Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tech Savvy in 4K (Guest Post)

Guest Blogger: Ryan Alderson (@aldersonr)

Even the youngest students at Cashton Elementary have learned first-hand the value of technology assisted learning. Over the course of a couple days, I visited just a few classrooms to see how teachers have continued to leverage digital tools to further engage students in learning. For this post, the focus is on our four year old kindergarten class with Mrs. Kramer, a veteran teacher who is eager to find innovative means to reach all students.

Three and four year old students in this classroom have access to a set of iPad2(s), a SMART table, a SMART board, and a couple of aging desktop computers daily as part of digital centers. Students explore a wide variety of apps and programs both collaboratively and independently based on their individual strengths and struggles. During this snapshot in time, students were working on alphabet sequence, listening to interactive digital stories, studying US geography, and using a modified ten-frame to improve number sense. Best of all, each of the activities was occurring at the same time. As I observed the students in action, I was impressed with the level of engagement and individualized instruction. Take a look, you will be too.

Ipad 2: US Geography

SMART Table: Number Sense

Desktop Computers:  Digital Storybooks

SMART board: Alphabet sequence

This is crossposted at Ryan's blog, here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Digital PLCs for Administrators

Many administrators in the state of Wisconsin are dealing with a simple reality: Technology has grown significantly faster than our skills in using it. In an age of hyperinterconnectedness and augmented reality, some of us have faltered in technology competence and need to polish our skills.
Traditional methods of development have helped, but we need more. We need a systematic way to improve our skills as a community of administrators both learning about digital-age learning tools and supporting one another as we learn. We need to amplify our skills, our ability to support one another, and our ability to support and lead initiatives of powerful learning with digital-age tools for students.
Most of us are acutely aware of the powerful effect that a PLC can have on an educational community. For administrators, setting up the conditions under which PLCs thrive is different from participating in, and making significant contributions to, a meaningful PLC.  Although we have many opportunities to interact with other  principals and district administrators, we don’t often actually get the chance to play a part, especially relating to as important a topic as technology integration.
How do we connect the dots? How do we learn about digitally-oriented learning tools, and support one another as we implement best practice, collaborate to solve problems, and work to continuously improve the state of education in Wisconsin? The answer: We must develop a digitally-oriented, association-endorsed Professional Learning Community for administrators to learn, share, grow, and lead. This PLC must afford administrators in Wisconsin the ability to attain technology skills in an accommodating, hands-on environment, the ability to share their progress and work through obstacles, and the ability to vet results for powerful student learning. We need to amplify our community into a digitally-oriented PLC.
The idea of a digitally-oriented, certification-based PLC is not unheard of. Pioneers like Scott McLeod (CASTLE) and Jeff Utecht (COETAIL) worked to develop systematic ways to improve technology skills ahead of almost everyone. The significant work that they have done to pave the way for leaders to support leaders is prized and iconic.
This blog entry is crossposted at Amplified Administrators

An #edtech fieldtrip (Guest Post)

Guest Blogger: David Bell (@dtbell22)

Over the past week, I took a little time to go on a technology integration field trip through our building.  My goal was to identify ways our staff leverages technology to guide, expand, and enhance learning objectives. Below are the results of my trip:

A pencast on Mrs. Lundeen's Website

For important lectures Mrs. Lundeen selects one student to create a pencast.  The student uses a Smart Pen to take notes.  The smart pen records Mrs. Lundeen's lecture as the student takes notes.  At the end of class Mrs. Lundeen posts the pencast on her website.  Students can access the pencasts if they were absent or to review for assessments.  Watch the entire pencast on Mrs. Lundeen's website:

Enhanced research tools in Mr. Bakke's 8th grade Social Studies 

Students are using Diigo, Weebly, Google Docs, free video/audio converters, the Library of Congress primary resources for teachers website, and other web 2.0 tools to conduct research for their 2012 National History Day Project.  The theme for 2012 is Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History.

Blogging in Mrs. Wallace's High School English Class
Blog Activity

Students are creating blogs to track their reading projects throughout the semester.  In each post students summarize, reflect, and make prediction.  All students are required to review and post comments on other students blogs.  Mrs. Wallace uses a Doc to help student access each others blogs.

Online tests in Mr. Hundt's room.
Mr. Hundt's Website

Students in Mr. Hundt's classes take most of their tests online.  Students who need their test read to them go directly to his website.  Mr. Hundt uploads each test on youtube.  Students use an iPod or an iPad to listen to the test.  If they need a question re-read they can simply back up the youtube clip.

Gizmos in Mr. Kaus's 7th grade Math class

Students in Mr. Kaus's math class use Gizmos to deepen their understanding of the concepts of area, volume, and surface area.  Gizmos are online simulations that allow students to inquire and explore concepts at their own pace.  In the lesson I had the opportunity to observe, Mr. Kaus used one of our COW Labs  (Computer on Wheels).  Using the COW allowed each student to use these online manipulatives at their own pace.

Using Google Docs to coordinate extra-help passes for EBLOCK and to track tier II interventions.
EBLOCK is an opportunity for students to receive additional instructional support during the school day.   Twice a week we run an alternative schedule that allows for a 25-minute block of time for students who are struggling in a class to get extra help.  Class advisers access student grades via Skyward Family Access.  Student in need of support are assigned to specific teachers via a shared Google Doc.   Enrichment opportunities are provided for students demonstrating good grades and behavior in all classes.  Every three weeks teachers document the Tier II interventions they are providing students at-risk for failure in their classes.   The Intervention Log is a shared Google Doc monitored by RtI coaches who assure students in need are getting intervention support.

