Archive for category new technology

Should Schools Resemble A Business?

There are a lot of differences between education and businesses. There are also a lot of similarities. Too often educators don’t think about schools using cost-benefit analysis. If they did, especially when it came to technology purchases, schools would be in much better shape. For example, should a school purchase a computer lab for teachers to use with their classes during the day? It’s easier to gauge the cost–most educational leaders usually just look at the dollar amount. They don’t take into consideration installation, maintenance, upgrade and replacement costs. This doesn’t include software costs either. These factors all need to be taken into account when making hardware purchases. What’s the benefit of the lab? What about the benefit of installing two labs? It’s difficult to quantify benefits often in education but experienced educators can make some fairly accurate predictions. Some educators just buy technology hoping teachers and students will use it. The reality is that technology needs to fit the vision and purpose of the school. Technology for technology’s sake is a waste.

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Technology Should Be Fun

Technology is a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the main things it is to me is fun. My students at school and I have spent many laughs from doing goofy things with technology. One day we put my little wall aquarium on the big screen with the help of a document camera. For a few brief minutes, we had enormous plastic fish in the school’s largest aquarium. There are always crazy mishaps when technology goes awry. The power went out at my school the other day and one student said, “With budget cutbacks, the school probably didn’t pay the electric bill.” You have to have a sense of humor in education and in teaching. It makes each day a bit more interesting and enjoyable. Plus, having a playful attitude is good for the creative process. Humor opens the mind to see the world in different ways. In an after school club, the students have been creating “Stick Art Jokes.” I’ve been sharing them with my classes and they’ve gotten to be pretty popular. My kids at home have been in convulsions using technology in the most ridiculously funny ways on YouTube.com or with a digital camera. Is there any serious value to being able to do this? Probably not. Not unless you want to have some serious fun.

Bighead

 

 Too Much Weightlifting

 BigEyes

 Check out what can happen when people have fun: http://thefuntheory.com/. Having fun with technology is a good reminder–smile and enjoy life.

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Frans Johansson and The Medici Effect

During the general session of T+L Conference on Wednesday, Frans Johansson shared his vision of the power of diversity in innovation. If anyone has had a diverse life, Frans has–from his quick recap of his life we can see that he’s had to pull together resources/ideas from a wide range. Luckily we can all benefit from his experience. We can ask ourselves and our students in a wide variety of situations to think about the material differently. The question “How is a neuron like a hand?” becomes a tool for exploration, innovation and discovery. The draw for many teachers to the profession is the ability to be creative. We like the process. Now we can use the “Medici Effect” to help guide us in fostering creativity in our students. Combine ideas that seem disparate. Ask if the seemingly impossible is possible–let’s try it!

Note: this blog post was also posted at http://boardbuzz.nsba.org/tl/2009/10/frans-johansson-and-the-medici-effect/.

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How a Virtual Learning Environment Can and Should Help Learners

Jeff Borden gave a great presentation on the rationale of why and how online learning can help students and teachers. His talk was not full of the often empty rhetoric about how “digital learners” are different from the rest of us. I’ve thought and written about this on my blog (MrPahs.com). Jeff said the learners haven’t changed–the way they and we learn has changed. I think the sooner we include everyone in the conversation about learners the better. No one benefits from creating a divide between so-called digital and non-digital learners. Another point that Jeff made was that students like technology because they like variety. We all like variety–young and old. Online learning can help address this deep need inside of all of us.

Another important way Jeff made for the case for online learning is that the technology can meet the many needs that teachers have everyday. As teachers, we want our students to write more, to think more, to create more. Online technology tools can help us achieve these goals. By using some very straight-forward tools effectively, we can get a lot of return for our investment. What really came through in Jeff’s talk was that he wasn’t just a “tech head” going off on the cool new tools. It was very clear that he uses these tools in actual classrooms. It’s great to hear from someone who has “the goods” and can help teach and inspire others.

Note: This blog entry was also posted at http://boardbuzz.nsba.org/tl/2009/10/how-a-virtual-learning-environment-can-and-should-help-learners/.

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T+L Conference–I’m excited!

I’m looking forward to the T+L Conference (Technology and Learning Conference) the next few days (October 27-29, 2009) in Denver, CO . It’s run by the National School Board Association (NSBA.org) and the sessions look very interesting. I’ll even be presenting at the “Excellence in Education” Fair from 4:30-6:30 Wednesday afternoon. What fun!

