Colin's Sandbox

Archive for October, 2013

#aktechplan Week 2 Reflection

by on Oct.28, 2013, under Technology Planning

This week I had more opportunity to read portions of other’s tech plans.  Certain themes are emerging about tech plans that I like, and ones that I think are lacking.  I haven’t yet had an opportunity to dive into a very lengthy tech plan, and frankly I’m biased against doing so for the reasons of time, and the unsubstantiated (as yet) belief that the longer the tech plan, the narrower the vision.  As Chris alluded to in his blog on the matter of management of large enterprises , many can run, but only a few can truly lead.  This nagging belief also tells me that it’s a common substitute to true vision to over-specify.

I could be very wrong though!  Perhaps the vast bulk of a tech plan this size is made up of study results, appendices, example forms, etc.  But then, in the true concept of a living document, shouldn’t these be broken up into separate entities, to be linked together as appropriate?  This would make the tech plan that much more accessible: viewing it as an entry point into the districts current state, description of ongoing efforts on technology integration and professional development, a vision of what classes could look like and how they could be supported, and how to judge the effectiveness of the tech plan and change it as time marches forward.

This week I had the opportunity to facilitate the Twitter session on Tuesday.  As I mentioned over on this week’s reflection for the #seaccr class having the two Twitter sessions back to back is difficult to manage at that time of day with kids wanting to crawl all over me.  I think I’m going to have to either split up the sessions or else duck away for that time period and have the ravenous herd locate a frozen pizza in the fridge that night.  Unfortunately with the busy schedule that my family has that is becoming all too commonplace.  Maybe I should start up the crockpot on Tuesdays!

So far I’m liking the mix of class participants we have here.  The small number makes it feel more intimate, and I’m hoping that its easier to keep up on what everyone is doing here.  This is hard in a larger online class.

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#seaccr Week 7 Reflections

by on Oct.28, 2013, under #seaccr

I’m seeing a lot of cool projects out there that people are doing, and I think that mine is going too slow. With a name like “action research” I expect more explosions.  I suppose it was something of a slow week for me, given my “holding pattern” status.

On a side note, for the first time time in a few weeks I feel like I don’t have that lingering cold that had been bugging me for so long.  I’ve actually been able to go do those things I really like to do, such as running, hunting, going to the dojo, and work at a much higher level than I have been, which has a positive effect on my ability to focus on work.  I take my health for granted but boy whenever I have “the grim” cold that seems to happen about once a year it’s like I’m running a constant, low-grade “meh” that eats into my ability to work efficiently.

This week I participated in a marathon Twitter session on Tuesday for both the #seaccr and #aktechplan classes and I’m not sure in the future if I’ll do the two back to back.  It’s hard at that time of day to focus solely on Twitter, when the needs of dinner time and my little children are vying for my attention.  I’ve noticed more than a few fellow classmates mention how they are gaining confidence in using Twitter, how they gain confidence and support from their peers through that medium, and through blogging, and I think that makes our class stronger.  I like the format of shifting the lead of the Twitter sessions; I think having to critically think of questions for discussion is very instructive itself.  If you understand something well enough, you can ask deep questions about it.

This week, somewhat surprisingly, I had a few people tell me that they really enjoyed my re-sharing of the iPad app evaluation rubric that a coworker shared with me.  I’m glad it’s working for people, and I really would like to know of other useful tools that people have seen out there for gauging the effectiveness of content-specific mobile device apps or simply tools for helping to make either their or their students’ work easier.

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Week 2: Accounting for change in tech planning

by on Oct.26, 2013, under Technology Planning

This week I read through a few different pieces that I found applicable to the tech planning process.  So far a few things are standing out in those readings relating to the difficulty in forecasting technology into the future, rendering them stale upon delivery.  These are what I think of as the core difficulties and pitfalls of tech plan “future proofing”.

#1: The exponential rate of growth of knowledge as technology advances

Most everyone I’ve spoken to understands that the pace of technology innovation is mind boggling.  Robinson states: “[a]n evolutionary process accelerates because it builds on its own means for further evolution”.   At a dinner recently I got involved in a discussion about how learning has changed within the past generation.  He drew a circle out on the napkin in front of me and pointed to it, describing how this represents all that we currently “know”, and that how knowledge doesn’t progress in a straight line.  The edge of the circles are defined by the questions we ask.  With increasing connected-ness that occurred both with the Internet, and interestingly enough, with the influx of knowledge post fall of the Soviet Union, we are working outwards from this circle.  Technology makes it possible to search through, around, and across this body of knowledge, gather up what’s important for your work, share what you’ve done for others, evaluate others’ work, in a way that’s never been possible up to now.  Allowing this circle to expand ever further outwards.  Allowing us to ask more and better questions.

Neurologist Stuart Firestein, in a recent Ted talk, summarizes how important questions really are:

My point is this: writing the tech plan by attempting to define what technology will look like in 5 years in terms of what is available today is bound to be inaccurate.  Which leads to:

#2: Specifying particular hardware over functionality

When I was young, every kid that I knew either had or wanted to have “Rollerblades”.  Now that was just a brand name for a particular in-line skate, but “in-line skate” doesn’t sound at all appealing when you compare it to “Rollerblades”.  But they had a good name and were the first really popular brand that I could remember that you could really play roller hockey with.  A few years after that though a much better style emerged that were a lot more like the leather-upper ice hockey skates that I was used to.  And more comfortable.  Where am I going with this?  I’ve seen more than one tech plan now that mentions specific technology by name (e.g. Smartboards, iPads, Mac Books, Tandberg) – and I ask, “Why limit yourself?”    Yes these are the items in popular use today but what we should be putting down to paper is what we love about them: how well they interact with other technology, how they work with what we’re trying to teach, how they can make our lives easier, how easy or difficult it is to use them and to teach about them.  An article in DistrictAdministration highlights this in the Folsom Unified School District in Folsom, CA:

it’s called “future focus,” says Chief Technology Officer Joe Jenkins. “It’s not so much a hardware-specific mentality; it’s trying to make the technology more flexible and utilize wireless infrastructures,” he says.