Students taking online exams via Skyward Mrs. Morrison's 7th grade Language Arts

Two fixtures that anchor Mrs.Morrison's grammar instruction are grammar challenges and grammar quizzes Quizzes are completed on the computer using Skyward’s Online Assignment Templates.  The grammar challenges, a formative assessment,  are posted on Monday; students have until Friday midnight to complete their challenge, and using their notes is encouraged.  Throughout the week,  Mrs. Morrison is able to observe the questions in which students are struggling and address their needs to increase understanding throughout the week.  Thursday is a day dedicated to review and take the on-line grammar quiz.  Similar to the challenge, feedback is immediate.  Students see their grades and are able to peruse the grammar quiz to observe the incorrect questions and what they should have marked. 

QR code review scavenger hunt in Mrs. Mosley's and Mrs. Wallace's Language Arts 9 class
The 9th grade Language Arts classes went on an Animal Farm Review Scavenger Hunt using QR codes.  The class was split into groups of 4, each with a different set of questions.  The groups started with a question, which was displayed on an iPad.  The students then had to hunt throughout the school for the correct answer.  Once the answer was found, students scanned the next question.  After 10 questions, all students found their way back to the classroom to do a final vocabulary exercise.

IPOD translation activity in Ms. Glaze's Spanish class

Students worked in pairs to translate information at different stations throughout the room.  iPod's are used to help students find meanings and words they do not know.

Student created yearbook in Ms. Curtis's Desktop Publishing class.

Sttudents in Desktop Publishing class are currently producing the school annual completely online.  Using Jostens Yearbook Avenue, students create a username and password that allows them to log in and work on their pages anywhere there is internet access.  Last year was the first year the annual was produced online.  Many upperclassmen have had the opportunity to produce the book both ways.  Overall, students prefer designing the yearbook online.  Senior Amber Dahl, said "Yearbook Avenue is more user friendly compared to the old way the yearbook was produced."  Senior Kelli Schmitz added, "Online you have all the necessary tools to complete the page in one spot." Mrs. Curtis reports using this technology has saved the yearbook club time and money.

This list is by no means comprehensive, I didn't include the musical composition projects in Mrs. Miller's class, the collaborative virtual zoo in Mr. Hanley's class, How-to videos in the in Mrs. Mosley's innovations lab, a blended learning environment through Quia in Mr. Heinberg's Agriculture classes, or interactive Smart board activities in Mrs. Huntzicker's room.  It is exciting to work with teachers and support staff who are continually reflecting, researching, and refining their practices in an effort to improve student achievement.  These opportunities would not be possible without the support from Cashton community.

This is crossposted at his blog here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More and Less

I love Jamie Vollmer's list. I think of it often, especially in times like these. I know he works to add items to the list as they arise. I have some suggestions: Common Core Standards, RTI, PBIS, SBAC, GOALS, STEM, Google Apps, Early Learning, Creativity, Global Literacy, Environmental Literacy, ELL and SIOP, ISTE NETS, MAP, EHCY, ISES, CCLCs, and the list goes on.

While we add high-cost, labor-hour intense items to Jamie's list at a lighting speed (No, wait. At the speed of special interest lobbying), schools are the targets of the biggest cuts in the history of education. Is it any wonder schools are struggling? We have myopic special interest groups dividing our precious human and financial resources into a cacophonous tune of impending collapse. Argh. We are being asked to implement more initiatives than we have the capacity to execute. We are being asked to do more while doing so with less. And then we are audited.

There are so many public schools where leadership, fiscal, and human resources are already stretched and overextended, where there is little margin for error. Rural schools and urban schools with high transiency and poverty just don't have the capacity to undertake another massive initiative, much less the list above; consequently, those schools are more exposed to difficulty in acceptable implementation of new initiatives, or sheer non-compliance.

While each initiative isn't unreasonable without considering any other initiative, the overall networked-effect of Jamie's growing list is detrimental and pedagogically divisive. I think of this often when sitting at an education service agency listening to the details of a forthcoming federally-driven initiative. Earlier this week I had the strong urge to challenge some well-meaning consultants trying to "help" our school district implement "best practice" in our school wellness policy. After taking the self-assessment, I found that the guidelines for foods from vending machines, concession stands, or parents for special occasions are not up to par. To align ourselves to current nutritional thinking, all foods must "be less than 35% sugar by weight, less than 35% calories from fat, less than 600mg of sodium, less than 200 calories, with at least 50% whole grains, but less than 2 grams of saturated or trans-fat, individually sold of only one serving size per individually wrapped package, and if liquid less than 12oz." See how helpful that was. We can add Wellness Policy Policing of Best Practice to the list above. As for the healthy consultants, I suppressed my urge to scream and merely nodded as they lectured.

So what do we do? How do we cope? How can we advocate for balance? How do we determine the most salient initiatives on which to focus? Indeed, with the great people we have, we push forward. With the PLCs we've developed, we cope and filter. With the associations to which we belong, we advocate. And tomorrow, we will have another new initiative to add to Jamie's List. So it goes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do Digital Natives Prefer Tablets?

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus for a meeting and had some time to wander around during lunch. While walking through the lobbies of campus buildings, past lecture halls and classrooms, and throughout cafeteria areas, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: At a place with a dense population of digital natives working in an environment of intense academic workload, I saw high usage of digital devices, none of which were tablets. This runs counter to the beloved features that make tablets great: longer battery life, seamless syncing with online stores, fun apps, easy use, and the list goes on. Yet, digital natives--at least in this environment--are turning to laptops.

