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EdTech Update





Geezers online and implications for schools


Generations Online in 2009, published last week by Pew Internet and the American Life Project begins:

Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the “Net Generation,” internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online. Boomers are just as likely as Generation Y to make travel reservations online. And even Silent Generation internet users are competitive when it comes to email (although teens might point out that this is proof that email is for old people).

While school leaders (rightly) focus on the importance of the Internet in students' lives and education, we ought to also seriously be considering what this report says about how we communicate with our parents and communities. And asking what exepectations we should have of all teachers of an online presence and use of digital communications.

Most of our parents fall smack into the Gen X category - that which has a disproportionately high percentage number of online users and is increasingly likely to look for information online.

As our parents become accustomed to using the Web to find travel, health, banking and other information, it is not unreasonable to assume they will be looking for information about schools as well. I see this breaking down in three big categories:

  • Parents will use the web to select schools for their children. A good web presence will be an important marketing tool.
  • The community will look to the school's website for information about school events, school schedules, staff contact information, policies and emergency notices. Community members will expect, even demand, an electronic means of giving feedback to the school.
  • Parents will insist on real-time information about their own children's progress through individualized portals that contain grades, attendance, work completion, curricular goals, etc. (See Teacher Web Pages that Build Parent Partnerships MultiMedia Schools, September 2000.)

In our district we've long provided a simple, fill-in-the-blank means for our teachers to make information accessible to parents. With no additional work, students' assignments and grades are directly ported from the student information system to a parent portal. Some teachers take full advantage of these tools; others do the absolute minimum. This report suggest principals should raise their minimum expectations of teachers' online communications.

Too often educators think of students as their "customers." Dangerous mistake. Children no more choose their  schools than they choose their physicians or shoe stores. Parents who wouldn't choose a bank that does not allow online account access won't choose a school that doesn't offer online gradebook access either.

What's the minimum amount of information all teachers should provide parents and minimum information all schools should provide their communities?

Oh, mini-rant: It really honks me off to go to a school district homepage that does not include a telephone number and location.


Long tail message of the month!

A year and a half ago I wrote a post on The Seven Wonders of Grand Forks. I had a free day in town and spent it locating these wonders, including the water tower pictured below:

It was delightful to receive this comment about the post last week:

Grand Forks, North Dakota - Smiley Face Water Tower

My grandfather designed the paint scheme, and originally painted this smiley face water tower. On one side of the tower the smiley face is winking. When my grandfather, Oscar Osmundson, went to the city to get paid for his work they were hesitant about paying him. A few people on the city council thought that it wasn't finished yet -- that he only painted half of one of the eyes on that side of the tower.

My grandfather laughed and told them the tower was winking, and they decided to vote on keeping it. The wink won, and that's how it sits today. Thousands of people drive by the water tower every year, and they all have my grandfather to thank for the smile that the wink puts on their face. [Chad Osmundson]

I continue to be amazed at the number and variety of people who come to the Blue Skunk.

Oh, for those of you who would like to see the wink:


Elevator speech for educational technology

An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is an overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The name reflects the fact that an elevator pitch can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (for example, thirty seconds and 100-150 words) Wikipedia


Once again the Blue Skunk answers letters from the technology-lorn. (Sort of like love-lorn, only much more pathetic.)

Hello Mr. Johnson,

I am doing some research and working on formulating a sort of “mission statement” concerning the use of technology in the public school arena for a class ... . I would very much appreciate your “working perspective” on why technology should be funded and supported by the taxpayers in these days of budget cuts and really having to look at what is absolutely important to teach our children. ... I’m sure your thoughts on this are well-constructed and insightful [such flattery guarantees a response], and I would very much appreciate knowing more about them.

Thank you for your time!


My response:

Hi Sandy,

First, I would direct you to Maslow and Motherboards, an article I wrote for MultiMedia Schools back in 2003. As sad as it sounds, my thinking about why and how technology is important in schools has not changed much since then.

I would stress three main reasons why we need to continue to invest in carefully selected technologies:

  1. We are just beginning to benefit from the administrative uses of technology. Beyond simply doing attendance and grades online, teachers are using technology to keep in touch with parents and to track performance on sufficiently granular levels to meaningfully differentiate instruction for individual students.
  2. Learning to use technology to solve problems and answer questions, communicate effectively, and become self-teaching is important for every student to master vocationally, academically and personally. The person who cannot use technology well to amplify natural abilities is at a true disadvantage.
  3. Today’s generation of student demands an engaging, interactive learning environment. Technology provides this easily and effectively.

I hope this helps. I am not sure how well constructed or insightful these comments are, but they are short.

What I sent to Sandy is basically my "elevator speech" about why I think educational technology is important.

How does your elevator speech go? About technology, libraries or whatever you are passionate about? Share it if you would...