Feb 14

Humanity, Community and Technology in School

Technology is not a neutral tool.  It is rewriting the way we think about everything in our society from communication to security to commerce to privacy to, of course, learning. The potential for that to be a force for good is near limitless, but we should be thoughtfully skeptical when we think about the uses of educational technology especially when it comes to the larger issue of school reform and the continued rise of edu-business.

In the spring of 2012, at the opening keynote of Education Innovation Summit,  Michael Moe told a room full of education entrepreneurs that over 90%  of the many billions of dollars spent on education in the United States was spent on personnel, and the only way to further monetize the education sector, as he called it, was to reduce personnel costs. To the few teachers in the room his point was clear–if you want to use technology to make money and education you have to find a way to reduce the number of teachers. And there are many powerful people who seem to agree with Mr. Moe’s statements.

So let us be clear – technology should not be used to supplant teachers. When we use the tools we love as an excuse to reduce the number of caring adults who interact with children, we run the risk of doing irreparable harm. In fact we almost guarantee it.

School is about much more than Newton’s Laws of Motion or the difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution – though both those things are important. When done well, schools help children learn how to live lives of meaning. When done right, schools help children become profoundly and active citizens. When done with care, schools help children learn how to care for one another. Technology alone cannot do those things. The purpose of school is not to train children but to teach them, and that requires the human element. If anything, we need more adults in schools not fewer.

Technology is and must be a transformative element in our schools. Fundamentally, it changes the equation of why we come to school. Whereas before we came to school because the teacher was there, now we come to school because we are all there together. Technology can allow us to embrace a more finely honed sense of community in our schools.

The mistake is thinking that we no longer need this thing called school because we have all of these new technologies.  And the greater mistake is thinking that all we need to do is develop the right app or the right product and we can buy and sell our way to a technological future of learning that no longer needs the people.  The logical end of that path is a level of solipsism that our society cannot and should not abide.

It is not that technology should supplant school, rather it should transform it. The promise of educational technology is that we can reinvent and re-imagine schools as the center of a community of learning. It is true that we no longer have to define school as four walls and floor, but let us not use that to throw away all that we have learned over the past hundred years of public school experiment. Let us instead mind the rich vein of educational history to find those moments of empowerment, those moments of connection, those moments of authenticity, those moments of care. Let us realize that those moments – more often than not – came at the intersection of a caring teacher and the students who trusted her. And then let us ask ourselves how can the technology enhance, magnify, multiply and transform those moments so that more children can feel that their learning matters and that there school matters every day.

And that is the promise of these tools we love so much. Anything short of a vision of educational technology use that allows students and teachers to inquire more deeply, research more broadly, connect more intensely, share more widely and create more powerfully, sells short the power of these tools — and more importantly, sells short the promise of learning and of school for our students.

And that we cannot and should not abide.

Jul 28

New Work Flow with Tech

[This might be my first purely techie post in a long time, but hey…]

For the first time as a principal, I have a desktop computer on my desk.

I’ve always just carried my laptop to and from school every day, but with the launch of the iPad, I thought it might be time for a change. The laptop is good enough, but there were starting to be too many times when I wanted more screen real estate, and I found myself really envying my wife’s big honking desktop, but the big issue was really that I didn’t want files in two places. My laptop was organized to the point where it was pretty much hardwired to my brain. (My knapsack is like that too, but even it is wearing out… some might argue, so’s my brain.) With the summer hitting, and with a realization that carrying my laptop and my iPad to and from school every day was really counter-productive, I made the leap.

How I made the changes:
1) DropBox – For $100 / year, I get 50 gigs of space. About 99% of the files I use are in two folders (with dozens of sub-folders. I’m a file organization nut.) What I love about DropBox is that the files really do live on the computers, and DropBox syncs the changes, as opposed to having to pull from the cloud every time. Also, DropBox has apps for the iPad and iPhone, so I can get to my files no matter if I’m on my home machine (now the laptop), school machine or iPad.

2) MobileMe – Syncs my calendar and contacts and mail accounts between all the machines for $100 / year. And I found that Back To My Mac has been useful for those times when I do need a file on the school machine that isn’t in the DropBox folder. If iDisk was a bit more robust, I wouldn’t need DropBox, but for now, DropBox blows iDisk away.

3) EverNote – I use this for my general note-taking on the iPad… it’s quick, it syncs easily, and it is very easy to keep notes organized. It is also replacing "Stickies" for my quick "jot it down" notes on the computers — which is a really, really good thing. If iOS4 for the iPad allows users to push documents to iDisk or DropBox, I could see this starting to lose luster, but for now, I love it.

