Friday, April 26, 2013

What does Common Core mean for technology in Texas?

Common Core in the States -
I was lucky enough to attend the 2013 SXSWedu Conference in Austin, Texas in March.  I can't tell you how many times I saw the above map or some version of it all through the conference. It was very clear, since Texas is the big bullseye in the middle of the map, that we are different.  But what does that mean?

I don't want to get into the controversy about Common Core but I do want to address the impact it has for us in Texas, specifically educational technology.

A Little Texas History
If you haven't had the chance to watch the great, great documentary The Revisionaries, it needs to be on your list. The Revisionaries documents the Texas State Board of Education and the process they take in developing and modifying the state curriculum and textbook standards for all public school students in Texas.  The state of Texas, along with California, held great sway in the national textbook industry. The saying went "so goes Texas, so goes the nation."

The documentary tells the story of Don McLeroy, former conservative chair of the Texas SBOE and young Earth creationist, during the revising of the state's science and social studies standards.  The Texas SBOE has been an historically politicized board with great power to influence not only textbook publications in Texas but across the country.  The key moment in the film that relates to understanding how Texas, textbooks, technology and the Common Core has changed the educational landscape since 2010 is at the very beginning when Dr. McLeroy is sitting before a panel of Texas Legislators in April, 2009 and we hear an off-camera voice say, regarding the SBOE's power over textbooks, that there is "legislation pending before this body that would basically relieve the State Board of Education of that duty." A fact that came true when, in 2011, the Texas Legislature shifted authority to order textbooks from the state to individual school districts, thus stripping away much of the power they had in the final say in textbook content that influenced education across the USA.

Because of size, the influence that Texas and California both had over textbook content was tremendous.  Since then, Texas has become one of only a handful of states to adopt the Common Core standards.  California has adopted.  

How does this impact educational technology?
Attending the SXSWedu conference opened my eyes to the fact that educational technology entrepreneurs attending had very little interest in Texas. Most sessions concentrated on developing for the Common Core. Simple economic realities explain why.  Vendors now have a much larger customer base and the Texas SBOE is no longer the gatekeeper to content.

By providing school districts control over the purchase of content and materials through the state's new Instructional Materials Allotment, there is a new avenue of funding for schools to use to ensure that the approved Texas state standards are covered.  Schools must certify that they will purchase only materials that will cover the state of Texas Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (Texas equivalent to Common Core).  Schools may also purchase technology equipment and technology related services with the new IMA funds.  

During the same legislative session where the SBOE's power changed, the IMA was created and the state cut $5.4 billion dollars from education, they also repealed the state's Technology Allotment, a $30 per pupil allotment given to schools to be used for technology.  

The new IMA creates a new environment where content, curriculum, and technology are now competing for many of the same dollars.  

The Two Big Questions
With content curated and adopted by the SBOE or Commissioner of Education, should schools only purchase textbooks, resources and supplementary materials better guaranteed to meet the state standards (TEKS)?


With the vast resources of the Internet, affordable access to mobile devices, and growing resources beyond Texas that involve Common Core, should schools purchase technology and online resources only partially aligned to state standards?

Long Term
Looking further down the road, there is an inevitable further weakening for Texas' role in the textbook and content industry.  It has become a lesser player on the national stage.  This is not an argument which is better, Common Core or the Texas TEKS, but more a matter of where will content come from in the future.  It becomes a battle of the curators of content.  Everyone is a curator now. The textbook industry is dead.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rethinking Teaching - Reshaping Learning

In January, 2013, the New Media Consortium met during its Future of Education Summit to identify the most "wicked problems" facing education today.  The "wicked problems" are "issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise." Through this conversation, the Summit came to the consensus that there are five essential challenges to education:
  1. Rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching
  2. Re-imagine online learning
  3. Allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success
  4. Make innovation part of the learning ethic
  5. Preserve the digital expressions of our culture and knowledge
The challenge that evokes the most passion for me is number one: To rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching.
We think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning. - John Carolus
It is well understood that our educational systems rely on teachers.  Whatever techniques are used in modern culture, nations rely on the teacher to educate children the most. I believe as we move forward in rethinking teaching, transforming the teacher should be our highest priority. 

