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EdTech Update

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Tuesday
Jul172018

Tech being the last to know is hurts everyone

Far too often the tech department is the last to know.

Last to know about a new program. Last to know about a change in or addition to a management system. Last to know about a change in a process or procedure or policy. Since technology now plays a critical role in about 99.9% of all work in a school system, this oversight can lead to unhappy results.

For my entire career, I have worked toward having a technology representative on planning and leadership committees. For one simple reason: I want to make sure the decisions made that involve technology will help make the project successful. I have had mixed success.

Implementations that involve technology are often complex. Questions that often need to be asked in the selection and planning processes include:

  • Is this new system compatible with our legacy systems?
  • Do we have the infrastructure to support the new product (bandwidth, server and storage capacity, technical support etc.)?
  • How do we get the new system to import and export data from our other systems when necessary?
  • Are there any security/privacy issues surrounding this new program?

I can understand how such questions, if not carefully and thoughtfully asked, can appear to be more obstructionist than helpful. And I suspect there are technologists in schools that purposefully throw up roadblocks to any new initiative. 

All of us in technology must work to be viewed as problem-solvers, not problem presenters. If we can change our image, we might just invitied to more planning meetings.

The technology department being the last to know is frustrating not just to the tech department, but to those who wish to use the technology to improve their own effectiveness as well.

It's win-win or lose-lose.

Friday
Jul132018

Experiencing the Rockies

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. Edward Abbey

The long-planned hiking trip to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch with grandson Paul was cancelled last month due to wildfires in the region. While deeply disappointed by this news, I was delighted that Scouts and Scout leaders quickly developed an alternative experience - a week in the Estes Park, Colorado, area of hiking, rafting, camping, and being guys.

It was a wonderful week - but then any week I get to spend with my grandsons are wonderful weeks.

Both Paul and I had been preparing for the backpacking rigors of Philmont this spring and early summer, so it was great that all that training and equipment acquisition could be used. Although we were based in a condo in Estes Park, we did camp at the Goblins Forest Campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of nights. (Campsites are very popular in national parks and difficult to reserve.)  The 9 participants (4 adults and 5 teenagers) completed 4 good hikes and spent a day white water rafting the Poudre River (1600 trout per mile) near Fort Collins.  We watched the Estes Park fireworks on the 4th (making a hasty retreat from a golf course water sprinkler about half way through the program) and enjoyed meals on the trail, at the campsite, in the condo, and at a variety of restaurants. 

Our hikes included:

  • Chasm Lake: 8 miles, 2500 foot elevation gain to 11,823 feet
  • Estes Cone: 7.4 miles with a 1912 foot elevation gain to 11.007 feet
  • Flattop Mountain: 8.9 miles with a 2850 foot elevation gain to 12,324 feet
  • Ouezel Falls: 5.5 miles with a 948 foot elevation gain to 9370 feet

The first three were rated "strenuous." I would agree. The elevation (trailheads starting over 9000 feet) was challenging but not debilitating for we tough guys. Scout practice is to have a hike leader who, after any break, asks "Is anyone not ready?" The chorus became "I was born not ready." The steady and often steep inclines were literally breathtaking.

Our campsite was only a mile and a half or so from the trailhead so we did not need to carry our packs far. But it was all uphill. One of the challenges was "bear proofing" our area to keep black bears and "mini-bears" (mice, raccoons, skunks, etc.) from getting into the food supply. This involved using bear cannisters for "smellables" and wearing sleep clothing instead of day clothes at night. I was going to place a Pop Tart in the middle of the campsite hoping to lure a bear for photographs, but for some reason this was discouraged by the others.

As the picture of Paul clambering about Estes Cone shows, some of our hikes ended in a "scramble" to our destination's terminus. The views were truly amazing and we spotted on our hikes and drives a bear, elk, deer, moose, entertaining marmots, pika, squirrels, chipmunks, and ouezel birds.

There once was a fat little marmot
Who considered himself quite the varmint
Until my son
Used his shotgun
And now he's a fashionable garment. (OK, so you compose and hike at the same time.)

Strange to say, had the hikes not been difficult, I don't think we would have been as satisfied. We did well, even the old farts, and were justifiably proud.

The Pouder River has Class II, III, and IV rapids. The water was low when we were there and was not running terribly fast, but the rocks were many and often left a gap not much wider than the raft through which to navigate. Neither of our two rafts capsized and for me, at least, the thrill level was about right.

One of our favorite places to eat was the Mountain Meadows Cafe in Allenspark. The cabin held but half a dozen tables inside with a few more on its porch. The service was slow but the food was worth the wait - 4 egg omelets and fabulous blueberry pancakes (which the boys drenched with what they liked to call "pancake gravy.") We also feasted on homemade jambalaya, street tacos, and steakhouse fare over the course of the week.

Paul will be a high school senior next year and will soon be off on yet greater adventures - college, career, and adult life. He is responsible, handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, widely-read, musical, and passionate about chess. He is fine young man and will thrive - taking care of not just himself, but I am sure, serving others in society as well (with fine parents as his model.) It is nearly impossible for me to believe this sweet baby just yesterday is already a young man. You think your kids grow up fast - wait til you see how fast the grands grow up.

I hope there will be some time and space for the grandfather in Paul's future. Maybe to climb a few more mountains?

Oh, I've not completely abandoned the hope to hike Philmont. Paul has a younger brother who is a Boy Scout as well...

The rest of the 140 photos

Wednesday
Jul112018

It's July - take a deep breath

As every modern educator knows, school districts never really shut down. The belief that the three best reasons for going into education are June, July and August is antiquated.

Summer school, youth activities, professional development, curriculum planning, maintenance projects, and technology updates all keep the lights on and people in every one of our school buildings throughout the summer. Most years I was an English teacher or librarian, I simply had a different job in the summer, needing the money to supplement a teacher's salary.

But if any month could be considered somewhat quiet, it would be July. Yes, we still have all the things going on mentioned in the previous paragraph, but we have fewer of them. Many staff members select July to use up vacation days. Fewer people in buildings mean that there is less chance for freshly waxed floors to tracked on. Computers can be updated. Servers can come down for upgrades. Classrooms can be moved. 

And longer, deeper conversations can be had among staff members remaining. Deliberative, thoughtful planning can be done. We can clean our offices and our computer files. Perhaps read some of those professional materials that have been piling up on the desk all year.

Too often our jobs simply leave us little or no time for deep reflection. Time to consider not just how do we get there, but are we heading in the right direction? How might the decisions we are making today impact our programs 3, 5 or 10 years down the road? Are we be coming more or less equitable in our services and resources and policies toward students? What things, especially in technology, should I really be learning more about and considering implementing - and what is ephemeral and fluff?

So my friends, I wish you, if not a relaxing, at least a slower paced July. Give it some thought.