The interesting ingredient in this observation is that these digital natives have the liberty to choose the device to fit their needs and tasks with minimal interference from adults, teachers, administrators, and technology directors--most of whom have high device bias. My guess is that the choice of laptops over tablets is based on two instinctive functionality needs: First, digital natives are under the stresses of collegiate academic rigor (e.g., remote access to library databases, citation managers, research papers, Moodle, etc.), which may better align to laptops functions. Second, they are constantly in the modality of hyperinterconnectedness (e.g., running multiple tabs, multiple windows, and several chat boxes, all while running simultaneous applications including Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, etc.). Laptops may currently complement digital natives' prerequisite functions

This is not to say that tablets don't have the possible functions that may better align to hyperconnectedness and adult-level academic rigor. Tablets, however, require extra effort and commitment to configuring them in such a way that replicates the functions of a laptop. If natives don't want to exert the effort and don't have the device commitment, the laptop may just be easier.

This also is not to say that there aren't ancillary elements of partiality to Windows-based laptops within network active directories, high-use/university-level web applications such as "Blackboard," or software such as "Solidworks."

To get back on point, if digital natives at UW-Madison are not using tablets, who is ? Do an image search on Google for iPad + user. What do you see? Adults who would widely characterize themselves as digital immigrants, and very young users. Both of these populations struggle to conceptualize the use of digital-age tools. What conclusions can we draw from these observations?

Here are some jackknife thoughts: 
  • Tablets are entry-level technology devices to be used as a springboard into devices with more capacity. 
  • Tablets may be great for elementary or recreational learning environments, but they may not be as compatible for heavier academic workloads.
  • Tablets are more difficult to use within the hyperinterconnected technology ecosystem of digital natives.

Now, what inferences can we take from this for application within the field of #edtech integration, platform management, active/virtual directory administration, resource allocation per developmental level, LMS selection and evaluation, and/or staff development? Any reflections? 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Now, You're Talking

I may be the last person on the earth to view this, but it is completely worthy of a post. With outright concern for district administrators on presentation effectiveness, I've posted before about effective presentation methodology. I am also given to comedy as a way to illustrate important lessons. After watching this video, reflect for a moment. How many times have you been subjected to poorly designed presentations? How did you react to the presenter's ideas? How many times have we seen (or actually perpetrated ourselves) the mistakes seen within this comedian's observations? How would our messages be better received if we paid attention to how the messages where presented?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The New Education Ecology

I love the idea of beginning to think about the reform of education in more "organic" terms, as opposed to a more linear, binary model (i.e., black/white, yes/no, in/out, right/wrong, off track/on track). After viewing this presentation, what jumps off the slides? What is most surprising? What is most affirming? What foresight does this give to educational leaders? 

Friday, October 21, 2011

You have an app for that? Really?

Do you have an app for hunger?

Do you have an app for fetal alcohol syndrome?

Do you have an app for verbal abuse, hygiene, or poor parenting?

Do you have an app for student transiency or inequity?

What about neglect, an unstable home-life, or low self esteem?

Do you have an app for tears and hugs and love?

Yes, actually. We do:

Source: Helping Teacher, Amy Newman

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Total Recall

This quirky little graphic is fun to look through and challenges our conception of the importance of memory, but the graphic should also challenge how we think about scope and sequence, rigor, reading literacy, and media accessibility—among other things. After looking this over in more detail, what observations do you have? How do you understand recall differently? How have resources of accessibility on the web changed how we think, reflect, and sequence contemplations? Do you see any equity issues that arise for those who have access and those who do not? What does this mean for school district administrators? 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why does Google still build buildings?

I was recently at an administrative convention, and one of the erudite presenters played the following video within his presentation. I've seen these before, mostly from for-profit, pseudo-schools.

Kaplan's Video:

Do I believe that the old way is the best way? Nope. Do I believe that we should push out of traditional, educational methods? Yup. But, part of the subscript to this commercial is different. One of the points being illustrated here is that education can be fully embedded into everyday life as a result of technology. I totally agree. Yet, is the virtual way-the more remote way- the best way? As my thought-stream drifted away from the presentation, I began to think about this, and finally distilled my line-of-questioning down to a core question: Why does Google still build buildings? Why is the company with the most tech-savvy people in the entire globe--who would have the most capacity to work remotely using the latest digital tool to replicate person-to-person dialogue--still investing in brick and mortar, window panes and carpet? What variable does Google value that Kaplan is not recognizing? Kaplan-apparently-is saying that we/you don't need any/many of those things. 

Here's Google's Googleplex:

This phenomenon of tech-industry entrepreneurs investing in high-end, brick-and-mortar "places" with luxury amenities at which to work is not just for global companies. Take The Nerdery, for instance. Widely considered to be one of the best places to work as a coder in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area, the Nerdery also has the reputation of treating its employees very well, part of which is within the walls of a building. See the video below.

Nerdery in Minneapolis, MN:

So, back to my core question: Why does Google still build buildings? My first reaction is that Google, the Nerdery, and the like understand something about human nature that Kaplan is ignoring or is ignorant of. Google must value something so much as to invest in lush, high-end, place-based amenities that attract and retain the best in the globe. The irony is in the reality that the most tech-savvy people in the world still actually go to work (where they most likely interact online), at an actual place (instead of cyberspace), where they value face-to-face, place-based interactions.

I certainly don't want this post to be taken as an endorsement or rejection of virtual learning, online education, or brick-and-mortar traditional education for that matter. But, the implied contradiction between the tech-savvy (who should be shining examples of virtual accomplishment) and the need for place-based work locations is interesting, and it has major implications for education and the future of constructvist, project-based learning. (My thinking is that digital communication supplements face-to-face interactions, not the other way around. And, in view of this insight, does blended learning or virtual learning align best with the learning, retention, and application of 21st Century Skills, such as creativity, collaboration, problem solving, etc.?)

