Jan 152015
 

Google-ClassroomGoogle Classroom the latest name in a long and unceremonious history of distributed learning platforms. Many people don’t realize that digitizing and delivering curriculum by computer has been around for quite some time. When I entered the education game in 1996, I started off using a program called Pathfinder followed by PlatoNautikosWeb CTMoodleEdmodo… and now Google Classroom. There have been others, but these are the ones I have used.

Some might say this list alone is evidence that distributed learning systems don’t work but I would prefer to look at this list as the genealogy of an evolving technology. In fact WebCT, Moodle and Edmodo are still very much alive and well, and now Google Classroom has just joined the party.

So what pray tell has Google Classroom brought to this party that the others don’t? Well… Nothing really, at least from a classroom teacher/student perspective there isn’t anything special about Google Classroom. Its basic function simply allows for the teachers and students to engage in the age-old transaction of Assignment-out & Assignment-in. What Google Classroom does have over other platforms is simply this. Full and seamless integration of its suite of Google Drive applications in a secure learning space.

Certainly, “secure” is a relative term when discussing cloud technologies but as far as data security goes, I would say the Google Vault is probably the safest place for our students data. Of course there is the question of, “who is going to protect the data from Google” but that is another blog post.

With this said, I am sure there are some of you are saying to yourself, BIG FRIKIN DEAL! Google Classroom does nothing that can’t be done in the here and now. Not only that,  it doesn’t add any other functionality over the platforms that already exist… but remember, this is only the beginning.

I can only expect that there will be ever-growing functionality being added to the classroom over time and this is a large part of why schools are jumping on board. Although the other platforms are beyond where Google Classroom is today, Google has the money and the people make innovative improvements that their competitors are not capable of. IMHO

So after 4 months of using Google Classroom, what would I like to see?

Better assignment management - Currently assignment management within the classroom interface is pretty crude. All you get is a long list of the years assignments from most recent assignment on down. This can become a bit cumbersome, especially if you are a teacher that hands out daily small assignments vs a teacher who assigns a fewer larger projects.

What Google Classroom needs is:

  • A flexible system where teachers can group assignments by term and unit, so that the assignment interface is less cluttered and focuses on the unit at hand.
  • They also need to think of their discussion streams more along the lines of a threaded forum or at least make that an option within the classroom set up

More efficient marking interface – The single biggest complaint I have received from teachers about Google Classroom is about how laborious and slow marking is in the Google Doc environment. Some teachers have even resorted to printing out a class set of assignments and marking them old school. This totally defeats much of the purpose of a digital classroom in that we end up going back to paper to mediate the learning transaction.

Google engineers need to understand that teachers can have as many as 200+ students. I estimate that marking an assignment in the Google Doc ecosystem can take between 1 to 2 minutes longer than on hard copy. Those who are not in the know will say “BIG DEAL!… Suck it up you whiny teachers!”. but once you start adding the time up, it is conceivable that teachers will have to spend 200 – 400 minutes more marking a set of assignments in the Google Classroom ecosystem than they did when marking hard copy.

What Google Classroom needs is

  • A dedicated marking interface
  • Quick and easy transitions from one assignment to the next
  • The ability to mark up assignments using a tablet and stylus.
  • Make it so markup and grade can be entered in one window

Classroom design options

Give teachers some options on how the Classroom is laid out. Have the basic functional layout but allow teachers to drop in modules such as Twitter feeds, YouTube channels or a Resource Library. I am going to venture a guess that may be in the works as the classroom is already a two column design and the left column is rather bare, just waiting for something to occupy the space.

Grade Book

Embedded into the Google Classroom is a rudimentary grade system where you can give assignments mark values and drop in the numerical grade earned but to be truly useful to teachers it needs to go far beyond its current functionality.

The grade book needs to

  • Allow for different assignment types and weighting
  • Provide a view that allows teachers to see and edit all marks over the year
  • Basic analytics such as class average, missing assignments, due dates

I am sure there are dozens of other things Google engineers could consider as they improve Google Classroom but these items are what I would consider most important to teachers.

Conclusion 

Google has done a good job in launching a basic curriculum delivery system. Nothing fancy, just a simple curriculum delivery platform that is definitely not as powerful or functional as WebCT, Moodle or Edmodo. At this point, any institution that currently runs one of these other platforms, have no reason to jump on the Google Classroom bandwagon.

