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EdTech Update





Odds and Ends - the new

Once again, John Pederson of pedersondesigns blog, has been an inspiration. I like his Best of the Week posting. It's time to clean out the little shoeboxes of interesting bits, and paste them into the blog scrapbook. A bit of the  new here. Next blog entry, the old.


Good to see "thought leader" in the library field, Jacquie Henry, start her Wanderings blog.


I hear rumors that AASL presidential candidate, Sara Kelly Johns, may be starting a blog as well. I have great respect for both AASL presidential candidates, Sara and Cassandra Barnett. And this is a problem. The biggest reason for apathy among AASL member who do NOT vote in large numbers is that there is too often too little known by the membership that separates the candidates in philosophy or goals. AASL tends to make very good choices of candidates. A blog by BOTH candidates might end voter apathy by helping we in the rank and file find a few differences.


 The First Class Education's 65% solution (requiring that 65% of all education dollars be spent on classroom instruction) has been getting a good deal of attention lately. (See Governor Perry's 65% delusion and the NYT's Here's An Idea) This proposal is just plain bad for both librarians and technologists. It is heartening to hear that ALA/AASL and ISTE may join forces to lobby against this proposal. I hope it is start of a beautiful and continuing relationship between these two organizations that are both near and dear to my heart.


Want to stir up a little discussion on your district's mailing list? Send Kenneth Goodman on DIBELS (via Stephen Krashen) out to your reading and assessment folks. This past president of the IRA writes: What makes DIBELS the perfect literacy test is that it takes total control of the academic  futures and school lives of the children it reaches from the first day they enter kindergarten when they are barely five years old. It keeps control of their literacy development and indeed their whole school experience for four years from kindergarten through third grade. And the more poorly the children respond to DIBELS the more they experience it. Hey, I've got a grandson starting kindergarten in Fargo next year. Any Fargo folks who read this blog,  please forward the article to your assessment folks. Thanks.


From the ASCD SmartBrief (still the best educational newsletter going) Opinion: Boom times ahead for Indian e-tutoring firms In a commentary, Shantanu Prakash, the managing director of Educomp Solutions, predicts Indian online tutoring firms will see big opportunities, due to America's $2.7 billion fund for supplemental services, its lack of qualified math teachers and the pressure on schools to raise scores. Prakash says India's strong math curriculum at the bachelors and master's level produces highly competent Indian tutors who can easily help American children.  Financial Express (India)


 Read Education infused with technology from the Philadephia Inquirer about San Diego's "High Tech High" school. See if this summary list is telling:

How is High Tech High Different?

  • Design principles: "Personalization, adult-world connection, common intellectual mission."
  • Technology is not a subject, it is the primary mode of learning.
  • All students have access to a laptop computer for at least half a day.
  • No more than 450 students in any school.
  • Assessment is through presentation and performance, not tests.
  • Final senior projects are graded by committees of adults from the school and community.
  • No formal sports, arts or music, although there are student-run activities in these areas.
  • There is no tracking. Students of all abilities learn together and are often on the same project teams.
  • Admission is by lottery.
  • Student-teacher ratio is 20:1. Each student has the same adviser for all four years.
  • Less than 1 percent of students are suspended. While some students transfer to different schools, the dropout rate is negligible.
  • All graduates have been admitted to college; 58 percent of those are the first in their families to go.
  • It is a charter school. In addition to taxpayer dollars, it is supported by grants from corporations and foundations.
I only count or or at best two of the 13 bullets that are technology-dependent. What really makes this school successful?


A spyware remover for the Mac OS? Please someone, tell me this isn't needed! Has spyware come to the Light Side of the Force? I sent this question to the folks at the Spyware Daily blog with, as yet, no response.


Some of you may know that I am a hound for any advice and methods for improving one's presentation and workshop skills, so I was delighted to find and add to my Bloglines account Create Your Communications Experience and  Presentation Zen. These look promising. Interesting to read Decker's Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators for 2005.


Another e-book device sighting at if:books. YES!!!


Be careful what you wish for - at least on I did not know one's "wish list" was public and could be mined. Last time I store a request for a book about inter-species dating.


Been a pretty interesting week! 

(Entry edited  Jan 9.)


Looking forward

What might the next 10 years bring using the "look back" to examine the forces that might make significant change in technology use happen?