Here’s my blog post from the General Session on Wednesday: http://boardbuzz.nsba.org/tl/2009/10/frans-johansson-and-the-medici-effect/

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If It’s Not in Google, It Doesn’t Exist

I’m not making this up. One of the guest speakers at the iNACOL conferencea few years back told a packed audience this. He said, “If it’s not in Google, it doesn’t exist.” Seriously, I’m not making this up. Let me tell you a little more. The conference was about all about online learning. The guest speaker was a recent high school graduate who had done all of his schooling online.  He was there to give us his perspective on the world of online education. Much of what he had to say was very helpful to us as we were in the planning stages of creating our own online school in my district. The the idea that everything of value is catalogue by Google was laughable. Apparently this kid had never been to a bookstore. This was before GoogleBooks deal. Just for fun, I Googled the quote, “If it’s not in Google, it doesn’t exist.” Guess what? 27,100 results! There are a LOT of people who apparently feel this way. Somewhere along the way in the education of these individuals, they missed the part where knowledge CAN and DOES EXIST outside of Google.

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FETC-2009 Conference Keynote Speaker: Cavlin Baker

I just attended the FETC 2009 Virtual Conference for educational technology. The keynote speaker Calvin Baker from Vail, Arizona talked about how his district is using technology to promote teacher creativity. At first I thought it would be a talk about how technology can help teachers create “new media” to “wow” their students out of their stereotypical slumber. As you can tell, I dislike the notion that I need to use technology to entertain my students. Luckily, I was completely wrong. This was a great presentation because what he said made a lot of sense. Here are some poignant highlights. 

Districts need to get new technology into the hands of the teachers first. If you do, then they learn how to use it and incorporate it into the classroom. Bravo! Another thing Calvin talked about was that there needs to be accountability and structure when using new technology. It’s not a free-for-all. Many promoters of new technology want to throw any and everything against the wall to see what sticks. That’s irresponsible in education. Calvin explained a web tool they developed called “Beyond Textbooks.” It’s basically a way to connect teachers together in meaningful ways–in departments, within schools, across the district and even across the state. Too much of teaching is a solitary activity–to the detriment of the profession and to students. This tool includes shared calendars so a teacher can see what other teachers are doing and when. I like this type of sharing and accountability. An open learning environment benefits all. Too many teachers don’t do what they need to do and no one ever knows about it. A shared calendar is a step in the right direction.

Another aspect of Beyond Textbooks is the sharing of lesson plans. A colleague and I have been talking about this for years. There’s no reason a new teacher should have to spend years developing solid lessons when there are great lessons already available: they are in the filling cabinets of most veteran teachers. What Beyond Textbooks does it help pool all of the great lessons from across the district and make them available for all to use. My district has been working towards something like this but it’s a huge undertaking and we haven’t been able to get it off the ground.  Because the lessons are seen and used by other professionals, the quality of the products is very high. When there is an audience, people tend to perform better. Plus it gives teachers the opportunity for others to see what great stuff they’ve created. OpenEducation.org and THE Journal wrote about this initiative. Open up education–what a great idea!

There is a forum attached to each teaching resource so that teachers can connect to other teachers in a meaningful and timely way. Too many websites offer to “connect teachers” but they don’t have any real meaning. As a result, teachers join social networks and then never visit them again. The Beyond Textbook repository is key to the daily life of teachers: specific lessons tied to their specific state standards in their district. The forums allow teachers to comment and give feedback on the lessons thus improving the lessons. This technology can also give teachers the intrinsic rewards that we all crave.  

Teachers love to create and share the things that improve instruction. That’s why a great many teachers are in this business. Technology like Beyond Textbooks can help these creative individuals have even greater impact. I wish my state had something like this.

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Information Explosion!

With the creation of the internet, the amount of information available to people is overwhelming. The sheer volume of stuff out there is staggering. There have been lots of estimates of how much information is accessible via the internet but as it grows, the numbers continue to increase–exponentially! People have even calculated how much the internet weighs! So, this must be a problem for educators. What should they teach now that there is so much new information out there?

But is this really a new problem? If you’ve ever been to a large library, you’ve noticed that clearly there is more information in all of the books than the average person can consume in a lifetime. The problem of information explosion in not new. What is *relatively* new is the technology allowing us to access. It seems like the information explosion is a new problem but it’s not.

