• Student Communication Published 2006-05-25

    How do you communicate?
    This is an ever evolving topic and thus I am interested how you communicate. Just post a comment to this message and describe what methods of communication you use with your friends and peers. Also let me know a little about yourself. Specifically, where are you from (Country and State/Province), your age, and your gender.

    Here are a couple of specific questions you may wish to answer in your response:

    • Do you use social networking sites like My Space and if so, how?
    • Do you use email and if so, how?
    • How much of your communication is direct (synchronous like IM or talking on the phone)?
    • How much of your communication is indirect (asynchronous like email or posting to something like My Space)?
    • Do you read blogs? Do you post comments to blogs? Do you have your own blog?

    Thank you for your responses

  • Cutting-Edge Schools Published 2006-05-24

    It is interesting to speak with different stakeholders in the educational process.  Each has a different idea of the importance of technology in their schools.  But one thing that most have in common is their concept of “cutting-edge” technology.  Their ideas usually include the latest super-powered computer (PC or MAC) or the latest release of a software package or non-traditional hardware/software such as voice recognition software or INK technology.   Coupled with these ideas is a pairing of cutting-edge technology with cutting-edge schools.  To be a cutting-edge school, you need to use cutting-edge technology.

    Ok, maybe I am exposing my bias but when I hear “cutting-edge” I think of the latest and greatest.  The term not only includes a time coefficient but also a quality component.  To this point, a cutting-edge school should be characterized as one that is affecting learning with the latest and greatest processes and tools.  This may or may not include what I call flash technology, or technology that makes news headlines.  (Apologies to you Macromedia/Adobe Flash users for stealing your term.)

    Let me illustrate by examining two schools: Apple High and Orange Elementary.

    Apple High has recently introduced a project that will outfit the school with a new multi-media conference room.  In discussing funding issues with the independent school’s development office, it was clear that raising money to pay for this project would benefit from the fact that it is about flash technology or technology that sells. 

    Orange Elementary is limited by their stock of old computers, but they are introducing a different set of cutting-edge technology – Blogs and RSS.  The funding for this project does not benefit from flash technology.  An RSS feed by itself is ugly.  Have you ever heard of a capital campaign to raise money for RSS or an eRate grant for RSS?  Ok, RSS is free but you get the point.

    So which school is cutting-edge?  Clearly, one cannot tell by just looking at the technology introduced by each of the projects.  Both schools are introducing what I would characterize as cutting-edge technology, but it is what they do with the technology that will determine if they become cutting-edge schools.  Apple High has a big budget project and with the technology, the school has the potential to really enhancing learning.  But it will be the instruction on digital storytelling that will be the true hero.  Similarly, Orange Elementary can introduce formative assessment and reflective learning with their blogs and RSS feeds.  Again, it will not be the technology that defines the school but the penetration of novel educational techniques that will affect learning and thus improve the quality of the school.

    My concern is that too many of the stakeholders in education are incorrectly restricting cutting-edge technology to (usually expensive) flash technology and identify a school as cutting-edge because they have this flash technology.  In an article from the Economist magazine, I read about a particular under performing school in Los Angeles USD.  A representative from the teachers’ union suggested money for new technology will help the school.  What a cliché!  The money should be for a project to improve learning and if that project includes a technology component, great.

  • Flat Education Published 2006-05-16

    There are numerous examples of "outsourcing" In Tom Friedman's World is Flat, so it should not be surprising that the education industry is taking advantage of a less expensive work force overseas.

    Thousands of U.S. students ... are increasingly relying on overseas tutors to boost their grades and SAT scores. The tutors, who communicate with students over the Internet, are inexpensive and available around the clock, making education the newest industry to be outsourced to other countries... The U.S. demand for overseas tutors is creating a thriving industry in Asia. About 80 percent of India's $5 million online tutoring industry is focused on students in the United States, according to Educomp Solutions, a New Delhi tutoring company. (Amit R. Paley - Washington Post - May 15, 2006)

    It also should not be surprising that teacher unions are against this practice suggesting that companies providing tutoring services will turn to under qualified tutors from foreign countries to minimize their cost and increase their profits. What is keeping these same companies from providing U.S. based under qualified tutors? The market. These companies are in the business of helping students. If a student is not benefiting from the tutoring, she will look elsewhere for the help.

