Technology is…

Posted by Michael Simkins on November 30, 2007

Together, our technology team at Santa Cruz County Office of Education is reading and discussing Technology Challenged, by Miguel Aznar. The first thing I want to do is call your attention to the absence of a hyphen in that title. This is not a book about those of us who feel inept at or cowed by technology. Perhaps we’ll read that one next. Rather, it is about adopting a critical perspective and thinking (yes, thinking) about technology. It’s not about becoming technologically competent, but technologically literate. Borrowing from the subtitle, it’s about “understanding our creations” and “choosing our future.”

Well, that’s what it seems to be about anyway. We’ve only read the first two chapters. But we have already had an animated discussion of what technology is. While we all agree it’s not simply computers, projectors, and networks, we have no consensus on the best definition of technology. Author Aznar prefers “tools that extend our abilities” over “applied science.” A little googling (hmmm, should that be capitalized?) yields many more definitions. For example:

  • Tools such as calculator, computer, or personal data assistant (PDA) used to help represent/solve a problem. Number Nut
  • A body of knowledge used to create tools, develop skills, and extract or collect materials; the application of science (the combination of the scientific method and material) to meet an objective or solve a problem. National Institutes of Health
  • Mechanisms for distributing messages, including postal systems, radio and television broadcasting companies, telephone, satellite and computer networks. The World Bank
  • The science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged

How would you define technology? Share your thoughts in the TICAL Forum!


Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted by Michael Simkins on October 25, 2007

Bless our state superintendent of schools; Jack has inspired me once again. In his State of Education address last February, Superintendent O’Connell reminded us that,

“…while improvement has been nearly universal, our across the board success has still failed to close an achievement gap that threatens the future of our diverse state. Groups of California children who have traditionally struggled, groups that in many instances make up the fastest growing portion of our society, continue to trail behind their peers — and the gap is not closing. Recognizing this is important. Addressing it is imperative.”

And addressing it clearly is his intent. November 13–14 he invites educators from across the state to attend the Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento. Stuck in the trenches and can’t make it to Sacramento? You can learn what’s going on and contribute your two cents via the web dialogue, Achieving Success for All Students, which takes place October 29–November 1. Log in anytime you have free during that time period and you can see what’s going on and, if you’re so inclined, add your thoughts and opinions.

While it won’t do it alone, technology can contribute much toward closing the achievement gap. I shared some of my thoughts on this in a 2005 article in ACSA’s Leadership magazine, Accelerating Learning: Time to Pick Up the Pace.


Jack Goes Back to School

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 4, 2007

Click image to watch Jack's video on YouTube.

Just as I was beating myself up for going a month without posting anything (of course, it was a summer month, after all), our very own California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell provided me with the perfect inspiration. He made this short Back to School video and posted it to YouTube. What a nice blend of fun and practical advice. And it’s also a creative way of using technology to put a friendly, human face on state government, which, for most kids anyway, can seem a very distant and incomprehensible institution. Way to go, Jack!

Superintendent O’Connell’s 10 Tips for Kids:

  1. Read for fun.
  2. Turn off the TV and get creative.
  3. Get plenty of rest.
  4. Eat healthy and exercise.
  5. Don’t give up, ask for help.
  6. Learn by helping others.
  7. Make friends who are different.
  8. Schedule time for homework every day.
  9. Volunteer to be a mentor.
  10. Set your sights high.

iPhone? iWait.

Posted by Michael Simkins on July 1, 2007

Well, the long awaited and much ballyhooed iPhone is here. I’m sure it’s fantastic, but I’m not going to stand, let alone sleep in line to get one quite yet. Despite the fact I earn my paychecks by thinking, eating, breathing and using technology, I am not an early adopter. I’m usually still figuring out the features of my last techtoy when the new one hits the shelf.

And that is not new for me. In sixth grade, lots of kids were starting to walk down the halls holding transistor radios to their ears. Not me. When everyone else had a “stereo,” I was still listening to “HiFi.” For years, I watched the NBC Peacock in grayscale. I think our house was the last on the block to transition from VHS to DVD. And when I finally upgraded from little Sony earbuds to Bose headphones, I promptly left them behind in the airplane’s seatback pocket. Now someone else is enjoying QuiteComfort®, my treat.

NBC peacock is grayscale
And so the story goes. Was I deprived? I don’t think so. Don’t remember feeling so. Maybe that’s why today, I don’t feel the urge to buy the latest technology just because it’s there and I can. I’m content to wait and see if the new gadget lives up to its hype. And the iPhone has a lot of hype to live up to.


Personalizing Education at Stanford’s Online High School

Posted by Michael Simkins on June 17, 2007

It was a sunny June morning in 1996, one of my last days as a principal. Soon, I would be in a new job in a new world—directing a large scale education technology “innovation” project spanning several school districts in Silicon Valley. A reporter from the local newspaper had come to campus to interview me about my years at the school and plans for the future.

One of the questions he asked was, “What do you see as the value of technology in education?” Answering was easy. “Two things. First, I think it can add efficiency to the way we manage schools and accomplish daily tasks. More importantly, I think it can enable us to personalize education far more than we do today.” More than ten years later, I hold the same view.

We’ve made a lot of progress on the efficiency side of things. We’ve put technology to work storing and managing student data, scheduling busses, and making our schools safer. Frustratingly, it seems to be taking us a lot longer to realize the potential of technology to make education more personal and engaging for students.

That’s why I was excited to read in today’s Los Angeles Times about Stanford University’s Online High School. Part of the University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, it is in its infancy and has only 30 students, but so far seems a success.

As staff writer Mitchell Landsberg writes, “The Stanford program intertwines two uneven threads in modern education: online learning and differentiated instruction for the gifted. As it turns out, it’s a natural marriage, and one that underscores the potential for computers to help break down the one-size-fits-all paradigm of many U.S. schools.”

Amen. And, in my experience, what’s good for the gifted is quite often good for the rest of us as well. Whether we’re talking about learning styles, English language learners, multiple intelligences, special needs, or just plain old varying interests, differentiating instruction makes sense. The Online High School is an example of how technology can help us do it.