Reflections on EdTech
Thanks to everyone who attended my #YouthCon session today. I apologize that the original link I assigned does not seem to be working at the moment.
I am going to post links here, please pass along.
Here is a link to the PREZI – http://prezi.com/ilaxl0r7rsea/youthcon-11/
Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (word doc)
Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (google doc)
Here is a link to the recommended blogs and web sites symbaloo.
Today I had the pleasure of attending an event in the Scholastic Administr@tor “Live Tech Series.” The event focused on iPad implementation in schools and the Common Core set of academic standards. The program was held at Scholastic headquarters in Manhattan, which has a kind of a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory vibe to it, if you substitute kids books for candy. As I walked past the giant Harry Potter and Clifford sculptures as well as the Dinosaurs from the “How Do Dinosaur’s….” series, I kept thinking my kids would kill to be in this building! I also had the privilege of making another IRL (In Real Life) connection to someone I have connected with on Twitter: the excellent Ken Royal (@kenroyal), a Senior Editor at Scholastic who puts out a wonderful blog called The Royal Treatment . It’s always great to put a real person together with the great tweets and posts, and it was a pleasure meeting Ken.
In the iPad presentation, the architects behind the now well known Roslyn school districts’ rollout of a 1:1 program, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner and Plainedge Superintendent Dr. Ed Salina, Jr., spoke about their experiences in distributing iPads to faculty and students in a pilot program. They unveiled a really comprehensive new web site that discuses the Roslyn program in detail, including access to all the documentation they utilized in designing it and communicating with school stakeholders. (See this video from their web site about the roll out). They shared many valuable ideas, but the items that stuck out the most with me were the following:
1) We say it until we are blue in the face, but training is crucial. In the Roslyn district, they distributed the iPads to faculty members a full six months before they were given to students, to allow the teachers to get comfortable using the devices and to engage in extensive training. In a follow up conversation at lunch, Dr. Brenner went so far as to say that for every one dollar spent on technology, we must spend THREE dollars in professional development, or else it is simply a waste of money. That figure may sound strange to some people, but it indicates how important training is towards getting tech tools actually used in the classroom.
2) The “cools apps” are definitely cool and fun, and they definitely draw people to a device. But they don’t generally improve the education. As Dr. Brenner writes on the program web site, “It’s not about a cool application. We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom.” Instead, they chose to focus on practical and efficient uses of the device, including the iAnnotate app for submission and grading of assignments, and utilizing the (often untapped) power of Outlook to automatically route assignments to correct folders for particular classes and students.
3) This shift to the iPads was not forced upon the faculty (apparently, due to union rules, they would not have been able to anyway). Instead, they solicited volunteers to participate in the pilot program, and they were pleased to note that several of the faculty that fell in love with the iPad had actually never used a computer before.
4) During the lunchtime conversation, Dr. Brenner contrasted his district’s approach to the iPad rollout to the standard school district approach to Smartboards. While many schools simply bought Smartboards for their classrooms, either because of a general desire to utilize technology in the classroom, or because they would be perceived as “behind the times” if they did NOT, the training of teachers to actually utilize the interactive white board was generally not sufficient. As a result, said Dr. Brenner, we have a very sophisticated technology tool sitting in many of our classrooms, and in most situations, it is being used as a glorified electronic display to show powerpoints or videos.
This last point got me thinking. Have we been barking up the wrong tree when it comes to Smartboards and classroom technology? Over the last decade, I have seen Smartboards installed as a matter of course in my own school and many other institutions. Is this the best use of our technology dollars? To be clear, I am not suggesting I know the answer. I consider myself a solid Smartboard user, but I know that I am not even scratching the surface in terms of what it can be used for. So I ask you: In terms of how teachers actually use the board, would it make more sense to invest less than half of the approximately $5,000-$6,000 it costs for a Smartboard and simply install a projector and whiteboard for display purposes? Should our tech funds be utilized for devices that encourage student generated content, like iPads? Drs. Brenner and Salina emphasized that when they directed funds to be utilized for the iPad program, it did not require securing additional money. It came from budget savings, like not having to reinvest in new machines in a computer lab, and being able to reclaim the computer labs as regular classrooms. In terms of prioritizing funds, in an age where we are trying to encourage student directed and project based learning, might those funds be better spent on devices like the iPad?
Again, I do not know the answer to this question. There may be a whole army of teachers out there who feel that the smartboard (instead of a standard projector display) is really being utilized fully in their classrooms, is essential to effective instruction, and I am way off base here. And I really am not a Smartboard hater. I enjoy using in the classroom, and I find that it helps my instruction. But so much more than a projector and screen? Not sure.
That’s why I am asking the question. Are we barking up the wrong tree here? I look forward to your thoughts.
Whew! Was I tired! It was hard to believe that I could have been suffering from post conference exhaustion when I spent the day sitting at my dining room table, but it’s true. Last Wednesday, I spent the day conversing with 400+ people from around the world and expanding my mind at Edmodocon. The online conference, run by and about the education social network platform Edmodo, was really quite the marathon of speakers, with presentations taking place from 10 AM EST until 9 PM, pretty much back to back to back.
The good news is, I think I am getting a badge for participating (if you know your Edmodo, you know that badges are big stuff!). The better news is that the conference was really excellent. While I am still processing many of the resources showcased by the presenters (of which I hope to discuss in future posts) I had a few initial take aways that I wanted to share.
I’ll take 2 seconds to briefly outline what Edmodo is, in case you are not familiar with it. It is essentially a secure social learning platform designed for use in schools and classrooms. It is essentially Facebook for schools. It takes all of the social media connectivity of a Facebook, and creates closed secure classroom sites where students and teachers can interact and collaborate around the curriculum. It is free, and I highly recommend checking it out, even if you have no immediate plans to use it in the classroom.
1) Edmodo, as a company, is IMPRESSIVE. The staff involved with running the conference, introducing and moderating sessions, etc, seemed to all be senior staff members, including at times, the co-founder and head of programming. They all seemed truly humbled to be part of the sacred endeavor of teaching, and I guess that makes sense, considering many of them have backgrounds in education. And of course they put out a great product. But what was most striking to me was how dedicated they were to improving the site, and to really listening to and incorporating feedback from the teachers using it. They introduced several new features either implemented over the summer or coming out shortly, including good docs integration, a more robust gradebook, quiz builder, badge creation, and even a super secret chat option. Over and over again, I saw teachers enter their suggestions into the chat window during the webinars, and the tireless VP Betsy Whalen (@betsywhalen) responding during the session that such a feature was already in the works or “that’s a great idea, we are going to work on that.”
You have a company that has promised never to charge educators for using the service (how they are going to make money seems to be a secret that they are not revealing for now), and yet their customer service to the people they are servicing for free is astounding. In fact, people today seemed genuinely suspicious about the company’s motives, along the lines of “why are you doing this for free? When are you going to pull a Glogster and start charging us?” I believe such suspicion is indicative of how good a job they are doing on the site.
2) On Demand PD: While I have used Edmodo as part of a classroom environment, I was really pleasantly surprised to learn about how much teacher interaction and “on demand PD” is taking place on the site all of the time. I made quite a few teacher connections today on Edmodo, and joined a few groups as well. This is why I would heartily recommend the site even to those who are not going to be using it in the classroom. It is simply a great learning resource.
3) Training: I learned ALOT about teacher training and school implementation. Obviously, this is a huge step. If your teachers are not getting comfortable using Edmodo, it simply will not be used in your school. To that end, Edmodo has some incredible resources for admin and faculty charged with training in the school, as well as for teachers. The Edmodo support section (help.edmodo.com) has TONS of resources, from FAQ’s and tutorials, to ready-made powerpoints for administrators to use during training sessions with staff, to templates and letters to use when rolling out Edmodo across a school or district. I was also introduced to the help.edmodo.com/ideas section, where videos of real world applications of Edmodo in various disciplines are posted. These videos do a great job of concretizing the role of the Edmodo platform for teachers. It answers the question of “What would Edmodo look like in my math class?” etc.
Several presenters spoke about strategies for helping teachers. One theme that emerged was the notion of using Edmodo as a platform for internal professional development, utilizing the network to share presentation files, comments, etc., both during a program and after. Besides Edmodo being a good platform for this in general, this will also “train” the teachers in a much more effective and positive way, as they will be learning by figuring it out on their own.
The other idea regarding teacher training that resonated for me was the importance of not trying to cover too much. The general rule for the goal of training was to get the faculty to log on, to setup a group/class, and to invite students to join. Once that happens, and students start to see what they can do with the site, it will naturally encourage the teachers to progress and try new things.
4) Mobile Learning Options: With free (and frequently updated) mobile apps for iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod), Android, and a mobile browser version for any web connected smartphone, Edmodo is a great option to “pull it all together” in a classroom that is utilizing a “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) or 1:1 approach. It’s a great way to distribute assignments, questions, even polls in real time. And even if you aren’t using these devices in the classroom, having Edmodo accessible to students on their devices is great for working from home as well.
5) Game Based Learning: Finally, I was absolutely blown away by one session in particular, given by Hal Daley, on “Game Based Learning.” I have seen many posts in my Twitter and RSS feeds about gaming in schools, and I must confess that I have mostly ignored it. But this presentation changed my perspective in a major way. Hal is clearly an excellent teacher, as well as an accomplished gamer, and he is apparently using several of the ideas of Lee Sheldon in “The Multiplayer Classroom” to “Gamify” his classes. Hal discussed how Edmodo is a natural partner for gamification. I hope to discuss his ideas in more detail in a future post. For now, here is a link to his presentation.
In short, I entered Edmodocon ’11 already an Edmodo fan, and I came out of it with even more respect for the service and what it can offer educators at all levels. Be sure to check it out!