Content and Audience

I really liked Fred’s comment to my post yesterday about Schools and Content Production. Here’s a quote:

I wonder sometimes if the whole concept of getting kids to “publish” their work on the web isn’t a sort of giant ponzi scheme. The folks who get in early with these technologies have an audience that isn’t yet saturated.

I definitely agree with Fred on this. Last year, I sat through two “blogs for teachers” sessions at two different conference, and both left me cringing. The first was a major success story of a teacher and a classroom that did a fully public blog, and then got life-changing feedback and involvement from the very author of the book they were discussing, etc. I thought, “Yeah, this will work for every classroom in the country.” The second session was how to use the Blogger website to enable all of your students to create their own blogs and blog like crazy everyweek. Yeah, you might want to password-protect them, I guess.

Edline Film and Video ExampelMy thinking has been twisted a bit by our current implementation of Edline. We have 100% of US faculty and students using the system now, and in about a week we send out hundreds of account activation codes to US parents. Our primary use of the system now is for content management (see my Film and Video class as an example), but really the depth of information on just about every US course is pretty amazing. This level of detail is being rolled out to the entire US community.

Faculty use their own content every day. When students produce plays and do music performances, we share that with the community. The same with the student newspaper and arts journal. The same with the sports teams. We don’t need “the whole world” to give students performance experiences in our school community.

At the same time, though, our students have received national recogniton for their science projects at the Intel Science Talent Search. The same occurs with arts students in local competitions. There’s a desire for our student newspaper and even student video work to compete.

So, I agree with Fred about “flash in the pan” examples, but I also see years of evidence of student content being highly regarded by the community and outside evaluators. Technology can play a role in making it easier for the community to have access to content that students would like to share, and there have been solid benefits from this occuring.

So, no magic bullets and super simple miracles for all. As I work on unified systems for the school, though, there are the types of contents connections I’d like to see grow, building on past successes. The work students do here isn’t for the ages, and we shouldn’t aim for that, but it great to hear from alumni how much they remember their projects here and how they felt those achievements played a role in their individual futures.

Fred, thanks for the comment!

Schools and Content Production

I’ve been struggling with an idea, but I don’t have it complete yet.

First, it appears that schools are moving toward services instead of hardware in the technology realm. Fewer school-owned and provided computers, but more high quality subscription databases and resources.

Second, it appears that online searches are opening up a much broader spectrum of information, ideas and conversation than every before, and this makes the student’s learning experiences more interlinked with broader national and international perspectives.

Third, personal technology makes it easier for schools, teachers and students to become content producers. We can self-publish ideas (like I do on this blog), and we can share the work of our peers and students (as we will soon with our US student newspaper). Teachers increasingly create their own course packets and information links, and students’ work can be shared and appreciated by a growing audience.

In this productive state of affairs, do schools become like publishing houses and “peer accredit” work by admins, teachers and students? The valuing of individual work and ideas is pretty critical in a world of so many conversations. I’ve always thought of our Upper School as a type of research institution, but now I’m wondering if even more layers of that analogy are coming on line.

In that vein, there are many questions, such as the role of previous years of work by students. Is it hidden, or made full use of by current and future students? If we do, what level of copyright permission is required? Even in my film and video class, I pause and think about how many previous products by students to share and discuss. At the same time, I see my students as independent creators and respect their achievements.

The Compositional Environment

I’m teaching a course this semester called “Film and Video,” and it’s always fun to spend time with students in the classroom. Along with the “grammar of film,” shooting and editing, I also get to share clips from classics and discuss how films work our senses and emotions. I always start with the opening sequences from Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), and then move on to something more moden (Brick, 2006) before sampling some classic Hitchcock and recent Michel Gondry short films.

Last week, my students got to do their first filming, and as usual I had to send them all back out again for multiple retakes. Yesterday they started editing (with iMovie before we use Final Cut Express), and suddenly it was clear why they needed the multiple takes. I really like how the editing software allows them to really slow done and think about their shots and composition, timing and sequence, pacing and continuity.

