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Not All Tech Conferences Are a Waste of Time

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Today I attending the Tech Forum New York 2014 hosted by Technology & Learning Magazine.  My attendance at this one-day conference reaffirmed my belief that not all tech conferences are a waste of time, even though there remain many that are.

Today’s conference was held at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, New York, near the Tappen Zee Bridge and the Hudson River.  This location is easily accessible from most locations in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut & Pennsylvania area.  Unlike other conferences that are held in New York City, this conference is accessible by car, with no charge for parking.  Being able to drive your own vehicle makes a big difference in terms of convenience for attendees coming from the suburbs.  Having to commute by mass transit into NYC to attend a conference may just incline some not to attend.

The day started off with Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) providing the keynote address.  This former Principal from the award winning New Milford High School (NMHS) in New Jersey accomplished many things with his address, but there were two things in particular that impacted me.  First, I came away feeling very inadequate.  I became keenly aware of how many exciting and impactful opportunities I am not providing to the students, faculty and administrators in my school district.  Second, and even more importantly, I felt inspired.  Armed with a wealth of resources by provided by Eric, I am committed to doing more in my schools.

The session that followed the keynote presented many useful apps and tools that work nicely with Google Apps for Education, Google Chrome browsers and Chromebooks.  The “Industry Spotlight” which followed was one big sales pitch from event sponsors.  The time could have been better spent offering another useful session.

A luncheon for District Leadership followed the morning breakout session.    During the luncheon, the attendees were encouraged to engage in a meaningful discussion about social media in schools.  Hearing different points of view from various school leaders was very informative.  I always find direct conversations with colleagues to be the most beneficial part of any conference or workshop.

A very interesting “Idea Exchange” followed the luncheon.  This roundtable discussion on “Connected Leadership: How Education Leadership Can Remain Relevant in a World of Tech-driven Collaboration”, was facilitated by Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), the founder of #edchat and Adam Bellow (@adambellow).  This session was a free-flow sharing of ideas by all in attendance.  The discussions primarily focused on collaboration.  The use of Twitter for both personal and professional use, along with the benefits of doing so, were discussed in great length.  One attendee who was a self-described “hold-out” was so influenced by the discussion that she created her own Twitter account by the end of the session.

Other discussions included establishing and/or maintaining a blog for sharing ideas and resources with others.  I was inspired enough by the discussion to revisit this blog after many months of abandonment, and to write this post.  The key take away concept for me is that sharing and collaboration can offer great benefits to all.

I concluded the conference by attending a very informative session on “Rethinking Learning Spaces” including very cool furniture, fixtures and tech accessories from companies like Steelcase.

Being out of the district for a full day in order to attend a conference is never done without careful consideration.  Upon reflection of this conference, I am satisfied that the day out of the district was time well spent and was very beneficial.

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Open Letter to Tim Cook at Apple: Please Stop Making New Products

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Mr. Cook,

Thank you for continuing to provide innovative products.  Having said that I now implore you to stop.  More specifically, stop providing so many new products with such frequency.

As a technologist working in public K-12 schools it is very difficult to manage, plan and budget with the rapid release of new and improved products and services.  For example, it is now November 2013.  Schools need to plan now for any purchases through June 30 2015.  Yes 2015.  The budget for the next school year is prepared now.  It is then presented for public review and scrutiny.  This is followed by revisions and multiple public presentations of the revised proposed budget.  Finally, the budget goes before the voters for approval.

School districts do not have the flexibility to change direction from planned purchases in order to take advantage of new technologies which may become available throughout the school year.

Apple or any other tech companies cannot really be expected to slow down the rate of product development.  In all reality,  There is a simple solution which may be helpful for educators.

Apple should develop an Educational Advisory Board.  This group can provide Apple with insight regarding the technology needs in schools.  Further, the group may be able to help Apple understand the financial realities schools face when developing a technology budget.

While schools do consume technology, schools should not be treated as typical consumers.  The needs of the students and faculty of a school are very different from those of a home consumer or a corporate entity. Educators serving on this board will be able to clearly articulate what these differences are.  Instead of schools being forced to make consumer solutions work, Apple needs to develop solutions specifically for the education sector.