As we look down the road however, I fully expect that Google will begin to introduce more innovative features which will make the Google Classroom the go to platform for running a digital classroom. We can only hope Google recruits a couple teachers to help them figure out the way these features should work.

Dec 232014
 

What on earth is a Digital Integration Support Teacher or DIST?

As new as this title may sound, the position has been around for quite some time. Most the time it has been done by a self-appointed techno-geek teacher, helping out when they could outside of our regular teaching duties. Over the years, I seem to have fallen into the role of head geek in my school. Although this role has been great for my wine cellar, the degree to which I could help teacher(s) was limited to a “can you do me a favour” kinda thing.

As our school moved toward a greater reliance on digital tools for teaching, this role started to require far more attention than just being a spare time, off the side of my desk kinda thing. Late last school year, it was decided that it was necessary to formally allocate time for an in-house “edtech specialist”

The tipping point was that, in the 2014/15 school year, our school was to begin the process of becoming a BYOD school and employing google classroom to facilitate curriculum delivery. If this was going to have any hope of being a success, staff would need more support. As a result our school has funded three 80 minute blocks, split between two teachers for the sole purpose of providing pedagogically sound tech support.

With this 240 minutes, we serve the technology needs of 1300+ students, 90 teachers and 70 support staff. When I interviewed for the position I referred to it as boots on the ground classroom support and so far it seems to be working for teachers, if not for my wine cellar.
Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.52.11 PMWhen we started this little adventure, I figured it might be useful if I tracked our tech related staff contacts over the year just to get an idea of what we were spending the most time on. In the first 4 months we have begun to paint an interesting picture of what teachers need in the way of frontline tech support.

Google Classroom – 21.2%

At 21.2% Google Classroom just narrowly edges out Workflow, BCESIS and Tech Issues for the most attention needed. This percentage should have been higher but the roll-out of Google Classroom took a bit longer than expected so it lagged behind other tech needs over the term.

So far the Google Classroom support has revolved around the nuts and bolts of creating a digital classroom. Time has been spent on helping teachers set up their Google Classroom, making use student passwords were Google compliant and showing students how to navigate the Google Classroom. Hopefully next term, we can begin to focus on helping teachers develop their digital curriculum for the Google Classroom.

Work Flow 19.7%

Work Flow is a significant issue for teachers in the digital world. Emails, calendar syncing, document sharing, posting digital assignments, collecting digital assignments… There is a lot to get your head around in the digital classroom and regardless of how simple we tell people it is, let’s be honest. We have not made things simpler by introducing technology into the classroom. To this date I have yet to see any Teacher >> Student >> Teacher transaction that is as simple as having a student write their answers on a piece of paper, then handing that piece of paper to the teacher.

The other thing we did a fair bit of, was helping teachers migrate the work they had created on a personal Google Drive, onto their new School District Google account. This work represented hundreds of hours spent by teachers creating digital content for their classes and that transfer was of the utmost importance to them if they were going to use Google Classroom.

BCESIS 19.7%

This category is only relevant to teachers in British Columbia but for those who don’t teach in BC. BCESIS is our long beleaguered student management system that does not play nice with Java. Especially Java on Mac computers. This term, I spent an inordinate amount of time making BCESIS work on Macbook computers. Needless to say, I hope the new student management system that is being rolled out in the next year, works better than BCESIS.

Tech Issues 19.7%

These tech issues usually revolved making people’s hardware play nicely with other hardware. Projection and printer issues topped the list but I also dealt with password issues, viruses, device set up and software installs. Things that were quick and easy to fix without bothering the district tech department.

Resource Consult 10.6%

This is what I was hoping to spend more time on with teachers this term but I think it will come in time.

What the resource consult would involve is sitting down with a teacher and exploring ways to integrate digital tools and media into their teaching. The DIST would sit down with the classroom teacher and go over what they would like to do or try in their class using a digital resource(s). Then the DIST would suggest what resources or tools would accomplish the teachers objective and then help plan how the teacher would implement it into their class.

