EdTech Nexus

nex·us

[nek-suhs]

–noun, plural nex·us·es, nex·us.

1.a means of connection; tie; link.

2.a connected series or group.

3.the core or center, as of a matter or situation.

Rethinking my blog’s purpose as we wrap up another school year and move into the summer.  When looking for a descriptor for the kinds of “connections” technology brings to those involved in the education process, I came across the word nexus.  Nexus is one of those weird words you think you know the meaning of but then when you take a minute to look it up, you find little pearls of wisdom deep within…thank you dictionary.com.

I particularly like the first one listed above…1.a means of connection…when you get right down to the heart and soul of Education Technology it is in-fact “a means of connection”…connecting the student to the teacher…connecting the student to educational content…connecting the classroom to the world…need I continue?  I think you get the idea.

I have big plans for my blog this summer, if nothing more than writing and sharing on a more regular basis.  I also have a couple projects in the works that I sincerely hope will have a positive impact on eduction technology and pedagogy at large…

so stay tuned…

A Screen Fast? Seriously?? Is that even a thing???

A fairly prominent member of the parent community at my former school shared this article that suggests much of the medical community is mistakenly diagnosing children with conditions like ADHD and even more serious conditions like bipolar disorder.  The article further proposes that the real root cause of the child’s symptoms is simply too much time in front of a screen…suggesting even further that a “screen fast” (days at a time away from any sort of technology with a screen) will markedly improve their children’s attitude, among other symptoms.  Go ahead, read the article, I’ll wait.

I will not attempt to support nor refute the claims made in this article because I am not a child psychologist as is the author.  However, as a private school administrator at a highly technological educational institution who, for the last thirteen years, has been surrounded, day in and day out, by young students using technology, I have a few points I would like to make about the article.

Untitled presentation

First, my biggest fear is that parents of perfectly normal, healthy young people will read this article, grab it with both hands and run with it, thereby depriving their children of the most educationally transformative tools to find their way into a classroom…EVER!  

All parents must do what I am doing here, and resist the temptation to take this limited knowledge and play psychologist with their own children and implement this “fast” just because a doctor has written an article.  If parents are truly concerned about their children, take them to their own doctor and let the doctor make the appropriate diagnosis!

Next, let’s say for a moment that screens are leading to the issue.  I would propose that equipping students to deal appropriately with technology is a much more worthy endeavor than completely stripping them of it.  This may come as a surprise to some, including the author of the article, but technology is not going away.  Smartphones are here to stay.  The internet will live on.  Our job as both parents and educators is to adequately equip students to succeed in their future, not ours.  And their future will include technology.  And that technology WILL irritate them from time to time.  However, walking away from it for days will simply not be an option for almost every student in school today.  I have no statistics on hand to support this claim, but I feel certain that the percentage of the first world population that does not interact with technology on a daily basis is far less than one-half of one percent…and that number is approaching zero more and more every day.

Now lest you misquote me, let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with walking away from technology for a while.  All things in moderation, right?  But I see no valid reason to force a child to live in a world for a week that looks nothing like what their future will be.  It’s an unreasonable and even drastic approach.  Teach your children how to deal with life.  Prepare them and equip them, but don’t handicap them.  

If you’re a parent who can’t engage with your child because of a screen, I might suggest you have more of a parenting issue as opposed to a technology issue.

If you’re a teacher who can’t hold your student’s attention in class, I submit you have more of a classroom management issue than you do a technology issue.

I recently had a lunch meeting with a head of school who told me he was headed back to campus to deal with an issue of several students using their phones to cheat on tests by Googling the answers.  I suggested he had more of a teacher problem than he did a student problem or a technology problem.  I explained if his teachers were asking questions that Google knew the answer to, they weren’t asking the right kinds of questions.  Instead of asking, “When did the Civil War begin?”, ask something like “Explain the Northern and the Southern common man’s reason for engaging in the Civil War”.  Google might be able to help answer that question but they will not be able to hide their device and type that long question in!  Harder to grade you say??  Sure, but I suggest far more meaningful in the end.

I have no doubt these symptoms are real and need to be addressed…but a “fast” is a band-aid looking for a cut.  Device banishment as a consequence of poor choices offers no real solution to help a child make better choices.  In a classroom, if a student is reading ahead in his/her textbook, and as a result is off task, the teacher would never suggest taking away his textbook as a consequence, right?  How about a “back-in-the-day” example of a student passing notes.  Would the teacher take away that students pencil for the rest of the class…or the week?  No.  Children need to be equipped and empowered to succeed in their future.  I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I can guarantee you, there will be screens.

