Colin's Sandbox

Technology Planning

#aktechplan Vision

by on Nov.15, 2013, under Technology Planning

I confess – I have been remiss in doing my due diligence when it comes to this week’s post.  I think that’s because the scope of the essential question “What is your vision for technology in schools?” is just so, well, broad!  I had a hard time taking out my critical tech-planning ginsu knife, slicing and dicing through various net resources like a chainsaw through ice, in order to reveal the “ONE TRUE TECH VISION”.  I should add “according to Colin” because I’m sure the answer is going to be different depending on the circumstance.

So here I am doing an onsite as part of my work, doing what amounts to a recon job to get a better feel for what’s going wrong with a certain [unnamed] district’s Internet experience at various sites.  It turns out that the key skill here is to listen more than actually do.  I’m used to probing around networks, trying to put various gauges on things, troubleshooting problem areas, but in this instance the boundaries of the problem are murky, the data, anecdotal and fuzzy.  Different teachers have different ideas about what they would like to do here and some of them feel thwarted by a poor Internet experience.  I don’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom – I see some really *good stuff* here and there seems to be quality processes in place, etc., but some of the network foundation just seems rocky.  Doing networking in Alaska is not easy – even marginal bandwidth is expensive, oftentimes high-latency, and prone to frequent outages. Instead of doing the really cool tech stuff ™, support staff are forced into the unenviable role of the firefighter brigade at best, and bandwidth cop at worst.  I’ve been there – not fun.

This got my mind turned to good ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, often depicted as a triangle with the basic needs such as food, water, and breathing at the bottom.  Moving up we find the need to feel secure in various ways, and as we climb further up we encounter more abstract (and yes, fun) concepts such as friendship, self esteem, morality, and yes, even creativity.  Ask any carpenter or builder and they could go into a long impromptu soliloquy on the importance of a good foundation before you can worry about all that other stuff, like doors, walls, windows, and a roof.   If you haven’t guessed it by now, I think technology integration in a school should keep a similar principle at heart.  Without a stable, reliable foundation folks are just going to get frustrated with technology and choose not to use it at all.  Morale starts sinking.  Because I got an “A” in my High School psychology class that one time, I feel qualified to throw another term out at you: Learned Helplessness.

So my vision for a practical tech plan in AK: a stable, well defined technology environment that allows for ample space to grow and evolve.  That may sound a little short-sighted and perhaps limited, but I’m not sure that it is.  Is it truly possible or desirable for a tech plan to be this truly all-encompassing vision of how it is all to play out, or is what we’re shooting for more of a stable foundation where ideas can organically take root, flourish, adapt, evolve, and if they aren’t beneficial to the garden, be culled?

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Week 4 Reflection

by on Nov.12, 2013, under Technology Planning

This week has been a whirlwind for me, and I can’t say that it’s been the most productive on any scale.  I’ve been having some difficulty with a research project as part of the #seaccr class, trying to get it finished; I’m so far behind due to a variety of internal and external causes.  I’ve also been vacillating back and forth on school / career plan – so my focus has really been elsewhere I’m sad to say!

I was able however to get to the reading for this week and I see where we’re going with this evolution vs. revolution idea, and recognizing intelligence in its myriad of forces.  This would seem to call back to the age-old question though, that of: what role do we want our schools to serve?  There’s only so many hours in the day – if it is focused to learn skills that they can use in pursuit of a career it would seem like an easy sell to spend the most energy on what people would think of as left-brain pursuits.  If it was developing individuals to their full potential, there’s a lot more room for the arts and the like.  I think Robinson does a good job here of finding a middle road, demonstrating the importance of the development of the whole individual in order to maximize our performance in any particular area.

As mentioned in my previous post I enjoyed the Pixton.com comic creation task quite a bit.  Having a framework take care of drawing a lot of the figures and such makes it easier to focus on the storyboard and what you’re trying to get across in the limited space provided.  Keeping it to only a handful of frames imposes a limitation similar to the Twitter experience, forcing you to be concise.  After the week I had I needed a creative outlet so was happy to be prodded in that direction.  I also enjoyed going through others’ creations as well, there and using Glogster.  I admit; I was pretty cheap so I didn’t want to sign up for Glogster and that’s part of what took me on the Pixton.com route.

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Caine walking the desert in search of the strategic plan

by on Nov.10, 2013, under Technology Planning

This week I was in sort of a grad school nadir inspiration-wise due to a couple factors and I honestly wasn’t looking too forward to having to do something out of the box for this week’s blog piece, feeling as though I would rather do something familiar.

The point I wanted to get across with my creative piece concerning my organization was the lack of depth when it comes to the strategic plan.  It really only consists of a few bullet points but without any discussion of how they were to achieve these things, how long it might take to achieve them, etc.  I dug around and found an expanded version of these with some benchmarks but again, with no descriptive narrative describing anything to any real depth.

Initially I wanted to write a little song about it and maybe record a little video / screencast with some background music but I was sitting in my extremely messy house thinking – I just can’t work here today!  So I had to do the work in the library and therefore anything that made noise wasn’t an option.  From the site’s list of possible applications to try was pixton.com; a comic creation site.  When I think of fruitless searching, I can’t help but think of Kung Fu:

It was a lot easier than I thoughth it would have been.  The hardest part, and I’m not even joking, was trying to make the little speech bubbles not connect to the character’s mouth automatically.