This may simply involve a “Here try this!” or it might involve sitting down and helping plan a lesson, a unit, a delivery strategy or any other kind of support the teacher might need. This would Include working with the teacher in their class when they first introduce the new digital strategy, resource or lesson.

Google Drive 6.1%

Since Google Classroom is built on Google Drive, once an institution has signed up for Google Apps for Education, everyone on staff has access to Google Drive. What is happening now is that we are now helping non teaching staff move their work lives from storage on the local network, over to Google Drive. This includes Admin, counselling, learning assistants and whoever else has use for the Drive.

Website (The rest)

Bringing up the backend of this list is the lowly old website. As teachers become more digitally savvy, many begin to play with the idea of setting up a web space to call their own. Although it sits at the bottom of my tech contacts in my school, it is a topic I answer questions about quite frequently via my twitter account. For the most part, I direct most teachers toward Weebly or Google Sites as they are simple and less time-consuming. Those who are serious about their web presence (especially blogging) I tend to recommend WordPress.

So what do teachers want from there tech?

This term has been interesting but one thing has become abundantly clear. Teachers need and want help with technology in their classroom and we have left teachers to their own means for far too long. What has also become clear is that their needs are not all that complex.

A retired teacher friend of mine use to say to me “The overhead projector is the perfect piece of classroom technology”

  • Instant on, no waiting for it to “boot up”.
  • Not dependant unreliable networks
  • Easy to fix. No waiting for the tech department to come to your rescue.

Although we have come a long way since the glory days of the overhead projector, in many ways his sentiments still ring true. Teachers want technology that is fast, reliable and easy to troubleshoot when it isn’t working properly. Unfortunately, the simple days of the overhead projector have all but disappeared and as such, so have teachers expectations of their classroom technology.

2014 Top 6 Teacher Techspectations

  1. Projection - Teachers are dependant on projection, just like the days of the simple overhead projector and the nasty old chalkboard before that. If a teacher does not have projection, they are instantly hamstrung.
  2. Internet that works – So much of the supplementary material that teachers use for instruction is on the net, when it is down, an entire lesson can be destroyed.
  3. Reliable WiFi – As we move toward BYOD and students’ access to assignments and resources are dependant on WiFi, a reliable WiFi system becomes a necessity. When it doesn’t work, neither do the students.
  4. Assignment transactions – Teachers want a simple means of distributing digital assignments and collecting those assignments.
  5. Marking Digital Assignments – Being able to distribute and collect assignments digitally is all well and dandy, but if you want to REALLY make a teacher happy… Make it easy to mark those assignments in the digital environment.
  6. Marks & Attendance - The one necessary evil in the bunch, there is nothing more annoying to a teacher when the software they are expected to take attendance on and complete report cards on, does not work. If this were a day-to-day issue it would top the list of digital pet peeves.

Merry Christmas all!

Dec 082013
 

pylogoAfter 8 months of searching… I think I have found my Coding in the Classroom solution. What I was looking for was a product that gave me a means of some semblance of classroom control but gave the students the flexibility of an open learning environment. I also needed a product that gave me the confidence in saying “this is the one” to students, parents and administration.

What I have come to after months of searching is a Learn to Code solution called Grok Learning out of Australia. They have developed an all in one learn to code platform using Python as their first  offering and from what I have played with thus far, it looks to be a tight little package.

Being a coding neophyte myself, I needed something I could learn quickly along side my students but at the same time had enough complexity and sophistication to challenge the aspiring Wozniaks in the room. From what I have read, Python is apparently the way to go. It is easy to learn, teaches good coding practices and is similar enough to the C languages that learning C & C++ is easier once Python is in the bag. Besides, if Python is good enough for Google and NASA, I am guessing it is probably good enough for a high school classroom.

Some of the things I like about Grok are the following:

  • Browser based
  • Created by educators
  • No installations needed
  • Affordable(ish) $30 a head
  • Easy to set up online classroom
  • Student tracking and marking ready
  • Discussion forums to hash out coding challenges
  • Competitions to challenge students
  • Growing selection of tutorials
  • Downloadable resources
  • Custom courses available
  • Parenting Dashboard
  • Worked on my iPad
  • Live help

When speaking to the good folks of Grok, I mentioned that Canadian educators need an online classroom environment that doesn’t require ANY student information in order to comply with our privacy laws and they seemed to be willing to make that happen. As it stands, a teacher could still set up aliases for each kid and still be within the law.

