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Wednesday
Jan072009

Your e-reading and e-writing suggestions?

 

From my inbox....

I’m a teacher-librarian at a 9-12 school of 1500 students. We are in a brand new building and are moderately rich in new technology. For example, every classroom is equipped with an integrated AV bundle that includes an LCD projector, a document camera, a DVD/VCR and enhanced sound. Our entire building has wireless access, and we have 5 roving carts of laptops (30 each) available for use in classrooms and 2 computer labs in the library. So there are a lot of computers, but not one-to-one, daily access.

I’m working with one of our teachers who is applying for a $10,000 technology grant in order to set up a “digital reading/writing workshop” for her 9th-grade Language Arts class. I’ve been talking to her about your presentation and the info you shared about e-books, mini computers, Kindles, etc. We are envisioning some sort of personal technology that would motivate and engage students as well as impact their reading and writing skills. But, although $10,000 is nothing to sniff at, it won’t go a long way when it comes to technology spending.

So, the question is: If you had $10,000 to spend on a single classroom, and you wanted to use it to get students more engaged in their reading and writing, how would you spend the money?

My off-the-cuff response is below, but I promised to share this writers question with Blue Skunk readers for their advice to the writer.

If this were just a reading project, I’d be tempted to suggest iPods as a major part of the grant. The e-book readers are quite good and the availability of e-books (through Project Gutenberg and other free sources) is actually better than that for the Kindle. But iPods are not much as a writing device – at least in my experience.

Since this is also a writing project, for hardware I would investigate a NetBook of some type <http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/columnists/johnson/johnson031.shtml>. Good e-book readers are available for them and you'd have a better machine for writing/composing.

In your grant, please do not neglect any costs associated with the teacher’s own personal need to learn and explore this sort of writing environment, any necessary network connectivity (additional wireless access, another network switch, etc.), and any subscription to commercial e-books or a shared writing space (although both can be found that are free).

Good luck and let me know what you wind up doing!

OK, readers. How would YOU spend $10K to improve reading and writing in a classroom?

iPod screenshots above from Stanza e-book reader and from Classics.
Tuesday
Jan062009

May I borrow your watch?

 

Consultant: a person who when asked the time, borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant recently ran a series of blog posts raising questions about experts, speakers and consultants. (See "Beware of outside consultants - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

In the first two entries, Scott reports on questions raised about two nationally know figures, William Daggert and Ruby Payne, who have come under fire. Whether it comes as a result of methodology or conclusions, anyone who advocates for actual change will face criticism. Unless there is some grossly unethical practice discovered, I tend to look at all controversy surrounding such folks as more heat than light. I have yet to see the scientific method successfully applied to the social "sciences" of which education is a part.

In Scott's third post, he asks all of us who serve as speakers/consultants about our own ethical obligations. He quotes from the National Speaker's Association's "Code of Professional Ethics" and generates four standards of practice of his own for speakers/consultants with which I agree.

I do tend to separate my obligations as a consultant, working one-on-one with a school, with my responsibilities as a speaker/keynoter. In my experience, the expectations are different. Most of my consulting work has been done regarding library/technology/facility projects and I've been thinking about this for quite a while. This is from my online booklet "What Gets Measured, Gets Done" (2001, revised in 2007):

The outside consultant

Should a district hire a consultant from outside the district to help evaluate its library media program? Since I have at times served as a consultant myself, you need to know that my advice may be somewhat self-serving. But here it is anyway…

There are a number of very good reasons not to hire a consultant to help in the evaluation process:

  • Good consultants are expensive. (An alternative to a hired gun is to have a reciprocal agreement with another district to trade external evaluators. The North Central Association uses volunteer evaluators from member schools. These folks know they in turn will get volunteers when they are evaluated.)
  • Consultants may not understand the culture, philosophy, and goals of the district.
  • Consultants may come to the evaluation with a set of prejudices not in keeping with district philosophy or professional best practices.
  • Consultants may not come from recent practice in the field.
  • Consultants can only discover a limited amount of information during a site visit. One or two conversations or experiences may play too important a factor in the consultant’s final
    recommendations.

Other than that, we are charming and lovable people and can add value to the evaluation process:

  • Consultants can bring a sense of objectivity to the evaluation.
  • Consultants can bring expertise in building good programs to the district.
  • Consultants can lend credibility and validity to the work done by the district evaluation team if the administrative team and school board regard them as impartial and expert.
  • Consultants can bring knowledge of current best practice and future trends in the field, and may have knowledge of what other schools are doing that is innovative and effective.

