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EdTech Update





BFTP: A rubric for conference sessions and implications

One of the activities that is a part of my workshop on designing authentic assessment tools involves quickly creating a rubric to assess the quality of a conference breakout session. Since all participants have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of attending this kind of "performance," such a tool is fairly fast and easy to build - and fun to discuss. Most efforts turn out looking something like this:

Level One

  • Useful, applicable information
  • Content matches program description
  • Presenter organized and informed
  • Begins and ends on time

Level Two

  • Engaging activities
  • Two-way interaction
  • Practical support materials/handouts

Level Three

  • Emotional engagement (humor, etc.)
  • Mindset changing ideas
  • Cookies, doughnuts, candy, etc.

OK, maybe not the best tool with the most comprehensive set of performance standards, but for 10 minutes work in a room full of strangers, a list like this is usually not too bad. And it provides a nice springboard to talk about the characteristics of a good assessment tool.

What struck me last week when doing this activity was a question asked by one of the participants: "Do conference planners ever give a rubric like this to presenters to use when preparing to give a session?" While ISTE conference planners ask for a pretty sizeable amount of information about a proposed workshop or session to help evaluators in their selection efforts (including objectives and an outline), I don't know if I've ever seen the actual tool that attendees use to evaluate the session to use while planning. What a helpful thing that might be.

Many moons ago when I ran summer boot camp technology classes, instructors received this tool to let them know ahead of time how the class was going to be rated by participants. I believe it improved the quality of the classes.


Authentic assessment seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years as test mania has spread and good test taking skills have trumped good self-evaluation skills. Yet, with an increasing number of people who are contractors and self-employed, the ability to critically evaluate one's own work rather than leaving to a supervisor is more critical than ever.

I always add to my college course syllabi:

My job as teacher is not to assess your work, but to teach YOU to assess your own work. I will only help you evaluate the quality of the tools you use to improve your own efforts. That way you will continue to grow long after the class is over.


Original post November 13, 2011


Librarianship as a subversive profession


I suggested in a blog post reply to a librarian whose principal did not want her to order any books not directly tied to the curriclum that she practice subversion. Another librarian in a personal email wrote in support. As the following old column suggests, I believe subversion is a sacred aspect of our profession. We may not be in Katniss Everdeen's league (yet), but we do make a difference...

Librarianship as a Subversive Profession
Head for the Edge, March 2005

Subversion: a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within (Merriam-Webster Online <>)

Not long ago, I pulled my old copy of Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity off the bookshelf. I paid an astronomical $2.25 for a paperback copy when a college student in the early 1970s. It has lost a few pages in the introduction and first chapter (you’d think for $2.25 you’d get something that holds up better), but the book itself is as readable and relevant today as it was when written at the height of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement. 

Postman and Weingartner argue that schools, because of their bureaucratic natures, cannot and will not reform themselves. That learning that is irrelevant is also pointless. That standardized tests don’t measure up. That schools reinforce conformity and mindless adherence to a “one right answer” mindset. And conclude that it is up to the individual teacher to “subvert” practices and policies that are not in their students’ and society’s best interests.

While I wouldn’t want this getting back to my superintendent, I have always prided myself on being a secretly subversive librarian in both small and large ways. The first time I realized my subversive nature was when I argued for new carpeting and air-conditioning when remodeling a library “to protect the computers and preserve the books” when the real reason was, of course, that these things would actually make the place more enjoyable for the people in the library. Hey, it worked! (For a fleeting moment, I thought I might have a career in politics.)

By our nature, we as librarians often say we are doing something for one reason, when deep inside we know the real reason is one that may not be acceptable to our institution. 

  • We order exciting books and high interest magazines and bill them as “practice reading” materials designed to improve student test scores, when our true aim is to develop a love of reading and open young minds to the beauty and wonder of literature.
  • We form library advisory boards that offer us support to balance administrators who may not.
  • We teach our students computer skills, not to make them “computer literate” or help them use drill and practice software, but to locate and find materials that contain reliable information and express a wide-variety of opinions.
  • We teach the research process, less to help students satisfy requirements in English or social studies classes, but to help them learn how to one day use information to help them answer genuine questions and solve real problems.
  • We use puppets and share fairy tales just because they are so darned much fun, not primarily because they effectively transmit our cultural heritage.
  • We do inter-library loan for teachers and administrator even when it is for their book groups or graduate work.
  • We create and promote the use of rubrics and checklists as an antidote to “objective” tests and standardized testing.
  • We accept the role of “network administrator,” controlling passwords in order to gain the same respect enjoyed by the school secretary and custodian.
  • We serve on a mind-numbing number of committees, less to advance the goals of our school, but to make sure those goals are good ones.
  • We teach kids not just to find information, but to be skeptical of it by looking for authority and bias.
  • We make sure reports that warn of the dangers of too much technology use by children like the Alliance for Children’s “Tech Tonic” and “Fool’s Gold” <> are widely read and discussed.
  • We advance Postman and Weingartner’s positions that the questions are as important as the answers, that there is no one right answer but many answers to most questions, and that relevance is necessary if real learning is to happen. Oh, but we call this collaboration to support the curriculum.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we work to make our libraries at least one place in the school that is child-centered, safe, fun and exciting.

As terrible as the word itself sounds, subversion is not a terrible thing. In fact, it’s exactly the right thing to do if what one is subverting is detrimental to children. OK, sing along with me a verse of Pikku Myy’s updated lyrics to Tom Paxton’s 60’s song that began Postman and Weingartner’s book:

What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine?  
What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine?  
Learning’s just a job I do  
From seven thirty til half-past two  
And all my interests have to wait  
‘Til I drop out or graduate  
And that’s what I learned in school today  
That’s what I learned in school <>

Paper more or paper less?

In response to my The Next Big Thing(s) post of December 20, 2016, library friend Laura Pearle, offered a rebuttal - Not paperless - paperMORE.  In it, she argues:

The reality is that students don’t want to read on their screen (for longer pieces) or it’s cumbersome to access the document/information.  Teachers, encouraged by their schools, post more and more because, hey, it’s online and they’re not printing.  But that just moves the cost of paper and toner and time onto families and students.

She observes, as do many of us, that some students want hard copy of digital work and that slow response printing queues often lead to multiple copies being printed. Seen both of these myself.

What I really liked about Laura's post was that when we say paperless, we should be meaning less printing not no printing at all. The key to thinking about this transition lies in the words Laura uses in her post: "...many students want to see it in paper." Many, most, often are not every, all, or always - the paper-less transition is not a door slamming on one format in favor of a new format, but a movement which will occur over years.

I estimate that I am still only 90% paperless in both my professional and personal lives. Despite having first advocated for e-books over 20 years ago. (Can it really be that long?!) Larry Cuban just published a series of blog posts related to school reform ("The Myth of "Failed" School Reform", Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.) In the posts he observes that change happens according to different "clocks." The shift from printing on paper (some 600 years in use) to digital, is proceeding at a slower pace than what I had guessed. And probably on an analog clock, not digital!

But Laura, in my district, we are becoming paper - less.