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EdTech Update





My 2014-15 Head for the Edge columns

Find below links to the full text of my 2014-15 Head for the Edge columns that appeared in Library Media Connection this year. I've added a little "teaser" to each link. I have really enjoyed writing these columns for the past 20 years and I hope that translates into others enjoying reading them.

It’s Personal” August/September 2014

The lesson I learned as a librarian was that it’s possible and useful to blend a student’s personal interests with academic standards. Making a subject relevant because it is personal, local, or topical was critical if I wanted a learner who did more than just go through the motions.

Libraries in the Age of Information Plenty” October 2014

Libraries were created in an era of information scarcity. In the form of analog materials - tablets (stone, not silicon), scrolls, folios, and bound books - knowledge and narratives were rare, expensive, and easily lost, stolen, or damaged. The librarian rightfully was the “guardian” of the temple of information, charged with protecting the contents within.

But it’s time to move on. Really.

The Librarian as Technology Integration Specialist” November/December 2014

I always said that the best librarians “swing both ways.” No, I’m talking about sexual orientation. Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean I want my schools’ librarians to be as comfortable and competent with technology and digital resources as they are with books and reading.

When Missions Diverge” January/February 2015 

What should the ethical professional do when it seems her mission and values deviate from her organization’s mission and values? What seems like a growing number of librarians and technology folks are fully committed to creating constructivist learning environments that stress collaboration, creativity, communications, authentic assessment, and personal relevance but work for schools that focus on test scores, test scores, test scores, test scores, basic skills, and conformity. Did I mention test scores?

 “Giving Up” March/April 2015

But as sad and painful as it may be, we need to start figuring out what we need to give up professionally. Every year, the school librarian’s list of responsibilities increases. Digital content specialist, curator of resources for differentiated instruction, technology integration specialist, course management system trainer, professional development provider, textbook manager, 1:1 project coordinator, school website manager - the list goes on.

Challenge of Change Agency” May/June 2015

I don't know about you, but I get little satisfaction from knowing something I've done is making others unhappy. (Except for those who turn interesting shades of red and blue.) Like most folks, I prefer days filled with compliments rather than criticisms. I know over the next few weeks I am in for some pretty long days of getting verbally beat up about installations, migrations, training (or the lack thereof), additional work, and plain old differences in how things are done. What makes things harder is that some of the complaints will be deserved.


You can find links to all my Head for the Edge columns from 1995 to 2015 on my website and Most of my Head for the Edge columns, updated and edited, can be found in my book School Libraries Head for the Edge.

Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.


Should your educational changes be a sprint or a marathon?

District policymakers, administrators, and activist parents–stakeholders–seeing themselves as “agents of change”– seldom ask: change toward what end? Change in and of itself becomes the desired outcome, not the district’s long-term direction (e.g., prepare students for an information-driven economy, build decent adults engaged in helping themselves and others). And that is why the short-winded are attracted to school reform. From charter schools to “disruptive innovations” to delivering computer devices en masse to students and teachers, rarely is the question asked: Do these new things take us in the direction that we want to take tax-supported public schools in a democracy? If yes, how? If no, why invest scarce resources in them?  Sprinters worship speed and seldom ask these questions; they want to make grand changes fast and cheap. Marathoners have the time and energy to ask the questions and figure out how to get from here to there in chunks, not all at one time. They seek quality–“good”–over fast and cheap. Larry Cuban, "Long Distance Runners Make the Best Reformers"

I sometimes butt heads with educational technology evangelists over the pace and degree of change that schools should be undergoing.

The technoenthusiast school is very often "you can't leap the chasm in two bounds" group. The more disruptive and more quickly the change occurs, the better. And I can understand that impatience. We have students in our schools today that are not doing as well as they could so any delay in using technology to meet the needs of those students feels immoral.

But more often than not, I take a somewhat longer view. While one can't leap the chasm in two bounds, my belief has always been that we'll get a lot more people across if we build bridges from one side to the next and make sure everyone understands why the other side of the chasm is better that the one on which we currently stand.

When Cuban asks in his blog post quoted above if delivering computer devices en masse to students and teachers ... "take(s) us in the direction that we want to take tax-supported public schools in a democracy?", I can personally say yes. I firmly believe that these devices can help equalize access to resources and learning opportunities for all students in ways never before possible. (See The Technologically Proficient Technologist, Educational Leadership, March 2015)

But not magically. And certainly not instantaneously.

It's not the device. It's not the 1:1 initiative. It's immaterial whether kids get iPads or Chromebooks or use their personal smart phones.

It's whether those students get 24/7access to materials, activities, and most of all, human beings who are best suited to their learning needs. The device is simple. A few dollars and a MDM software wil put put Chromebook in every kids hands in under a month. It's the connections that are complex.

While handing out a device to every child is a sprint, it will be the ongoing PD around using learning managment systems, curating resources, building collaborative and interactive learning activities, and evolving "best practices" in the classroom that will be the marathon, the bridge that gets us across the chasm to where every student has a chance for a good education.

As Aesop once wisely observed, "The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running." Good words for those of us in educational technology to remember.

Image source


BFTP: Teachers shouldn't have to be technology superstars

Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want? This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.  - from Bill Gates interview spoof

A couple days ago I listened to a very enthusiastic teacher/techie explain how he built a "roll your own" content management system for teaching online classes. Discontent with Moodle, he created a stew of a half dozen free Web2.0 apps and a little HTML and Java coding and, voila, he had system he loved.* And I sat there thinking, 'What teacher in his/her right mind would not only refuse do this, but be able to keep from running screaming from the room at the thought of having to do this?"

Let's face is - teachers should not and cannot be expected to be technology experts in order to use technology well. It's like asking good drivers need to be good car designers or good cooks to be good farmers. I don't think so. I want my teachers thinking about teaching and learning, not technology.

Nathan left an interesting response to my last blog post in reference to creating a program that uses mobile computing devices systemically in schools. He observed:

We've brought in a ton of iPod Touches in Special Ed with Stimulus money this school year. Monday we visited another school that was hosting a site visit, to check if we were missing anything. The key thing I came away with that day is it is ALL about great instruction. The 7th grade math teacher we observed was inspiring...and made me wonder if we had anyone that dynamic in our district to really extract all that technology has to offer in the classroom. To be fair, they might not have another teacher like him in their district. I felt good knowing we weren't behind the curve and ahead of pretty much all the other districts there, but worried that we might not have the players to pull it off. The Yankees do well because of Mark Texiera and CC Sabathia win games...not the grounds crew, the GM or the owner.

But here's the thing, Nathan, - teachers should not have to be the instructional equivilant of Texiera to be able to use technology in the classroom effectively. The technology should be transparent (simple, intuitive, powerful) enough that any teacher who is open to new, or even enhanced, ways of teaching would quickly and willingly use the "stuff." Period.

And it is our job as librarians and tech integration specialists to evaluate technologies with this in mind. We should review and reject the junk that is overly complex, time consuming and just plain badly designed. And keep it away from our hard working teachers.

And yes, I've been beating this drum for a long time. ('Tis a Joy to be Simple, 2001)

* If this fellow spent as much time on course content buidling as he did on creating the CMS, it must have been a terrific course!


Original post May 19, 2010