Through this Educational Advisory Board, Apple will have the ability to provide schools with a road map of what products are forthcoming to provide schools with an opportunity to properly budget.  Educators can provide Apple with an insight to the unique technology needs of schools and the best way for new technologies to to aide in instruction.

Schools want new technologies.  What is needed is a better way for new technologies to be acquired and integrated.

 

What Parents Want From Technology In The Classroom

July 22, 2013 3 comments

In this article, originally posted on the Edudemic site, are the results of a study where parents were asked to identify there expectations for the use of technology in the classroom as instructional tools, are presented in easy to read infographic.

From the Edudemic

Here’s an interesting perspective to take on technology in the classroom. A new mobile learning report titled ‘Living and Learning With Mobile Devices‘ talks about a detailed study where parents were asked questions about technology’s role in the classroom, the technology being used at home, and how it’s migrating into education. In other words, the parents are the ones buying a lot of the BYOD we’re seeing in schools right now and it’s important to get their feedback.

So what are parents saying about mobile learning and all the education technology in early childhood / K-12 learning? Basically that technology needs to properly integrated, properly handled, and properly used. In other words, it needs to all be done in a relatively controlled environment where teachers leverage a blended learning environment in order to help guide students with their mobile learning.

mobile learning infographic

Hey Microsoft – Google gets that FREE means FREE

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Schools Are Ready to Move to Cloud Computing

Many schools are at a point where they are ready and willing to make the move to cloud computing.  When it comes to choosing the best cloud-based productivity solution, the answer is not a simple one.

There are two main options: Microsoft or Google.  Microsoft has recently revamped and revamped its Live@Edu solution.  Now rebranded Office 365 for Education, at first glance, it may seem like the obvious choice for schools.  Most schools have been using some version of Microsoft’s popular Office Suite.  The move to the cloud-based version of these products may seem logical.

As is often the case with Microsoft, there is a catch.  Free is never really free.  There are various options, that most schools will want and/or need that will come at a cost to districts.  For schools to truly utilize all of the features that Microsoft has to offer, they will need to maintain multiple servers in-house.  At a demonstration of Office365 recently, the representative identified a need for at least four servers.  Providing, supporting and maintaining multiple in-house servers is exactly what most school districts are trying to avoid by going to a cloud solution.

To be fair, a district could in fact use Office 365 for Education exclusively via the web and would incur no charges and require no in-house servers.  In doing so, schools will be giving up significant  functionality.

Microsoft’s Bait and Switch

Most importantly, is the point that Stuart Ridout makes in his blog post Can You Afford Office356 for Education?, about Microsoft once again pulling a “bait and switch” on schools.  Hey Microsoft – free should mean free!  Schools all over the world are challenged to stretch diminishing  technology budgets while increasing the resources they are providing to students and faculty members.

Google Gets Education

Google Apps for Education is truly a free suite of applications that schools do not have to pay anything for and do not need to host any servers in-house, in order to fully utilize this suite of cloud-based computing productivity tools.  Google gets it.  Free means free.

When comparing Office365 and Google Apps often it is stated that Google’s productivity applications are not nearly as sophisticated  as Microsoft’s products.  This is accurate.  The reality is  that Google Apps provide all of the functionality that most users actually need and/or use.  The next argument made is that Google Docs (in particular) mess up the formatting of Word documents, which does happen.  If the documents are created using Google Docs in the first place, there are no formatting issues.

While Microsoft does offer the ability to collaborate on documents, etc., it is not done directly within the application.  Instead, users need to add Sharepoint into the mix, in order to collaborate.  This solution requires a one collaborator to “check out” a document in order to make changes.  No other users can access (let alone change) the document while it is checked out.

Google on the other hand, offers real-time collaboration within the application.  You can actually see on your screen when other collaborators are working on the same document as you .

Game Changer

The real game changer may be the latest announcements from Google that its new Google Drive Cloud Storage solution and its popular Chrome browser are now both available for IOS devices.  As schools rapidly move to include iPad‘s in the arsenal of tech resources, the ability to effortlessly access documents from various location may really push Google out in front of Microsoft.  Yes, Microsoft files can be accessed on various devices, it is not as seamless as the Google solution.