    I applaud the idea that students can get more individual instruction in an educational system that routinely subjects teachers to class sizes of 30+. That translates to less than 10 minutes of individual help for each student per week. Furthermore, individual tutoring gives the student the opportunity to access help outside of class - hopefully after reflecting on the material presented.

    A friend and colleague who teaches Calculus goes the extra mile by allowing students to send him questions (via instant messager) outside of class. It is not uncommon for students to send questions late at night, prime time for them, down time for the rest of us. It makes perfect sense for these night owls to use tutors on the other side of the world.

    It is sad that outsourcing is often associated with the employment of under qualified personnel. Just because someone lives in another part of the world does not mean they are less qualified. Teachers should embrace outsourcing, whether it be in the form of tutoring that student who is falling behind the rest of the class or grading those 300 homework papers. Teachers are superheros, but with limited powers. In this flat world, lets take advantage of the help available.

  • Technology Vision Published 2006-05-08

    In my last post, I talked about two technology projects and concerns regarding their implementation. Thanks to Miguel Guhlin, I am spurred on to describe my vision for a successful technology project.

    To begin, I am not going to go into depth about the nuts and bolts of project management. There are many resources that discuss the processes of requirements gathering, developing a solution, testing, and implementation. My concern is more on the softer side of technology projects - creating an environment for the project to succeed.

    What is Success?
    The first challenge must be for us to describe what we feel constitutes success on the project. I am not concerned with identifying metrics by which success can be measured, though such an activity is useful. I am more concerned that we recognize that the project is designed to facilitate collaboration, or promote the exchange of ideas, or just encourage questioning. The goal is to provide a loose definition of success that will act as an educational framework by which we can later discuss how well the technology is being utilized.

    Create a Beta Program
    It is common for technology to be pre-released to a set of select customers in what is known as a beta version. The purpose of this release is to identify and correct any bugs before releasing to the general public. Certainly, such a debugging program has the advantage of working out most of the technical problems that could sour common users to the whole project. Beta programs also allow the creation of a community of users with experience working with the technology BEFORE the release to the general public. This community will be invaluable to the project for offering support to users, demonstrating ways of successfully utilizing the technology and simply publicizing the project.

    "Always On" Training (and Support)
    The importance of training to the success of a project cannot be overstated. This training should include the technical side of the project so users feel comfortable with the technology. It should also communicate a vision for how the technology can be incorporated into the curriculum and provide focus on how to successfully use the technology to enhance learning. During this training, teaching methodologies, not necessarily familiar to all teachers, can be introduced. All training should be offered both in traditional face-to-face format and asynchronous online format. Because users can return to the training material, it is useful to organize (or index) this instruction in multiple ways so that it becomes the basis for your support program.

    User Community
    A place where teachers can share experiences using the technology offers many rewards. It provides a support community where teachers can find answers to problems experienced by others. A user community encourages the sharing of ideas on how to successfully use the technology from which a set of best practices will emerge. In general, a user community encourages the successful use of the technology.

    Celebrate Success
    Finally, identify ways of celebrating the innovative and successful use of the technology to enhance learning. There are many ways to promote success stories, everything ranging from campus (or district) wide newsletters to announcements at department or grade level meetings. The idea is to offer recognition to those who are doing great things with the technology and promote their success to those who may be a bit apprehensive with the technology.

    These are the five components to developing an environment that will foster a project's success. These five components have a basis in change management theory. Specifically, they address what I consider the key strategic points to effecting change: develop a purpose or vision, create a core community for change, share the vision, empower teachers to succeed, and celebrate short-term wins (adapted from John Kotter's theories on change).

    I am interested in what others are doing to ensure a technology project's success. What is your vision or recipe for success?