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

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

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EdTech Update





The Techiest Person in a Three State Area

I spent the weekend in Aberdeen, a surprisingly nice little city in northeastern South Dakota. I somehow got talked into giving a workshop on creating websites to a bunch of Kiwanians attending their 3-state district convention there. Believe it or not, I am considered one of the “tech gurus” for the district - a genuinely frightening thought.

The folks in Kiwanis* (and I assume Rotary, Lions, Sertoma, and other service clubs) are by and large very, very nice people. They undertake fund-raising for and volunteer in lots of projects that better their communities. These are people with a social conscience that they actually use in concrete ways. The average age of this group of convention goers was about 105, but a good number of them were quite insistent that their clubs should be moving into the 21st century (or at least late 20th century) tech-wise.

We met Friday afternoon at a local university computer lab where all 30 attendees could have some “hands-on” experience using a web-generation program specifically designed for Kiwanis clubs. The object of the workshop was useful, the technology itself worked just fine, and the following day, I overheard attendees sharing what they had learned in the workshop. All in all, a successful event.

What amazed me though was just how technologically-illiterate wonderful, involved and intelligent people still are in this country. I was thrown back 15 years and more to teacher inservices when I could not count on learners knowing how to use a mouse, click, or even find the enter key. I’d not worked with such a group for an awfully long time. I actually had a nightmare about the training that night. The experience told me:

1. As educators, we may be the MOST technologically-knowledgeable people in our communities. Staff development has paid off. So we don’t know everything. Isn’t everyone a life-long learner?

2. We cannot assume our kids come from homes that include adults who can guide their technology use. For so many students, schools are their only source of technology skill acquisition and librarians are often their only teachers of those skills in the schools.

3. Many adults don’t realize their public libraries can provide them technology access. When folks complained that they don’t have a computer at home to practice skills and I suggested they use the terminals at their public library, they seemed genuinely surprised. Was this ignorance or willful ignorance? I wondered.

One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen a librarian do was to ask parents to bring their children with them to a PTA meeting, during which the KIDS taught their parents some of the online research skills the librarian had taught them. Parents learned skills, students had those skills reinforced, and the stature of the librarian in the parents’ eyes grew tremendously.

To what extent should we in the schools be educating not just kids, but parents and the community as a whole? Any good ideas about how this can be accomplished?

*Potential prejudice alert - I am president this year of our local Kiwanis Club here in Mankato.

 Kiwanians get techie.kiwanians.jpg


Digital Cameras and Visual Literacy

My father-in-law, Barney, has a new toy - a Canon Rebel SLR Digital Camera. He couldn’t have been more pleased by the shade of green I turned with envy when he showed it to me.

I’ve loved taking pictures since my baby brother was born. At age nine, my camera was a Brownie, if I remember correctly. I still have some of those affectionately taken 2×3 snaps around somewhere. I graduated to an Instamatic (remember flashcubes?), to a Polaroid, to a used Pentax SLR in grad school, to a new Pentax and big zoom lens that I used to shoot Kodachrome slides while on vacations.

But there was no looking back when I used the first QuickTake digital camera we purchased for the district. Wow. The pure luxury of shooting dozens of photos and tossing 98% of them without additional cost was intoxicating. iPhoto and Adobe Elements were a huge bonus - quick reliable photo editing. And more recently, the ease of using photo sharing sites like smugmug and hpluks.jpg give friends and relatives the ability to see and download photos as well. (On a recent bicycle tour in France, many of us riders swapped sharing sites.)

Digital photography seems to be one of the first and most simple technologies adopted willingly by classroom teachers. Simple cameras, simple editing software and cheap color printers have allowed teachers to create personalized booklets, posters, timelines, and bulletin boards, often with pictures taken by the students themselves. Powerpoint presentations with photographs help reach those visual learners.

I like the ways our clever T-Ls in the district use digital photography as well:
- to illustrate presentations to the school board, PTOs, and community groups with pictures of happy, productive, library-using kids (HPLUKs)
- to illustrate their parent newsletters with pictures of HPLUKs
- to promote reading by creating personalized “READ” posters of both kids and the role model adults in the buildings hold favorite reads

I am concerned whether we are doing enough to teach some basic principles of visual literacy - or at least, what are the qualities that make a photograph a good photograph. Like teaching a word processing program and ignoring good composition and editing skills, are we asking kids to take pictures, but not showing them how to compose and edit the images they create?

When we think about “integrating technology into the curriculum,” I hope we remember that digital photography is a simple and effective way to do this.

What are some ways you’ve seen digital photography being used productively in schools?


Gardens and collaboration

paulgarden.jpg Grandson Paul in Grandma Annie’s garden.

My lovely wife Anne (aka the Luckiest Woman in the World) is a very skillful and ambitious gardener. It’s a genuine passion for her and our yard shows it with a large sun garden exploding with color in the front of the house and a shady terra-formed slope to the lake with hundreds of hostas in the back. Day lilies are scattered about in bright profusion.

Other than hauling an oversized rock or bag of peat moss now and grudgingly again, I contribute nothing to these stunning displays. The gardens are a display of an individual talent - even genius. Anything I might suggest would, I am sure, detract rather than add to her work. (My “yard art” purchases are very tactfully hidden among the blooms.)

I’ve been thinking a good deal about “collaboration” lately. It’s one of the real sacred cows of the profession. But I’ve been doing more thinking about how collaboration, in some circumstances, may work against goal attainment and job security.

There are definitely some downsides to working with others:
- It takes more time to reach decisions and get work accomplished.
- It takes time to find the time to work together.
- Not everyone likes working with others.
- Defining specific responsibilities is too often neglected.
- Team players may get undeserved credit or blame for an outcome.
- Some people are just a real pain in the kiester.
- Genius and imagination may be dimmed through group timidity.
- Collaboration itself becomes the goal, rather than the means to achieve it.

Here is my question - how do we know when collaboration is the right tool to use? Are there tasks for which we should have sole responsibility? Do librarians and techies who collaborate have more or less job security?

Let me know your thoughts while I go and admire the gardens.
I believe those who collaborate are in a better position when jobs are being cut. Teachers see the value of the librarian; principals see the value, and everyone who has a vote, will keep those who are a part of the school curriculum. Also, those who are visible in the halls, in the classrooms, at workshops are the ones who are thought to have an impact on student learning.

Comment by Pamela Thomspn — August 10, 2005 @ 10:37 am

I have even more questions. We are going to block scheduling. I am thinking of teaming with a teacher who will teach an advanced social studies class (college credit)We would divide the students so I would be working with one group on research while he was doing other activities with the remaining students.

I have also done reading circles, which lasted for a month. Another teacher asked me to listen to some students read for a period of time.

I guess I am getting lost as to how I should collaborate to support literacy and media, and when I am getting into gray areas that I should avoid. Any ideas?

Comment by Marcia Jensen — August 10, 2005 @ 12:51 pm

Marcia, my question is how aware of your efforts and how they contribute to the goals of your school is your principal. I’d hate to see your hard work go unnoticed. We aren’t in this for the glory, but we should make efforts to let others know that we do make a difference in programs and activities that we may not “own.”

Comment by Doug — August 10, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

I have a new principal this year. I plan to let her know as much as possible about the library/librian activities so that we can get the budget and support we need.

My main worry now is that I am getting into scheduled stuff that is more than what I should be doing, thus getting myself into situations that preclude my availability/flexibility or that are totally in the realm of a different possible collaborator.

Comment by Marcia Jensen — August 22, 2005 @ 1:45 pm