So, what do you think? Why does Google still build buildings? What inter-personal interactions do they value so much as to invest in exceedingly generous work environments? What inferences can we as school district administrators draw from this insight in order to improve student capacity to learn, retain, and apply knowledge?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The iPad: An Administrative Status Symbol

Walk into any conference for school district administrators, anywhere in the world really. In my region, for example, it could be WASDA. What do you notice? Yes, superintendents across the room are fuddling around with iPads, attempting to hunt and peck away as the discourse of the presentation moves on at a faster tempo. The set up is hilarious to watch: A well-dressed superintendent enters the room, selects a place at a round table, takes out the iPad, looks around to see if anyone notices that he/she has the iPad 2, adjusts the designer cover for optimal slope, checks weather, deploys the  "Notes" app, sits puzzled in not knowing what else to do with the iPad. What this is is an exhibition of status, but it's misaligned because having an iPad does not correlate to being able to fully utilize one in a productive and collaborative way.

What's the disconnect? This is an example of function trying to follow form, rather than form following function. College students, for example, are knowledgeable enough about the functions for which they intend to use a device (e.g., multiple tabs, multiple windows, multiple chat boxes, all while running simultaneous applications including Facebook, Google Chat, Spotify, Twitter, etc.). In turn, they mostly choose laptops, which naturally align to their instinct of hyperconnectedness. In the instance of the innocently bewildered superintendent imagining that having an iPad in some way elevates the perception of being tech savvy, the focus is almost entirely on the form of the device without concern for how it functions or the digital-age skills one exerts in order to fully capitalize on the device's unique utility.

Administrators must shift how we think about technology. We must think less about the device we have or are purchasing and more about how we use the device. For digital natives, it's a natural decision. For everyone else, it's an defensive argument. We must first think about how the device is going to function as it is integrated into a powerful learning environment, which also requires us to know the digital-age tools well enough to make that judgement in the first place. I am certainly not saying that if a superintendent was using sling Note to follow a presentation and take notes that an iPad would have the full capacity for the occasion. The device does. What I am saying is that the user currently doesn't, despite the optimism that having an iPad might give the user the appearance that they do.

So, how could a tech-savvy superintendent use an iPad? I love vignettes: A well-dressed superintendent enters the room, selects a place at a round table, takes out the iPad, and pulls up Pocket Informant HD to check the status of a number of collaborative initiatives. Since all the conference's materials are synced to Dropbox, the materials for the next presentation are immediately accessible. Since Evernote is so easy to use, ideas, thoughts and observations will be recorded straight away and accessible from any device at a later date. At that point, the superintendent wonders about the Twitter discussion for the conference and deploys the app, searching first for the event's hashtag. The superintendent tweets a reflection from yesterday's speaker to his PLN  and then retweets a colleague's observation. While scrolling through recent tweets, the savvy iPad user notes an article that is very interesting and bookmarks the resource with Instapaper in order to find it later and hopefully post a comment. As luck would have it when the presentation begins, the convention center WiFi flakes out and the speaker turns out to be lackluster, so the superintendent scrolls through the apps until he/she finds Reader app, which pre-downloads content for perusal even without access to WiFi. And so it goes.

Here's the call to action: Let's think more about function and use of devices as it relates to learning and collaboration. Let's help each other by participating in a PLN. Let's use devices to their full capacities, and then use our experiences to amplify the learning of students.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Visions" of Students Today

In his groundbreaking aggregate reversal of perspective, Michael Wesch turns the webcam from a focus on students within the classroom to a focus on what students see while in a classroom. The result is a mesmerizing digital "over-soul" of common experiences linking students from different developmental levels from all over the world. Click here for the full HTML 5 experience.

See all the ideas at (an HTML5 interactive video collage). 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let me introduce you to Kurt Squire

Kurt Squire, a professor at the University of Wiscnosin-Madison within the School of Education's Department of Curriculum and Development, is a Co-Founder of the Games, Learning, and Society Group. Widely known within gaming circles with the likes of James Paul Gee and Constance Steinkuehler, Dr. Squire recently published his first book, Video Games and Learning:

"In many respects, the promise of video games is about realizing age-old visions of education proposed by Maria Montessori or John Dewy. However, digital media make new things possible-such as leading a Civilization game or collaborating in real time with people around the world. We need to rethink what we want out of education in the digital age" (2011, p. 15).

Kurt Squire from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Digital Mentors for District Administrators

Three years ago while at an ASCD conference, I heard Don Tapscott talk about digital mentors. The concept resonated with me. He talked about having three "digital natives" as technology mentors to keep him up to date, to help him work through issues, and to give him advice when needed.  I love this idea. As Tapscott says, "Don't be afraid; learn from the N-Geners." Procter and Gamble have apparently endorsed the concept of "reverse mentoring" to the extent of creating a mentoring program where N-Geners mentor veteran employees.

I have three digital mentors. Cord Blomquist, my brother-in-law, runs  Ready Made Web. I can't thank him enough for his assistance in troubleshooting hardware problems, his advice on technology purchases, and his annual family CPU maintanence visit. Brandon Resheske is my second digital mentor. Always available, never makes me feel like I've just asked a dumb question, Brandon is my Google buddy. From experimenting with Google Wave (ing goodbye:-) to Buzz, to Google+, he's always had time for me. Last and probably most influential is Dan Berg. He's the man. He's my gaming guy, my mobile go-to expert, and my html resource. He's the guy who had enough patience to help me through Xampp, and Filezilla, and Hostmonster, and Wordpress trouble shooting, and the list goes on. Thanks, guys, for all the help.

