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EdTech Update





5 "soft" tech skills


Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others. the balance careers

Last week our district hosted a day-long workshop on coding. And that's fine. If one looks at coding as technique of problem-solving and means of developing rational problem-solving abilities, I am all for it. If teaching coding is about creating life-long tech skills at third grade, it is a waste of time.

Computer programming and coding when seriously undertaken at high level can be valuable work place skills. Programmers and data integration specialists can make a good living and the need for their skills will only increase. Still, even computer professionals need "soft skills." I'd argue that these soft skills (especially needed by a group often stereotyped as asocial) are a better predictor of career success than programming or other hard technical skills. 

Here are five of those soft skills that come to mind:

  1. Communication for understanding. People in the technical field have a reputation for being poor communicators. The specialized language of technology is not familiar to the lay user and far too often, techs delight in compounding the problem of clear understandings by flaunting acronyms to demonstrate some sort of intellectual superiority. The successful technologist of the future will be able to "translate" tech talk in ways that users, decision-makers, and even politicians might understand.
  2. Programming with empathy for user needs. A program can be extraordinarily powerful, but without at least a semi-intuitive interface, most of that power will go unused. Or the training will be long and very painful resulting in the number of people able to use the product in the organization being small and resentful. What seems simple and straightforward to those of who work with technology on a daily base, can be puzzling and frustrating to the end user. Great technologists view their products from the user POV.
  3. Project management. Any time a task requires more than one person having responsibility for its completion, project management will be critical to its success. I am living this in real time currently when trying to get separate large databases to share data reliably. It is no longer enough just to be competent at one's own job as a programmer - you have understand your role in the larger project and even add value by managing the project, helping with building timelines, objectives, responsibilities, etc.
  4. Ethical decision-making. As AI become more powerful, ethical considerations for technologists become vital. We are already seeing reports of search engines with cultural and sexual biases in their returns. The technologist who programs thinking about right and wrong, equity, and cultural proficiency will be of more value not just to his organization, but to society as a whole.
  5. Attention to creativity. Too often coding classes and programming are teaching and testing the ability to simply follow a recipe. The heart of good technology skills is creative problem-solving. This is not creativity for the sake of being creative, but in designing new ways to solve stubborn problems, increase efficiency, or add value. What problems are you asking students to solve in their programming lessons?

The technologists to whom some of these soft skills come naturally will rise to the top of the tech pool. But many will need to asked to consider and practice improving their ability to interact with people, not just with keyboards.


BFTP: School libraries - a student right

Here's a little riff on ALA President Barbara Stripling's Declaration for the Right to Libraries...

Declaration for Student Rights to School Libraries

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” An educated citizenry is the product of effective schooling that is available to every child. School libraries are essential to an effective school. Therefore if all students have the right to a high quality education, all students have the right to access to well-staffed, well-stocked, and up-to-date physical and virtual school libraries.

School libraries honor the individual learner.  

By providing access to materials on a wide range of topics, with a wide range of reading levels, and in a wide range of media formats, libraries allow the personalization of education, meeting the needs of every learner. 

School libraries enable 24/7 learning.

By providing access to a curated collection of online materials, as well as Internet access in as unrestricted an environment as possible, libraries make it possible for learning to continue outside the classroom and school and into the home.

School libraries encourage the love of reading and learning.

By providing novels, non-fiction, magazines, games, videos, and other materials of high interest for practice reading and recreational use, libraries help students recognize that reading and learning can be a joyful experience, making the exploration of topics of personal interest a voluntary, lifelong enterprise.

School libraries teach valuable whole-life skills.

By providing access to professional information experts (librarians) who teach information seeking, evaluation, and communication skills, libraries develop students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity abilities necessary for vocational, academic, and personal success. 

School libraries are spaces where all learners are welcome.

By providing a physical environment in which students feels welcome, comfortable, and safe, libraries insure that every student has a place where he or she is valued. 

School libraries give all students a voice.

By providing access to the tools needed to create, communicate, and share original information through a range of media, students learn to participate in online conversations with both peers and with the world.

School libraries close the digital divide.

By providing access to technology beyond the school day, libraries give students whose families cannot afford home computers or Internet connectivity access to educational technology before and after school and at home.