#3:Difficulties in Implementing a “Living Document”

In both of the tech plans I’ve reviewed in greater detail I see some reference to its being a “living document”, implying its flexibility over time to meet changing conditions and input from others. But I haven’t seen details on how these changes are made to the tech plan. Is it by fiat from any one person? Is the tech committee in charge of editing the tech plan? A living document has some system of “change management“.

#4:Tech Plan Adherence

I need to make more study for both of these organizations to determine how this is in actual practice: do questions regarding tech purchases, integration initiatives, professional development actually reference the tech plan?  This also speaks to the “Living Document” piece: accepting that things either are or are not working in practice, and when they are not, either form new, more realistic goals (hopefully not simply lowering the bar), or adjust how you’re doing things to meet those goals.

#5:Developing Realistic Professional Development Goals

All of the tech plans I’ve reviewed so far place a heavy emphasis on Professional Development.  Some of them make explicit mention of attending certain events, such as ASTE, or having a certain number of periodic sessions where the staff can attend events on certain pieces of hardware or software, hosted either by outside consultants or by in-house technology leads or even IT staff.  These are all great goals, but some of them may be more sustainable than others, or more likely to have longer lasting effects.  In addition to some of these other aforementioned forms, one component of the Burlington School District’s tech plan provides for professional development to be provided by “teachers teaching teachers”, where during the district hosts events where teachers submit plans to present what works in their classroom.  This is a concept that I think is sustainable in almost any economy, and could serve to highlight what works in an actual classroom, and where the challenges are.

References:

Burlington Public Schools (2011). Burlington Public Schools Educational Technology.  Retrieved on October 25, 2013 from: http://www.burlington.org/departments/schools/burlington_public_schools/docs/BPS_District_Technology_Plan.pdf#etlead

Dessoff, Alan (2010).  Making Your Schools Future Proof.  DistrictAdministration.  Retrieved on October 25, 2013 from: http://www.districtadministration.com/article/making-your-schools-future-proof

Robinson, Ken. (2011). Out of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative.  West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing.

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Week 7: #seaccr Holding Pattern

by on Oct.25, 2013, under #seaccr

I see others rolling on in their data collection but I’m a little stuck with my study.  My coworker is heading out to the district for a training session on 11/1/13 and I won’t have another chance prior to then in order to collect meaningful data.  In the interim I have had a chance to go over the training materials that she’s put together and give substantive feedback enhanced by the data already received.  In particular, the survey data indicated that the participants had a decent familiarity with the iPad devices but the training materials as I’ve seen them are a little heavy on the basics in my opinion.

She does spend some time covering the new features of iOS 7, which is a good thing.  A big highlight that I saw included in the presentation was in reference to how to judge an app relative to others across seven different domains.  I encourage any educator who has to make a decision on “what apps should I get?” to read through this to give themselves a starting point for meaningful comparisons between apps.

Going forward I look forward to having some more interaction with the trainer and help fine tune anything she’d like to work on.  I’ve also suggested that, due to the perceived level of familiarity present with the participants, to include some tasks for them to accomplish ahead of time to further identify where they’re at and to provide good conversation points for the training itself.

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SEACCR Week 6 Reflection

by on Oct.21, 2013, under #seaccr

Steady Study Progress

At the beginning of week 6 I was bemoaning a bit the lack of data that I had received.  By the time Friday had come, turns out I actually had 6 responses to the survey, and could start drawing a picture of the audience!  I’ve sent the data to the trainer along with some follow up questions regarding the data:

  • Does anything stands out from the data as surprising?
  • Is there anything that would make you change anything you plan on doing?
  • Are there any further ideas for next steps that the district may consider after the training is over [based on what data we’ve received]?

The next phase of the training is a one day onsite professional development inservice with the trainer at the beginning of November.  The superintendent sent us a proposed training agenda based on a meeting with his staff following the WebEx conference and a few things stood out:

  • Much of the requested attention was to the nuts and bolts of the iPads.  While I think an initial quick run through of a few features that may be used during the training may be good, the data gathered so far indicates that the staff already has a decent familiarity with the use of iOS devices.
  • There wasn’t an explicit mention of trainer to teacher 1:1 time to examine ways in which using a mobile tablet device could help benefit their class (differentiated instruction). This could be a silver lining given the small class size – the ability to connect individually with the participants.
  • I’ve seen many examples in trainings of quality apps that teachers may use in their classes.  While I think this could / will be useful in this upcoming training, one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in the literature I reviewed (or in most trainings I’ve been a part of) is how to answer the questions: How do I search for quality apps?  How do I evaluate their effectiveness / scalability?  This would be empowering for the staff.

Contributions to Others

I spent a good portion of time between sessions as well as this morning commenting on others’ work around the #seaccr blog-o-sphere.  In particular, I was taken aback by the constraints placed upon Chris Carlson’s study efforts regarding training other teachers.  If we as a culture are interested in improving the effectiveness of our teaching styles, why aren’t we more open to research in the classroom?

Other Notes

  • I took part in the Alaska Math and Science Conference this past weekend and had a great experience.  Gave me a strong sense of things that I’d like to try out in the near term if I can just get the time: especially ArcGIS and digital design / electronics programming with Arduino boards.
  • This marked the first week of the EDET670 class, so I’ve been busy out there reviewing tech plans, ideas for what constitutes a quality tech plan, and the like.
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