Thursday, December 3, 2009

Customer focused Web site

I have seen school districts adopt all sorts of technology systems including grade books, online curricula, learning modules, and other information systems. Most of the time, the selection of these tools is based on the administrator's need of the moment and little thought is given to the usability of the system and how well it will adapt to changes elsewhere in the system. Countless hours of teacher time are wasted training them to use horrible software and millions of dollars are thrown away on systems ill-suited to the needs of teachers and students. On top of that administrators' dictates that require teachers to use these systems create enormous amounts of stress for teachers for little benefit. What is needed is a new approach that focuses on designing flexible systems, run by knowledgeable administrators who's primary mission is to meet the needs of busy teachers and students.

This brings me to my new big idea. My new Web site, is focused on quickly building a learning portal for our school that grows organically while giving teachers many options and making their lives easier. My dream is to harness all of the creative energy of the most tech-savvy teachers in the school toward building a "one-stop" destination for information and learning technology. I'm offering these teachers not just a technology platform but the necessary support and training that helps them get the job done.

I'm not going to do any training or staff-development train users for this Web site, but I do hope to steer teachers here because it makes implementing technology in their class much easier. It must be my crazy idealism, butI think it's better to try to entice teachers by offering them help and point-of-need training and easy implementation rather than trying to bribe them to attend tech trainings with food or without the administration mandating anything. We'll see if it works.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In praise of technology outlaws

I work with some very smart, tech savvy teachers who operate completely outside of district policy. If these individuals conformed to the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, test-focused curricula and limited themselves to technology resources supplied and/or allowed the the tech department, they simply would not be who they are. Today's post is dedicated to the technology outlaw that presses ahead in spite of obstacles small and large to make things happen for our students.

The problem is easy to describe. Tech departments that are understaffed and in over their heads, administration that doesn't understand what technology can and should do for teaching and learning as well as the efficiency of their organization. Educators that want to use technology don't have support from administration or their less tech savvy peers. The less tech-savvy teachers aren't motivated to learn about technology because expectations are too low. It all comes back to leadership.

These dedicated professionals shouldn't need to be outlaws. Someday they'll be seen as heroes for putting themselves on the line to move our profession forward. Someday very soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Technology Tuesdays

Technology Tuesdays are a new tradition at my school. It's a simple and great idea that any school can do. For the first meeting, I brought Starbucks Coffee and Donuts and had an informal discussion among teachers that use technology and those that want to incorporate more into their repertoire. From the initial meeting, we identified some areas for future meetings. Today we had an innovative session about Online Calendars, which I called "pick your own" staff development. I based this idea on those old "Choose your own adventures" books.

I'm really proud of this concept, even if I need to work on the implementation. As, the "pick your own" title suggests, I tried to individualize the training based on the orientation and comfort level of the participants. More importantly, this approach allows me to market technology training in a far better way. Instead of a generic, geeky sounding topic like "wikis" or "blogs," I can focus the description in more human terms. For online calendars, I promoted the tool as a solution for 4 different customer segments:

  1. Busy people that are looking for a way to stay organized and on top of their work and personal lives
  2. Club sponsors and extra-curricular organizers that need to communicate with students
  3. Classroom teachers that want to help their students be more organized
  4. Coaches and sports fans.

The response among the staff here was great. While 6 attended the morning training, many more expressed an interest in learning the skills at a later date. If anyone is interested in the materials, let me know. I'll try to post them soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What is a School Technology Paradise?

In my mind, we really don't need paradise, but K-12 education could at least strive to be like major universities and colleges or even corporations and the Federal government. Here are some things that would be indicative of a School Tech Paradise:

1. Technology Department is user-centered-Nearly every school district that I am aware of has a tech department that rarely communicates with those that actually use their technology. The primary concern of school technology types seems to be on security and stability instead of usability. All that's needed is a little cultural change of expecting school technology personnel to focus on the needs and desires of their end users. This means consulting with teachers about software adoption.

2. School takes advantage of ubiquitous connectivitySchools today are making futile efforts to block student from using cell-phones and various internet tools while at school. In stead of expending our money and effort on a lost cause, we need to make efforts to train our educators to use this technology to promote learning and engage students.

3. Campus professionals are expected to use technology. All too often laggard teachers that don't use even basic technology are coddled and protected. There are places where large numbers of so-called professionals won't even read emails from administration. Fire them or make their lives miserable so they quit. Don't enable the techno-phobes. Expect them to adapt.

4. Technology is used to make school efficient. Eliminate irrelevant intercom announcements and replace them with occasional video, blogs, text messages and other tools that reach the intended audience. Teachers should prepare all of their lessons electronically so we don't have to deal with expensive copiers that break down. We can eliminate the practice of purchasing and checking out mind-numbing textbooks and expecting them to be returned without doodling all over them.

5. School Web sites contemporary and up-to-date!Look all around. School Web sites are a joke mostly, using design templates that are 10-years out-of-date, hosting content that is stagnant and rarely updated. Upgrading the schools' Web systems is the first step in changing our image and the way we operate.

6. No one looks for the quick fix. Decision makers in education often purchase technology systems for some narrow purpose, such as drilling kids on skills to improve test scores. These systems are out-of-date in a few years, and they don't improve teaching and learning. Integrating technology takes smarts, strategic planning and hard work. Unfortunately some companies seem to be very effective at peddling technology packages that promise easy and quick results without any positive influence on long-term school improvement.

Of course I could go on an on about specifics, but if we could just focus on these 6 things, we could make so much progress.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why don't school districts get technology?

I've been a professional educator for 15 years now and worked in several school districts, both small and large. Throughout my life, I have kept up with the computer and technology world, but I am not exactly one of the early adopters that is always on the cutting edge. In the corporate world, I would be about average. However, within education, I am one of the technology gurus. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, I'm a giant. It's really kind of sad.

So the question I'm asking is why are school's so clueless when it comes to technology. There is a certain set of factors including: culture, tradition, law and policy that interfere with progress in implementing technology in education, but as an eternal idealist I believe that it is possible to change the system from within. This blog will devote a substantial number of words in diagnosing the problem of school systems' view of technology, which is essentially focusing on the negative, but I will hopefully spend much more time writing about solutions, practical ways to make a difference. This blog is for all fellow educators toiling in the trenches, trying to make education exciting and meaningful for our students, but who sometimes run in to obstruction from various official channels. I also welcome any administrators that want to make matters better. Happy reading. Let the fun begin.