Monday, February 21, 2011

Educating School Boards about Social Media

Progressive school leaders across the nation are trying to help school boards (and other educational-community stakeholders) to better understand digital-age tools so that educators can formally use them to amplify learning. Currently, most school districts are taking a "ready, FIRE, aim" approach to any social media that they are allowing beyond the school doors, meaning that they are permitting the use of the digital tools without meaningfully amending and shaping policy to ensure reasonable safety, sensible boundaries of application, and appropriate response to infractions in expectations.

Karl Fisch and Dan Maas (of Littleton Public Schools), however, have taken an awesome approach of educating the school board so that they can better structure policy, procedures, and practice that align with their district's vision and purpose and so that their policies are unique in meeting the needs of the communities that the board represents. The "prezi" below is not only functional in educating school boards on social media (and others for that matter), but it also has an effective slant and tone for the novice or inexperienced  (who sometimes get overwhelmed or cynical).

How should we engage and educate school boards about digital-age tools? What other educational-community stakeholders need a primer social media? How else can we not only demystify but also reveal the potential of digital-age tools? Does anyone else have a resource for or an example of educating school boards about social media?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mission: Engage, Then Empower . . . Superintendents!

I admit that I'm not a huge fan of the reports or mandates that come out of the Dept. of Ed., but I've been spending more time giving the national tech plan a closer look, perhaps hoping to find something that I can relate to. I have to reluctantly admit that I'm captivated by it.

It's easy to navigate, it has some depth and thoughtfulness, and Karen Cator has edtech credibility and educational authority. I know there is some criticism, but as I drill down into the document, I am less wary of it.

Take this graphic for example, which outlines a student-centered environment enhanced by digital-age tools. I love it. It's blended,  is multi-layered, and accounts for the "alternating current" of learning and teaching that should ideally characterize an environment of powerful learning and teaching. To fully understand this graphic, however, requires some background knowledge of edtech. Almost all of my colleagues would struggle with understanding the features that typify a personal learning network, or understanding how twitter hashtags and social bookmarking define the ways that peers digitally connect around common interests, or understanding how social networking augments our opportunities to access expertise and authoritative sources.

I've said  before that superintendents need to "get it" before we can "lead it," and I'll take this opportunity to say it again. To achieve the goals embedded in this graphic, superintendents need systematic edtech programming to support their development in using and understanding the tools so that they can better understand the urgency of the initiative and better lead the reform.

Whether it's centralized education service agencies, state departments of education, curriculum-ed. leadership-education associations, or the federal Dept. of Ed., a movement needs to begin. The standards are written (the what), and the format has been expertly set in motion (the how). Let's engage, and then let's empower.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Case In Point

Don't understand problem-based learning? Don't understand how technology can amplify learning? Don't understand how technology can turn a teacher-centered classroom into a learner-centered classroom? Don't understand a digitally-oriented professional learning community? Watch this.

ADE Application Video — Dan Meyer from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Post script thoughts: How is the State of Wisconsin going to ever attract a teacher like Dan to teach in our schools with what is currently happening? Thoughts?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let me introduce you to Mary Meeker.

Known globally for her hyper-insightful presentations, Mary Meeker is a master at helping us understand the complex reality of technology today while also getting a realistic and un-embellished glimpse into the future. There's almost too much in this presentation to even attempt to summarize, but a couple of the points strike me as very important as they relate to education. She's already highlighted some of the most salient, being Social (So), Local (Lo), and Mobile (Mo), "gamification," and empowerment (through connected devices). After scanning through the presentation, what do you think are most relevant and likely trends, influences, and cycles that will affect education or what we currently think is education reform?

Top 10 Mobile Internet Trends (Feb 2011)

View more presentations from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Visualization of Social Currency and Capital

Brian Solis, one of the leading thinkers on digital media, just posted this visualization to his flickr account. I gives a visual overview of what he recognizes as "new forms of money," being "trust, relationships, reciprocity, authority, popularity, and recognition."

If there are new forms of "success" and if there are legitimately different and enhanced ways to function in a democratic society, what does this mean for schools? We recognize and teach Robert's Rules of Order to help kids have the skills to function in a democratic society, but should we also be teaching kids how to responsibly use twitter?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Twitter: A Social-Media, Multi-Purpose Power Tool

There are not many people I personally know in education that use twitter. Many of the people I know turn their noses up at twitter either because they misunderstand twitter as primarily a status-update mechanism, or because they believe it's an untested novelty with no merit. How much they misunderstand.