If you want to get the most bang for your buck from a consultant:

  • Spell out exactly what result you expect from his/her involvement. (Site visit, written report, follow-up, etc.)
  • Have good information for the consultant to use. Inventories, survey results etc, should be done prior to his/her involvement. (Although a good consultant should be able to provide sources for good evaluative tools.) The consultant should only be analyzing the data and making recommendations, not gathering it.
  • Get recommendations from others who have used the consultant. Ask about his or her communication skills, timeliness, reliability, and the usability of the consultant’s product.
  • Hire someone with credibility and recent experience in the library media field.

When I visit a district as a program evaluator, my main objective is to help the head of the library
media/technology department get across whatever message he or she needs to have the
administration and board hear. Most people for whom I have worked have a very realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their programs.

I also attempt to answer genuine questions these folks might have: Why are more classes not using technology for research purposes? To what extent do our physical facilities help or hinder our library media programs? How can we better use the computers we have in our elementary schools? Do our print collections meet the needs of our students and staff? How can we better allocate our media and technology dollars?

The main point here is that the better the district knows what it wants from an outside consultant
evaluator, the better off that person is able to provide it. And this leaves everyone satisfied and the district with useful information that can be used to improve.

In summary, I see a consultant primarily as a facilitator, rather than a guru imposing a philosophy on an organization.

Conference presenters I look at in different light. As I commented previously (in reaction to a Will Richardson post):

"Sit and git" has its place within the larger plan. First a disclaimer: I make pretty good beer money by going to conferences and giving one-time workshops and breakout sessions. I also enjoy attending these (sometimes).

Sit and Git, Spray and Pray (whatever the clever derogatory appellation du jour for short sessions offered during professional development days or conference is), such learning opportunities ought not to be simply dismissed as ineffective and drop kicked from the educational ball field. Like classroom lectures, good short sessions can be effective in meeting specific purposes. Those include:

  • Introducing participants to a new concept, theory or practice with the expectation of self-directed follow-up. (What is meant by authentic assessment?)
  • Teaching specific, useful skills, especially if practiced within the time allotted. (How to design a good rubric.)
  • Bending a mindset or encouraging an action. (Assessments can be used not just for ranking students, but to actually improve the learning process.)

Concrete, even discrete, learning opportunities have a place in professional development, provided they are part of a larger profession growth plan or teacher IEP.

The key to the effectiveness of conference presenters lies not necessarily in the conference presenter him/herself, but in how well the speaker's message/lesson matches the learning need of the attendee. This certainly doesn't eliminate the speaker's responsibility for being professional and prepared, but it does indicate there is a shared responsibility.

Finally Scott's last post on the responsibility of the organization doing the hiring of the consultant is excellent. I get very nervous when an organization can't articulate the outcomes it expects as a result of my visit.

The people I know who do speaking and consulting do like to earn money by doing so and often command good fees for their services. But I rarely detect the taint of the snake oil salesman among them. In fact, most of us tend to be on a "mission from God" as the Blues Brothers might put it, believing that in changing schools we are changing children's lives and society for the better.

Do not confuse missionary zeal with hucksterism.

 

Tuesday
Jan062009

ISTE Board nominations are open

This came in my e-mail yesterday and want to encourage you Blue Skunk readers (being above average in both taste and intelligence) to consider nominating yourselves for the ISTE Board. Librarians and Minnesotans are particularly needed to bring balance and grace to the organization.

I served for two two-year terms and found the experience very enjoyable and enlightening. The meetings are designed to be of minimal cost to board members and require little time away from work. If you have specific questions about serving that can't be answered from the ISTE website, let me know. - Doug

Happy New Year,

We’re building the next exceptional Board of Directors, and we need your help!

Board nominations are now open! What an exciting way to start the New Year!

Today, through Monday, February 2, nominations are being accepted for the following open positions, each with a two-year term starting in June 2009:

  • Two At-Large Representatives: General members involved in any area of educational technology.
  • One Computer Science Representative: General member who is a PK–-12 or post-secondary education computer science instructor.
  • One International Representative: General member who is from a country other than the United States, involved in any area of educational technology.
  • One PK–12 Schools Representative: General member who is a PK–12, school-based educator, either classroom teacher or technology coordinator.
  • One State Technology Director Representative: General member who is a director of technology for a state education agency.

Consider nominating yourself or reach out to your colleagues and contacts throughout the world who are ISTE members and have the leadership skills to serve to encourage them to run for a seat on the Board. It is through you, our members who are committed to the goals of ISTE and advancing the field of educational technology, that we can build an exceptional Board.

Details about the nomination process, the three guiding questions, and Board member responsibilities are available at http://www.iste.org/elections.