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.