Anyway, that’s the reason why I use and teach with computers– the compositional environment they create. An extended period of thought and re-thought as multiple revisions are done (with writing, video, spreadsheets and other media and data forms). As we re-think our ideas and the evidence, new discoveries are made. New ways of thinking and doing. Maybe we find ourselves sometimes, as individuals.

I like this better than benchmarks that we’re all supposed to meet at the same time. At the moment, though, I’m supposed to be grading some of their work…


Student Laptops and Classroom Management

I wrote the following in response to a teacher at a school with a brand-new laptop program. They’re all getting started with laptops and the students, but it sounded like the professional development time was pretty slim in terms of preparing the teachers for how to manage the laptops in the classroom.

We’re working on a more formal set of recommendations for our US teachers this year, but so far this is a draft of ten ideas for classroom management in a laptop environment. Many of these ideas were gleaned from the first year of our MS laptop program.

1) Start small, and then grow. Students want to use the laptops, and they aren’t going to “hate them” if their use in the classroom is infrequent at first. Teachers need to feel in the driver’s seat, and the kids need to know that use in the classroom is a privilege and not a right. So, at the very start, the laptops may only be used by a few students at once. If you’re doing several small groups, for example, one student may be the recorder of ideas, and you only have a handful of laptop-using students to monitor instead of everyone. Praise their good use, attack their mis-deeds. Circle the room as much as possible, and any “sudden closing of lids” is a sure sign of guilt. If being used in small groups, a mis-use is grounds for “no longer being the recorder” that day or week.

2) For the first “full class” use of laptops, make sure it’s a focused assignment all kids are doing at once, and that you have time to actively circulate as they do the assignment (such as writing a paragraph about something, or visiting a specific website for information). If you can really circulate and shape the use of the class the first couple of times the laptops are used, you’ll be setting a good future example.

3) Create a culture of good laptop use. This means that good academic uses by individual students should be praised, but mis-uses should be acknowledged and possibly affect everyone’s use. If several people can’t manage to use the laptops correctly on Tuesday, then perhaps non-laptop projects should be done by everyone for a few days. Assign a paper to be done longhand, for example, for everyone if you need to. The point here is that the classroom needs to respect and use the computer as a tool, and not a toy. Taking away the benefits of the tool can be strong motivator for improving the classroom culture.

4) Lids down. When you are talking and you don’t want “half” of the kids attention, make sure that all computer lids are put down. Make everyone wait until all lids are down, and they are to stay down until you say so. I wish our administrators would do this in meetings.

5) Hold off on “note taking with computers.” One of the hardest things for kids to do with a fully wireless environment is to simply take good notes with a laptop. This is a more advanced challenge for students, and as a result you may not even want to try it until you have a good culture of laptop use. Some schools even bought laptops with remove-able wireless cards so that all the kids would yank the cards when they wanted them to take notes, but no one does that anymore. For a kid who’s really causing trouble, you could have his/her wireless card turned off or disabled.

6) Don’t look for technological solutions. Many teachers would like to use NetOP or similar software to see all the kids’ screens during a class. This is kind of a joke, and it’s better just to circulate in the classroom. We do use Apple Remote Desktop 3, and we can “record” a classroom of student screens for a teacher to analyze afterwards, but for real-time management such tools don’t work well. Non-virtual proximity control is a better idea.

7) Don’t forget your established skills. We’ve been amazed by career teachers who seemed to “give up” on management as soon as the kids have computers. All the same tools work for managing kids—the computers simply need to be put and kept in their place and used as you want them used.

8) Consider having GURL Watcher software installed—so you can show kids how the software records logs of all software and websites visited, and their times, as proof of misuse. This is a great deterrent if made obvious to everyone and one or two clear cases are known to everyone.

9) Be realistic. Kids need time to develop maturity with the use of laptops as tools. They’ve had years to use them as toys, and they aren’t going to use them as tools overnight. That’s why we recommend a slow and cumulative approach, in which kids earn the privilege of using the laptops more frequently. If the kids fight this, then they shouldn’t use the laptops for awhile, and then the process is slowly started again.