The question you may now be asking is how Grok Learn To Code is different or better than the products already available? and to be honest, I am not completely sure. I have only just begun to play but at this point what I do like is the following.

Bang for buck – I originally looked at Code School. They provide a wide selection of courses, a really good delivery system and “team” discounts. Unfortunately, the cost is just way to much to ask kids or the school to pay. Sure if I was a good teacher, I would shell out the cash for it myself but I am a selfish sort and prefer to feed my kids so I passed

There are some Great Free Resources out there as well such as Code Academy, which my class is using now. They provide a very similar product to Grok including Python but it doesn’t give the teacher the opportunity to create an online classroom or delve into Python quite as deeply as Grok. In my opinion the ability to manage students under a single back-end interface is invaluable but being able to challenge the higher end kids is imperative. Grok also provides a unique level of support and opportunity for kids to interact with other young coders from around the world.

So after 6 short months and a long intensive search, I think I have come to a decision. it has been really quite astonishing how many learn to code options have come out of the woodwork while I have been looking. All offer a decent learn to code experience but at this moment… I think I will give Grok Learning a go for my coding program.

If anyone would like to give Grok a FREE trial run, they have given me 5 teacher subscriptions to give away. The first 5 insightful comments on this post will receive a link to join Grok.

Cheers,

Keith

 

Dec 032013
 

I picked up a new class this year. Actually I was cajoled into taking a ICT class in exchange for one of my Planning 10’s. “Come on Keith your will be great! Besides you love techy stuff don’t yah?” Although I couldn’t argue the point, it was still a new course and I didn’t really know what was involved.

As any wily teaching veteran would do, I held off on committing to take the class until I checked out the IRP. (Integrated Resource Package) Once I had ferreted out a dusty old copy from the depths of the Tech office, I was perturbed to find that it was a 2003 version so I did what I should have done in the first place and went to the net and looked for something that had been written post Windows XP. As you have probably already guessed, the most recent version IS the 2003 version. In tech years, 2003 was a millennia ago. Essentially were still pounding out school work on stone tablets back then.

Taking a quick look through I wasn’t very inspired.

  • Microsoft Office (my grandmother uses Microsoft Office)
  • Web publishing tools (Could you be a bit more specific?)
  • Video editing (I thought that was film and TV)

However, I did see some mention of programming, some image editing and a few other snippets that lent me hope. I knew if I stuck with all the Prescribed learning outcomes, it would be a PAINFUL year for everyone involved, so I went down to talk to the all mighty and powerful people and said… “Sure, I will take ICT IF I don’t have to follow that IRP to the letter!” To which they said… “Giddy up!” 

Now you may be wondering what qualifications do I have to be teaching ICT and my answer is… None! Sure I am a tech geek but I haven’t taken any formal training in anything. Actually that is not true. I did take 4 weeks of first year computer science before I dropped it but that was in 1990 and in tech years, we were still killing wooly mammoths with our bare hands back then.

What I am familiar with is how to build websites for personal and retail purposes, how to optimize websites to be search engine friendly and I have a great deal of experience using and hacking the appearance of WordPress Sites. I also have been using Adobe Photoshop, Dream Weaver & Fireworks for a number of years as well. How this makes me worthy of being an ICT teacher, well that may be up for debate but it gave me enough of a leg up to say “YES! I will teach ICT” 

Although I felt confident to take on the class, I realized that the kids I would be getting were going to be light years ahead of me in many respects, in one area especially. Coding!

Regardless of my inadequacies in this area, I still wanted to make coding a major part of the course because coding is all the rage these days and all the cool geeks are doing it. This is where Open Learning comes in.

The only way I could provide kids with any sort of learning experience around coding was to utilize the wealth of Open Learning resources available on how to code. I realized from the get go that there was no way I could learn this stuff and turn around a try to teach it day in day out, so I resolved to just set them loose.

For me this was unnerving. This would be the first time in 17 years where I have not been dishing out the information the kids needed to know and god help me if things went sideways.