 This is what my crystal ball (the defective, cloudy one) showed me when I wrote our district's 2004-07 long range technology plan in 2003:

Directions - 2004-05 to 2006-07
As quickly as technology changes, it is almost impossible to predict or plan with any accuracy the specific challenges that will be facing us over the next few years. We can speculate on some general trends:

    1. Less emphasis on “technology’ as a separate area of concern; more emphasis on technology as a means to achieve goals of other areas.
    2. Greater need to train students and staff on ethics, safety and civility when using technology, as well as the ability to evaluate the reliability of information found and to use it purposely.
    3. Greater need for a secure source of adequate technology funding. Strategizing for decreasing “total cost of ownership” through maintenance outsourcing, use of thin client architectures, use of single-purpose devices (e.g. AlphaSmarts), adopting handheld computers by staff and students, and purchasing upgradeable devices.
    4. Continued integration of technology skills into the content areas to meet specific state standards as well as being able to meet NCLB requirements that all students be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade.
    5. Increased demand for individualized technology training by staff.
    6. Continued, accelerated move to information in digital formats such as e-books, online databases, electronically submitted student work, web-based video conferencing, and video on demand.
    7. More emphasis on anytime, anyplace access to personal information through web-based personal file space, calendars, and wirelessly networked hand-held devices. Increased access to tools that allow teachers to supplement classroom instruction with online learning opportunities such as class chats, threaded discussion groups, online syllabi and study materials, collaborative work spaces, etc.
    8. Increased desire by parents for real-time student information available via the web. Higher parent expectations of schools and teachers to provide comprehensive information about school programs and individual student achievement.
    9. Increased importance of the tools and knowledge need to do good data-driven decision-making by administrators, building teams and individual teachers.
    10. Increased efforts to assure data privacy, data security, and network reliability.
    11. Increased educational options for all learners including more choices of schools, more online course offerings, more interactive video offerings, and more computer courseware options. This will result in an increased need for school marketing efforts and increased “consumer-driven” attention.
    12. Higher accountability for technology expenditures and impact on school effectiveness.

On reflection over the past two years since this was written, what  I don't think I recognized  was the impact that state and federal laws/mandates have had on how district technology efforts and expeditures have been prioritized. Since my career in education started in the mid-70s, I don't remember a time in which the state has played a bigger role in dictating curriculum and policy of its own making or in enforcing federal laws. So, based on state and federal education policy, here might be some bold, not very encouraging, predictions:

  • NCLB will continue to be enforced with little change in emphasis on "basic skills." This means more tech dollars spent on record-keeping, testing, datawarehousing/datamining, and instructional reading and math programs directed at low-performing students. The "technology literate" requirement of Title IID will not be enforced.
  • The state will continue to empahasize content-based standards and not recognize the need to teach or assess process-based skills such as technology or information literacy. This means any requirement that all teachers teach and expect the use of technology, HOTS, and information-problem solving will come from district mandates, not from the state or feds. At the present, the state of Minnesota's only interest in the school use of technology is in online testing. These state tests will be normed or criterion-based, not "value-added." Authentic assessment will continue to fade as fewer teachers practice the skills learned when the state standards were performance-based.
  • The district will continue to focus its efforts on skills tested as required by the state (in enforcing NCLB and its own content standards.) The major effort of the board and building improvement/staff development committtees will be in keeping the district and schools off the "does not meet AYP" list, which will be increasingly challenging to do. At this time, despite my personal campaigning, I do not see the district adopting technology/information literacy skills as a major goal.
  • Competition for students will not come from online courses, but from charter schools. While some teachers will choose to supplement F2F instruction with online resources, there will be no mass migration to online high schools. Parents who recognize that their kids need 21st Century Skills will gravitate toward charter schools that have project-based learning as a focus (and don't seem to worry about their scores on state tests).
  • Brick and mortar public schools will around for as long as we are still the cheapest day-care going.

A few things that might - might - make a real difference in business as usual are:

  • The availability of a truly functional $100 laptop for students. Even if the schools don't buy them, parents will. The change in instruction will be driven by student expectations and abilities rather than from planned efforts by curriculum committees.
  • In the 2006 elections, there is a backlash both in the state and nation to the right-wing educational agenda. Of course, both Democrats and Republicans signed on to NCLB, so it would be interesting to see if national organizations like school board associations, library organizations, technology organizations, teacher organizations etc. can find their own Jack Abramhof who can move congress  to make 21st century skills an important and enforced part of NCLB. I am not holding my breath on this one. (A future blog entry on why we should be lobbying for student skills requirements, not dedicated funding for libraries and technology.)
  • A bunch of bloggers who have seen the light and decide to get political by joining professional organizations who do do lobbying. At this point, we all seem to be rather happy talking only to each other, so I'm not holding my breath on this one either.
Wish I could be more optimistic. And what does your crystal ball tell you?