There is much talk in the world of educational technology that steers conversations to the possibilities of self-directed learning opportunities for students. It originates in the ed tech world because technology is the enabler.  It is truly the essential tool needed for great self-directed learning.  While there is little argument that it has great value when it works, its effective implementation in our current educational system is seriously lacking. With access to a universe full of content, the challenge of today and tomorrow is motivation.

For example, educational technology has relied for decades on the idea that anything digital means better engagement.  As schools move to increase access with one to one and BYOD programs, digital has less meaning for engagement. It is becoming glaringly clear that the digital tool means much less about engagement than does meaningful learning experiences. So, if we are losing the weak argument that learners are better engaged when they have digital tools, then where do we find engagement and ultimately motivation?

I believe it is in the creation of meaningful learning experiences.  And those meaningful learning experiences must be grown in rich, fertile soil. That rich fertile soil must be cultivated and ultimately harvested to bear fruit.

Teachers are essential in the learning process, however, teaching is not as essential.  It is not as essential because students can learn anytime and anywhere they want. But who plants the seeds of curiosity? Who provides the nourishment needed for growth? Who cultivates the learner? Who is the harvester? The teacher. 

But what does a teacher grow?  

Emphasis must move away from what is learned to how it is learned.  Students must become learners.  We must begin to concentrate on the teaching of learning instead of the teaching of content. We would be better served if we taught our students how to be great self-directed learners, not compliant school students.  

We have to begin by purposely reframing the teacher's role away from teaching.  We need to begin by being honest and saying out loud that teaching is no longer as valuable as it was ten years ago.  When we face the reality of learning, not teaching, as the highest priority and truly understand what this means, we can truly move forward with reshaping learning.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of April 8, 2013

This post is kinda tech heavy. I hope you get something out of it anyway.

KnowItAll App - What am I excited about this week? I'm excited about working with our 6th grade teachers to pilot a new app that just came out called KnowItAll that I hope will solve some challenges for our teachers in how to organize learning using iPads with our students. Below is a short video about the app:

I will post any updates and thoughts about the app as we move through the pilot. You can visit their website HERE. The developers have been great to work with and have been very helpful in getting us started.

Meraki Mobile Device Management - We are also piloting Meraki's FREE and HOSTED Mobile Device Management service.  It is proving to be a powerful tool and looks like it can do most of the things we need it to do.  This week we had a webinar with the Meraki folks and they had a great presentation from Lamar Consolidated ISD's Director of Technology Integration Chriss Nilsson about how they are using it on a wide scale.  If you are using or beginning to use many iOS or Android devices in your school I would definitely check it out.

Why Teachers are Trying Out Apple TV in the Classroom - If I were having to equip a new school today with the latest technology I would plan for this:
  • Minimum 65" LCD TV instead of Projector
  • Power and network connections behind TV
  • Apple TV zip tied to the back of the TV
The ideas that Apple TV represents should be taken into serious consideration in any designs of future school facilities.

The Interim Results of the 2013 K12 NMC Horizon Report - I am privileged enough to be a New Media Consortium K12 Ambassador and it is a sincere privilege.  One of the great things that the NMC contributes to education is their Horizon Report.  They produce Horizon Reports for Higher Ed, K12, and Museums.  If you have a chance you can check out the full 2012 K12 Horizon Report HERE.  They have recently released there Interim Findings for their 2013 report and here is the shortened list:
The "Time-to-Adoption Horizon" indicates how long the Advisory Board feels it will be until a significant number of schools are providing or using each of these technologies or approaches broadly.
  • Near-Term Horizon: One Year or Less
  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
  • Cloud Computing
  • Mobile Learning
  • Online Learning
Mid-Term Horizon: Two to Three Years
  • Adaptive Learning and Personal Learning Networks
  • Electronic Publishing
  • Learning Analytics
  • Open Content
Long-Term Horizon: Four to Five Years
  • 3D Printing
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual and Remote Laboratories
  • Wearable Technology

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Unintended Burden of the Texas School Technology Department

One of the key findings from the CoSN (Consortium of School Networking) K-12 IT Leadership Survey 2013 was that the "The 3 biggest challenges facing CTOs are budget and resource limitations, changing the culture of teaching, and breaking down district-wide barriers." 

Why do school technology directors and departments from across the nation feel like one of their biggest challenges is to "change the culture of teaching"?  How did that ever become a responsibility for a school technology department? 

Why? How? 

