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Wednesday
Jan042006

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?

Tuesday
Jan032006

Brief Timeline of Technology Efforts in ISD77

Brief Timeline of Technology Efforts in ISD77 (Reflections to follow)

1991-92

  • began regular technology inservices for media specialists who are given Macintosh Classics
  • installed single stand alone computer in each media center with electronic encyclopedia
  • added additional Apple// computers and Corvus networks to elementary schools
  • installed first fax machines in school buildings
  • changed District AV to District Media Technology Services. The new department is to offer computer services, library processing and support, audio-visual production and repair, the district print shop, a video/film library, and delivery services.
  • hired  Media Supervisor to replace the retired AV director
  • unsuccessfully attempted to move 1/2 computer coordinator, 1/2 time math teacher into department
  • acquired 20 e-mail address on the Mankato State University vax for librarians. Line interface.

1992-93

  • began first year of training for 20 elementary teachers and 20 secondary teachers. Macintosh Classic II computers, printers and 14.4 modems are given in exchange for 30 hours of non-school time for training. Program will eventually teach basic computer productivity skills to all elementary teachers.
  • identified and write CODE 77 basic teacher technology skills
  • installed file servers, Novell operating systems, student workstations and automated library systems in all building media centers
  • installed Xpress/Xchange in each media center that provides access to news and information through cable TV network
  • replaced Apple // computers with 15 Macintosh computers in Garfield lab. Cards to run Apple II software included.
  • began moving elementary computer labs to classrooms adjacent to media centers with connecting doors. All school library media centers will eventually have computer labs in or adjacent to them.
  • established District Media Technology Advisory Committee of teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members.
  • hired district’s first computer technician

1993-4   

  • installed data and telephone network drops in all rooms and offices at Dakota Meadows, West, Eagle Lake – our model “high tech” schools – as part of building and remodeling efforts.
  • wired Kennedy school classrooms for data with help of volunteer parents and staff.
  • installed 24 computers in Kennedy classrooms for teacher and student use.
  • installed 80 computers in Dakota Meadows labs and classrooms.
  • installed 12 station PC lab at Alternative High School.
  • installed WAN network consisting of permanently connected 14 baud modems in all district buildings and connection to the Internet cloud.
  • hired  full time as computer coordinator for district (with office in department)

1994-5

  • started TnT Academy, 5 days of summer workshops for teachers in technology skills
  • started formal secretarial training
  • installed email servers and Internet connections in all buildings to provide email of all staff and students
  • installed data and telephone drops in all rooms and offices at East JH and SH, Roosevelt, Monroe, Jefferson, Hoover, and Franklin schools
  • installed 30 station lab in West High School media center
  • installed 24 classroom computers in Roosevelt 2nd and 4th grade classrooms
  • moved District Media and Technology Services from basement to 2nd floor of West High School Annex.

1995-6

  • Information Skills curriculum written by media specialists that included the objectives for both the library/media curriculum and computer curriculum
  • installed data and telephone drops in all rooms and offices at Garfield, Washington, Alternative High School, and the District Offices - all classrooms and offices have telephones and data jacks.
  • installed lab in East Media Center for high school students
  • began Accelerated Reader, a reading promotion program, in elementary schools with funds donated by PTOs
  • installed many computers in elementary labs purchased through PTO donations

1996-7   

  • district media advisory committee wrote first long-range tech plan for state
  • implemented integrated Information Skills curriculum in two content areas at each elementary grade level
  • added a lab for Franklin 6th grade center
  • added 30 computers to East Media Center for junior high students
  • installed coaxial wide area network (10BT shared) with cable company
  • created district website
  • board adopted first Acceptable Use Policy for the Internet
  • first webpage guidelines written for the district
  • install CCC lab at one elementary school for Title I. Runs for 3 years.
  • hired first elementary computer technician

1997-8   

  • online elementary progress reports started using home-grown FileMakerPro database
  • online Individual Education Plans for special education students begun
  • began advanced CODE 77 training and upgraded equipment for teachers
  • TnT Academy taken over by South Central Technical College
  • World Wide Web page design and FileMaker Pro training for individuals in buildings given
  • added 15 station computer labs to all elementary buildings
  • began replacing dumb hubs with switches and smart hubs
  • remodeled Jefferson media center

1998-9   

  • selected new student management system (SASIxp) to replace 10 year old Osiris
  • started MeetingMaker – a shared calendar program for all administrators
  • began using Internet services provided by regional consortium SOCRATES
  • NCA visit evaluated media and technology programs
  • remodeled Franklin media center
  • conducted first security audit of networks
  • added media and information skills to elementary progress reports
  • hired Student Information System Manager 

1999-00  

  • added networked district file space for all staff and students (YODA)
  • teachers began using Classxp to take attendance and do final grades online
  • purchased subscription to online full-text magazine databases and provided access to state provided databases
  • remodeled Hoover media center
  • add two secondary computer technicians

2000-01  

  • upgraded network that connects all buildings to shared Ethernet 100BT fiber network leased from telephone company
  • aligned Information Skills curriculum with Graduation rule requirements
  • began recording and reporting of Basic and High Standards in student information systems
  • purchased and implemented IntegradePro at middle schools
  • piloted online grade book system (ParentConnectxp) accessible by parents at East Junior High
  • began datamining project to help determine effectiveness of educational programs
  • library programs nominated for national award
  • implemented web-forms for teacher pages
  • began using SmartFinance online accounting purchasing system
  • add second elementary technician