Looking back

My sense is that the timeline in the last Blue Skunk blog entry is not terribly dissimilar to many school district's technology implementations. (I will be revising it now and then to add things I've forgotten.) Here is my assessment of what has happened with technology in the district since 1991.

  1. We've done a great job on infrastructure. All classrooms are wired for data, video, and voice. All classrooms have a telephone, a teacher computer, and most have TV/VCRs permanently mounted. We have plans to create "smart classrooms" over the next 7 years with mounted LCD projectors and interactive white boards. Our buildings are connected by a fast WAN that has a very high reliability rate, with plans to increase capacity. We have managed to provide student access to reliable computers with up-to-date operating systems and software in all buildings with general labs in libraries in all schools  with  labs in business/tech ed areas, and writing labs in the secondary schools. We're making good progress on establishing wireless access in all buildings with security policies that allow student/staff-owned computers/handhelds to connect. We've managed to hire good and adequate technical staff.
  2. We've done a good job on adminstrative uses of technology. Our student information system, school website, e-mail, networked storage, student portals (Profile), networked calendaring, business funcions of finance and personnel, security, and facilites scheduling are robust and well used. Teachers do attendance, report cards, progress reports, IEPs, curriculum specific skill tracking in reading and math (elementary),  datawarehousing/datamining, and NWEA testing all online. Parents are using online resources we've provided to track student performance in real time.
  3. We've done a fair-poor job on staff development. Our elementary staff gets 12 hours formal tech training every 4-5 years when they get a new desktop computer. We subscribe to AtomicLearning and promote its use. We send out a regular newsletter of technology-related information. We have identified teacher competencies at both a beginning and advanced level, but these are not used for evaluative purposes. We offer voluntary training opportunities and "training-on-demand"  at both the district and building level which a few teachers take advantage of. Staff development in technology at the secondary level is left to buildings where it is minimal. Technology staff development efforts are not a part of the regular staff development efforts.
  4. We've done a poor job on integrating technology skills into the curriculum in all classes with all teachers. While a set of technology and information literacy competencies has been on the books for a long time, they are mostly ignored by many classroom teachers. Our elementary librarians do a good job teaching technology skills, but with only marginal classroom tie-ins. One middle school has a 6 week "tech skills" class; the other does not. Our business and technology education departments have strong technology skill courses that are electives. Most technology use expectations by classroom teachers at the secondary level are in the areas of basic research and writing. Students in high school have a wide range of technology skills (as observed, not measured). Technology and information literacy is not a school board priority as evidenced by board goals. Tech and IL skills are not a state goal with no standards in these areas in Minnesota. The Title II Part D technology requirements of NCLB are not checked for compliance and do not figure into AYP status. The addition of technology has not visibly enabled a move toward a more problem-based, constructivist approach to educating students or giving them "21st Century skills."

If we applied Shona Zubhoff's observation that technology can be used to either automate or infomate, we've done a good job on the automation side. With the administrative functions, most of what we are doing was done in the past on paper, but is now completed faster and/or more accurately. This applies to everything from attendance taking to more legible worksheets to paystubs online.

What has not happened has been the informating side of techology use - doing things that would be impossible to do without technology.  We have better data than ever, but are teachers putting it to use to change how they deliver instruction? We have massive amounts of information available online, but do teachers use a more constructivist, problem-based approach to education? Parents can access their children's test scores, attendance and work completion records - are they using this information to become partners with teachers in making sure their children turn in quality, timely work? Are we even teaching more children basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics than we could have without technology?

To a large degree, the uses and priorities to which technology has been put to date have been in reaction to state and federal requirement, budget tightening, and community pressure. The state and federal governments want more accountability (test scores). Budgets are requiring secretarial and administrative staff members become more efficient. The community and school board want "high tech"  schools - computers, Internet access, a web presence. And since school funding depends on accurate state reporting, NCLB reporting, etc., an adequate, reliable and secure infrastructure has been a high priority.

So the interesting question is: what will the next 10 years in technology look like if, as the personnel people say, the best indicator of future performance is past performance.  Are there factors that might push technology use toward informating purposes rather than simply automating purposes and what's the likelihood of those factors happening?