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EdTech Update





Preparing for Teyuna: Anticipation or anxiety?

The hike is, by and large, uphill, as you reach an elevation of 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). There are nearly 20 river crossings to be made. Towards the end of the third day, you will climb about 1,200 often treacherously slippery stone steps until you reach the spectacular terraces of Ciudad Perdida. For many this sight makes all the sweat, fatigue, and mosquito bites worthwhile. Moon Travel Guides


I have made my list and am starting to pack for my own Ciudad Perdida (Teyuna) hike coming up the first week of May.

And I am asking myself why I am doing this.

My "bucket list" includes doing as many world class hikes as possible. I've done the Inca Trail, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, Havasupai Canyon, Kilimanjaro, and the Abel Tasman coast. There is a shelf of about a dozen books with titles like Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die that call out to me each time I pass by them. The Milford Track, Torres del Paines, and Camino de Santiago are haunting me. A buddy and I have pledged that the day after we retire we will through-hike the Superior Hiking Trail.

I suspect a psychiatrist would quickly analyze that these adventures are simply my way of dealing with aging, with accepting my own mortality. Or more likely, that I am in some form of denial. Could be. My father died when he was only a couple years older than I am now and I do think about that more often, I suppose, than I should.

I also feel the aches and pains of being in my 60s. Muscles and joints take time to warm up in the morning. It takes a little longer, it seems, to catch my breath after walking up a few flights of stairs. The 3-4 mile daily walks feel like exercise. I see an old man's hollowed chest when I look in the mirror and suspect the bald spot (thankfully) on the back of my head is growing.

About this time next week, the first day of hiking in Columbia, I will asking myself what the hell I was thinking signing up. I will be asking myself if I will be able to keep up, be able to complete the trek. I will be asking if this is the hike where I have the heart attack, fall off the cliff, drown in the river, or be bitten by a snake. Why am I doing this when I could just as easily be sitting by a pool in a resort, lounging on the deck of a cruise ship, or staring out the window of a tour bus?

But then I ask myself, "If you wanted comfort, why would you even leave the recliner in your living room?" We leave our homes, we leave our cities, we leave our countries to engage with the new. We want to see new sights, smell new smells, taste new tastes. Yet too often we stay in resorts that shield us from the barrios. We eat at KFCs instead of the street vendor. We drink Heinekins instead of Tuskers. We keep the windows of the bus between us and those whose wealth may be in cattle or in their back muscles or who may have no wealth at all.

I have two kinds of bug spray, hiking socks, quick-dry t-shirts, and my hat packed. I am anxious, but excited as well. Someone once said that the smaller the likelihood of survival, the greater the adventure. Hoping to strike a good balance.


BFTP: The changing role of tech support

Yesterday I performed my least favorite supervisory responsibility: I let my technology team know that we would be reorganizing next year - and that there would be a reduction in the number of people in our department. Driven by both needed district-wide budget cuts as well as evolving tasks within the tech department, changes that impact lives, families, and futures of real people weigh heavily on me. But I have to keep thinking - it's about service to kids, not about the adults...

When the platform changes, the leaders change. - Seth Godin

Can technology workers be as reactionary as others in education?

Most of us, I believe, have the reputation for doing our best to push the envelope, to create change, to foment revolution in our schools. Ot at least reading educational technology writers and listening to popular speakers at technology conferences would certainly lead one to that conclusion.

But at heart, might we be actually deeply reluctant to change as well?

I get this feeling most strongly when I hear about technology departments raising barriers rather than creating possibilities about new resources -  especially when the objections seem rather spurious (security of GoogleApps, bandwidth for YouTube, predators on Facebook, licensing of Skype, etc.). Are the concerns real or just because the way of doing something is different?

Why, I suppose, should tech support people be any happier about new directions that may significantly change their jobs, their skills, their power, their usefulness than anyone else? What happens:

  • When individual workstations can maintained by restoring a common, simple image since settings and individual files will all be store online?
  • When security and backup becomes the responsibility of an application server provider not the district?
  • When voice and video become as (or more) important than data flowing through the networks?
  • When our filters can be easily bypassed or students get Internet access using their own accounts, not the school's?
  • When network reliability, adequacy and security become mission-critical for all staff and students?

I rather doubt the need for tech staff will decrease in the immediate future. It seems that just as the need for some tasks diminish, new tasks crop up. But some jobs will increase in value while others decrease. Anyone wish to suggest some job security strategies for techs?

I don't think blocking progress is one of them.

 Original post March 14, 2010


Let's go back to bubble sheets

All testing on line by ought-nine (Minnesota Dept of Education, 2008)

Back to pen by ought-ten (Minnesota Technology Directors, 2009)

When my daughter was in school, she claimed ITED (the Iowa Test of Educational Development) actually stood for the Idiotic Test of Endless Dots. Sounded about right to me.

In its technologically advanced state, however, education has brought testing into the digital age. Now, instead of using the infamous No. 2 pencil, a booklet, and a lovely sheet of ovals, we instead plunk kids down in from of a computer, and let them click on the bubble.

Talk about progress!

However this week, Minnesota like a number of other states who use Pearson as its testing vendor, experienced some technical difficulties. Slow loading, students being bumped off, long log-in times etc. An agonizing experience for kids already made anxious by teachers whose careers may depend on how well their charges do on these assessments.

Our Commish of Ed then ordered that all testing halt Wednesday until Pearson fingered out the problem with its systems. Underpowered servers (can't afford the fast ones?) and a "malicious" denial of service attack (has Pearson not heard of firewalls?), were the culprits according to the news. The MDE itself never sent out an explanation to schools that I saw.

While I love technology for many reasons and for many things, I do not think technology is the answer to every task. I like a doctor to look down my throat. I like a stylist to cut (what's left of) my hair. I'd rather a person wrote the books I read and cook the meals I eat. I would much sooner give a workshop in person than online. Testing may be one of those situations where analog just makes more sense than digital - assuming this amount and kind of testing actually makes any sense at all.

Is it time to reverse course on online testing and revert to good old No. 2 pencils and bubble sheets?

  • State testing can be done in a single day or two rather than the multi-week "window" it now takes.
  • Kids can read on real paper instead of computer screens. 
  • Kids and teachers can use the computer labs and media centers for educational purposes instead of testing.
  • Professional personnel can be freed up for other tasks than readying labs, testing configurations, dinking with OS update scheduling, and other stuff.
  • Labs can be reconfigured to support groups doing high powered productivity work rather than low-level 1:1 stuff. This would save some real money and real estate in buildings and make more sense, especially in 1:1 schools.
  • And maybe, just maybe, would spend more time as a district looking at what the scores might mean than actually giving the tests themselves.

Yes, there are tests that have adaptive features such as NWEA's MAPS tests, but the bulk of the test we give, it seems, are little more than moving the paper test to an

I supported online testing for many years since it was the boogie man that made administrators who controlled budgets sit up and pay attention. "We need more bandwidth or testing won't work." "We need new computers or the testing won't work." "We need ____________ or the testing won't work." I got a lot of good stuff necessary for real educational uses of tech by waving the testing red flag often.

It may be time to find a new boogie man.