Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's Not About the Tool...And, And, And...

The title of this post was inspired by a conversation lead by David Jakes this past weekend. I'll write more about that presentation in a future post.

It's Not About the Tool!
This fall, Will Richardson kicked off our district back to school gathering challenging the staff in our district to "Redefine Awesome!" He pointed out that,
"The great thing is.."We now have an easy connection between one's passion to learn and the resources to learn it."
"Unleashing student passion for learning" is one of the cornerstones of our district technology plan, along with "Empowering great teaching! Even the wording speaks more to educational philosophy and pedagogy, rather than "let's get some cool tools!"
To me, the focus of this document, and for that matter the National Educational Technology Plan, which I'm a big fan of, is on LEARNING, not on the tool! The learning is the most important part. If it can be done more efficiently with a pencil, or a portable slate, then use it! It's about the learning!

Earlier this fall, Dean Shareski was struggling with the phrase, "It's not about the technology." He created this slide to prove his point.

As much as I appreciate Dean's idea here, I would not want to subject ANYONE to ME playing a cello! I believe ANY tool, in the hands of a good teacher will have a positive educational impact, just as any tool in the hands of an ineffective educator will not.  Dr. Robert Marzano said as much at the 2009 TIES Conference Keynote. Still, Dean's point is that in the hands of a skilled person, the tool IS important! Besides, great teachers deserve great tools for instruction, just as students deserve great tools for learning!

Last November, voters in our district supported our technology plan by passing a referendum that dedicates funds for technology in our district for the next 10 years. Our next task is to define what a 21st Century Classroom will look like. We are working to define the standard tools that every teacher will need. In November/December, we sent out a survey for staff, seeking their input. The survey results indicated that:
  • Teachers were unsure about some of the tools available to them
  • Teachers tool preferences varied by grade level
  • Teachers tool preferences varied by subject area

So on Wednesday of this week, we are inviting staff to come test drive some tools that may or may not become part of that digital classroom at a Technology Fair. Hopefully staff will get some hands on opportunities with specific tools for interaction, communication, creation and presentation to empower their teaching and unleash student's passion for learning. We will also be broadcasting some of the events happening with Digital Learning Day, as a way to showcase how the tools can be used to transform learning here in Edina.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chromebook Event: About the tool...Notes

It didn't recognize my camera on the USB, but the memory slot worked!
On January 30, I attended a Google Chromebook event at the University of Minnesota.
The presenters, Jaime Casap and Dana Nguyen talked about the "paradigm shift" that the Chromebook represents. Here are some of my notes. For today's session, I was using a Samsung device. Jaime noted that as new manufacturers start developing Chromebooks, they will continue to have a screen, keyboard, and camera. This device had 2 USB 2.0 ports, a 4-1 memory card slot, and a mini-VGA port. Note: This post is not an endorsement of the product, just my notes on the presentation!
  • Boot in 8 seconds (They are working on it to be faster!)
  • 8 hour battery
  • Wi-Fi w/ optional 3G
  • Everything in the Cloud
  • Management is easier, as Web based console for users
  • Automatic Updating
  • Integrated Security
  • 3 Year extended warranty
  • After 3 years, schools get new devices, plus get to keep the old...

The Web has come a LONG Way! Not that long ago, the connections we had at work were better than we have at home! (CyberMonday evolved because of that.)
Today, you can "Hangout" with people anywhere, Read eBooks, Learn from watching video, and collaborate on projects.
Today, we don't learn with a manual, we watch Youtube, or ask friends on social networks. 
Today, we use devices to create content, not just consume. (Read: Take that, Apple!) Teacher Web creation and collaboration is evident by Web pages, Moodle Courses, Screencasts, assessments, presentations, etc.
The Google folks argue that Budget, Management and Scalability get in the way of devices being ubiquitous. Obviously, if your district is already using Apps for Education, there are certain benefits.

The device was designed to take advantage of how the Web is now.

  • Web Based Management
  • Customized from the cloud
  • Security Built-In (No Malware)
  • Forever Fresh
  • Web Based Management
  • Customized from the cloud
  • Security Built-In
  • Forever Fresh
Management Console is built in to the Google Apps for Education Domain Management. When districts purchase Chromebooks, the Chrome OS settings are added to the domain. Different settings can be set up by school/organizations within the domain.
Proxy settings can be set up that work either at school, or can be set up at home. The policies are stored in the cloud as opposed to the device, at the account level. Screens can automatically be locked on idle. The policies can be set as low as 30 minutes to as high as 24 hours. 
You can also customize so that certain pages always load on start-up!
Devices must connect to the Web in order to "ping the server" and be updated.
For 1:1 programs, you can set up devices so that only the assigned user can log-in. 