I am, indeed, fortunate to have access to expertise, but I also sought out these relationships. What is most important is that district administrators are open to exposing our weaknesses and learning new things from others who may not have our professional status. We need to transition from being the mentors to being mentor-able. So often, we are the the talking heads with all the answers, where the buck stops. For district administrators to not be held hostage to our ignorance and pride, we need assistance, most likely from a younger generation who may not have the same education or career rank. We need to get over it.

Look around you. It could be a brother-in-law, a colleague, a niece, or a neighbor's son. Let your self-importance fall away, and start the conversation. Power up with a digital mentor, log in, and step into the stream.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The #Edtech "Walk the Talk" Autopsy

So much has happened since last we spoke! In June, I posted content about my best plan to "walk the talk" of #edtech. I taught two graduate courses: one to teachers working to earn principal certification, and one to principals working to earn superintendent certification. My goal was simple: To walk my talk, and to actually "do" what I "ask" people to do.

My vision, as idealistic and "green" as a first-year-teacher," was to build constructivist experiences around essential questions through the blended integration of accessible and free technology. What follows is the autopsy.
  • Tab management on desktops continued to be a challenge for any generation of student if he or she did not already frequently use technology. The process of registering or "signing up" for Web 2.0 applications was also a challenge, with things like captcha and/or mobile text confirmations codes. Password organization also plagued the group with frequent bottlenecks. We eventually began using "problem pairs" as a cooperative learning tool to work collaboratively through minor technology issues.
  • Once the "announcements" section on the class webpage was established as a place for information and dialogue to clear up ambiguities, everything went much better. Next time I teach a blended class, I will emphasize this resource better in order to head off issues before people get frustrated.  
  • The time I spent getting students oriented to the nuances of each Web 2.0 application paid off in student confidence and better (and more prompt) collaboration and interaction later. Each Web 2.0 application is a bit different in how posts are published, how html code is embedded, and even how to view the "home" location. I found out quickly that students needed large group and small group process time to gain the experience needed to effectively navigate through different Web 2.0 applications. 
  • I learned that the innate communication aim and intent for each Web 2.0 application is significantly different (with a little help from @mcleod). It turns out that the purpose of one digitally-oriented tool is completely different than another even though they overlap in publishing characteristics. Indeed, the published post of a blog made most sense (in my class setting) when the primary audience was the teacher. The peer comments on individual blog posts maintained a narrow focus without room for applicable but tangential dialogue. The published post of a comment within a discussion thread (say in Google Groups) has a more peer-based audience, and students had the ability to shoot off on ancillary sub-discussion threads. Backchannel transcripts turn out to be an almost intimate, stream-of-consciousness diary of aggregate reflection and playful multi-directional teasing, not meant for anything but formative assessment. Wikis (I used a shared Google Document.) in this setting worked best as a communal opportunity for whole class collaboration. The development of the template for artifact reflection (all of which were included in a portfolio) worked exceedingly well as a large group opportunity for student input on summative assessment. 
  • Problems were as much the "glitchiness" of the tools we were using as it was breaking our conception that each of us are individual silos of learning. Indeed, Google Groups would flake out and not allow certain students to post for no reason at all, or Capzles would freeze without reason. However, it was our traditionally tilted paradigms of exclusive and private learning that hampered our progress for inclusive and aggregate learning in an environment amplified with digital-age tools. I found that the backchannel was most useful in breaking that notion, allowing students to glimpse the the interface between crowdsourcing in a classroom and powerful learning. 
  • This is a big one: Device uniformity does not matter as much as browser uniformity. To create an environment that focuses more on constructivist learning activities and less on technology hiccups requires a common vocabulary for navigation through Web 2.0 applications, similar tab management features, etc. I found the solution to be a strong recommendation for everyone to use the same web browser. 
  • The students loved Skype. I am grateful Deb GurkeJoe Schroeder, and Peggy Hinckley for taking time on a Saturday to talk to the class. The students loved it, the content was timely, and the examples were real. 
  • The concept of "share settings" is not complex after you've experimented with using it, but for the novice, the concept is daunting at the start. Like most of these observations, the more time I spend modeling in large group and capitalizing on "educational moments," the better students utilized the feature. 
  • Constructivist activities within cooperative learning groups are already difficult to develop and facilitate, but when digital-oriented tools are added to the mix, the complexity was at first overwhelming. Honestly, I used the book, Total Participation Techniques, as a starting point, and then matched the technique to the Web 2.0 application, whether it was a comment on the day's backchannel, some contribution to a wiki list, a post to a discussion thread on Google Groups, a  Wordle (as trite as it may now be), or a Google Form. The dialogue of PLNs naturally ebbs and flows between different Web 2.0 applications pending preference, novelty, functionality, etc. To deliberately design experiences matching critical thinking to the most suitable digitally-oriented tool was a more difficult task than I expected. 
  • I gave students the option of submitting the summative-assessment portfolio as a Google Collection (which is a collection of shared folders, all of which contain shared documents). Once students understood the concept, they enjoyed the option, and I did too. 

In retrospect, the class was quite the endeavor. Students were symmetrically learning about the content of the class and the digital applications used to facilitate the learning. Student feedback, however, was exceedingly positive and appreciative. Accordingly, the myth narrative that educators are reluctant to "jump in" and learn about and use digitally-oriented learning tools is wholly false. If this experience is any indication of the larger educational community, the problem (or "big fricking wall as @mcleod calls it) is not as much fear, ambition, or traditionalism, but is rich exposure, deep access, and productive experiences within staff development opportunities. 