Now, three months into the year, my role has become more of a director of resources. If a kid needs help and I can’t answer the questions, I find another kid who can. I find and present to the kids learning resources and opportunities which they can utilize to enhance their own self-directed learning. At times it feels like we are moving a little fast and loose but the kids always seem to be on task, get things done and enjoy what they are doing. I have yet to have any eye rolling or groaning, I never have any absentees, they are all in class on time… It is a remarkably efficient classroom. Having said that, I am sure things will now go to hell in a hand basket.

What I do find myself doing as a “teacher” is trying to get the kids to think about what it is they are doing. What are the ramifications of the app you want to develop, the image you have created or the digital footprint you have made? So many of these kids view what they are doing with or on a computer as isolated events. Rarely do they think about the social ramifications of their digital creations or actions. To combat this blinder effect, I will take a class every couple of weeks and look at the social consequences of what we create using technology.

This little experiment has made me realize that I may no longer have control of the content but I do have control of the context. The traditional sage on the stage approach gives the teacher the power / responsibility to deliver content and context all at once but with open learning, context can be glossed over by the learner or is missing entirely from the content. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the teacher to frame the individual learning within the appropriate context.

These past three months have reinforced with me that Open Education in the absence of a living breathing teacher will be doomed to failure or at least can’t be considered “education” because without the teacher it is just information. As I come to the end of this post and this course, I leave you with an article that appeared in the Washington Post by Larry Cuban, that makes this point very well: The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educated

 

Cheers,

Keith Rispin

 

Oct 182013
 

iStock_000026852527XSmallThis weeks topic for my #tiegrad class was inquiry based learning and how technology can facilitate it. I have to admit, I have not been caught up in this new fangled method of teaching yet. Perhaps it is just because I am just too long in the tooth or that back in the day, inquiry learning was known as being a kid.

As a result, I was not sure what I was going to write this week but as luck would have it, a colleague and I ended up having a bit of a chat on the subject and lo and behold! My blog post was born. He is much like me, a miserable curmudgeon who looks at education from more of an Eeyoresque point of view and quite frankly, neither he or I quite get this whole inquiry learning movement. 

We talked about the good old days when “inquiry learning” was a simple endeavour. Give something a go, fail, then try something else. There was always the alternate scenario as well. Give something a go, have a brush with failure’s evil twin success and get a pat on the back from your adoring fan. Either way, it was rarely planned. It just happened, no adults needed.

My concern here is why are we trying to apply rubrics and quantify that which was once called life? As well-intentioned as the inquiry learning model may be, why do we have to formalize learning that was once just part of growing up?

When I was a kid I learned all sorts of good things without an adult looking over my shoulder

Meteorology:  When your hair stands on end while standing in the middle of a baseball field as thunderheads are rolling in from the South, lightning is about to strike.

Physics & Firearm Safety: Don’t shoot a pellet gun at a power line insulator in -40 degree celsius weather.

Environmental Sciences: Don’t  play with matches, in the middle of a grass field during dry season.

Mechanics and family dynamics: If you crash your new moped into the side of a car, don’t try to hide it from your dad and fix it yourself.

Physics & Gravity: Jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes does not work.

Anatomy & Emergency Medicine: You break multiple bones when jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes.

I shudder to think of what we might have come up with if we had the internet at our disposal but even without the internet, the things we accomplished were monumental. All we had at our disposal was our imaginations our bikes, some sporting equipment and a couple of dogs. I guess what I am trying to get at here is that we didn’t need someone to set up learning opportunities, instead we discovered all on our own. It was just part of our daily lives but now, it seems that life has to be a curricular objective.

After our maudlin bit of meandering down memory lane, I did a Google search for: “what is inquiry based learning” and I found a site where I found this one line.

Inquiry based learning is mainly involving the learner and leading him to understand.  Teachnology, Inc.

I really don’t mean to be a buzz kill here but after reading that, I have two burning questions.

  • Is it true inquiry if students are being led to understanding?
  • Are we now trying to create curriculum to replace life experience?

Perhaps this is just the brave new world but I am sad for our children if we have come to a point in our society where everything in their lives has to come from a lesson plan.

JMHO.

Cheers!