I can't speak to experiences from different states but I can speak to my experiences here in Texas. In 1988, the Texas State Board of Education developed and adopted the first Long Range Plan for Technology. Since then, school technology departments across Texas have shouldered the visionary burden for Texas schools. This is what I will talk about here and I will save the influence of the "educational industrial complex" and capitalism for another day.

As part of E-Rate and NCLB, school technology departments are required to submit a technology plan to be approved by a state education agency, here it is the Texas Education Agency.  In Texas, no other department has that requirement. This plan must include goals, strategies and objectives for teaching and learning and professional development, in addition to leadership, administration and infrastructure.

Teachers and campuses submit a self-assessment of their progress in achieving the goals and objectives of the state's LRPT with the measurements ranging from Early Tech to Target Tech, with Target Tech where the state would like schools to aspire to become. The areas measured are for Teaching and Learning, Educator Preparation, Leadership and Administration, and Infrastructure.

So...each year, technology departments are required to develop a plan that directly impacts instruction of millions of students across the state of Texas and then have it approved by the Texas Education Agency. On top of that, this plan is often developed in isolation from any district or campus improvement plan, because after all, it IS the technology plan.

So in Texas anyways, the bureaucratic process has misplaced too much responsibility of visionary leadership on the school technology department.  Imagine a corporate IT department being the only department required to submit the business plan for the whole company to be approved by shareholders.

For 20 years, the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology has acted as the vision for innovation in Texas public schools.  During those 20 years, Texas has been a leader in the integration of technology in education and I think we are still.  However, in 2008, a group of school superintendents came together and developed what has become known as the "Visioning" document.  It is actually a document entitled Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas

The "Visioning" document has replaced the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology as the vision for public schools in Texas.  While schools still are working with the LRPT, it is not having as much influence on the vision of instruction as it once did. 

School technology departments are seeing a shift in where the vision is coming from and now, more than ever, school superintendents and curriculum departments are defining what innovative instruction looks like and the tools conversation is changing to support it.  

For now, unfortunately, whenever you speak of changing the "culture" or "21st century skills" it is often still associated with a technology initiative.

For example, in our district we have developed a strategic plan that we call the Future Ready Project.  We have six goals in our plan that deal with teaching and learning, educator preparation, 21st century parents, leadership, digital tools, and evaluation.  Digital tools are only one piece of the overall plan, but the Future Ready Project is still often referred to as a technology initiative.  

On top of all the very rapid changes in technology that seem to happen faster and faster each year, there is a culture change in Texas.  Right now it is bumpy.  There are people that are on board and some that are not.  Many just want to go back to the old ways and many want to move forward.  Some want to pull back on the reigns and some want to give a little kick with the spurs to speed it up.  

What I have learned after being in the Texas educational technology field for over 20 years is that there ain't no backing up and folks, that ain't your choice and it ain't mine.

I'm looking forward to some feedback and some debate on this post.  Please give comments on things I have wrong or may have missed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of April 1, 2013

Google Nose - One of the great April Fools of 2013. 

Really Gets to the Meat of the Matter - Great article, Need a job? Invent it this week by Thomas Friedman about future jobs and our young people.  One of the best parts of the article is what was said in an e-mail conversation between him and the author Tony Wagner:
“Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”
Tony Wagner is the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”.

Kid President - I like him and I think he has a good message. He sure is cute and funny too.

TASA on iTunes U - I know a few people that have contributed content to the Texas Association of School Administrators iTunes U Site.  They are taking each high school core content area and creating "courses" based on current courses.  Each Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill for those courses are addressed with some sort of strategy, lesson or online resource for teachers to use for instruction.  They are NOT courses for students but resources for teachers.  You need the iPad app for this source.  Check it out!

The iPad and 'Flipping' - Reflections of a concerned teacher - I really appreciated this article and his thoughts.  I want my teachers to take some time to reflect like this.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Future Happened

I tickled myself this week when I said in a meeting "Everyone knew the future was going to happen, they just didn't think it would happen to them." I thought it was clever at the time(still do) but it had me thinking quite a bit.

Listen up teachers. When you a hear quote from someone like Nicholas Negroponte asks "Is knowing obsolete?" and Sugata Mitra talks about how it has taken humans only 10,000 years to make it obsolete,  these aren't just off the cuff statements.  There is truth in them.  It may not be 100% true, yet, but it isn't a statement you should ignore.