10) Victory is different for different kids. Some kids will blow you way with innovative uses and processes and results. Other kids will have more basic achievements. Some will really struggle. Try to find ways to celebrate all sorts of different successes. One of my favorites is to share a screenshot of a student’s desktop who has really organized his/her work in a clear, logically manner. I’ve seen students use over a hundred stickies, grouped by color for different projects and needs, to organize notes and work. Pretty brilliant, and I was happy to share it. Such celebrations build the culture, and also enable students more ownership in the process.

Feel free to post a comment to this list if you have additional ideas and recommendations. I’d be happy to make it 20 or 30 tips!

Ownership and Life-Long Learning

I heard this morning about how some businesses now have new training for employees every two months. Their way of doing business, and keeping ahead, is changing so rapidly that their workforce needs to be consistently kept up-to-date.

I’ve also heard it discussed that it may now longer be as important as it once was for a new employee to have “pre-exisiting skill sets” before employment Flexibility and the ability to learn new things may be seen as more important. The employer is assuming more responsibility for “bringing employees up-to-speed” and keeping them there.

At the same time, a colleague this morning talked about the “closed circle of information” in some schools, where students recirculate the same information and same skills, in order to pass the tests and move on. In this light, it seems like education could stay focused on the past, whereas it may be becoming less clear who values these goals. Or how they are essential or relevant.

Somewhere, I think there’s a possible common ground between what schools find important and what students themselves value, starting around the middle school years. At different ages, I wonder if all children don’t have the ability to develop “expert learner” skills in areas of affinity and ability, but it seems rare that these areas are recognized and nurtured at school. In the future, though, I wonder if “expert learner” isn’t the best trait one could own.

The Evolution of Faculty Laptop Programs

I was thinking of sustainability the other day, after reading a post on Kassblog. It crossed my mind that it would be better if a faculty laptop could serve as both a home computer and a school computer. One well-used computer is better than two, right?

The issue, however, is that school-provided laptops can’t really be used for personal media collections, tax software, and side-businesses. Home-owned laptops, however, might be able to serve both roles. About five of our faculty have always bought their own laptops instead of using ones we could provide, because they wanted something more high-end. They seem to do more than fine at our school, and they are good at caring for their own systems with a little help from us.

What if we had a program that would provide an annual grant of around $250 to $300 to faculty who bought and maintained their own laptops, and purchased Office and other basic software they needed for school work? This program would be optional of course, and maybe only a few would choose it each year. In the end, however, they might benefit from having more choice and responsibility, and there’d no longer be the conflict of personal “stuff” on school computers. It would also mean their spouses and kids at home could use the computers more freely, as long as they were maintained and cared for.

I’m early in the stages of this idea– could be a disaster if poor quality machines were bought, and there could be some “hard lessons” when hard drives fill up with personal pictures. Living through these issues might make them stronger and more informed users, however. If Edline becomes more of a content management system for us, it would ease the concerns about the storage of and access to the materials.

Just an idea– a melding of personal and work, unification to one machine, choice and responsibility.

The Application of Time

I was thinking this morning of the Association of Maryland Independent Schools (AIMS) Technology Retreat, and how I’m looking forward to attending again this year. One reason I’m excited is that I took a break from the conference last year (after attending for about six years in a row). Since I haven’t met with the crew for two years, my expectations of their accomplishments are in the stratosphere. :)

I’m also warming to the idea of applying time to our work at OES. It’s been a very busy few years, and we’re scrambling to support so many new programs (laptops, Edline, upgrades to SIS system, move to Oracle Senior Systems, etc.). Maybe taking a year just to strengthen all these programs would be a wise move– although that would mean my goal this year might be “no new goals.”

Things are always going to change, and I’m sure I’ll break my promise to some degree, but the idea of focusing on our programs and not researching new alternatives is refreshing. Time is on our side.

Printing Waste

The following is a copy of the PaperCut software introduction for students and parents that I’ve bene sending out. So far, the response has been positive. In a month or two, we plan to consider a $15 a month limit for student printing, but we’re gathering data first to confirm that’s an appropriate number.

So far, PaperCut has worked exceptionally well on the PCs, but has taken a lot of work on the Macs. For home-brought machines, we have Windows users finalized, and we know what the process will be for Macs.

PaperCut– Raising Awareness about Printing Resources

PaperCutWe’re trying some new software this year called PaperCut that helps everyone (faculty, staff and students) be more aware of their print jobs, where they go, and what resources they use. It’s important to note that PaperCut estimates the costs of the print jobs, but we are not charging any students or families for printing done on campus. It’s just a tool to build awareness.

Over the past three years, we’ve been concerned about printing waste around campus. We’ve found thousands of printed pages that were never picked up from the printers. These included the same print job at multiple printers and “joke” print jobs of hundreds of pages. Just about everyone on campus has had the experience of printing out seventeen pages from a web page when only two pages were wanted. Many of us use the color printers for jobs that would be fine in B&W, not knowing that every color page costs four times as much.

OES cares about the environment and sustainability, so we felt it was time to share more information with all of our users about printing. The PaperCut software lets each individual user know the number of pages and a cost estimate of each print job before it is printed, allowing “accidental” print jobs to be cancelled before sent. PaperCut also shows each user a running total of how much they have printed over time.

Additionally, PaperCut allows all computers to use our print server, which means we can cancel backed-up jobs before repairing a printer (which we couldn’t do with jobs coming from multiple sources). Last year only one US printer could be used by home-brought computers, and now all US printers are useable.

We’ll be talking with students directly about the system, and how to reduce printing waste, accidental print jobs, and unnecessary color printing. To begin, there will be no printing limits, but in the future we may consider a monthly limit (which can easily be increased by request for school projects). This is just an awareness tool– there is no plan to charge students or families for monthly or yearly printing.

Those Sensational Laptops

There’s been some discussion on David Warlick’s blog (and others) about a recently syndicated Wall Street Journal article titled “Saying No to School Laptops.”

The funny thing is, I feel like I’ve read this article ten times before. In many of the laptop programs I researched over the years, local newspapers published similar hand-wringing exposés, where an upset parent vents, but the article ends with a happy parent (for balance). A student misuses a laptop, but another gets benefit. The title and “hook” of the story, of course, is about a tragic program meltdown. Promises not kept. Lives in turmoil. Failing our kids again. Our kids failing us again. Teachers hiding under desks. Chaos, pure and simple, but for others it’s great.

One thing I loved when studying literature, and teaching journalism, was the concept of “story arc.” We’re used to certain structures being fulfilled when we read stories, be they fiction or journalism. To fulfill the arc, sometimes you just have to emphasize some things and leave others out. It’s clear that this story “had to leave out” nearly all the rationale and intent of the laptop programs. Probably too boring– you know, enabling students for the future. Acknowledging the omnipresence of computers in most segments of our society. Like the home, for example. Computers at home mean you don’t need them at school, right?

Despite this, I will admit that there themes in this article that are often on my mind. The first is sustainability. The “big laptop programs” always appear to have their funding under attack. If I were involved with the programs, it would be difficult to maintain enthusiasm with a budget question mark over everything that is achieved. Warnings in the article about poor estimates of associated program costs are likely true.

The second theme that concerns me is faculty development, and the note that some schools are thinking of “going slower” and maybe just doing faculty laptop programs first. I actually endorse this– one to two years of a faculty laptop program, before a student laptop program, can be an exceptional investment. Faculty preparation and buy-in is essential to 1:1 programs, and I don’t feel it can be done in a few workshops.

Basically, I believe the changes that occur with successful 1:1 programs are fundamental. In fact, the “access” they enable can be transformative in terms of communication, content and process opportunities. Many programs and proponents would disagree with a “go slow” approach, but in most ways I believe it’s well worth the time for a successful long-term program.

Now, back to work…

The Hardest Week

We just finished what I consider the hardest week of the year. In the week before school, we deal with many things:

Faculty returning for reimaged laptops.
Staff returning and needing systems data.
New faculty and staff who need equipment and training.
The first “under load” trials of new network services and systems.
Projects that are near complete, but not quite.
Classrooms that need trouble-shooting after summer work.
All Faculty Training on new software and iniatives.
Activation codes for new services like Edline.
Recalibration of the Parent Email System.
Reports to administrators about what’s going on.
The list goes on…

We have a ton of loose ends to track down next week, and some full revisions of systems, and more training to do, but at least this first week of all faculty and staff being back is done.

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