Educational leaders and those who talk about school are panicked about this “information explosion.” I’ve been to more than a few in-services and lectures where speakers astound us with their calculations of how much information is “out there.” Then they tell us that it’s changing everything. What they forget is that too much information has always been “out there.” Since the invention of the printing press, there has been too much information for one person to absorb. So the task of a good educator is the same as it’s always been: to help students make sense of the world. The tools that help us do that have evolved and changed but that’s always going to happen. Nothing stays the same so we adapt. Our core job is and must continue to be to help students understand the world and give them the tools to continue understanding it. The students won’t suddenly begin to teach themselves with the Internet. We can’t just turn students loose on the Internet so they can “find” the information themselves. Knowledge without the guidance of a skilled teacher is chaos.

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Windows Live Office

In the world of education, Apple dominates the field. Often Microsoft is seen as the bad guy. However, Windows Live Office is a service that I began using recently and I really like it. All of my documents are Office documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). I’m at that point that I can’t keep track of them at home and at work. I like being able to access the same document wherever I am. The upload to Office Live was easy–I uploaded 10-15 at one time. When I edit them, they open on my computer in the native Office program. Then they save back to the web just like it was part of my hard drive.

I have also tried Google Docs. I could upload only one document at a time and many of my documents didn’t look the same after they were converted. I like what Google is doing with their Google Apps product. I especially like the forms you can create. However, I don’t have time right now to convert all of my literally hundreds of documents to the Google format.

So I’ve decided that since I have Windows Office available at home and at work, why not use the Windows Live Office product. The main downsize is reliable access to the Internet (cloud computing’s main weakness). I’m not sure if I will be the eventual Google Doc convert or if the full features of Office will keep me committed. What I do know is that I really like being able to upload documents on the fly and then access them anywhere. Regardless of the specific tool, isn’t that what networks are for?

PS. I just copied and pasted this text to MS Word to double-check my spelling and grammar. I could’ve logged into my Google Docs account to proofread it but it was quicker to open Word.

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When “Free” Isn’t Free

With the explosion of Web 2.0 technologies, one of the things I hear over and over is: “And it’s free!” As educators and technology leaders, we need to be very aware of what is free and what isn’t. Since the beginning, there has been a culture of sharing on the Internet. This sharing includes the good and bad. But there has also been the need to pay the bills. Websites aren’t free. Google doesn’t exist as a community service. Profit is what keeps websites and software companies running. So when a website says that it’s free, one must keep in mind where the money is coming from. Some web 2.0 start-ups are hoping to gain a solid base of users and then get purchased by a larger company. There are lots of examples of this. Other websites give away their product for free for a period of time and then realize that they have to start charging. Smart Internet users know that there’s always that possibility. Other websites offer their services for free but then eventually shut down. How many sites have the last entry on the page: “sorry we couldn’t afford to keep this service/website running”?

Don’t get me wrong. I like free. But I also understand economic reality. When educators begin to rely on “free Internet services,” they need to keep in mind the eventual costs. These might include the cost to pay for the “free” service sooner or later. Or they have the cost of discontinuing the service–this is the cost of lost time and energy investing in integrating the “free” technology into various school programs.  There are also costs of moving from one “free” technology solution to another. That’s lots of time and energy wasted–that’s a huge cost. Technology leaders also need to consider the costs of advertisements. I’ve seen school buses plastered with ads for the local emergency clinic. These ads are typically aimed at adults. Schools need to be very careful when they decide to force advertisements on their students. I’ve seen school sponsored sites that have ads for a variety of products–some completely inappropriate for schools. I don’t want my kids looking at ads when they are using school sites.

Another cost that most don’t consider but I think is important is the cost of spreading out technology over too many websites/web services. Everyone wants to give their base product away for free but you have to use their site. That means that in order to take advantage of cool and free Web 2.0 technologies, students and teachers may have to log into and use three to four different sites. That’s 3-4 additional logins in addition to the ones associated with school logins. That’s why Google is scrambling to combine as many things into one login as possible. And we all know Google’s revenue stream is from advertisements.

Is there such a thing as a free lunch? Not in the internet world. There is always a cost somewhere. Educational technology leaders need to keep these costs in mind when they make decisions.

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