Online Colleges published the infographic below about a year and a half ago that can really help you understand how knowing is somewhat obsolete or is at the very least changing its form very rapidly. Google is the messy Elmer's glue holding our information together.  It is providing the connections to our entire world, past present and future.  Google is changing the way our brains work.

If I am truly honest with myself I can readily admit that my brain doesn't have to recall as much as it used to, but, what my brain does is reprocesses the answer needed from "do I know it?" to "where is it?". Example: If I was asked to answer the question "What is the capital of Oregon?" the first thing I ask myself is "what do I know about Oregon?" and that leads me to one of my first facts, Portland is the best known city in Oregon. Well, I could stop there, or I could look to confirm my assumption and find myself wrong...Salem is the capital of Oregon, not Portland.  The difference between today and 20 years ago is that I would have needed ready access to reference books(Atlas/Encyclopedia) OR I had it memorized. Today, I whip my iPhone out and ask Siri and she answers me with not just the answer but its population, a city map, local time, current weather, median home price, unemployment rate, total sales tax rate, etc. - Siri's information came from WolframAlpha.

Tell me that doesn't change your classroom.

Try changing the question to "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon?" and see what happens.  This time, instead of immediately responding with the answer, Siri responds with "Would you like me to search the web for "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon"?.  I say yes and Siri politely and efficiently performs a Google search for me.  Here are the first three hits:

1. Portland Oregon Sucks
2. Why isn't Oregon a slam dunk for President Obama?
3. 'The Real World: Portland' isn't about the city... - Oregon Live

Those hits don't sound like they have the answer I am looking for but I can read through it just in case(I might just learn something doing so even if it doesn't have the answer). By the way, the 6th response is NSFS (Not Safe for School): Vagabond Tales: Welcome to Portland, Strip Club Capital USA.

This is a much deeper question.  My search for the answer will lead me to learning much more than the name of the capital.  I will learn Oregon's location on a map, Portland's location on a map, the capital of Oregon is Salem, how far Salem is from Portland, and somewhere in Oregon's history, I will learn why Salem is the capital, and not Portland. This is deep learning.

Now, imagine your classroom asking "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon?" without the digital tools. How does that change the dynamics when the child can't use digital tools to find the deeper answer to the harder question?

Students KNOW where answers are! They KNOW if they can get to the "Google" they can find something!  They KNOW they can do it ANYTIME!  

It is not challenging to give the simple answer.  The simple answer is found in shallow questions.

We have to build questions that Google can't answer and frankly, it isn't all that hard.

Sugata Mitra's SOLE Toolkit is a great and simple way to get started. You don't need a 1:1 laptop program.  

Teachers, you knew the future would happen and it happened to you. So here is the big question: What DID you think the classroom of the future would look like?

Google and Your Memory

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Problem with Content

I think that there may be a misperception out there among the general public that Google has the answer to everything. The paradox seems to be that there still exists a misperception out there by many parents that education doesn't need to change even though we have Google.

Google has become, by far, one of the most valuable resources mankind has ever experienced. It is probably the most often used tool on the Internet and there is some evidence that it is effecting the way our brain works which would undoubtably effect the way we learn.

Herein lies the problem with content. Google is a wilderness.  A jungle of information that is vast and seemingly infinite.  Ask your self this question: When was the last time you did a search on Google and found only one page of results?  

There are vast reaches of information out there in this wild place and we can quickly search for anything we want. Period. Unpackaged. Raw. Potentially healthy or poisonous. Wrong or right. Complete and incomplete.

The Problem With Content.
In our education system, prior to the last decade, we relied on carefully curated content housed in scrolls, books, libraries, or schools.  There was a great need to memorize correct content because we didn't always have access to those things. If we needed that information we had it, in our brain, as long as we were a good learner and followed the process of learning and memorizing.

Google has taken away the book covers, the walls, the shelves.

Schools are now faced with the new dilemma of ensuring our children are consuming quality content, not just any content.  They are faced with the need for carefully curated content that is accurate and what is needed when the learner needs it. There is a mad dash by the educational industrial complex to organize content into the one place.

By providing the access to quality content, schools feel safer in ensuring their students have access to the correct material, at least until they leave school and use whatever they think gets them the best result.

To me, this is one of the many unique challenges facing education today - the push and pull between un-curated and curated content.  Are we developing the skills needed for our graduates to know how to be good curators?
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