Wish Number 2: On-line learning

Most of the nation has devised a plan to enable schools and districts to provide on-line learning and for districts to collect ADA for student participation in these programs as part of the general educational program.  On-line learning in its many forms is not a futuristic vision, but is a fact for most industries, local governments and state educational systems.  Woefully, this is not reality in California. California should look to the many states that appear to have this figured out and adopt or adapt one of their systems.  Last year, it appeared we might have new legislation that would allow our schools to offer on-line learning, but at the last minute the bill was gutted and morphed into a bill to protect shark fins.  (Really!  You can’t make this stuff up.)  California’s students should have the same priority as shark fins, but in the meantime, we deprive students of valuable options.

Wish Number 3: Funding for schools

Funding for technology in California has varied between miniscule and non-existent.  Given this dearth of funding, two general strategies have been used, both based upon the notion that since there is so little money in the pot, equal distribution would be too small to make a difference.  One strategy has been to pool funding into more significant amounts and have schools write grants to access resources.  Using this strategy, successful applicants might have enough money to implement a program.   The second, and current, plan gives funding to leadership projects and county offices to provide services within the counties.  What’s the matter with that approach?  The answer is pretty simple.  Learning takes place in schools, and if no money is going there then students never get it.  In some form, at least half of the state funding should find its way to support schools.

Some general principles

In granting my three wishes, there are some general principles I recommend to the Task Force.  First, allow for a great deal of local discretion in planning and implementation.  California is a big place and planning for the whole state is difficult if not impossible to do from Sacramento.  How can a single school district in a remote area of the state do the same things that a large urban district might?  Would you even want them to try?   Second, shoot for the middle.  The average teacher and student are not looking for a cutting edge solution but for simple, easy-to-use, proven technologies.  Lastly, plan for a “beer budget.”  We don’t have the funding to support grand designs and would be better not to start there.  California is more like the Simpsons than the Kardashians, and a plan that acknowledges the budgetary facts would be welcome.

Well that’s it, my three wishes.  None of these would cost additional money and could be accomplished in the next school year.  Not a grand vision of a digitally connected future with each student linked to a myriad of digital resources, but a more pragmatic look at what can actually be done.

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Tech Equity: It’s not just for kids

Posted by Bob Price on November 28, 2011

Like most districts, we want our teachers to have access to powerful instructional technology.  And, like most districts, technology purchases for us have been made with a mix of limited district funds, some grants, and site categorical funds.  This has led to a situation where there are haves and have nots in terms of access to instructional technology.  A recent grant allowing for most of our math classes to have access to Promethean Boards caused our teachers of other subjects and grade levels to ask about access to these powerful technology tools.  When we took an inventory of the technological tools available to our teachers, we were surprised at the discrepancies across the district.  Our classrooms ran the gamut from full Promethean tools with document cameras to a single overhead projector sitting in a corner.  We realized we had a serious equity problem.

Our model of allowing sites to drive the educational technology available in classrooms had created a situation where student and teacher access technology varied dramatically.  A student could experience a relatively rich or embarrassingly poor access to technology tools depending on the luck of what teacher he/she was assigned to.  It was possible for students to spend their entire K-8 careers having only had access to teachers with an overhead projector.  Or they could be the lucky ones that had teachers with state-of-the-art technology.  This unacceptable situation led us to initiate our Tech Equity Project for teachers.

Utilizing a highly motivated Tech Vision Team, we developed minimum standards for technology for teachers.  After much discussion, it was decided that each classroom should be equipped with a teacher laptop, sound system, smart projector and document camera.  Funding for equipment would come from excess bond funds.  Sites agreed to pay for maintenance, repairs and supplies with the funds they were allocating previously to purchase hardware.  Our Tech Vision Team members offered to provide the necessary professional development at their sites in exchange for access to new technologies.  After much planning, meeting with vendors, and individual meetings with teachers and principals, our vision will be realized when teachers return from Winter break.

The next step in our vision will be the issue of equity of student access.  We have the same problem of haves and have nots with student technology.  Our goal will be to have all classrooms with an internet device available for all students within the next two years.  Whether that device will be a notebook, netbook, or tablet has yet to be decided.

The other big issue for us is whether our teachers will utilize all of this technology in powerful ways to improve student achievement.  One thing is certain.  No one will implement technology they do not have.  We are looking forward to the next steps in our journey.  Parent, teacher, and community support for our Tech Equity Initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.

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