4) GoogleApps – Perhaps this was just plain luck, but Chris Alfano, SLA’s amazing web developer, convinced me to move SLA’s mail to Google Mail as part of our strategy to use GoogleDocs and GoogleApps more. (As a hard-core DIY former-sys-admin, I was probably a harder sell than I should have been… what’s that slide I have in my slide-deck, "What are you willing to unlearn?" I’m still evolving.) Using the SLA GoogleApps suite was awesome — and that needs to be its own post — and once I realized (again, thanks Chris A.) how I could set up my own GoogleApps suite for Practical Theory – including moving my Practical Theory email – another piece fell into place. GoDaddy had long only provided POP mail support, but now, with Google hosting my personal email, I had access to an IMAP account, which was a huge piece of the puzzle for streamlining the workflow between iPad, iPhone, laptop and school computer. So far, I am just using GoogleApps standard edition for my private GoogleApps account, but at $50 / year, if there’s a reason to upgrade to Premium, I won’t mind doing it.

(I’ve long used Spanning Sync as a way to sync up iCal and Google Calendar… I’m not 100% sure it’s necessary anymore, as it seems just too easy to subscribe to GoogleCalendars on iCal on all platforms, but I like that it makes the calendars native to my Mac accounts, as opposed to subscriptions… and I bought a lifetime account, so for now, I’m still syncing that way. I don’t think you have to, if you’re looking at what I’m doing as a model.)

(I’m also thinking about moving my Flickr account to Picasa, but I don’t think it has the social network that Flickr has yet. Yet.)

What all this has done has made every machine I work on, essentially, a thin client for my work, which is awesome. I love not taking the laptop to and from school every day, and I’m now thinking about replacing the old knapsack with something a little lighter for every day use.

Things I’ve noticed that I really like:
I love using the iPad as my primary mobile device. When it is paired with the bluetooth keyboard, it is a hugely productive tool. I think the keyboard is the thing that moves it from primarily a media consumption device to a productivity tool. I’m looking forward to doing observations on the iPad this year.

DropBox really is amazing. And I created aliases to put on my laptop and school computer so that the folders I most use are still only one click away, as opposed to two. (Yes, I’m that OCD sometimes.)

Using the iPad as a note-taking mobile-meeting device has had two unexpected ancillary benefits. First, because it doesn’t multi-task, I don’t multi-task as much. Even writing this blog entry, I stayed on it the whole time. I’m actually not as excited for iOS4 for the iPad because of that. (Who am I kidding… I’m just hoping I’m learning the lesson of self-discipline… who am I kidding again? Must check twitter…) Secondly, because it has a smaller footprint (I use the Apple case that tilts it diagonally up slightly on its horizontal axis,) I find that it allows me to be more present in meetings where I’m using it as a note-taking tool than my laptop did, because I’m not working over the top of a laptop screen.

After five years without a desktop screen, using the big honking iMac is lovely. Screen real-estate when analyzing spreadsheets and such is really nice to the point where I’ve thought about getting a personal desktop at home and really making the laptop a really secondary machine that would mostly be for long trips and such. I am even going to try to present from my iPad tomorrow, which would mean I wouldn’t even need my laptop for conferences and such.

Things I’m hoping happen soon:
I’m hoping that MobileMe will soon allow me to store my iTunes library in the cloud as well. Rumor is that is soon to happen. Until then, I’m using my iPad as my office jukebox, which isn’t the worst solution, really.
The iPad won’t really be a full production device until you can push documents created or modified on the Pad to the cloud via DropBox or iDisk. Right now, if I work on an iWord (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) document on the iPad, I can only get it off of the Pad by syncing the device with a computer. It’s why I use Evernote all the time instead. In the end, that is hamstringing me from time to time, as it creates the "multiple copies of the same document" problem that I absolutely want to avoid. My fear is that Apple only allows you to do it with iDisk. My hope is that DropBox can be push/pull too. (Hey Apple, if you are reading this… please make this happen!)
GoogleDocs functionality on the iPad – this could be better… and hopefully will be soon.

Thing I don’t love:
This is a "cloud" problem that is exacerbated by using multiple devices. I don’t love that my files are in DropBox, my GoogleDocs are in Google, my notes are in Evernote, and I need MobileMe for my AppleSync stuff. I worry about remembering what is in my GoogleDocs and what isn’t, and as we use GoogleDocs more and more at SLA, I see this problem getting worse, not better.
I was a committed Things user as my to-do list, but it isn’t a cloud solution, and now I’m syncing my phone and my pad and my laptop, so I think I need a cloud-based solution for that. I don’t love the Google To-Do list. RememberTheMilk? Anyone have any other suggestions?

Apps I use all the time on my iPad:
Evernote
Mail / Calendar / Contacts…
iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
BlogPress (blog writer)
I’m going to buy FileMakerPro for the

Overall, I am thrilled with how my work flow has changed… and carrying a lighter knapsack has made my back much happier.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:New Work Process

May 01

Test Post

This is just a test post from my new iPad using BlogPress. I didn’t just buy this iPad as a "ooh shiny" flight of fancy. My goal is to stop bringing my laptop everywhere. So I bought a desktop for my desk at school, and I am setting up some combo of DropBox and MobileMe for my primary school files, and I am going to try to just work mobile with the iPad. Should be interesting.

So far, I don’t mind working on this – although this is the longest thing I have written yet. Should be fun.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone