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EdTech Update





Do We Need National Technology Standards?

One of the more exciting ideas to surface at the ISTE Board meeting on September 24th was that ISTE should consider developing a set of “technology standards” that might serve as goals that E-Rate and other federal monies might help schools meet.

The original goals of E-Rate – that all schools be connected to the Internet – has by and large been accomplished nationally. But as we all know, connectivity alone does not an effective school make.

I believe it will be up to ISTE to create new national infrastructure goals if they are going to be created at all. The chance for creating a strong vision by the federal government was fumbled by the Department of Education with its National Education Technology Plan – a largely worthless document. See my ”Directionless Dictates” column from the May 2005 Teacher Magazine.

Well written national standards are both useful and necessary for a number of reasons, and given ISTE’s success with its student, teacher and administrative NETS standards, it is the logical organization to tackle this job.

From experience, I have found the ALA/AASL library program standards useful in helping educate other administrators about good library programs. (Actually our state affliate organization used the AASL goals as a model for writing state library program standards .) We have used ISTE’s NETS Standards for Students as a guide to writing both our state information literacy and technology student guidelines and our own local guidelines. In other words, good national standards for technology infrastructure would do more than simply provide a rationale for continued E-rate funding.

My experience is that few districts: 1) know how they compare to other districts in their technology implementation efforts; 2) can determine the direction they should be moving to improve technology utilization; or 3) can visualize a technology infrastructure that fully supports learning, teaching and managing. A good set of technology standards - simple, quantitative, and research-supported - could be an authoritative voice that would help remedy these shortcomings.

The standards I most appreciate tend to take a rubric-like approach. In multiple categories, a district might judge itself as minimum, standard or exemplary in each category. And if the rubrics are concretely written, it would be readily apparent how a district could move from, say, a minimum to standard level in any category.

I would find standards (after five minutes of thought) in the following areas extremely helpful as I try to evaluate our district’s technology infrastructure and plan for improvement :

1. Connectivity (LAN, WAN, and Internet I & II capacities)
2. Security (firewalls, filters, policies)
3. Tech support (technicians per computer, tech support response time, reliability rates, policies about technology replacement,)
4. Administrative applications (student information systems, transportation, personnel systems, payroll systems, data mining systems, home-school communication systems, online testing)
5. Information resources (e-mail, listservs, blogging software, online learning software, commercial databases, library automation systems)
6. Staff training resources, requirements and opportunities
7. Staff/computer rations and student/computer ratios (exemplary here might be the one-to-one initiatives)
8. Technology/content area curricula integration (articulated student technology skills embedded in the content areas, assessments)

Each rubric, of course, would need to be accompanied by the research/rationale that supports its inclusion.

What do you think ISTE? Are you up to the challenge? In what other areas might standards be written to help guide districts and power the argument for continued E-rate funding?


Dereliction of Duty

I will confess. As a member-elected ISTE Board member, I failed to represent you yesterday afternoon. I instead represented me at the anti-war rally being held in front of the White House here in DC. Me and 99,999 other protesters. More pictures.

I try to keep blatant politics out of all my professional writing, including this blog, or at least comment only when politics impact education. But the war is turning the lives of my friends and colleagues in schools (and especially the lives of their children) upside down. Of the nearly 2000 American dead in this war, each was someone’s child, someone’s student, someone’s love. My good friend Steve’s daughter is shipping out to Iraq soon. For her sake alone, I want this war to end.

If you get the chance, read John Crawford’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, a first person account of a National Guardsman serving in Iraq. It’s a riveting set of narratives with echos of our involvement in Vietnam. Or perhaps just the sad retelling of incidents from any war.

I’ll be back at the board meeting this morning, voting on ISTE fiduciary, personnel and policy matters, never fear. But I hope you will forgive me for being missing in action for a few hours yesterday.

 Oh, and I am refunding a portion of my travel costs to ISTE.

Good for you! I was there in spirit, if not in reality.
BTW: on our local NPR station is *The No Show* — ” a new showcase for the idiosyncratic views and humor of Steve Post, a world-class curmudgeon whose irreverence and iconoclasm have entertained audiences and appalled radio station managers for three and one-half decades. (Give or take.) ”
On his playlist for the 9/24 show: “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” by Pete Seeger, and “Chicken Hawk” by Roy Zimmerman — both most appropriate!

Comment by Alice Yucht — September 25, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

Amazing the number of slogans “repurposed” from Vietnam for this protest. More than a few outfits as well. - Doug

Comment by dougj — September 26, 2005 @ 11:08 am


Is PowerPoint Evil?

Johnson’s Observation on Multimedia Content:
You can put all the pretty clothes on your dog you want, but he’s still a dog.

Yesterday’s e-mail brought the following question from ISTE’s editor, Jennifer Roland: Learning & Leading with Technology is looking for a few good editorialists to argue both sides of this question: Is PowerPoint Crippling Our Students? Some say that PowerPoint is an important tool in any classroom because of its real-world applications. Others say it is an unnecessary distraction that leads students to go for glitz over substance. Where do you stand on the issue?

Good question. Since it is unlikely I’d be considered a “good editorialist” in anyone’s book, I’ll just pipe up here.

(I’ve weighed in on this topic once already in a 1999 column Slideshow Safety. As with a frightening number of things I’ve written long ago, I’ve found that my thoughts haven’t changed much – which says more about my obstinacy than my prescience. You’ve been warned.)

Here are the main things I’d think about when looking at working with kids and PowerPoint:

1. PowerPoint doesn’t bore people: people bore people. As an old speech teacher, I have a bias that PowerPoint falls under the category of visual aid – with aid being the operative word. If we are teaching kids how to use this software, it needs to be within the context of good speaking skills, not in a computer class. (But then I think all technology skills should be taught within the content areas.) Yeah, the old stuff like eye contact, expression, and gestures are still important. Oh, so is having something worthwhile to say.

2. The sins of the overhead user shall be visited upon the computer user. Tufte, in his The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (Graphics Press, 2003) makes a compelling case that complex information is not best shared using this software. He argues persuasively that PowerPoint makes it far to easy to reduce complex topics to simple bullet points. He argues that some graphic information is too detailed for the low-rez graphics of the computer screen. I’m just not sure choosing the wrong tool for the wrong job is the tool’s fault.

3. There are more visual learners than meet the eye. Cautions aside, good visuals are exceptionally powerful, and our kids need practice in harnessing this power. Too bad more teachers themselves don’t have at least a fundamental knowledge of good design principles, knowledge of typography, and photocomposition.

In the best of all possible worlds, an oral presentation accompanied by a well-designed slide show that helps inform or persuade the audience can be one the products of a good information literacy unit. I get the feeling a goodly number of our kids will be one giving these things as part of their jobs, They may as well do it skillfully.

Keep in mind Johnson’s Rule of Technology Neutrality: Technology is neither good nor bad. The same hammer can both break windows and build cathedrals.

Your thoughts on pitfalls or promises of PowerPoint? What to do you do to make sure the tool is being used well?