Yes, twitter can be used for status updates, but to only use it for status updates is an exceedingly superficial way to make use of resource with ostensibly endless means of employment. So, educationally speaking, to use twitter to inform people about "snow days," scholarship reminders, and newsletters only scratches the surface, folks.

There is actually a "universe" of sorts that orbits around the concept of twitter. Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas have recently collaborated to create the "Twitterverse" poster, an infographic that visually explains and categorizes twitter related applications currently being used to extend twitter's purpose, function, and potential.

From "Twitcause" (an application to help non-profit organizations extend their message on twitter to millions of people), to "Flowtown" (a marketing tool for businesses to capitalize on free social media information to advertise their product/service), and from "yfrog" (which allows you to share pictures and video on twitter), to foursquare (a twitter-based location application that is half game, half interactive guide), twitter is everywhere.

Thomas Friedman just wrote of the power of twitter as a force more significant than the "the fall of the Berlin Wall" or the "rise of Google." Brian Solis recently asserted in his coverage of a wide-ranging twitter analysis, "Twitter continues to change how we discover, communicate, and share. Each time we do, we reveal a bit more about who we are and what moves us. As we embrace the new year, Twitter’s numbers will expand, but I believe the nature of the service and also how we use it will change significantly."

Not only do we misunderstand and under-utilize twitter in the field of education, we are entirely unaware of its digital influence on society, and (hence) do not grasp its potential as a tool for learning.

So, what's the first step for educational leaders in appreciating twitter's possibilities? Here are some steps:

  • Register for a twitter account.(obviously) Optimally, complete this step and the following with a process partner. 
  • Search for a twitter education-based discussion list (called a hash tag), such as #edchat
  • Explore! Watch how others are posting information using specific applications. Notice how they refer to each other. Watch how they post their "tweets" to multiple discussion lists. Follow other twitter users that post interesting information. 
  • Begin to experiment. Use an application. Post something interesting to a discussion list. Engage another user in a dialogue. Re-tweet someone's original tweet to give them credit for finding the source. 

Only when we begin to comprehend the digital tools being prolifically used can we begin to use them to meaningfully facilitate learning, deep understanding, and application of knowledge.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Changing Before Our Eyes

The digital landscape of tools, resources, and opportunities is literally changing faster than traditional media or traditional means of observation can describe. Interesting in itself, this slideshow also has some powerful implications for education. To what extent do we acknowledge and embrace the trends as we reform education? To what extent do our educational leaders have the digitally-oriented skills and dispositions to even understand the trends and their repercussions?
Eleven Digital Trends to Watch in 2011
View more presentations from Edelman Digital.

Hat tip to @ijukes for finding the slideshow. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Answering McLeod's 15 Leadership Questions (Part 2)

On July 12, 2009, Scott McLeod asked 15 questions of the technology leadership in K12 schools. I tried my best to candidly answer his questions earlier this week. But in addition to asking questions, McLeod also provided thoughts (per question) on why the questions matter. Here is my assessment (in italicized print) on how I did and how our school district is doing as compared to McLeod's thoughts per question.