Further Reading

Free Range Kids

Parenting Old School

Oct 042013
 

1380965427_teacherIt would seem a new blogging schedule is starting to emerge. This going to school thing is forcing me to sit down with a glass of Shiraz in hand and hammer out a new blog post every Friday night. Not that I am complaining… I love Shiraz and I love Blogging, so here goes.

This weeks instalment is all about online identities and how it plays out as a connected educator. Bonnie Stewart dropped in as our guest moderator for this weeks #tiegrad class and shared some of her thoughts on what I found to be a riveting topic.

You can find out more about Bonnie and her Dissertation here: Scholars In The Open: Networked Identities Vs Institutional Identities

The discussion generated some very interesting questions about the ramifications of being a networked educator. For better or worse, teachers now have access to extraordinarily powerful tools with which to share their ideas and opinions about education. As a result, classroom teachers are  changing the landscape of education in a way we have never seen before.

It was a discussion that went far beyond the usual spiel of  “thou shalt not post pictures of your drunken escapades in Aruba last Christmas”  It was a discussion about the consequences of letting a schmuck teacher such as myself, influence others in a way that was virtually impossible just a few short years ago.

This discussion was so interesting because it was about ME! I am living proof of the power of being a connected educator. Two(ish) years ago, I was just some guy who worked with at-risk kids. My influence hardly went beyond the confines of the staff room and even then my influence was negligible. The only reason my existence mattered was that I took up space around the lunch table. Then along came a my blog and a twitter account and whether it be warranted or not, all of a sudden I had influence that reached far beyond the small confines of our staff room.

Although I kinda realized it before, yesterday’s class got me thinking about my responsibility as a connected educator.

The questions we looked at revolved around the ramifications of being a connected teacher. What are my responsibilities and who should I answer to? We also got into how networked teachers are disrupting the traditional power structures in education and what the consequences could be?

These are the questions that frame what Stewart referred to as “Identities for a new ethos”. If I remember correctly, she also said it is a world for which societal norms have not yet been formed and as such we can sometimes get situations that look a wee bit like the Wild West where there is no Marshall in town to keep the gun slinging at bay…  I paraphrase

Here are the significant questions I went away with. Anyone who has been following me for any length of time, will be able to figure out my answer to each so I would LOVE for you to chime in with your own answers to these questions. If you have a second please leave a comment and share your opinions/answers.

Questions to ponder for the connected teacher

What is the teachers place in the this new interconnected world?

How vocal should a teacher be on a social network?

Should connected teachers be expected to parrot their their school district’s party line?

Where is the line, how edgy or outspoken can a teacher be without being open to discipline?

Should your online identity stray from the person you are in the classroom?

Does a strong online presence threaten existing educational power structures and is that ok?

Cheers,
Keith

Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships - Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

Jun 062013
 

iStock_000016696029XSmallAs hard as it is to believe… The school year is rapidly coming to a close and this means it’s time to reflect on the year that was and give you my #EdTech year in review. As usual, I will be assuming my role as the Eeyore of EdTech and focusing on the gloomier side of things but it is all well intended. As my loyal readers know, I am not a “Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah!!” kinda guy, so without further adue, I give you my #EdTech year in review.

Adios to the iPad cohort

Gasp! I know, as implausible as it may seem, our iPads in the classroom experiment came to an unceremonious end this year. Knowing the iPads in the classroom community as I do, I already know what they are all thinking but NO!… we did not “do it wrong”. We just came to the conclusion that a one device model was not workable in our situation.

IMHO… The reason the cohort failed to thrive is that we have a dynamic school with kids of all stripes and configurations and as such, we quickly learned that a single device in the hands of a specified group of students, is a very difficult thing to engineer.

As much as the school system likes to categorize, rank and pigeonhole kids into groups, things just don’t work that way in a comprehensive high school like ours. Right out of the gate, we discovered that the diverse scheduling needs of our students, simply didn’t lend itself to a one group, one device model.

The first year we managed to keep the cohort together because we targeted kids who’s scheduling would be (mostly) the same but this year we opened things up and we immediately found that we could not keep the cohort together but that is ok. Like I said, we are a comprehensive school, we don’t want to schedule kids into a single track and as such the cohort model just didn’t work like we had hoped.

