Change, Risk, Longevity

Stopwatch imageAt several conferences and events last year, colleagues and I discussed the “challenge of longevity.” Basically, how long can we keep doing what we’re doing. Working with technology in schools can be a fairly challenging endeavor. To effect change, one needs a clear understanding of the school’s mission and culture, balanced with a critical and supported opinion what can or should be implemented, the ability to listen and reduce the stress of change, and finally a willingness to take risks in the process of moving forward.

It’s a tall order, and it isn’t difficult to find causualties along the road. Worse still, the systems and opportunities are changing at a fairly speedy clip, meaning that “failing to pay attention” can lead to inappropiate or failed choices. As we do this for five, ten or fifteen years, and what point does the treadmill seem too fast– do we burnout and become bitter (easy to find examples) or do we have some some sort of graceful slow down (hard to imagine, given the context of the decisions to be made).

No answers here, just questions.

Asking for Input

I finished the 7th Grade Laptop program surveys, and they are available here for review:

7th Grade Laptop Student Survey

7th Grade Laptop Faculty Survey

7th Grade Laptop Parent Survey

All three surveys have been sent out, and we have about 60 responses so far. Later next week I should be able to share some summarized data.

Evaluating a Laptop Program

I’m developing three Zoomerang surveys this week to evaluate our middle school iBook program. This is a relatively fun process, because I’ve reviewed quite a few tools that have been used to review other programs, and I can customize something specific to our school, program and culture. There’s no “trick questions,” but I’m looking forward to hearing from teachers, students and parents about the program.

I’ll post some of the results, and maybe a copy of what the survey looks like, a bit later.

Online Collaboration: The Next Step

Last week I wrote about how we’ve been using Sharepoint Sites for several years, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming release of SharePoint 3. Every year, however, we do investigate alternatives. We’re pleased with our use of SharePoints, but they have drawbacks. There are some cross-platform issues, and it is also an “individual site” system, meaning that students with multiple courses pretty much need to have multiple links to get where they are going.

We tried Moodle earlier this year, which we liked better in terms of a unified portal with all classes listed per student, but it still had more rough edges and quirks than we would like. A colleague who had recently used a full-blown Moodle system for a school district felt that the SharePoints were superior in terms of what they did.

We use Microsoft Exchange for email, but I saw an interesting presentation about the latest version of FirstClass email software not long ago. I loved how it was fully cross platform, easy to set up, and had fully integrated IM and online presence indicators. I was also interested in the online folders, discussion groups, and file exchange options that could be set for courses or campus groups. It also appeared that our email system for parents could be absorbed into the system. This is all very attractive, because we know our users liked having as many services as possible integrated with the email system, and the cost of the system wasn’t that high.

The problem we ran into, however, was that FirstClass appeared to need a full implementation to work well– meaning all of our Exchange accounts would need to move over. Having two interstitched system (some accounts on it, some on Exchange) looked very difficult, but we would need a proof of concept for one grade level or more before fully committing– and everyone would likely be less than thrilled about learning a new email system. One other plus: shared calendars would work for everyone (cross platform).

Blackboard LogoFinally, we’re taking another look at Blackboard. I have colleagues who have used it for years, and I wonder if the current version (with content management and other features) might replace our SharePoints, and possibly our Curriculum Map as well. It would be a unifying system like Moodle, but possibly more professional and complete. If we think about where we want to be in 3-5 years, it might be the most stable choice. I’m considering going to the Blackboard conference in San Diego next month to learn more.

Let me know if there are other integrated online systems that we should consider!

The Beauty of Calendars

If you haven’t implemented a centralized calendar system yet, I believe it is becoming easier. We’ve been using a web based calendar system for a couple of years now, and it has really improved work flow and parent communications about events. Our calendars use a server-based system called WebEvent from a company called PeopleCube. We currently have just under 50 interlinked and nestled calendars running through this product, with about 10 calendar managers.

Alternatively, I just heard about a hosted service called Hunt Calendars that might be able to supply a hosted solution in an economical way.

Finally, there are open source solutions. One is the PHP iCalendar project, as well as the Mozilla Sunbird project. I have an auto-install option on this server to try out the WebCalendar project, but I haven’t had time to try it yet.

Time in mind…

Collaborative Websites for Students

SharePoint PageWe continue use Microsoft SharePoint collaborative website (our fourth
year), and overall we’re still pleased. We have both public and private
sites, and authentication is simply handled through Active Directory.
We’ve also created a parents’ SharePoint server that is hosting sites
for the auction and other resources (again, password protected). This
is appreciated because it improves year-to-year transfer of information
and records.

I wrote an article about our SharePoint experiences and it is located at

http://www.oetc.org/sharepoint.html

We host dozens of these sites, and just today I learned of an
interesting twist. A seventh grade science teacher created
password-protected “sub sites” for her science research groups, and then
gave the kids full access to manage the sites. The 3 person teams are
using their sites to exchange documents, make to-do lists, discuss
research, and receive marked-up materials back from the teacher. One
team even used the site to create a survey for data collection.

I like the idea that the students are being given the tools to figure
out and use. SharePoints aren’t exactly the same for Windows and OS X,
but they are close enough. In this case, the students are all using
iBooks.

Advice in Motion Presentation

I did a presentation this morning to 9th grade parents this morning about the “Advice in Motion” newsletter (see below), but I bracketed the recommendations with two sets of information. First, we recently completed an online survey of upper school students about computer use. We had 153 responses (just over half of the student body). From this survey, we learned that

89% of our US students have more than one email address

78% have one or more IM accounts

48% have an online profile page (Myspace.com, Facebook.com, Yahoo or others)

Of those with online profile pages, 48% check them daily or 2-3 times a week

25% bring a laptop to school daily

51% bring a laptop to school at least occasionally (as for finals)

65% have a laptop at home they could bring to school

Communication was by far the most popular use of computers.

“Second Place” for favorite use was tied between Researching and Music/Video

Games had the highest negative score in terms of favored uses.

Best experiences: staying in contact with friends, IM, making movies, music and email

Worst experiences: losing papers, failed hard drives, things not working, printing

I used this information to support the “advice in motion” concept—the idea that all these things are happening to one extent or another, and we’re not discussing issues that relate to only a minority of students.

Secondly, I discussed Facebook.com, which is reported to have 9 million college students registered (up to 85% of students at some institutions). I noted that even 1 percent of 9 million is 90,000 users, meaning that if even 1 percent of the users “misuse” the system (inappropriate information, pictures, clubs, etc.), that would be 90,000 users displaying “bad examples” even if 99 percent of users had positive, useful sites. I also noted that parents with students who went to college last year reported that their kids had “immediate access” to information about their dorm mates, class mates, etc. For some college students, Facebook.com is become “everything”—address book, calendar, photo album, messaging system, etc.

I found it useful to bracket our recommendations for online safety and involvement with students to show that this is a “street smarts” issue. As one parent noted this morning, “This is like our parents who worried about us going to the mall. There are bad people at the mall as well, but we prepare our kids to deal with the risks.” Not a bad comment.

Is Choice Always Best?

For two years in high school, I was excited about registering for philosophy, and I did so. For two years in a row, my math teacher re-registered me into her new BASIC Programming classes and the PET Computer and Apple IIs we had. I wrote BASIC programs, did pictures, etc. However, I was rather ticked that I never got to take the Philosophy course.

In college, I was ticked again, this time with my grade in a Philosophy course. I blamed my former math teacher, of course. The BASIC programming seemed to have nothing to do with my college experience.

Suddenly, I was in graduate school. The Writing Center was building a big lab of IBM PCs. I started working with writing and computers. As I applied for my first teaching jobs, I distinguished myself with fluency with PCs, posting student work on public BBSs for public comment, using email to exchange student writing with classrooms in other states and countries. And this was before Mosaic.

In the end, I was creating web pages and firing up email servers. So, where did my confidence come from to do these things and stand out? Well, from the BASIC programming courses back in high school my math teacher re-registered me into. Given the choice back then, I wouldn’t have taken them, but the value of these courses was apparent years later. I guess she was right.

Today, I don’t see long lines for programming courses. If we don’t introduce students to the logic, structure and algorithms of how computers and software work, are we respecting their choices? Or are we leaving them unprepared and lacking confidence for the future, where distinguishing themselves may be tantamount?

Would Hybrid Schools Be Boutiques?

For parents with kids in under-achieving schools, talk about home schooling is becoming a refrain. I wonder how many more middle class families might pull that off in the near future.

In that light, I wonder if there might be more “hybrids” in the future. The brick and mortar schools could provide the best “face to face” interactions for approximately half of the day (or less), and home technology could fulfill the best possible online learning and research.

There was a recent article about this premise, with the idea of “car schooling.” Students would move around the city to classroom learning experiences that supplemented their online and home schooling. Maybe schools will become more like boutiques, offering the best learning experiences for a certain subject or area instead of trying to cover all the bases.

Car Schooling also refers to “learning activies for inside the car while driving around,” but I’m more interested in the road scholar aspects of a mix of learning locations.

Advice in Motion Update II

We just completed our revised recommendations for online profile page use by upper school students. The Cybernotes Newsletter is now available for downloading.

FacebookIt was interesting to revise it for upper school– some recommendations had to become less direct, and some of the language for upper school students had to be revised. We also added a paragraph about Facebook.com, given the number of our students that have signed onto its high school area already.

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