From its inception, Google Apps for Education has been a feature packed solution.  The functionality continues to expand, with no signs of a price tag for schools.

 

Public Education at a Crossroads

March 28, 2012 1 comment
"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

"(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good friend of mine and respected colleague, David Gamberg, recently posted some thoughts on the state od education.  David always provides an insight that provokes thought and discussion, and frequently challenges the way we think and behave.

View the original source for this post

How do we judge performance while maintaining the humanity of a profession that rests on an exchange of ideas between the child and adult? Thus is the dilemma faced throughout our nation as we grapple with the impact of testing our students and evaluating our teachers in the age of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process. The art and science of teaching and learning is of course more than either the sharing of ideas and the grading of students and teachers.

The system of educating our youth has been a public covenant, which has supported our economic, political, and social growth for over 230 years. In recent years, we have arrived at a crossroads in education, one that requires a careful balance to move forward. The basic platform for the delivery of knowledge and skills that has been the centerpiece of our system for the past 100 years often referred to as a factory model of education is under assault. Disruptive forces from many directions are challenging the very foundation of the educational establishment as we know it. What will it take to preserve our democratic way of life throughout the twenty-first century given the tumultuous changes that are at hand?

Our American way of life has benefited greatly by supporting and promoting this covenant with education. Public schooling has led to advancements in science, business, and culture that transcend the borders of our country. As the beneficiaries of this covenant we are now wondering how to rekindle the spark of innovation in public education that has been the thread of our democracy woven together since the days of Jefferson and Franklin. Is it through charter schools? Merit pay? Enhanced testing and evaluation measures?

In times of data driven decision-making, rapidly advancing technologies, and disruptive innovation, a battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of many stakeholder groups both inside and outside the world of education. The public-at-large demands results and looks to either a return to basics, or to an elevation of expectations by applying pressure on students, teachers, and schools that is born out of a competitive spirit which is as American as apple pie.

The rhetoric is at a fever pitch given the high stakes of how a well-educated populace will drive economic growth both now and in the future. Those who seek to reform education simply by applying the metrics of a return to the good old days, or those who apply the analytics of contemporary high performing corporate entities, possess only a partisan or a partial view of the picture. The image of a Norman Rockwell classroom, or a teacher crunching numbers as though they were reading the latest profit and loss statement reflects the larger chasm between those who cling to the past and those who have taken up the false mantle of educational reform predicated on an overly simplistic business model.

Many teaching and learning models of old, along with the dispositions of practice that reigned supreme can appear outmoded. In the front of the room looking out at rows of desks, the teacher has stood at the chalkboard lecturing to students with them dutifully following along in their textbooks. The fountain of information that was once poured from a singular source be it the teacher or the textbook, now flows both to and from multiple sources at lightning speed. There is, however, one element of the process that is essentially the same since the dawn of time—rapport. This is the element that shall not give way to any new methodology, technology, or structure.

When a teacher and student have rapport there is a relationship built on trust and respect. The student can confidently approach new material, take risks, and know that their interests are primary. It is not simply that the student enjoys either a class or the teacher. Rather, as with a great coach, the teacher can demand and expect an intrinsic desire on the part of the student to come to a deeper understanding of why something is so, or how something works. To be taught something is to acquire this understanding such that the student may use this knowledge or skill in ways that lift the quality of any process or product.

We see this every time a teacher kneels down and reassuringly works at the eye level of a student to provide insight into a problem or task. When a teacher checks in or checks back repeatedly to ensure that learning has taken place that reassurance pays dividends, as the student is more willing to step forward in new, more difficult directions. What may be misrepresented as building self-esteem is actually a carefully orchestrated set of uniquely human traits to create the conditions for optimal learning.

Delivering content at the touch of a finger on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis is now possible and cost effective. However, who will step in and guide a child towards a path of self-discovery that bears any resemblance to what we may consider to be truthful and accurate? Separating fact from fiction, and imparting the basic tenets of an understanding as to why and how things are in math, science, history, and literature has always been the province of our teachers in school.

