Friday, May 22, 2009

The speed of technology change in schools

I've had this post stewing in my brain since yesterday when I read this post by Gary Hartzell, via Doug Johnson's most excellent Blue Skunk Blog. It was a well-written post meant to gird the defenders of libraries against critics that say the onslaught of the internet makes libraries and books themselves a dying breed. My thoughts are below:

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly that books should never be replaced by pure internet reading. I do take some issue with the following, however: Because we want students to move from simple information access skills to knowledge development and application to understanding to wisdom, technology that fosters short attention spans is both dangerous and counterproductive. “Here is the important point,” Mann contends, “and there is no getting around it: If the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are going to be grasped, they require greater attention spans than do the lower levels of data and information.”

Surfing the web for info does not represent digital literacy. It is just the START of the new digital literacy. The new digital literacy builds depth through communication, collaboration, and interaction. I refute the notion that the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are apparently only available to us in books and research papers. That is an outdated notion. In the 21st century, those higher levels of knowledge and understanding are more often going to come from shared input from collaborators across the globe. Ideas will be proposed, commented on, refined, and built up by groups of people working together towards a common understanding. This won't be happening at book clubs or libraries. It's going to be happening online. You might need a long attention span if you are sitting alone reading text, but that's not what is going to be happening with the next generation- they're going to be reading as a community, offering each other insight along the way.

My inclination is that this will allow an even greater amount of shared understanding and knowledge building. Short attention spans are not necessarily a bad thing- they can also be a sign of a brain that quickly grasps information. Don Tapscott has written that this generation of students are much better at processing this type of information than any previous generation. Instead of a short attention span, you are actually seeing an incredibly fast, advanced form of delineating what information is needed and what is not- what is a good source of information and what is not. This is a VERY good skill to have in the 21st century, with the glut of information that is available.

The last lines of Mr. Hartzell's post also stuck out in my head:

When you’re done, turn and ask your critics to cite specific evidence of electronic superiority, especially Internet superiority, in fostering student achievement. They won’t be able to do it.

This is absolutely true. But let's delve deeper into why this is true. Educators have literally been teaching with printed materials and oral language for thousands of years. The internet as we know it now has been around for 15. The real reason we don't have studies to show the effectiveness of using the internet with students is because we're all still figuring out how to do it! It's not the Internet's fault and it doesn't show a single thing about it's potential for student achievement- what it shows is that educators have still not figured out on a wide scale how to use it effectively to TEACH.

I'm reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat (finally) and just happened on this section this morning: "When computers were first introduced into offices, everyone expected a big boost in productivity. But that did not happen right away, and it sparked both disappointment and a little confusion. The noted economist Robert Solow quipped that computers are everywhere- except 'in the productivity statistics.'" (p. 206)

Friedman goes on to tell the same story with electricity- how it was expected to change everything overnight but couldn't because entire institutions, factories, management styles, workers, had to redesign themselves and their mindsets in order for the full impact to be felt. It is the same with the internet and technology in schools- and could be even more pronounced. In short, the reason we don't have statistics to support using the Internet and technology in schools is because it has only been around for 15 years and school systems/educators have still not redesigned themselves on a wide scale to make it WORK for students. Basically- the vast majority of schools are still doing it all wrong.

But just wait- schools are starting to change. Glacially, sure, but they're changing. Once the world of education at large has figured out how to use technology as a transformative learning tool, you'll have your statistics. I can't wait. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Playing Around in Second Life

Second Life is a cool invention. Like everything else, it has educational value- it's just a matter of using your imagination and discovering it. I've proudly used SL with students for 2 years now- mostly in creative writing, where we use the appearance editor to create a character and discuss how physical attributes can affect that character and the story they will be a part of (example here).

But I find myself being a little too Net Gennish when I get into Second Life. I had a group of 7th graders basically maul my avatar (Cabarrus Braveheart) to look like the creature from the black lagoon...and I love it! The guy is so hilarious. So I've left him as is and will forever be the trollish dude strolling around SL, visiting Ed Tech hotspots.

Last night I took my troll to the grand opening of the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools island in Second Life (sorry, have lost the link and am in a bit of a rush to finish this it!). I see the Cape Hatteras lighthouse so I decide to climb it. At the top, some folks are discussing the opening and how to move forward with the island, etc. All very good, smart, responsible stuff. But I think I'm too immature for Second Life. I dunno. Maybe it comes from playing RPG's and MMORPG's for so many years. I always find myself wanting to conquer things when I get into this kind of environment. So my thinking quickly shifted to "How can I get on top of this lighthouse?" So I spent the next 5-10 minutes doing that (fly up the stairs to the landing, turn on mouselook, fly up over the next ledge, smack the lightning rod at the top and click off flying at the same time...voila!). I got up there, took some pics, then decided to take a video of myself plunging over the edge.