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Week 3 #aktechplan reflection

by on Nov.04, 2013, under Technology Planning

I really enjoyed this week as the reading from Robinson gave me ample fodder for exploration into fun areas, such as the need for play as an extension, and in support of, our creativity in our daily pursuits stretching infinitely beyond our childhood.  I think from the discussion in other people’s blogs that others felt the same; from a strictly “page gauge” point of view this week’s train of thought was rolling around and around in others’ minds as well.

The consensus amongst this group seemed to be that, yes, creativity is vastly important.  While I think a strong case can be and has been made for painting creativity in broad strokes upon the tech plan canvas, what I haven’t seen answered yet (oh but I just posted comments on their website, so I’m guilty of being impatient) is how to evaluate the effectiveness of a creative focus of technology in education.  Is it sufficient, or even possible, to walk around the hallways so to speak, holding your thumb up to various projects and say, “Yep, that’s sure creative!  Our technology plan is working!” . How does one measure the effectiveness of creativity outside of the current testing regime?  One response I heard earlier this year in a chat with a professor was with the attitude survey, measuring how students feel about subject material, school in general, their self-esteem, their prospects outside of schooling.

I’ve started playing around with Feedly to aggregate my classes’ RSS feeds into one spot for easy viewing on my computer / mobile device.  Although not as slick as Google Reader was in this regard, it does allow for importing / exporting of lists of RSS feeds via the OPML mechanism.  I don’t think its possible in the free version of Feedly to export RSS feeds per-list however.  So if I start cluttering up my Feedly list with all sorts of other lists you may be stuck with it.

No more cats.

Looking forward to this week’s reading and interaction.  And by the way I got rid of the cats captcha, which seemed to bug people and their various devices to no end.   I may have to put back in the annoying reCAPTCHA style spam elimination plugin though, we’ll see how well other tools (that are working in the background) on my site perform this week.

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Creativity and the Tech Plan

by on Nov.01, 2013, under Technology Planning

I searched online for links between creativity and play and dug up an article from five years ago from the New York Times archives while searching on the matter of the importance of creativity in education.  My own view of creativity is that it arises from a deep understanding of the medium in which you are working combined with a playful spirit, that is, having fun with the job that you’re doing.  My best work comes when I’m free to play with the medium at hand, guided by some end goal and constraints.  The article discusses much about the research which has been done concerning humans need for play, where it fits in with the theories of evolutionary biology.  At the time of writing of the article, art in the schools was (and still is?) seemingly under attack; under pressure for more time during the school day for more important pursuits that will provide for tangible, measurable benefits for students later on in their life.  If you accept as I do that many of the arts are more evolved expressions of play, and believe that practicing these arts has transference to creativity in other areas, you can understand my sense of loss here.

To see the importance of creativity codified, one has to look no further than the ISTE NETS-S and NETS-T standards.  Front and center at #1 on both sets of standards lists creativity (NETS-S: “#1: Creativity and Innovation”, NETS-T: “#1: Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity”).

Is there room for creativity here? Picture used from the blog of Donald Earl Collins, http://donaldearlcollins.com/

On the other hand, when we look at new standards being implemented in Alaska as well as across the country, this isn’t the case. In the new Alaskan English, Language Arts, and Math standards, a quick search through that lengthy tome (188 pages and counting!) only brought up the word “creative” 3 times, and “creativity” once.  In general, given the size and scope of what the Common Core website delves into, I’m not seeing the same emphasis upon creativity in the Common Core standards.  Granted this assessment of mine, searching only for the words “creative” and “creativity”, is far from exhaustive or scientific, but I would have expected more mention.  Diane Ravitch published an anonymous letter recently from an educator and parent from New York, whose authenticity she vouches for.  Although anecdotal in nature it brings up the point of loss of emphasis upon creativity and instead focuses on testability and rigor upon a narrow set of subjects.  I believe this also raises a question of transition: how does one transition students from one set of standards over to a completely new set of grade level standards with different prerequisites and not leave them in the proverbial lurch?

All is not bleak however.  Folks on the ground seem to understand.  Part way through a recent podcast, while talking about 1:1 laptop initiatives, technology specialist Dan Callahan talked at length about the use of technology and the difference between simply using computers and mobile devices as a different delivery mechanism for content and using them to create.  In his view, the exciting part about putting laptops in the hands of kids is that it enables them to create with those devices, and to which I add, in ways never before possible.  This emphasis on being able to create is at the core of project-based learning, of constructivism, and yes, in the age of social networking, connectivism.  Sharing our ideas, research, and projects with others while at the same time soliciting feedback from the same global audience.

So to the point: is it reasonable to build creativity into the tech plan?  Given the importance of play, and the emphasis placed upon it by the ISTE standards, I view this not only as reasonable, but necessary.  When faced by the current political reality and pressures, administrations may not see the importance of making creativity a central part of their tech plans.

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