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EdTech Update





Our local top 10 tech trends for 2017

After a 2016-17 year of major changes in our district, including building grade-realignment, HS 1:1 Chromebook rollout, building 27 new HS classrooms, and significant curricular reorganizations, we have had a chance this year to take a breath and work purposely on some technology initiatives that will have a long term positive impact on our students, families, and staff. A couple are reactive, but most are proactive. I see these as trends that will continue...

A short review:

  1. Increased scrutiny of data security and data privacy. Two serious data breaches in neighboring districts, a serious Internet outage last winter, and lot of press on data privacy have resulted in our district paying a good deal more attention to these issues. One major effort is a comprehensive network audit this fall and winter. We've also done formal training for clerical and administrative staff. (We trusting Minnesotans are especially susceptible to phishing scams.)
  2. Increased ease of access to resources. As we provide an increasing number of digital resources to our students (Schoology, MyOn Reader, SeeSaw, Discover Education, etc), we are working to provide the automation of an expanded single sign on process and a tile-based launch tool. Giving the little ones the ability to login via a QR Code seems to be working.
  3. Increased access to e-resources with our public libraries. Thanks to the enthusiasm and cooperation of our local public libraries, we have given all our high school students fine-free library cards and aggressively promoted their great offerings - especially those that can be accessed digitally. The plan is to extend the digital library card program to all our middle school students this winter. The other schools in our county are now working on this as well!
  4. Increased emphasis on cultural literacy and digital equity. A greatly expanded hotspot checkout program for our secondary students thanks to an award from TMobile is helping assure that all our students can get to the educational resources they need at home. We are increasing our efforts to make sure communications about technology opportunities goes home in both Somali and Spanish not just English. Our library book selection is done with an eye on finding books more in keeping with our schools' diverse populations.
  5. Increased communication with the home. Parent technology nights, Family Coding Night, messages via our Communications Department, and events/tables/agenda items at open houses and back-to-school nights have grown this year. We need parents to be our partners! We also offered three "Digital Parenting" classes for parents wanting to learn more about safe and ethical Internet use. Parents will support good technology use providing they understand what good technology use is.
  6. Reenvisioning our library spaces and offerings. New furnishings, the elimination of computer labs, serious weeding, and the rollout of makerspaces are transforming our media centers K-12. The increased amount of technology and the resources it provides within the classroom is asking us to re-think our library program roles - how to we remain integral to the goals of our buildings. We are also attempting to escape the scarcity mentality by increasing the number of materials that can be checked out by elementary kids.
  7. Increased recognition that kids need creativity and autonomy. The "stuff" in the makerspaces is being successfully deployed by our librarians, media EAs, and digital learning specialists (all in collaboration with classroom teachers.) It's impossible not to be excited yourself when seeing the excitement of our students working with a wide-variety of cool tools that emphasize coding, systems thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.
  8. Increased need for interpersonal skills by technicians. Thanks to the encouragement of a district-wide initiative to make all staff more culturally proficient, our tech meetings include more than discussions about technology. Empathy, good communications, and team work our critical to our success as much as good technical skills.
  9. Review and clarification of filtering and permissions on student devices. With the rollout of 1:1 Chromebooks for each of our 6-8 students, we are working to establish a balanced approach to permissions and allowed resources, especially during the school day. We are looking harder at our use agreements with providers of online tools that are asking for parental permissions for deployment. Do kids need access to the Chrome task manager and should they be able to download extensions and apps to their Chromebooks? All up for discussion.
  10. Acknowledgement of "standard work. I don't that we have had a single training session on the GSutie products, our SIS Gradebook, or LMS fundamentals at the HS level. Happily tech PD is now mostly cohort based at the secondary level and embedded in the elementary with our digital learning specialists working 1 on 1 with teachers. It is interesting to see more of our staff training (tech and standard curriculum) move online through video conferencing and the use of the LMS (Schoology).

As Calvin reflects in the opening quote, we don't often take the time to enjoy "where we are." For me, this past year has been rewarding because much of our department's work has had a real and direct benefit to our students, our staff, and our families - mostly due to the dedication and smarts of my wonderful staff.

Too often I get caught up in the petty annoyances of the day (the cell phone bill is wrong again!), concern about the future (our Internet provider may be closing shop), and organizational challenges (who will do the complex data integration work we desperately need.) I sometimes lose focus that our infrastucture and administrative programs are critical to providing a foundation on which our student work can be built. 

You'd think that after doing this work for over 25 years, I'd be a hell of a lot better at it!

What were the trends you saw in your district this year? Please share.


You can't be a good tech without being a good person

I suppose I have always subliminally known this as tech supervisor: one can't really be a good technician without being a good person. 

When we think of effective technical workers, we usually think of those with knowledge, skill set, education, experience, and even some degree of wisdom. We think of techs working with machines and code, not with other people. The stereotypical "techie" is often depicted as nerdy or antisocial.

Our district uses an independent survey tool to measure a number of technology-related efforts. At a recent meeting, the perception the timeliness and effectiveness of our technical services was shared quantitatively.

We were viewed as average. Sigh.

This finding surprised me. I am very fortunate to work with what I consider a talented, responsive, and highly skilled group of technicians. Like most school district tech departments, we are understaffed by business standards, but we work very hard and do a good job.

At our biweekly staff meetings we share technical information, ask questions, clarify processes and procedures, plan projects, and get updates. Standard stuff. But after learning of our "average" rating, I've decided that we need to add some soft skills to our full quiver of hard skills.

How can we become more empathetic? How can we show kindness? How can we better communicate? How can we inform and instruct without making others feel dumb or incompetent? How do we become more culturally proficient? How can we identify and truly believe in our important role in the education of our students?

How can all of us become better techs by becoming better people?


BFTP: Excuses vs Challenges

I will freely admit that many librarians and teachers (and principals and techicians and custodians and secretaries and ...) are working under very difficult circumstances with very high expectations. I am also conscious that I have not been a building level librarian for many years, so my vantage point is from the ivory tower of the district office. But when librarians make excuses, I have issues....

Here is my thought - neither profound nor probably original ...

Any single condition or situation can be either an excuse or a challenge. It all depends on the individual's perspective. I would define an excuse as a challenge that an individual views as unalterable, unchangeable, fated. A challenge is a condition or situation that is real, identified, and important - but we should be working to change. Not just accept.

So any of the following conditions could be either excuses or challenges, depending on how the librarian who is experiencing them, views them:

  • My principal doesn't support libraries.
  • My budget is inadequate.
  • My fixed schedule prevents me from having an effective library program.

But it is the next clause that determines whether the situation is an excuse or a challenge...

  • My principal doesn't support libraries which is why I don't have enough a) staff b) resources c) respect.
  • My budget is inadequate so the collection is old and unused.
  • My fixed schedule prevents me from having an effective library program since I can't integrate my program into the classroom curriculum.

All excuses I hear too much.

However I have respect for librarians who say:

  • My principal doesn't support libraries but I am working to convince him/her that libraries do impact student achievement using both internal and external data.
  • My budget is inadequate but I am building advocacy in my students, staff, and parents to support my proposed budget.
  • My fixed schedule prevents me from having an effective library program but I am working with teachers in the flexible time I have, building support for additional flexible time.

George Washington Carver said "Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses." I think that is why I find excuses so abhorrent - that those who make excuses do so from a feeling of powerlessness. 

We do not need powerless librarians. Everyone can change his or her situation - or at least go down knowing one has tried.

Orginal post October 30, 2012