What a lesson! I genuinely encourage you to seek-out experiences to "walk the talk" of #edtech and actually "do" what we "ask" others to do! If you've "walked the talk", I'd love to hear about your experiences. If anyone has "best practice" recommendations in facilitating blended classroom instruction, I'd enjoy your comments!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Walking the Talk of #Edtech

Pop quiz: You get invited to teach a class as an acting superintendent to principals who want to be superintendents. You are a huge #edtech advocate. What do you do? My answer is to walk the talk. For those of you who have been inspired by Scott McLeod like I have, this is an interesting case study. Here's what I tried to do:

  • I started with a Google Site and embedded the syllabus as a Google Doc. (It's my first time teaching the course so the syllabus is still a bit raw.)

  • I then used David Warlick's method of incorporating backchannel class dialogue, capturing an entire different element to the class, including aggregated class notes, idea processing, informal Q and A between classmates, and the real-time documentation of a hype-local personal learning network. It's much like a fused class journal documenting the learning  After each class, I copy and paste the dialogue into a Google Doc, answer questions and respond to interesting exchanges. 

    • Next, I mimicked Michael Wesch and had each student in the class set up a blog, collected the RSS feeds for the each blog's posts and comments, used Yahoo Pipes to consolidate the feeds into one pipe output, which I embedded into the Google Site. 

    • To provide an integrated environment for threaded discussion, I used Google Groups to post questions and allow students to thoughtfully exchange ideas and responses. 

    • In order to provide primary sources and other materials from which to build constructivist/project-based learning experiences, I have uploaded all the class resources to a "file cabinet" webpage. 

    • Finally, I've embedded the RSS feed from a Diigo social bookmarking group, allowing for "current events" discussions and opportunities for real-life case studies. This is also a Michael Wesch specialty. 

    The class has met once so far, and it is going well, but not without problems. Introducing prospective district-level leaders to the complexities of the superintendency is a large enough task on its own. The challenge of  #edtech integration is admittedly still more characteristic of experiment than of full amplification. I sense that basic digitally-oriented skills such as tab management and password organization are hurdles on which we'll have to continue to work. And I don't even want to talk about access to electrical outlets or adequate access to WiFi.

    I'd love feedback on my effort to walk the talk. How have all of you walked the talk? How have you navigated through the assessment puzzle of content standards, technology, and project-based assessment?

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Don't be the Droning District Administrator

    I recently had a terrible experience: I sat for a full hour watching a PowerPoint presentation with tired backgrounds, cheesy clip art, and crowded slides that were poorly ordered--all accompanied by monotone, self-promoting lecture. Argh. The experience inspired some self-reflection and this blog post. I know that I've been guilty of it too: the mind-numbing PowerPoint. I've fallen in to the stereotype of the droning district administrator. It's sort of like sentencing your audience to death by PowerPoint. We can do better. If we reformulate our approach to the actual presentations and incorporate social media opportunities, we can be more effective in how we convey, engage, and influence.

    Think of the possibility of transforming annual meetings, community listening sessions, and referenda informational meetings into high-engagement occasions where we can remedy misinformation and purposefully clarify ambiguities. It's our chance to allow parents and community stakeholders to . . .
    • easily access accurate information,  
    • allow for a forum of discussion (which they are going to have anyhow) in a place where people access to infographics, slideshows, and/ or videos,
    • impel the facts through social networks that we don't normally have access to. 
    Let's begin first by looking at how we present. Garr Reynold's of Presentation Zen is exceedingly insightful in his recommendations. He breaks his recommendations up into three basic areas: Organization and preparation tips, delivery tips, and slide tips, all of which are immediately useful and stylishly perceptive.

    Here, Reynolds talks to a group of Google employees about his expertise in 2008. Some of his references are a bit outdated, but the advice still holds very strong.

    Jazzing up the actual PowerPoint isn't the only thing you should do to prevent the dull, sleep-inducing  ambiance of the typical presentation. By appropriately incorporating social media into your presentation, you also allow your message to reach a larger audience and allow for a method of discourse.

    Take, for example, Brian Solis's graphic below on how to extend the influence of your presentation by utilizing social media. This is as much a measure engagement as it is a way to let your presentation (as Solis says) "resonate."

    According to Solis, before presenting at all, we should listen in order to establish who the audience is and what the critical issues are. The progression of creation, presenting, broadcasting, measuring and finally adapting is latent with opportunity to research with Ning, develop context and content with Google Forms, send and receive messages with back-channels during presentations, participate in the audience debriefing after the presentation through Twitter, measure echo and accuracy your message through Facebook, and finally modify your message in response to ambiguity via a blog.

    Connecting to Your Audience by Nancy Duarte

    We've all been there: Low-light, water glasses and ice click, a cherry-wood podium, a guy a with tie reading from slides. Take a step into what seems unconventional but really is more effective by recalibrating how you present and how you purposefully strengthen your message.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    The Deliberate Practice of Edtech Leadership

    I love the concept of deliberate leadership, of purposefully exerted action aligned to vision. To act with thoughtful and calculated enterprise requires an acute understanding of the end-game to which you are leading, which is why I appreciate ISTE's work on "Essential Conditions."

    Like most "best-practice" lists, many of the conditions are cross-pollinating, organic rather than sequential, auto-catalytic, and fluid in priority as other conditions become more critical. And of course, it's easy to recognize a high-functioning system when you see it, but that's not the dilemma. The catch is where to start?

    I get this question all the time. What should school leaders do first? Where should we best begin the process in order to increase the likelihood of success? The answer, unfortunately, is depended not on an endorsed method but more on the existing qualities of the people and the characteristics of the places targeted for innovation.

    Through the lens of a district-level leader, the first and most essential measure that a leader can begin is an awareness of and personal competence in digital-age tools within a burgeoning digitally-oriented professional learning community. This may look like a group of administrators amusing ourselves with technology, but it may be the most important step of deliberate practice an administrator can take in order to develop the essential conditions of technology-integrated educational environments. The next step is a "systems" approach to working incrementally on the ISTE "Essential Conditions," most important of which is the "Shared Vision" condition.