“I need more skin in the game”…thrille

“I need more skin in the game”…thrilled to participate in Fish Tank, the Academy’s Grade 3 version of Shark Tank! http://ow.ly/i/gSSG4

From The Philadelphia Computing Section to ENIAC

In my best Martina McBride vocal, “This one’s for the girls”…but I think everyone will find this as interesting as I did.

There is so much focus in education today on technology – its role in the classroom and moreover in the broader education experience for students of all ages.  Twitter is teeming daily with educators posting on the latest technology tool they are implementing or about the latest web resource they’ve discovered for their students.

The reality is that the way schools educate students today is vastly different than the methodology of even 20 years ago.  Computers are no fad, they are not disappearing…quite the contrary, they are multiplying at an exponential rate.  While pioneering and innovative schools across the country, like Fort Worth Academy, led the way through the creation of 1:1 computer initiatives some 7 to 10 years ago, we never envisioned the environment we have today which, as opposed to 1:1, is more like 2:1 or 3:1.  Students today come to class with their school issued laptop and a smartphone and often a tablet as well!

Understanding how to use these devices is clearly of critical importance.  However, there is another aspect of technology in schools that has largely been ignored.  Until quite recently, there was virtually no focus on computer programming, or coding as it is more commonly referred to today, even in the most tech savvy schools.

I have a saying, a personal motto of sorts, if you will, that I often share with, well with anyone who will listen.  It is this…”Just because you know how to work a computer doesn’t mean you know how a computer works.”  The genesis of this saying goes way back in my career, doing tech support work on the side for family members due to my interest in computers from an early age.  I often encountered one family member (who shall remain nameless) who referred to the use of a particular piece of software on her computer as “programming”.  She was convinced she knew about computer programming because she could use various software applications on her computer to get work done.  I spent years attempting to teach her the difference between running a program and writing a program.  To this day, I’m not sure she ever got it.  She has since retired and I no longer feel compelled to point out the difference, I just continue to support her software usage, like a good son-in-law…oops!

Today’s prolific omnipresence impact of technology and the whole, “there’s an app” for that mentality has led to an even more broad chasm between the concept of using a computer versus programming a computer.  In-fact, I submit that there are many people, adults and students alike, who have no idea that “app” is short for “application” and that an “application” is really a “computer program” and further, without computer programs, none of the devices they carry around every day would do anything.  As a society, we marvel at the latest release of every piece of computing hardware (call it what you will, phone, tablet, watch, GPS, camera…at its core, it’s computing hardware), all-the-while seemingly ignoring the impact of the software development that has and must occur in tandem to allow the hardware to reach its fullest potential.

Thankfully there are efforts underway to change the prevailing computing winds.  Educational initiatives like www.code.org are making great strides in introducing the younger generation to computer programing by putting celebrity faces out front touting the importance of coding and then providing a vast array of resources to teach basic concepts and hopefully sparking an interest.  There are also a few highly respected educators like Gary Stager, www.stager.org @garystager, attempting to redirect the tidal flow of technology in the schools.  To quote Dr Stager from a recent article of his, “Outside the Skinner Box – Can Education Technology Make a Course Correction?” he says:

Wordles, note taking, looking stuff up, word-processing essays, and making PowerPoint presentations on topics students don’t care about for audiences they’ll never encounter represent the state-of-the-art in far too many classrooms. We can do better.

Indeed we can.

But how you ask?

By doing what good educators everywhere do on a daily basis…creating a learning environment that fuels student interest and ignites engagement.  To quote William Butler Yeats:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and now STEAM (where the A represents Arts) has become a major educational initiative in the last few years as well.  Computer Science (or programming or coding) encompasses every facet of STEM, enhances STEM and, dare I say it, is the foundation for advancement of STEM concepts by virtue of doing what computers do best, handling the mundane, rote procedures allowing the human to focus upon higher order cognition and problem solving!

Here is where Martina begins to sing the chorus…

While STEM programs do often spur student engagement, they do often tend to miss the mark when it comes to igniting that interest and engagement in young women.  I too have seen a bit of a waning of interest in the sciences among young ladies here at The Academy over the years.  So when I come across something I think might help engage, I like to share!