The management console has been updated a few times, and is continually being improved based on user input. 

Pricing for the Wi-Fi only device with 1 year purchase is $449, with a 3 year subscription it's $20/month. For the management console, there is an additional $5/month cost per device after the first year.
For the Wi-Fi plus 3G, it's $519 for 1 year purchase, or $23/month with the 3 year subscription.
Schools can get a cart and cloud printer with the first 30 you purchase.

After 3 years, what happens to the management console? Google says that they will give a 6 month warning notice when the OS will no longer be supported.

They finished their presentation with a video that showed how one student's experience with the device.

Next, Nguyen showed some features of Chrome, such as enabling "Instant" for faster searching, adding other search engines such as Amazon, Wikipedia and Youtube with shortcuts for searching. On a chromebook, you can highlight text and use a "2 finger click" to search in a new tab! 
You can also "Bookmark all tabs" if you want to save tabs that are open. 
She flew through a wide variety of great shortcut features, like "Pinning Tabs", the new calculator feature in the "Omnibox." 
Finally, she showed us the translate tool, which she claims is now "80% Accurate!" and "20 Things I learned.com

A question from the audience asked whether 1:1 programs can handle Docs if the student doesn't have Internet access. Casap said that one option is to give students w/o access a 3G device.

We then went into a Hangout with Richland School District in North Carolina, where they will be implementing a 1:1 program with 19,000 Chromebooks! They are going from 200mb to 500 mb bandwidth, and they have 26,000 students. We also talked with Leyden School District, who have implemented Chromebooks and are very pleased with their implementation. Easy, equal access for everyone is essential!
It was a good discussion about "making the device disappear" and other Best practice for a 1:1 initiative. Bryan Weinert, the Technology Director pointed out that since so much is via the Web, and the Chromebook was designed as a Web tool, that it feels like a perfect fit. They are also looking at "OpenClass" as a potential Learning Management System. Right now, 80% of students have Internet access, but they are not providing devices/access for students without.

Casap asked them to discuss the Professional Development issues with Chromebook implementation. The folks in North Carolina focused on blended learning opportunities for staff in cloud based options. Weinert, met with his staff for 30 minutes, showed them how the lock worked on the cart, how to log in and off, and that was about it. Instead, they've focused on Google Apps, Web 2.0 tools and good instructional design for how they can use the tools in the classroom. He did say that the management console is essential to the instructional process. Mainly so they can run the device through district proxies for filtering, manage apps/extentions, and provide a safe environment for their students.

Offline syncing works with Gmail and calendar, but it's currently only view only in Docs. 
The "ScratchPad" app can do basic word processing and sync. 

Aside from struggling a bit with the trackpad, as an experienced Chrome user, I felt fairly comfortable using the device. A fairly short learning curve. I think it's an interesting model, but I'm not sure some districts would consider $20/month/student "sustainable." Still if you consider that other 1:1 programs purchase devices with a similar lease, they may be close. Perhaps if districts can get their textbook cost down, it might become a viable learning tool.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Parenting in the Digital Age

Today I was invited to speak to a group of parents about "Parenting in the Digital Age." Principal, Dr. Beth Russell and I had a great conversation about Online Safety, Cyberbullying, and developing a positive digital footprint. The parents asked some great questions, and Dr. Russell provided examples of cases of cyber bullying at South View, and how the administration has handled them.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Cool Moment in Class!

Today I received this e-mail from Peter Grimm, one of our Project Lead the Way teachers at South View Middle School:
Wanted to share a cool “cloud computing” moment from class.  My students are writing scripts for a video they are shooting in my class.  A young lady was sick today, and she had all of the work saved in her google docs.  Before the cloud, the girls in class would have been sunk, as the sick girl had their rough draft as well.  Anyway,  From home, she and the other girls in her group who were in class did a conference session on google docs, while using their cell phones on speaker phone.  It was kind of cool to watch –  they were very productive, and they didn’t lose a work day.  They had the google doc on 1 computer and their video footage on another, and they were editing and re-writing, and working virtually.  It’s fun when it all works!

It was a great example of:
a) Teacher Reflection
b) Anytime/Anywhere Learning
c) Student Collaboration
d) Bring Your Own Device
e) Sharing

Grimm noted that for their next project, students will be collaborating with students from across from the country via Google Docs and Skype on a design project. 
What a great example of "Redefining Awesome!" It is definitely my #EduWin of the day!