Unfortunately, the notion of exercising what may be akin to “a bedside manner” in rendering the teacher-learner relationship now seems to give way to a boiling down of the bottom line of test scores and tax dollars. Advancements in technology, brain research, and organizational efficiency have produced new, more effective structures and tools that can be harnessed to replace old ways of doing things. The new paradigm shift demands a new kind of educational system, one that not only embeds the use of these tools and structures, but also one that captures the imagination of all participants in the process, both students and teachers.

The art and science of how a learning organization moves forward and progresses towards any definition of what we may generally describe as “improvement,” requires many components. There is no silver bullet for the prescription of success. Returning to the notion of a bedside manner, a doctor cannot write a script formulated simply on data from a chart or solely based on the cost of care. Careful attention to these and other details including rapport with the patient creates the dynamic that results in the wellness of any individual.

The American experiment in a free and boundless democracy, at least in part driven by a public system of educating our citizens, has come as a result of an unquenching determination to try new things, be bold, work hard, and take risks. In this ever more complex world where students acquire the habits of mind that will allow them to prosper and carry forward the values of our society we must ask ourselves how to build a system that promotes and protects a true understanding of that which is important to the soul of education.
-David Gamberg

Begin With the End in Mind: More than just a mantra when it comes to technology in education

February 20, 2012 1 comment
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

The Issue

Too often schools are in the position of having exciting new technology available and having to find the best way to implement and utilize it.  This approach is backwards,  Stephen Covey  penned the phrase “BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND” and these words are particularly useful when developing a plan of action for integrating technology in schools.

Instead of trying to find ways to utilize the latest technologies, schools should instead let the instructional goals define the technological tools that  should be implemented.  As rapid advances in technology unfold, schools are often in the position of buying into what is the latest and greatest and then trying to figure out how and where to use the new technology.

The iPad and now the iPad2 (and soon the iPad3) are perfect examples of this challenge.  Everyone can agree on the wow factor of these devices.  There is no doubt that mobile technology is going to be a big part of any future technology initiatives.  How this devices can effectively be used in instructional environments is still developing.

Many educational technologists are faced with the challenge of integrating these devices, with out a clear directive of why.  That is to say, what is the goal of rolling out these devices.  Often boards of education and administrators want the new technology, feel they need to be on the bleeding edge, but do not clearly articulate the intended goals and outcomes for using these devices.

Frequently, as in the case of the iPad, there are significant challenges that must be worked through when adding new technologies into an existing networked environment.  These challenges can be overcome, but without a clear understanding of the goals for use, developing a solid solution can be difficult.

Goals

Is there a more ambiguous statement than having children become “21st Century Learners”?  It sounds great and looks impressive when included in a technology plan, but what does it mean?  Does it mean every student should be able to use tools such as word processors and presentation software to effectively represent the ideas and information learned about a specific topic?  Does it mean students will be able to utilize social networking tools?  Does it mean children will know how to use Google or Bing to search for information on a topic and then go to the wikipedia link on that topic?  Or does it mean that children will learn the skills necessary to develop the ability to skillfully aggregate information and quickly discern what is meaningful and useful, while ignoring that which is not?  Or does it simply mean that children will learn how to find and download an app?

The point is that the instructional needs should dicate the technology and not the other way around.  The instructional team needs to identify its needs and then work to find technological tools and resources which meet those needs.  Sometimes the latest and greatest technological wonders are simply cool gadgets,with little or no instructional value.

There is a place for Technology in Schools

I do not believe this to be the case with iPads.  In fact, I believe very strongly that the iPad does bring a lot to the table.  Its portability, functionality and ease of use make it a terrific tool for schools.  Before rushing to place a large oder for these devices, schools should clearly identify why they are being purchased, how they are going to be used and what the goals and outcomes are for the use of these devices.

Starting An IOS Implementation in Schools

February 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Anyone who is working on bringing iPads and iPhones in to a school environment is certain to face some roadblocks.  Schools are a very different environment than commercial entities and homes.

Apple has made some progress in adapting to the ways in which schools must operate.

A good starting point for any schools heading down the path to integration IOS devices is the iOS 5 Education Deployment Guide.

 

Categories: Classroom, EduTech Tags: , , , ,
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