Enter The Philadelphia Computing Section.  What is that you may ask.  I did.  And then I tested the waters with the question, “Who here has heard of ‘The Philadelphia Computing Section’?” asked of our Technology Committee made up of three female members (an 8th grade English teacher, an Associate Head of School/5th grade Math teacher and a Library Science/Information Technology Specialist) and two male members (me and my Middle School IT Specialist).  No one had heard of this entity so I knew I was on to something!  And I think this would go a long way in the efforts to keep young women interested in the sciences and computing.

If you are also one who has not heard of The Philadelphia Computing Section, I can almost guarantee the image you have in your head right now could not be more wrong.  You see, when The Philadelphia Computing Section was created, there was no electronic computing hardware in existence.  In 1942, “computers” were in-fact, human.  The Philadelphia Computing Section was an elite group of women mathematicians who were quietly recruited from universities and even some high schools by the United States government for a top secret program involving complex math equations and the creation of artillery trajectory tables for use by our troops engaged in World War II battles in Europe.

How incredibly cool is that?  The accuracy of the Allied bombing can be directly attributed to women with a major interest AND a major talent in math…MATH!!!

And if that weren’t enough to make the point that women have a place in STEM related fields, the story doesn’t end there.  As cool as that is, let me give you the Paul Harvey…(that would be “The Rest of the Story” for those of you young folks who don’t know who Paul Harvey was–Google it).

Even though you likely had not heard of The Philadelphia Computing Section, I’ll venture you have heard of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the world’s first REAL computer.  It was a product of  University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering.  And just like computers today, ENIAC required programs, and therefore programmers, to make it work.

Do you know what ENIAC’s initial computing job was?

Artillery Trajectory Tables.  Sound familiar?

So who do you think the machine’s designers tapped to do the programming?  Yep!  Six women from The Philadelphia Computing Section were selected to program ENIAC because of their interest and their mathematical skill!  Women played a HUGE role in the birth and advancement of the field of computer science!  While you’re Googling Paul Harvey, Google US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, another female pioneer of computer science and often credited with coining the programming term “bug” (it’s a great story!)

So in summary, GIRL POWER!!  I realize this is a bit askew coming from a guy but it is true.  In my view, society at-large often underestimates the power of a young woman’s brain.  Why?  It has the same parts as a young man’s brain…the same wiring…the same rapid-fire synapses occurring.  The bottom line here is that a girl can be a girl and be intelligent, regardless of what perceived societal norms otherwise dictate.  To parents, educators and mentors, do not bow to these norms but rather expect intellectual greatness from the young women in your lives and prepare to be amazed!

To learn more about the amazing women of The Philadelphia Computing Section and their impact on society as we know it today, check out LeAnn Erickson’s website www.topsecretrosies.com…she is also working on educational resources to help spread the word and keep young women interested in STEM related fields of study.

Some additional resources to learn more:

https://www.facebook.com/topsecretrosies

http://www.academia.edu/10105264/The_Secret_Women_of_the_Philadelphia_Computing_Section

http://www.siam.org/news/news.php?id=1886

http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/02/08/women.rosies.math/

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/eniac.html

The Five Stages of Disruption Denial – How schools react to Education Technology

Blogger Grant McCracken wrote a great post for Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network call “The Five Stages of Disruption Denial”..read it here.  In the post, the author focuses on his struggles with the adoption of the social media platform Twitter, describing the denial process that sometimes exists prior to change or the adoption of anything new.

Disruption or Disruptive Technologies comes in many forms and can be found in many places.  It is a concept that is very oxymoronic, meaning it sounds like a bad thing but it is in-fact, a good thing.  In an interestingly blog-post related twist, the term disruptive technologies was coined by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.  In his book, Christensen breaks technology innovation down into two categories, sustaining and disruptive.  He defines sustaining technology as that which provides incremental improvements to existing technology.

Disruptive Technology, however, is a completely new approach to a task or objective.  Because of its “newness”, it may still have bugs, may not be a completely fleshed out, practical application and will likely have limited appeal for a while.  Twitter is a perfect example of Disruptive Technology.  I remember exactly when and why I created my Twitter account…I had just returned from the Laptop Institute (now known as the Lausanne Learning Institute) in Memphis Tennessee where I was surrounded by hundreds of fellow educators and Twitter was truly the latest thing for everyone there…everyone was buzzing about it but few of us knew exactly why.

The Education Industry is fraught with disruptive technologies.  Brought about primarily by the adoption of computers and web-based educational content and tools, all used by creative teachers in both public and private K to 12 educational institutions around the world, the Education Industry is traversing what many are referring to as an education “revolution”.  Whether you view it as a revolution or a revolt probably depends upon where you sit…classroom vs. school board seat.  But I digress…as I often do.