    What do you think? Where should a school leader begin to exert deliberate leadership in the process of edtech transformation? Should you have a balance of personal and system development? Is there one essential condition that is significantly more important than another?

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    The Mobile-Savvy Superintendent

    Raise your hand if you have a smartphone. Now, raise your hand if you frequently tweet, socially bookmark, or access shared documents on your smartphone. Just as I thought: We've got a mass epidemic of underutilization and ignorance within the ranks of superintendents who vainly carry smartphones in their breast pockets. It's like using Taylor-Made golf clubs on a miniature golf course. They are only using "bars" instead of using mobile bandwidth.

    So, what does the "mobile-savvy" superintendent look like? This graphic (by Brian Solis) does an excellent job of visually representing the variables at play. We use smartphones socially (professionally speaking) in real-time, where ever and whenever we want. We choose the personalized device that fits our needs the best, and then install the best apps to allow us to engage in relationships and networks (PLNs and PLCs).

    For the sake of example by way of vignette: A busy (and mobile-savvy) superintendent finishes a school district stakeholder meeting early, boots up her smartphone, and posts a community member compliment about the new school nutrition program to her twitter account (an mode of communication that reaches 1200 of her "followers" instantly). She then opens her Google Reader App, and quickly scrolls through her blogroll in order to stay current on evocative issues and happenings. She notices a piece on "BYOL," then bookmarks and comments on the piece via the Diigo App to her district-wide technology innovation group, who has been looking into creative ways for allowing students to bring their own laptops to school. She'll check the groups' responses to the piece later. A Google Calendar reminder pops up to prompt her to the next appointment, so she opens the GPS App as she's walking to her car, verbally directs the App to provide her directions to downtown chamber of commerce building, hops in her car and allows the GPS to do the  dirty work as she thinks about her speech, which she realizes is sitting on her desk at central office. Upon arrival, she finds the Google Doc on her smartphone, and sends it to the chamber of commerce secretary who then prints off a fresh version for the speech. 

    Most superintendents, however, are just using their smartphones for texting, making phone calls, and checking emails. Their underutilization (or low-capacity use) of the smartphone may point to more than just a lack of technology know-how. The subscript to the squandered-away opportunity speaks to their connectedness, or their contribution to and participation in digitally-oriented professional networks and relationships.

    The meaningful utilization of a smartphone is just the tangible demonstration of the extent to which a learner participates in a personal learning network and a digitally-oriented professional learning community. So, if you want to be a "mobile-savvy" superintendent, it depends less on the smartphone you buy and more upon the professional communities to which you meaningfully contribute.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    What's on the "Horizon"

    Many of you are already very familiar with the annually submitted "Horizon Report" by the New Media Consortium. Trend analysis is one of the most important skills a district-level leader can apply when strategic planning, designing staffing levels, allocating resources, updating polices, and the list goes on.

    The NMC has been extraordinarily accurate in their forecasts over the last seven years, as seen below in a graphic that neatly arranges their previous predictions. What is most interesting is both the scalability of some trends versus the one-dimensional/false promise of others.

    Recently, the NMC released this year's report, which includes recognition of innovations such as ebooks, augmented reality, game-based learning, and gesture-based learning. Below is NMC's ppt on the 2011 report.

    View more presentations from New Media Consortium

    NMC, however, is not the only resource a district administrator may look to in order to become more aware of upcoming drivers of change. Gartner's "Hype Cycle" of emerging technology trends is another valuable resource where information may be gleaned and applied. The format of visually seeing the excitement, disenchantment, and realized function of digital-age tools is not only comical put also alerting.

    For a more global perspective, the Knowledgeworks Foundation has completed the 2020 Forecast for education, citing catalysts, trends, signals, and learning agents.

    So, why look to the horizon? Why pull our heads up from the grindstone (or guillotine)? Does anyone else feel off balance with rapid changes to the learning landscape shifting our equilibrium, and techno experts volleying recommendations without research and careful consideration? Are we as district administrators at somewhat of a disadvantage if not logged on, plugged in, and growing in a personal learning network? Offline school administrators will likely be looking through a myopic, fiscal-year lens, be uninformed of emerging innovations, and recoiling from transformative forces. A visionary leader is predictive in strategic planning, experimental in programming, and engaged in trend analysis. Use the resources above to "turn your brights on" and build an awareness of what's on the horizon!

    Friday, April 29, 2011

    Something "Wired" This Way Comes

    Recently, Scott McLeod wrote about 12 predictions for the future of learning. In an effort to demystify the list for my colleagues, I've informally set out to write about each of the predictions, some of which I've already written. On April 14, I wrote about the mobile movement. On March 25th, I presented a video on gaming from James Paul Gee, who can encapsulate the concept much better than I ever could. This is the next installment. 

    McLeod's other predictions about the future of learning (beyond the two cited above) include, 
    • digital learning rather than analog/ink on paper
    • online, 
    • networked/interconnected, 
    • multimedia rich, 
    • self-directed/inquiry-based, 
    • open/accessible (in the sense of open educational resources), and 
    • project-based. 

    The challenge, then, is to find an example of a current tool or mechanism that embodies all of these characteristics of what learning will be like in the future. Is there a legitimate educational example that is digital, online, socially networked and open but media rich and inquiry/project-based? A tall order indeed. Enter, MOOC, or a massive open online course. 

    Although a bit Utopian, the concept of a MOOC does illustrate all the characteristics of McLeod's predictions for learning in the future. No, this particular presentation of the concept does not address how it would deal with complexities such as poverty, learning disabilities, deliberately planned curricular scope and sequence, alignment to rigorous (core) standards, accessibility to bandwidth/hardware, appropriateness of content to developmental level, formative assessment and subsequent instructional adjustments, summative assessment and subsequent parental and mandated state/federal reporting of student progress, or student motivation. 