2001-02   

  • wrote technology benchmarks for student 9-12 and placed technology skills in required classes
  • acquired World Book Encyclopedia online for school and home use by students
  • upgraded schools library catalogs to make them web-accessible
  • created listservs for district parents
  • installed system wide virus protection system
  • installed electronic entry system in all buildings

2002-03

  • purchased and implemented IntegradePro at high schools
  • expanded online grade book system accessible by parents at all middle schools schools
  • developed cheating and plagiarism guidelines
  • monitored tech skill inclusion in Grad Rule packages
  • built database of elementary IL/tech projects
  • provided MarcoPolo training
  • started media and tech department monthly newsletter (in e-mail format)
  • worked with new staff development coordinator to formulate long-term staff development technology plan.
  • installed Apple Network Administrator on all teacher computers
  • pilot Read (un)Naturally in one elementary building

2003-04

  • worked with staff development coordinator to formulate long-term staff development technology plan.
  • installed wireless 802.11a base stations in each media center and study hall for use by students and staff with wireless laptops
  • conducted marketing/advocacy campaign for Mankato School Library Media Centers.
  • employed spam filtering software for staff email accounts.
  • conducted training sessions on data mining for administrators and building site teams
  • rewrote state required long range technology plan
  • contracted for regular security sweep of the district’s networks.
  • create VPN for security purposes.
  • wrote security policies.
  • completed authentication database
  • Apple OSX in all elementary schools

2004-05

  • expanded online grade book system accessible by parents at all high schools
  • work with new staff development coordinator to formulate long-term staff development technology plan.
  • worked with Curriculum Council on placing information literacy and technology standards in secondary written content area curricula based on survey.
  • install and inservice teachers on Digital Curriculum.
  • improve interface of district website and conduct usability study.
  • training and using AtomicLearning.
  • begin transportation database project.
  • install X-serve servers and begin using Apple Profile
  • install and configure NAS backup device for servers.
  • create position of Administrative Systems Manager

2005-06

  • continue work with Curriculum Council on placing information literacy and technology standards in secondary written content area curricula based on survey.
  • review current technology benchmarks for K-8 to ascertain that they will meet the requirements of NCLB.
  • form library media study groups to discuss best practices and the media/technology program’s contributions to student achievement.
  • implement NWEA online testing, grades 2-10
  • work with staff development coordinator to formulate long-term staff development technology plan.
  • write guidelines for student owned technology used in schools
  • implement databases for reading and math achievement in all elementary schools
  • implement district-wide facility scheduling program for Community Ed
  • switch from Novell to Windows NOS
  • finish adding voice mail to all schools
  • pass technology referendum for $500,000 per year for seven years to 1) improve student access to tech resources, provide projectors and interactive white boards in all classrooms, improve infrastructure (move to 100 mb switchedWAN)
So this is what I have a record of and/or remember. Observations in next entry.
Monday
Jan022006

Productive procrastination

dougsled.jpgHere it is, the last day of winter break, and I’ve yet to get started on the major projects I’d promised myself I’d tackle over the eight days I’ve been off work: getting our Kiwanis club’s new website whipped into shape, learning all the in’s and out’s of Moodle, rearranging my workbench in the garage to accommodate the gi-normous set of screwdrivers I got for Christmas, making an action plan for revising my book, etc…

Yes, I am a world-class procrastinator.

It was heartening to read that there is such a thing as good procrastination. Author Paul Graham writes in “Good and Bad Procrastination”  (Heads up on this article from Virginia Postrel’s Dynamist blog)

The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn't always bad?

There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination.

That's the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They're type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.

What's "small stuff?" Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary.
So, how did I spend my time over the holidays instead of working on the “big projects?” Was the time spent obituary-worthy, as Elaine from Seinfeld might put it?
  1. Cleaning, cooking and shopping for a weeklong visit from daughter and family. Driving my mom to and from Iowa.
  2. Playing with the grandsons including an afternoon sledding and a day at the zoo. Reconnecting with my daughter, son-in-law, and son. Hanging out with the LWW.
  3. Watching movies with the family (Shaun of the Dead, Pirates of the Caribbean, the new musical version of The Producers, The Cat Returns (anime), Disney’s Tarzan, and all the Wallace and Grommet short features).
  4. Reading a mystery story of no redeeming value.
  5. Nursing some horrible sensitivity in a cracked tooth. (Doesn’t pay to a mouth breather when the air is cold.)
  6. Revising job descriptions.
  7. Answering e-rate questions for the wonderful people at SLD.

The first three I hope will get me a mention in my obit for being a good father, grandfather and husband. Numbers 5, 6, and 7 will not. I’m not sure how to place number 4. Maybe it will keep my obituary from reading, “Unfortunately Doug went postal from stress when in his mid-50s and needed to be institutionalized.”

While work prioritization has long been a topic of interest of mine (How We Spend Our Days) and I'm a devotee of Covey's time management quadrants, I’ve rarely given much thought to how to best spend my leisure time. Maybe it is time to do that.

For those of you who didn’t get to your “big projects” over the break, you have my sympathies. But perhaps your obituary will be better for it.