I used Camtasia and it's choppy because my computer needs a better video card. But here was the result:


Had fun at the NCVPS and will look forward to using it for more educationally relevant things in the future (like figuring out who has to give me authority to fly the gliders.....).

School "Improvement"

Was just rereading a section of Multiple Intelligences: Best Ideas from Research and Practice, and noticed I had this part highlighted:

Our interviews reveal a common pattern in the implementation of MI. When educators begin using MI, they often try to adapt their work to the theory. For example, curriculum, school periods, classroom learning centers, and even students might be labeled with the different intelligences. Within a couple years of applying the theory, most educators rethink this approach.

...'We use MI to support what we need to do for kids; rather than manipulating what we do with kids to support MI'

In my notes in the margin I've written YES! "We're already doing it." NO YOU'RE NOT! I see this happening in all kinds of situations and in lots of schools I've been in. So often the school improvement process seems to consist of "Let's write down all of the things we're already doing so it's easier to check it off later". This makes so little sense to me. I just don't get it. Thinking like this transforms a school improvement plan into a school maintenance plan. Instead of bringing in new ideas and perspectives, what happens? Last year's school improvement plan is brought in so that the new one can paraphrase (or directly use) language from the previous year.

School improvement needs to be about new ideas and perspectives. Every school can get better and it does no good to rehash the same things (or worse, throw down things that are already happening....and causing failure....but are easier to check off as completed at the end of the year).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Geekiest Lawncare ever?

Before I start, I must apologize for this educational technology blog having nothing to do with educational technology, really. That'll change....sometime...but not today. :)

I just finished doing my yard, which is one of my least favorite things to do. Not quite as bad as jumping naked on a huge pile of thumbtacks or cleaning all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue (props to Weird Al), but still- not my perfect Sunday morning thang. So I decided to spice it up a bit- geek it out a little, you know?

So I bring my ipod Touch and my Garmin GPS. I'm rocking out to my Genius playlist (based on The Humpty Dance) when lo and behold I come across one of my many fireant hills. I never know which are active and which are dead until I run the beast over, then I always forget which ones are which- so...I whip out the Garmin, tag the coordinates, then get back to mowing. Now I can find the bad guys later and kill the right piles (although I've also read that mowing over the piles is the absolute worst thing you can's how they spread so quickly. Whoops).

So I finish mowing/tagging and start the second act of the Great Lawn Dance of Suckiness- Weed whacking. I'm buzzing along and I realize my weed whacker stops it's primary function- the whacking of the weeds. I investigate further and the twine has retracted into the spool. The cylinder is spinning but the twine is nowhere to be seen. Now, you might have figured this out about me but if you haven't I'll tell you- I don't know how to fix weed whackers. Or lawn mowers. Or cars. Or anything else mechanical. So I bend down, fiddle with the knob to try to turn some more twine out and have little success.

My first instinct is probably what most geeks would do- search online for the manual, read it, then wrestle and hope. But I'm all covered in grass and don't feel like getting to my computer so BOOM the iTouch comes out. I'm hooked into my home wireless so I go online, enter the model and serial #, bring up the manual and follow directions (if you're interested in how to do this- you hold the disk down, then turn the knob counterclockwise, open the spool, clean it out, feed the twine through the holes, then replace everything). Now, it didn't exactly work and I decided to mess with it later....but still- I think I at least now know in theory how it it supposed to work =).

So I thought I'd share my geeky lawncare. =)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Teachers Rock!

Well, it's teacher appreciation week so I thought I'd give some shout-outs....

There are so many amazing, compassionate, driven, awesome teachers out there. I've had the VERY good fortune of working with multiple schools and school systems as a teacher, tech facilitator, observer, or consultant- so I have seen my share of great teachers.

Let there be no mistake about it: There is no harder job in the world of education than classroom teacher. None, zippo, zilch. The hours to put in, the paperwork, the dealing with parents, the attempts to differentiate instruction for 24 completely separate students (or 24 x how many periods are taught), the grading, the progress reports, the IEP meetings, the meetings after school, the extra duties, eating lunch with 100's of kids every day, the incredibly varied backgrounds and prior experiences of students, and a million other things.