    This does, however, allow us to get a glimpse of pedagogical possibility, especially possibility beyond our restrictive and traditional brick-and-mortar-school doctrine and paradigm. And, as you just read, it's easy to posit why an idea or concept will not work, but what if we imagined how a MOOC could work in K-12 education? Any suggestions?

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    District Administrators, Can You Hear Me Now?

    I've written before about the possible elements that will drive change in the field of education; one of these drivers of change is the mobile learning movement, which gives affordable, widely accessible (in terms of cell signal and 3G), and completely persuasive opportunities for communicating, learning, and consuming. These devices require low maintenance on behalf of our tech departments, gain access to bandwidth through means that we don't provide, are low cost--student owned--and entirely personalized for personalized learning.

    I know district administrators who own smartphones but only use a fraction of their capability; I know superintendents who unequivocally reject what smartphones do and what they stand for; I also know administrators who are crafty users of smartphones but still don't appreciate them as a  viable alternative in 1:1 environments. So, here's an overview.

    Here is a review of the movement of mobile access:

    Here's how we can use them to connect and learn:

    Here's some of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as the movement of mobile access relates to learning:

    Here is an example of what the use of mobile access could look like:
    Using Mobile Devices with Teaching & Learning
    View more presentations from Michael M Grant

    Here is a framework for approaching mobile learning:

    Here are some resources and current thinking on mobile learning:

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Scott McLeod's Predictions on the Future of Education

    Scot McLeod recently advanced a number of predictions for education (if not now in some cases). What has struck me the most about the list is that most of the predictions are "cloud-based" initiatives. I was also struck with how the likelihood of these trends move in opposition to the content of most of our strategic plans. Take a moment and read McLeod's predictions. Think about the target areas within your strategic plan and how the time, resource allocation, and action steps stand in alignment or misalignment to the predictions below. 

    •        digital rather than analog / ink on paper
    •         informal
    •        online and less dependent on local humans
    •        mobile
    •        networked / interconnected
    •        multimedia
    •        self-directed / inquiry-based
    •         individualized / personalized
    •        computer-based and software-mediated, less dependent on humans
    •        open / accessible (in the sense of OER)
    •        project-based
    •        simulation–or game-based

    At the end of McLeod's blog, he poses the question: "How do we design and operationalize our learning environments to reflect these characteristics? And if we don’t, can we have any hope of staying relevant to the needs of students, families, and society?" Certainly it's a difficult question, but in truth district administrators need to be logged on, plugged in, knee deep in the digital "stream" to even be able to determine how the strategic intent of the schools we are leading is in concert with the thrust and force of the predictions above. We exist in a global world that is changing 24/7. I argue that more than ever before, we need to have the presence of mind to recognize McLeod's predictions not as threats but as tools to hasten our aligned, strategic intent of facilitating the conditions for powerful learning. 

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Everything is amazing. And nobody is happy.

    My apologies if you've already seen this. The commentary may be the most accurate set of observations I've seen in how our relentless and insatiable need for progress reaps disorder on our gentle consciousness.

    Of course, I look at this through the lens of leadership. In my estimation, people become unhappy when without direction. Vision, mission, and purpose matter. Leadership and the horizontal accountability and support of PLCs are the means through which vision is realized. Indeed, we live in amazing times with more options than we have capability. What we need are less amazing tools and more dynamic leaders who have the courage to face challenge, to embrace the resources that we have, and to activate passion behind direction in order to create transformative and empowering landscapes of amazement and enthusiasm.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Doomed to Filter Failure

    It's true, I'm an advocate of helping school district administrators learn digital-age tools so that they can better realize their school districts' visions. Without that understanding, superintendents are exposed to sales pitches about false technology trends, being overwhelmed with edtech information without skills to determine what is most salient, and an over-reliance on inexperienced (in terms of district-level leadership) techno-consultants who have all the answers but no researched-centered results. Part of the solution to this leadership dilemma is to help district administrators grow in their knowledge of digitally-oriented tools so that they can filter for quality, applicability to school district vision, and sustainability for the future.

    With skills that allow us to filter information for empowered leadership, we-as district administrators-will be better able to facilitate a return on investment in technology, to increase opportunities for amplified learning, to develop potential relief for overworked employees, and to impress constituents and enhance branding for enrollment of prospective students. Below, Clay Shirky talks about "filter failure." After watching the video, what skills do district administrators need to effectively handle the inefficiency of today's information flow? What dispositions do we need in order to effectively filter information so that we aren't doomed to failure in the translation between edtech chatter and boots-on-the-ground school leadership?

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Your Digital Identity

    Many of you know that I consider George Couros a "must follow" (both his regular blog, his visually-oriented blog, and his twitter feed). Below is his slideshow on digital identities for educational leaders. As you run through the slides, reflect on this question: "How can we as reform-minded school superintendents help principals, teachers, students, or other stakeholders in the educational community understand how to properly engage, safely communicate, or learn while on the web or within online educational communities if we don't engage ourselves?" The Networked Educational Leader-Day 3 (Digital Identity)

    The result of genuine engagement on the web (in the form of a digitally-oriented PLC) is a digital identity. My recommendation is that you have a three digital applications you use to engage on the web. For me, its my blog, my Twitter feed, and my Diigo social bookmarking account. For you, your three could include a Facebook page (social media page), a Plurk micro-blog, and a Digg content sharing account.  Many have more than three means of engaging in the " digital stream," some have less. I would encourage you to begin your journey of developing a digital identity by starting with three different modes, each with a different purpose.