The other thing that happened along the way, is that our school quietly and unceremoniously hit the ever so elusive #EdTech tipping point (I think) and adopted a BYOD policy right under our noses. There is no longer a need to try and engineer a classroom where every kid has a device in hand, it just happened au natruel.

Regardless of how things shook down, we learned a lot from this little experiment. All the teachers involved came away with a greater knowledge and understanding of how best to utilize digital tools in the classroom and will continue to apply and expand their skills for the rest of their careers. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the group of teachers who were a part of the iPads in the classroom experiment are now sharing what they learned with colleagues both near and far. The iPads in the classroom pilot WAS a success, just not in the way we were expecting.

Bandwidth issues

As I had mentioned in the previous section, It would seem that we may have hit the #EdTech tipping point and what better measure to determine this than bandwidth use.

This year was a definite struggle with getting connected with the outside world, from within our schools. It was like we hit a wall this year and when I say “We” I mean the Royal “We”. Schools everywhere were discovering that a building full of people using the internet all at the same time, can pose a wee bit of a problem.

It has become painfully obvious that infrastructure upgrades are becoming an immediate need for schools that are going digital. The problem now, is figuring out how to pay for it. With shrinking education budgets, it becomes very difficult to justify spending money on improving connectivity when you are looking at cutting back on teaching staff and educational programs.

My prediction is that, we (public education) will be looking at corporate sponsored funding for these types of upgrades very soon. It is a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened but it is coming… mark my words.

Note: The bandwidth issues we were experiencing in my school this past year were recently addressed and access is much improved. 

Plight of the naysayer

Ok perhaps “naysayer” is a bit misleading, so lets use contentious practitioner, or constructive criticizer or at worst contentious objector…

This year was an interesting one as the #EdTech movement, gained some significant momentum and began pushing hard for greater use of technology in classrooms. Along with this has been a growing expectation that teachers embrace the digitization of their professional development and to some extent their professional identity. The Personal Learning Network or PLN, was the topic du jour at many a staff meeting, blog post and twitter chat.

Now if you recall, I am a bit of advocate for the integration of digital tools in the classroom and I am a REALLY BIG fan of the digital PLN but things are starting to get a little ugly out there.

You see it at staff meetings, on twitter, in blogs and in main stream media. Those who are not on the #EdTech train are getting hammered with criticism. I even got attacked on twitter a couple of months back for questioning a “EdTech GuRu”. It was really quite astonishing how quickly this individual and her disciples piled on in an attempt to marginalize my critique. My questions weren’t even addressed as they immediately labelled me as a #EdTech heretic and proceeded to try to discredit me through the medium of twitter.

I have to plead guilty of being an #EdTech bully myself. During a staff meeting, I disrespectfully responding to a colleague when he questioned the usefulness of social media as a professional development tool. Although I eventually tried to answer his question respectfully, I started off with a dismissive smart assed comment, which had no place in the discussion.

Beyond personal attacks, there seems to be a concerted effort to silence and marginalize anyone who questions the #EdTech movement and this isn’t just a personal observation. In the past two weeks alone, I have been DM’d on twitter, received emails and was even approached at a social function, about how to deal with a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message of “You are either with us or against us, pick your side!”

I never thought the #EdTech discussion between the Pro and Whoa camps, would ever degrade to a showdown but I am afraid we are heading down a path toward greater conflict. Lines are being drawn and they seem to be more ideological rather than pedagogical.

To Wrap Up

All in all it has been a good year. I certainly haven’t been as active in the #EdTech community as I was last year but I just couldn’t keep up the previous years pace. Next doesn’t look good either as I hope to begin my Masters in Education Technology (if I am accepted) and will probably have even less time to share my insight and opinion. One positive however, is that when I do show up, I might actually know what I am talking about since I will be all lerned up reel good.

Have a great summer all… Cheers!

Some 2012/2013 Articles about #EdTech

Little gain from technology in the classroom

Outdated education model opens doors for tech companies

Technology changing how students learn, teachers say

 Teacher knows if you have done the E Reading

Apr 172013
 

I apologize but the original post has been removed for circumstances beyond my control.

If you want to participate in an excellent discussion on the topic, go to Linked In and search in the

Technology Integration in Education Digital technology into the classroom

Mar 272013
 

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.

JMHO…