McLeod said, "Here’s why the answers to these questions matter:"
  1. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. No one else has the power to set and facilitate the district-wide vision for effective technology usage. I totally agree, but I would reframe the concept in saying no one else has the ability to "empower" and support a whole-scale vision of technology use. 
  2. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. The further down the org chart the primary technology leader sits, the harder it is for that individual to facilitate necessary change. Again, totally true. This is also why we need transformational, accessible, and supportive development opportunities for district administrators to "get" digital-age tools so that they can better "lead" the necessary changes. Sadly, many of my colleagues are too busy or too anxious about diving into to learning about digital-age tools. 
  3. If no, that’s the wrong answer. Not including the primary technology leader on the superintendent’s cabinet sends a message to the entire organization (and the outside world) that technology is nonessential. I snicker at the word "cabinet" since I lead in a small, rural school, but again, he is spot on with the concept: Technology must be at the table with the business manager, the special ed director, the assessment/curriculum director, etc. It is now equally important in the effective management of a school district. 
  4. Ideally the primary technology leader would meet individually with the superintendent at least as often as the curriculum director, associate superintendent, business manager, and/or other top-level district staff. Desired frequency will vary by district, but I would say every few weeks at a minimum. Every few weeks? When transitioning infrastructure, migrating to a new software system, acquiring quotes and pricing for new hardware, we individually meet almost daily. Yes, there might be a week that goes by when we have relative down-time, but it's rare that an entire week goes by without a face-to-face. 
  5. Many primary technology leaders wear other hats (principal, superintendent, director of facilities, business manager, etc.). Effective technology leadership is a full-time job. I understand that many districts – particularly smaller ones – need to job share, but the more this person’s work is diluted across multiple titles and/or responsibilities, the less successful the district’s technology efforts will be. Guaranteed. Yup. I'm with you, brother. But where the rubber meets the road is revenue (sadly), and to keep the school house doors open, we are all doing more with less resources. 
  6. If just one, that’s the wrong answer. Separating these functions is a potential recipe for disaster because it often leads to turf and/or resource conflicts, facilitates confusion by classroom teachers, results in the integration function being marginalized or nonexistent, and so on. This is why it is so important to "bring down the silos" in all areas, from classroom to classroom, from discipline to discipline, and from tech function area to tech function area. Luckily, technology magnifies collaboration and (with leadership) alignment to a vision (of what true tech integration is). 
  7. Ideally the technology function is shared across the district. Effective change is much more likely to happen when many pull together. Tear down the silos!
  8. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader. It's an admittedly hard balance to find. No one wants to be overwhelmed. At the same time, the movement of cloud computing is slightly easing some of the burden.  
  9. Pay close attention to the number of days the primary technology leaders gets for her own professional learning. Also pay attention to whether those days are just focused on networking/hardware/software support versus technology integration, how to facilitate effective change within complex organizations, large societal/workforce shifts that will impact schools, building effective teams, and other non-technical, leadership-related topics. Professional learning communities, professional learning networks, mentors, and individual, off-site professional development opportunities are exceedingly important. At times, it's hard to filter through all the opportunities, just to determine what fits for our school district. We tool we use to filter, find, and approve these opportunities is or school vision, which always centers us on what is most important. 
  10. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader. Corporate computer:support staff ratios tend to range between 75:1 and 150:1. In K-12 education, ratios tend to be 300:1 or higher (and it is not uncommon to see 800:1 or worse). I'm glad I read this. We are nowhere near 300:1, but probably on the high end of the acceptable range. What's interesting about this too is the "netbook," "Ipad" generation of digital devices, which don't require as much attention (ghosting, etc). As we move toward devices that don't require as much maintenance, I wonder what the acceptable ration will be then? I also think the mobile movement and the student-owned device movement (which will become one movement more sooner than later) will affect this ratio. 
  11. Ideally this number would be between 25% and 50%. A corollary question might be How much of the computer equipment that you’ve purchased doesn’t get used very often? I'd say we are pretty close. Like I said in my original answer, It's a hard number to arrive to because of district approaches to development and the unique way that technology is infused into all our development initiatives, from RTI to literacy, and from STEM to research to assessment.
  12. The higher this percentage the better. It’s important for teachers to use computers. But it’s more important for students to use computers since they’re the ones that we’re supposedly preparing for their future lives. I concur. 
  13. A lot of districts have trouble passing technology referenda. Sometimes they’re close, sometimes they’re not. Taking a look at how a district pitches its technology referenda to its local community can tell you a lot about the district, the community, or both. It also depends on the school board's understanding of technology. When there are people within the governance structure that have some insight into the power of tech integration, and are able to communicate the value of tech integration, it's perceived as a much more creditable proposal for revenue. 
  14. For most districts, the answer to this will be rarely or never. That’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is at least every year. Certainly, frequent dialogue with all stakeholders (including students) in a school community will better inform district-wide decisions. 
  15. For most districts, the answer to this rarely will be more than a couple of hours (and often will be less than one hour). That’s the wrong answer in a digital, global era. Perhaps my guess at 15 % of student time engaged with digital tools is a bit high, but 15% of total time equates to 171 total hours for the school year.
Reflection is the deliberate act of thinking about prior experiences in order to learn from them. More than anything else, this two part series was an exercise of reflection, which can be affirming or enlightening or disquieting. We should all take advantage of our professional learning networks and our professional learning communities as a resource and tool to elicit reflection, especially in a complex time of flux and reform.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"We shape our tools, and shortly thereafter, our tools shape us." Mashall McLuhan

How have digital-age tools shaped the people of Egypt? How have they shaped our students? How have they shaped you?

