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Monday, February 23, 2015

Innovation is Not About the Technology

A reporter recently asked me, "Are any of the new technologies being introduced into K-12 education actually causing student test scores to increase?" While the question has been asked a lot, her point was that with all the venture capital being poured into educational technology now, investors and the public may start wanting products to show actual data on how they actually improve test scores. In the case of many products, a lot of which focus on remediating students for particular subjects, this is certainly a valid question. But I think many times we are hoping software, hardware, remediation systems, and other assorted educational technology products will magically transform education, when they will not. 
Read the great article at ISTE

One of the best pieces I've read this week was written by Grant Lichtman and published by ISTE. The author traveled to tens of schools across the country and visited with teachers and students and observed the learning process at many innovative schools. The author concludes that the innovation is really not about the technology at all, but rather about how learning is structured where the students are the leaders in learning. Of course this does not mean that technology can't play a role in the process, but the critical factors include how classes are structured, how students take charge of their learning and investigation, and how teachers and administrators must release control of learning to students. I urge you to read this great piece and join the conversation by sharing your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FERPA & Student Data Privacy - Let the privacy tidal wave begin

Recently, I had an educator ask me if students collaborating together on an assignment, through a collaborative technology such as Google Docs, could be a violation of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which most of us know as FERPA. Their concern was that as students work together, one student’s parent would be able to see the work done by the student their child was collaborating with on the assignment. This has never occurred to me as a concern, but it certainly begged investigation. After reviewing many websites, I did not find anything that would suggest a homework assignment in progress would at all be considered an educational record (and therefore protected by FERPA), as it is not part of a child’s permanent record at that point, nor is it in possession of the school at that point. In fact I did not find anything definitive that would suggest student work is FERPA protected at all. Graded work MAY be, as an individual grade itself might be part of the student record. But from the United States Supreme Court “Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo,” it is clear that an ungraded assignment is not an educational record, and therefore not subject to FERPA. 

The above is my interpretation and not a legal opinion, but it demonstrates how delicate the topic of student privacy is becoming. Increasingly, student data and privacy are being looked at with a laser focus by places like the State of California, President Obama, and organizations like Common Sense Media and CoSN. Expect to hear many more discussions and questions about what student data is shareable to further a student’s education and what data must be protected by schools and third parties.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Year's Wish List for Ed Tech

It's been another fast-paced year in educational technology, with nothing more certain than change.
Yet as much as there is innovation and exciting new products and ideas, there is a lot that I keep hoping will change, ideally at a rate faster than the speed of smell. So here is my Ed-Tech New Year wish list in no particular order of urgency:

  • Transparent pricing: We are in education and cost IS important; if we have to use Chinese water torture to get a price for your product or service or to figure some outlandish set of options and upgrades, we may shop somewhere else.
  • Fair contracts: Contracts need to take into account that we get funded by fickle entities. Stop writing auto-renewing contracts with no outs, or worse yet, multi-year auto renewals.
  • Learning content standards: Digital content is exploding everywhere, yet much of it is locked in proprietary content prison cells, inaccessible from our learning management systems. Let's all get behind a common standard, like "Learning Tools Interoperability" or LTI for short.
  • Easy log in: If your company cannot support LTI, at least bless us with some sort of common authentication or single sign-on. We can't bear to have teachers or administrators waste one more second administering accounts or wasting time logging in to a web site.
  • Old web technology: It's far past the time to layout web pages in tables, run Flash animations, and use Java to validate forms. Join this century and leverage HTML 5 and responsive web design, so all of our devices can access your 1999 web site.
  • A common wireless video standard that actually works: Students and teachers all have different devices and all have great things to share with the class, but in most cases, most of their devices cannot share their content to a TV or projector over the same standard. There is money to be made by someone solving this!
Ed Tech - change is for certain

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dell World 2014 Report

Michael Dell and company judging ed tech startups at the Pitch Slam at Dell World 2014
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Dell World 2014, an event that showcased Dell’s commitment to its education customers and continued support of education innovation. This was especially evident in Dell’s sponsorship of the “Pitch Slam,” where three chosen edtech startups pitched products to the judges, headed by Michael Dell. The three products were very different, but all had lots of potential to be used across K-12:
·        BeeLine Reader helps readers use color grading of words to make it easy to follow sentences. 

·        EduCanon helps teachers create videos to flip their classrooms. The product includes an embedded check for understanding, which students must complete before continuing on with the video, giving teachers a great formative assessment dashboard.

·        PenPal Schools, which won the Dell Pitch Slam, enables students from different parts of the world to write and learn together. The students learn new languages and cultures in a safe and secure online system, which includes pre-made assignments that make it easy for teachers to get their classes writing to peers across the world.

Overall, this and other events at Dell World 2014 confirmed that the company is in the education market for the long haul.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Buying buses without drivers - and computers without support

Our local group of K-12 technology leaders shared some interesting numbers this past week about how many devices each one of their technicians usually supports. The numbers were very telling, especially when looked at in the light of the increasing spend on educational technology, which topped out at over $13 billion this past year, up over 11% from the past year.  Several districts shared that their technicians were now supporting between 1,100 and 1,300 devices each.  By any measure, this is a daunting workload for one person. One district shared that its workload for each technician was more than 1,900 devices. This monumental workload is only being increased as schools increasingly turn to technology for almost all back office functions and instructional use. 
Can we really expect that teachers and students are getting the attention they need and work-order turnaround times they deserve, when they rely so heavily on technology? In what other industry should a professional have to wait a week to have his or her technology operational again? Yet in K-12 this happens all the time, as schools buy more software and hardware, yet fail to fund the personnel needed to ensure high availability and quick repair times. 
Many technology departments have even faced personnel cuts, as budgets have been tightened. Is this really setting K-12 up for success in implementing technology, or is this a recipe for disaster? What district would add 100 buses to its fleet without more mechanics and bus drivers? Of course this would not be done, as it is plainly ridiculous. Nonetheless, districts do this with technology every day, without assessing the real impact on teachers and students of having poorly supported technology.

                    This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting out of the teaching rut!

With any job it’s easy to eventually find oneself in a rut, doing things the same way over and over. I know back when I was teaching, sometimes the pressures of grading, paperwork, and the real world meant that I didn’t try to teach a lesson differently or try something new with my students. Maybe I blamed it on the fact that I had four class preps, but no matter what the reason, it was always very rewarding to take time to try a new innovative lesson and see it work very well in the classroom.
As we start a new school year, there is no better time for teachers to investigate something new. And whether it is something truly transformative to teaching, or maybe just a tool to make teaching a little more efficient, any improvement is a step in the right direction.
Maybe a simple tool to motivate good student behavior is what is needed; then try ClassDojo. Or maybe increasing communication with students and parents is a pressing need. Tools like Remind or Class Messenger will help improve communication.
Want students to be more involved in class? Then give Socrative or ExitTicket a try. Is it time to find a new way to curate and synthesize web content for students or for students to do so as they learn? Then head on over and try super simple Blendspace or LessonPaths.
Sometimes it’s much easier to take baby steps to get out of the rut, rather than trying to climb the ladder and change everything at once. So make a new school year resolution for you or your staff to take a baby step or two on your path of improvement. For more info on these tools, view my blog entry and presentation about them.

                This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some tools to bring new life to your classroom

If your classroom is looking a bit too similar to this:

Image used with blog permission from

Then it's time to try something different.  Check out the recommendations in the presentation below.