I believe the Five Stages of Disruption Denial also applies to how schools approach the implementation education technology.  Here’s how I think it goes:

Stage 1. Confusion – Schools don’t get “it”.  Regardless, they go buy a bunch of computers, smartboards or iPads.  They still do not even remotely get it, are confused about it…but they have the money so they do it.  And when the teachers ask for Professional Development time to learn about the new tools they hear, “PD, we don’t need no stinking PD!”…or something along that line.

Stage 2. Repudiation – They bought in and still don’t get the new technology so now they downplay its significance…saying things like, “We don’t really need those computers, our students can take notes on a piece of paper just as easy” or “We don’t use computers, we teach the classics” (the last one I heard with my own ears from an administrator when we were taking my oldest son to shop the area high schools several years ago).

Stage 3. Shaming – “You shouldn’t even consider sending your children to a school with a laptop program, it’s just a fad and won’t last long.  Our methods are tried and true.”  And there may even be additional shaming in the form of playing on parents’ fears…implying that putting laptops in the hands of a 10 year old is just asking for trouble…

Stage 4. Acceptance – Kudos to all those who find themselves at Stage 4!  Here is where a few schools are…finally embracing the technology-fueled classrooms and curriculum as evidenced by new things like virtual class offerings, flipped classrooms and with the implementation of tools like Moodle and Edmodo.  I am personally thrilled to see area schools at this point.  I can now communicate and collaborate with these schools rather than just standing over here yelling, “Come on in, the water is fine!”

Stage 5. Forgetting – No doubt many of today’s technology naysayers will be here soon enough.  Finally arriving where they should have been years ago, they will not only imply they’ve always known of the relevance of education technology but they will also forget that many schools like Fort Worth Academy were seven to ten years ahead and pushing them in all the right direction.

Fort Worth Academy is in its sixth year of a formal education technology implementation centered around a standardized 1:1 laptop program.  Honored with the Spotlight Award from the Lausanne Learning Institute a few years ago, FWA has become a poster child, if you will, of successful education technology programs.  Schools from as far away as Canada have visited our campus to see our programs in action and to seek guidance in the development and roll-out of their own edtech initiatives.  We’ve done several things right and I’ll be the first to admit, we’ve done several things wrong.  But the most important take-away here is that we’ve done several things.  Pioneers, as the boss described our school as we prepared to embark upon this journey so many years ago, are not always in a comfortable position.  It was indeed difficult but denial was never an option.

Password Pandemic

How frustrated have you become by the ever-increasing number of passwords that must be first created and then remembered these days?  It seems like every time you want to do something on the web, you are required to create an account which includes the cumbersome task of creating and remembering yet another password.

So how do you manage all those passwords today?  Do you:

  1. Write them down?X – Sincerely a bad idea…pieces of paper get lost or read by someone else, flash drives get lost, hard drives crash…
  2. Use the same one over and over and over again?X – Another bad idea, if someone cracks your Netflix password, you can bet they’ll try other accounts and the next thing you know, they can also log into your bank account!!!
  3. Save them in that little notepad thingy on your iPhone?Xish – I’m not aware of a good way to hack that but if you ever lose your phone, and who hasn’t done that at least once, then your world becomes someone else’s playground!!!
  4. Practice Elite Speak? – Xish – Points for being geeky, yes, and you can create a very strong password.  But it can be easy to overlook an Elite Speak character when you’re creating a password and then days/weeks later when you’re trying to get back into that website and DO remember the Elite Speak character but DON’T remember you DIDN’T use it when you created the password, you can’t get in…and you’ll likely never figure it out!

In this pervasive plague we call “the Internet”, passwords are an unfortunate symptom with which we must live.  Well digital citizens, I am here today to offer you a treatment for that symptom…I say a treatment rather than a cure because the symptom will never go away, at least not in the foreseeable future, so this is a treatment to help you deal with the symptom, a very important symptom none-the-less and one we must manage closely to protect our digital wellbeing.

Well, here’s my treatment.  I’m going to share with you a password methodology that I read about some years ago and have been employing myself for a couple years now.  I think it has made my digital life far more manageable…and best of all, I never have to write down a password…ever.  Now it will sound a bit complex at first but once you do it a couple times, you will get the hang of it and never have to write down a password ever again.

First, here are a few general rules most websites and operating systems have regarding passwords…strong passwords.