Answering McLeod's 15 Leadership Questions

In July of 2009, Scott Mcleod asked the following 15 questions about technology leadership in K12 school districts. It was an interesting exercise of reflection on my part as a district administrator, but here are my brutally honest answers (in italicized print). Let me know what you think!
  1. Who is primary responsible for technology leadership in the district? Candidly, its me, the superintendent, and the technology director. A steady flow of feedback from principals, teachers, parents, and students also contribute to needs analysis and new technologies, but the primary responsibility is with me. 
  2. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, who is the primary technology leader’s direct supervisor? I guess I don't have to answer this one! The technology director's immediate supervisor is me, the superintendent. 
  3. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, does that person sit on the superintendent’s cabinet? I don't have a cabinet, but yes the tech director discusses and carefully considers purpose and vision for technology in our school district. 
  4. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, how often does that person meet individually with the superintendent? We see each other every day. 
  5. How many other job titles (or what other job responsibilities) does the primary technology leader have? We are a small, rural school district, so I am also the business manager for the school district. 
  6. Is the primary technology leader in charge of both networking / hardware / software support AND technology integration or just one? I make final decisions on networking methodology, hardware and software preference in addition to considerations of backup solutions, filtering options, fiber optic updates, bandwidth requests etc. with strong and carefully considered recommendations from the technology director.
  7. Is technology leadership a shared function within the district or does it primarily reside in one person? It's a shared function. 
  8. How big is the differential between the primary technology leader’s salary and what she could make in a similar corporate environment? We are competitive, especially when looked at as a total costing, which includes benefits. 
  9. What kind of (and how much) professional development does the primary technology leader receive each year? Professional development is exceedingly important. Today, development and improvement can arise out of attendance at conferences but also a leader's PLN and PLC, which at times can be more powerful than any other resource. 
  10. How big is the differential between the technology staff:computer ratio and what occurs in a similar corporate environment? Again, we are a small, rural school district. Yes, we are probably on the high side of tech staff to computer ratio (compared to an in-house bank tech director); however, compared to an outside tech consultant that visits as needed, he or she may be responsible for thousands of computers without consistent access or empowerment to care for the network or filter. Tech directors in schools indeed have a tough job, but the job is also very demanding in banks, hospitals, large businesses, etc. 
  11. What percentage of technology-related expenditures go toward educator professional development? It's hard to answer this question. We (in part) believe in the philosophy that the closer the development is to the classroom, the more likely it will be integrated into everyday instruction (National conference vs. literacy coaches). So instead of sending people away, we've invested in bringing people here. Instead of bringing in high-profile speakers, we've invested in teacher coaches. That's not to say that we don't steadily send people to state and local development opportunities when the opportunities align with our school and district goals, but we always think about creating an environment where development happens close to the classroom. 
  12. What percentage of the technologies purchased by the district were primarily student-centric (as opposed to teacher-centric)? We frankly have a mixture of both. To guess, 60% is student-centric and 40% is teacher-centric. The student-centric technologies include laptop carts, Itouch carts (those are cool), student desktop computers, smartpens, Ipads, smart tables, not to mention student-centric software of web 2.0 apps. The teacher-centric technologies are (obviously) the smart boards and projectors. We've made a deliberate attempt to help teachers use the teacher-centric technologies as a springboard to highly engaging student-centric activities. 
  13. When was the district’s last technology referendum? Did it pass? How close was the vote? In 1997. It passed (I believe...I wasn't here at the time) 70% to 30%.
  14. When was the last time (if ever) that students were asked about their experiences using (or not using) technology in their classes? What did they say? As a part of our technology plan, we did student surveys two years ago. We found that we were weak on peripheral probes that measure data, and we also found that students want email capabilities (which we are still working on). 
  15. And, what might be the most important question of all, how many minutes per week, on average, do students use digital technologies as part of their classroom learning experiences (and how do they spend those minutes)? This number varies per classroom with the readiness level of the teacher. Right now, out of the 1140 student hours per year (68,400 minutes), I would guess that 15% of that time is spent actively and meaningfully engaged in digital learning tools. That number gives somewhat of a false impression seeing that five years ago, most of us were basically at 0% (excluding word processing). While 15% seems low, it also represents a huge increase in the use of digital-age tools to facilitate instruction, and if we continue on the same trajectory, we will be quickly making tremendous progress. 
In Dr. McLeod's post, he also reflects on why these questions matter. Part 2 of this posting will involve me "correcting" and reflecting on my responses and how my answers relate to Dr. McLeod's thoughts.