School libraries encourage collaboration, teamwork, and face-to-face interaction in the school.

By providing a physical space for social learning, students learn and practice how to work in groups effectively.

School libraries protect student and staff intellectual freedom.

By providing Internet access that is as free from filtering as allowed by law, libraries insure that students and staff information flow is not censored, allowing access to a diverse ideas and opinions.

School libraries honor the education of the whole child.

By supporting an educational philosophy that values higher order thinking skills, creativity, authentic assessments, attention to personal dispositions, and individualization, libraries look beyond the low-level skills measured by standardized test scores and work to create graduates who capable of full engagement with society and the world. 

AASL, I happily ceed the right to this concept to you. 

Check out the very nice graphic of this done by LibraryGirl, Jennifer LaGuarde!

Original post July 4, 2013

Head for the edge column Jan/Feb 2014


10 things teachers can do to protect student data

Welcome back, teachers!

Each year an increasing amount of information about your students is being communicated and stored - especially in electronic formats. You as a professional have an ethical obligation to know the laws and best practices around data privacy as it pertains to education.

Yes, I know you also have a new curriculum, five preps, two extra curricular coaching responsibilities, and a family you like to see now and again. I'll try to keep this short and practical. Here we go...

  1. Always lock your computer screen when it's not being used. A simple keyboard command will lock most computers (Windows-L on a Windows PC.) If you have problems remembering to do this, set your computer to go into sleep mode after 5 minutes of inactivity and require a password to wake it up. Oh, papers with student info on your desk can be easily viewed as well.
  2. Protect your passwords and change them now and again. I am not a huge fan of extraordinarily long or complex passwords or changing a password every two weeks, but passwords do need to changed now and again (once a semester, anyway) and passwords ought to be a combination of numbers and letters. Does anyone really need to be reminded not to write passwords on sticky notes placed on your monitor? Get and learn a password keeper program if you'd like.
  3. Be wary of educational products that create student accounts. Be very careful when using new online products that want information so they can create individual accounts for students. Your district should have a list of programs that have been vetted by the technology department for acceptable data privacy practices (COPPA compliance, at least.) Yes, explore new programs that will aid your students - just do it carefully.
  4. Store student data in the cloud. Cloud-based applications and data storage programs have a good track record for being secure. Please use GSuite or other online storage environments your district may provide. Cloud-based student information systems and learning management programs are pretty secure. Please don't keep student data on the hard drive of your laptop and leave your laptop where it could be stolen. Or on a flash or other type of portable drive. 
  5. Don't post printouts with  private data in your classroom and be cautious about what you put online. Guess what - kids know each other's student ID numbers so if you associate test scores or overdue books or grades with ID numbers instead of names, you are not really honoring student privacy. This regardless of whether the data is on a webpage or a paper printout.
  6. Be cautious when posting photos of your students to the web or social media. Most districts have parents who have requested that student information, including photos, not be share in the public media. You need to know which kids' faces in your class can't grace your website, newsletter, or Facebook page.
  7. Only use trusted wifi connections when working with student data. I don't check my bank account from any "free" wifi services in coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc. And you shouldn't be doing school work that involves student data using those networks either. Please use our secure network here at school rather than the public wifi as well.
  8. Understand the concept of spear phishing and double-check odd data requests. Get any strange requests from a colleague or administrator asking for data? Please double-check that these are legitimate. Spoofing the email address of an authority to send emails requesting data aka spear phishing is a too common practice that has caught a lot of people. Don't be a sucker (pun intended).
  9. Know your district and state's data privacy laws and policies. You don't have to read the laws (FERPA, COPPA, PPRA plus state laws and district board policies) but you better know the gist of them. Do you know what is considered PII - Personally Identifiable Information - in your district?
  10. Help your students understand what they can do to protect their own privacy. Sharing passwords is a common practice among younger students (and probably a few older ones). Every teacher should be addressing Digital Citizenship in her/his classes and protection of and respect for the privacy of others is a critical part of these instructional efforts.

A good resource to learn more about how you as a teacher can help safeguard your students' personal data is ConnectSafely's The Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy. Put it at the top of your professional reading list.