Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Old advice that is still valid in the digital world

Those of us who did not grow up with technology may struggle less with the hazards that accompany its use if we look back at some lessons from our own childhood. I was thinking of a few of this past weekend when reading another article aimed at senior citizens warning about email fraud. (Why DO these keep popping up in my Facebook feed?)

So for my senior colleagues, remember...

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
My guess is that the majority of scams perpetrated are successful because there is some kind of unearned financial or emotional gain involved. Neither Nigerian bankers nor Russian supermodels want to give you something for nothing. These are the carnival hucksters of the digital world. More subtlety, "wealth managers", Medicare advisors, and trip planners all expect compensation for their guidance.

Face to face meetings get things done. With few exceptions, getting all parties together physically rather than virtually, is more effective in planning, problem-solving, and resolving disagreements. Second most effective is real-time virtual meetings where participants share a webcast or a conference telephone line. When attempting to move a multi-participant task forward, these "come to Jesus" meetings are essential. You wait for someone to return that email or support ticket, you may find yourself waiting a very, very long time.

Consider the source. Amazon is not a reference source - it is a sales tool. Fox News, Huffington Post, etc. are deliberatively provocative. The wilder the headline, the more likely the sucker who clicks the link, generating revenue for somebody. 

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? I suspect kids are more likely to do foolish things on line (or off) when they see their peers do them. But we "mature" individuals may be suseptible as well. That new gadget everyone seems to have (Fitbits, Echos), that newest investment opportunity (BitCoin), or health practice (quinoa, fasting, low-carb, high intensity exercise) are tempting just because its seems everybody's doin' it, doin' it.

I feel fortunate that somwhere during my misspent childhood I picked up a few good rules of common sense that seemed to have mostly served me well. You can't go too wrong with the advice given by your grandmother.


BFTP: The secret power of secrets

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.
                                                               Henny Youngman

Just the word "secret" has tremendous power. I was reminded of that last week when helping my 7-year-old grandson learn to ride a bike.

I got Miles's attention by telling him "Grandpa's Secret to Riding a Bike." The big secret was that one does not start pedaling until moving and balanced. Miles also learned "Grandpa's Secret to Swimming All the Way Across the Swimming Pool Underwater on Only One Breath" - taking three deep breaths and pushing off hard from the side. And "Grandpa's Secret to Lighting a Fire with Only One Match." - balled up newspaper and dry kindling.

None of "Grandpa's Secrets" are particularly revolutionary - or even that helpful. So why do we tend to pay attention to information when it supposedly a "secret?" Judging by the number of books on Amazon with "secret" in their titles (193,000+), movies (15,600+), songs (10, 200+) and innumerable blog posts, I am not the first person to figure out that the very word "secret" has the power to get one's attention. I am probably not the only fool to succumb to "click bait" that has secret in the link.

Knowing a secret, of course, suggests having knowledge that is exclusionary or proprietary. Some of us know it, some of us don't. With the implication of course, that those with this knowledge have some advantage. Secrets give us power, and heaven knows, everyone would like to be more powerful.

I am always skeptical of anything that has "secret" in its name including secrets of success, secret sauce, and Victoria's Secret (What is her secret anyway?) These secrets are simply common understandings or information dressed up a little bit. But like adding a numbered list to make titles catchier, I am not above sharing a "secret" or two myself.

Hey, it worked with Miles!


Image source

Original post July 29, 2013


Tech directors, get out in the schools

As you might guess by the paucity of blog posts on the Blue Skunk lately, this has been a very, very busy start to the school year in my district.

Between rolling out 2500 elementary classroom student devices, changing the student information system host (and all the data integration processes connected to that system), changing out all copiers, upgrading telephone system software, moving online testing to the second week of school, planning for a change in our HR/Payroll/Finance system, reconfiguring our web content filter to fix login issues, adapting to a less expensive helpdesk ticketing system, changing bus companies requiring changing how our transportation system talks to our parent communication systems, and just getting classrooms ready, we've had just a few things on our plates.

Perhaps more than any position other than the superintendent, the tech director lives in two worlds - the district office world and the school building world. Directing tech staff efforts gets tricky and often a matter of personal values when the demands are overwhelming from both worlds. Do we focus on solving a login issue students are experiencing or diagnosing slow speeds being encountered by workers using the finance system? Do teachers need their classrostering problems fixed or do the early childhood secretaries need a file recovered from an antiquated backup system? Do I ask our building technicians to update a spreadsheet with copier and printer numbers so that accurate billing can be done or to help a teacher whose projector seems to be dim? Is it more important to make sure our parents can see bus routes on their cellphones or for students to be able to see their assignments on their cell phones? Fax machines or smartboards? Labs or security cameras? You get it.

There are no right or easy answers to these questions. Every tech problem is a big tech problem to the person experiencing it. 

In order to achieve a more balanced approach to technology time allocation, I do my best to get into every school building (and away from the district office) at least once a month. I try to talk to as many principals, media specialists, secretaries, and classroom teachers as possible  - without being an interruption. It is a huge psychological uplift for me to see the kids actually benefitting from the resources my department supports. Yes, I am always happy when on the 1st and 15th of each month the payroll system functions well. But watching excited 2nd graders coding or middle school students creating videos or high school students deeply engaged in virtual collaboration, reminds me again and again why balance is needed when it comes technology resources - especially support time.

Visiting buildings and talking to teachers, gives me a better chance of understanding how decisions made at a district level actually impact staff and, quite frankly, hear about problems that may have somehow gotten lost in the communication shuffle, remaining unsolved for an unacceptably long period of time. And if nothing else, I can be a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, a complaint magnet, or a co-conspirator. 

So my colleagues, find a reason to get out to your schools if you have a desk like mine that seems to entrap its occupant. It will improve your day - if not your year. Remember that a kindergartener is your client as much as the superintendent.