Rule 1.  Must be eight characters in length minimum

Rule 2.  Must contain at least one number

Rule 3.  Must contain at least one capital letter

Rule 4.  Must contain at least one special character – &%$#@!* (and no, I’m not cursing at you!)

So with those in mind, let’s look at my methodology.

Step one:  Come up with a short phrase that you can remember… making it something unique to or about you will help it be more memorable…and make it something with a number in it to help satisfy rule 2 above.

Example:  My front yard has 3 trees

Step two:  Extract the first letter from each word in your phrase…and capitalize one of the letters to help satisfy rule 3 above.

From our example:  mfYh3t

Step three:  Add a special character to the front or back…just one character and always the same character…be careful with this one; there are a few websites out there who do not allow special characters.  So the way I deal with these when I am attempting to log in later is to always try WITH the special character first, if it doesn’t work then I know it is WITHOUT and I’ve only failed one password attempt.

From our example:  mfYh3t@

Step four:  Make the password unique to the website for which you are creating the password.  Do this by incorporating a few characters from the associated URL…take the first three or four characters or the last three or four before the .whatever.  Now a word of advice here…BE CONSISTENT…this is the only area of the methodology that can vary greatly so always use the same part of the URL…ALWAYS!!!  Plus this is another area you can throw in a capital letter to make it stronger and/or comply with rule 3.  But again, BE CONSISTENT!!!  I can’t stress the consistency enough; the methodology will break down here if you are not consistent and your frustrating symptoms will continue.  Ok, I think you get the consistency thing.  So let’s say you’re trying to set up a password for your blog “crotchetyoldguy.wordpress.com” and you agree with yourself to always use the last three characters of the URL.

From our example:  mfYh3t@ess

And BOOM, There it is!!!  You’re unique and uber strong password that you will never have to write down.

mfYh3t@ess

Now let’s say you create a new Gmail account and need yet another password…no problem now that you are equipped with a password pandemic symptom treatment.  What’s the URL for Gmail??  www.gmail.com So your password would be…

mfYh3t@ail

Simple, simple, simple…secure, secure, secure…solace, solace, solace…

Now go forth and multiply the number of your website memberships as you see fit and be happy knowing you have a strong and secure password for whatever situation you may encounter.

B.Y.O.D…Is it G.O.O.D. or B.A.D.???

B.Y.O.D.(Bring Your Own Device) is a technology concept that is sweeping through schools all across the country and the basic premise is this…allowing students to bring any computing device they might already have to school for use in the classroom. Sounds reasonable on the surface, right? Sure. But the way you answer the G.O.O.D./B.A.D. question is likely dependent upon a few factors, foremost of which is undoubtedly the position you hold at your educational institution. My answer? Well, at the risk of alienating my readers before we really get underway here, I’ll reveal how I really feel about B.Y.O.D./L./T.

B.Y.O.D. is what I would call an unfortunate reality…

…a reality being driven by primarily one thing…

…the school budget.

And really, when has letting the budget “drive” ever been a good idea?

So for me, the answer is…B.A.D…

Now don’t turn me off just yet. Let me clarify a few things and then get to my reasoning. First of all, my opinion here is primarily related to a K-12 school environment. I do believe there are other environments that may be more suited to a B.Y.O.D. initiative…more on that later. Secondly and very importantly, I know there are many really great teachers out there doing really great things in the classroom within a B.Y.O.D. environment and I am not about to take that away from them. In-fact, I’ll applaud them until my hands fall off. My problem is with B.Y.O.D. as an administratively mandated technology initiative, not with those wonderful teachers who are making it work for them. My issue is a bit higher up the school’s organizational food chain.

B.Y.O.D. programs exist in schools today because of an administrative/managerial unwillingness to commit to a bona fide, standardized, one-to-one, curricular-integrated computer initiative.

You see, I don’t believe it’s an issue of schools being “able” to support (read ‘pay for’) a cohesive technology program, I believe it’s an issue of schools being “unwilling” to support a program. And really, we all exhibit this kind of behavior in certain aspects of our lives. We all find a way to do the things we really want to do and we rationalize away everything else that we don’t want to do. But I believe if a comprehensive, cohesive, fully curriculum-integrated technology program was a priority for school management, it would happen. I think we still have a generation of leadership in schools/districts who have not yet made educational technology a priority. And it’s these folks who are hiding behind B.Y.O.D.

Why?

Simple…

It’s the easy way out.