There are so many teachers that deal with all of this stuff and STILL deliver for their students every day- not just in teaching/leading them but developing the kinds of relationships that can literally save these kids lives. Rock on!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Tech?

**DISCLAIMER** The following mini-rant is in no way directed specifically at any one person or school system*

I hate it when techs talk down to teachers. You know the ones I'm talking about- the ones that come in, throw around jargon because they know the teacher has no idea what they're talking about, and pass the buck to the next (typically nonexistent or non communicative) IT person.

Every IT dept. has the same stated vision- to support teaching and learning. SUPPORT. As in- HELP. But the answer is always NO. Not "how can we make this happen?" or "how can I make your classroom vision become reality?" It's just ridiculous.

Case in point- when I was a 2nd grade teacher the school I was in had just found out that every single classroom was going to get a pod of 3 computers for student use. I was of course ecstatic, being the nerdy nerd that I am. I got up in a staff meeting and told the teachers at my school to start thinking of how they wanted to arrange and use these computers with their kids. I worked to get tables for kids to work collaboratively, helped teachers come up with ideas of things their children could be doing....the works!

Then the hammer came down- IT let it be known that all of these computer pods had to be grouped together within 10 feet of the port in the front of the room. Knowing how their minds worked, I immediately figured out what was going on- they had 10-foot cords. The edict had absolutely nothing to do with technology use, integration, or supporting this effort in the classroom. It came down to the length of the friggin cord. And at the front of the room, no less- where it made absolutely zero sense to have three big bulky computers (and CRT monitors).....blocking whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc.

So the IT dude comes to my room to set up my computers. I point to the port in the back of the room and kindly ask for them to be placed there. He says no. I say why not. He says the signal is not strong enough. So I tell him to go ahead and put the router at the front of the room and I'll go out and buy some longer ethernet cords and run them to the spots that would work best in my room. Then he tells me the kicker- that they all have to be within 10 feet of the port because if you run them 25 more feet the signal will weaken so much that they won't be able to use the internet!!!!

Unfortunately for him, I was a nerdy nerd. So I asked him if the port was exactly 290 feet from the hub because with standard Cat 5 wire there is no significant signal loss within 300 feet of the hub (and there isn't a significant dropoff at all if you go another 25 feet). He got all huffy and stormed out without setting anything up, which worked great. =) I got my computers where the students could actually use them and they could be a part of my classroom instead of an obstruction.

Wow, that was a long story. Don't think I've ever told that one before. It's just typical of many others though. I can't imagine that there was another elementary teacher as nerdy as me at the time, so literally hundreds of classrooms in the county received PC's that did not fit into their teaching process....thus alienating the teachers....leading to them being either misused or scrapped altogether. It's so typical of how so often the vision of the technology department does not mesh at all with the practices of the technology department. Grrrr!

The first question out of an IT Departments mouth should always be "How can I make your vision a reality?". If they truly want to support learning, they'll listen to the experts- the CLASSROOM TEACHERS. Throwing up roadblocks may make their jobs easier in the short run, but their jobs are support- not easy support....just support.

Notes in the Margin....

So I was sitting on the beach in Hobe Sound, the middle of what I will call a "3-beer work session". Basically, I'm reading Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott and Multiple Intelligences: Best Ideas from Research and Practice by Mindy Kornhaber and scribbling my notes into the margins, highlighting things I'd like to come back to, etc. (you know- real old school note-taking type of stuff). When I realize that there could be a much better way....

What if there were a site that you could copy/paste/feed articles, passages, or blogs into and then have space in the margins for comments, videos, allow users to highlight, etc. Basically I'm picturing a voicethread environment for thinkers and ponderers. A place where a group could all read and point out different parts of the piece they agree with, disagree with, etc.- where it would all be on one page and interactive. To use the Voicethread example- the pictures of a voicethread would be replaced with pages of an article, sections of a book, or blog posts. On either side would be the comments, videos, audio, etc.

You take a traditional blog post like this, for example. Sure, you can comment and others can reply to comments. But this is pretty rudimentary and doesn't encourage much interaction, point/counterpoint, etc. Plus, it doesn't have the ability to add audio, video, etc.

Now here's the thing- this probably already exists. I just haven't been able to find it yet. I just think it would be a really cool way to bring out and develop ideas. Plus, I wouldn't have to freak out if I drop my book/notebook into the sand anymore, which is a huge plus.