They can say “yes, we have a technology program” when in reality they’ve simply changed one policy…a policy of “Don’t you dare use that (insert your prominent mobile device here) in our classrooms” to a policy of “If you have it, bring it”…

This does not a program make! This is simply the low road, taken to quell all those educators clamoring for an authentic educational environment while providing a scapegoat in the event no measurable educational impact occurs.

Shouldn’t Boards and school administrations still be responsible for successful educational outcomes of their students? B.Y.O.D. shifts that responsibility to the IT staff and more importantly to the classroom teacher. Administration says, “B.Y.O.D. is our technology program. Now, IT and classroom teachers, go make it work.” But the challenges the schools will encounter within these two departments are significant and will likely lead to program failure if not led by and fully supported from the top down. Let’s dig into a few of the challenges by department.

The IT department…

There are IT departments who truly get “it” or “IT” in the educational space…and to all of them I give a virtual “high five”! These guys go to work every day with the educational objectives of the students and teachers written on their sleeves and spend their time clearing a path on the Information Super Highway so that resources are available and learning occurs.

But for every one department that gets “IT”, there are two (and this is likely a conservative number) who build roadblocks to prevent any and all educational excursions across “their” networks. I like to refer to these guys as “old school” and their primary objective is to lock down the network at all cost. These guys suffer from a fear of the known…did you catch that twist on that old phrase?? This fear comes from years of dealing with the underbelly of the Internet. And their experience spending years blocking and locking out the dark side has jaded their opinion of the bright side of technology and the Internet and the benefits of all of this in the educational space.

Most of them have worked hard to get where they are and believe there is no way kids can have their level of understanding and knowledge to safely traverse the Internet. Their comfort level with technology stems from years of hands-on experience. What they need to understand is that in the next few years, kindergarten students will arrive at class on the first day of school with years of hands-on experience already! And those students’ level of comfort is also intuitive to a major extent. Just hand a two year old and iPad and be prepared to be amazed. What is a struggle for many of us over the age of 50 is second nature to that two year old.

I also believe these old school guys suffer from a lack of vision…or maybe it’s a lack of peripheral vision. It’s as if they have blinders on that force them into a tunnel vision approach to managing and maintaining the school’s network. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s the IT department’s job to “have” the educational vision but rather to catch and facilitate the vision of the Board and administration. Successful IT shops focus on the peripheral and facilitate the educational vision at large. Running an IT shop is no longer a driver’s seat position. Picture yourself as a mechanic and the teacher as the frustrated car owner who just wants their car to work and they come to you saying, “It’s making a ‘carachetta-carachetta-click-click-bump’ sound, can you fix it?” And your answer, as an IT department, more often than not should be, “Yes”.

To the “old schoolers” I would like to point out a few things that might help the transition into a 21st century educational institution. First, it’s a bit naïve to assume the school’s network is the only network students will encounter on any given day. Even McDonalds’s has free WiFi. Next, students are naturally inquisitive (although some educational institutions often squash this inquisitiveness) which means a locked down network becomes more of a challenge than a deterrent. Students will often spend more time trying to find out what’s on the other side of that road block and less time on their class work…not an optimal outcome unless your school offers a Hacker’s 101 elective. And finally, society has become a bit twisted up from an ethics point of view…but the bottom line, you do not need to embody the moral compass of the students you support and tell them where they should and shouldn’t go and what they should and should not do…that is still their parents’ job. And parents need to own this, if for no other reason than the first point above. Students must learn to make wise choices rather than have all possible wrong choices taken off the table. As my boss wrote some time ago, “Yes, failure is an option.”

On To the Classroom Teachers…

Here is where the rubber meets the proverbial road. And it’s here that the most unforgivable side effect of B.Y.O.D. exists. There aren’t enough professional development sessions on the planet to keep a traditional classroom teacher up to speed on all possible flavors of all possible devices a student might bring in to the classroom. In a traditional middle school class of say 25 students, some 50 to 55 minutes long, if a teacher has to take 5 minutes to help even half the students bring up a website, print a document or update a wiki, that is likely all the learning that will occur in that class period.

The tools, like the IT network discussed above, should support learning, not get in its way. Learning is no longer memorization and regurgitation…it’s about topical understanding through information discrimination and the deployment of critical thinking skills. It’s about using tools to do the mundane and allowing your brain to take the fast lane…to go to a higher order thinking place. Forgive me if I don’t believe a cell phone, iPod or even and iPad can take a student to that level…but, I don’t believe it. In fact, I’m with Russell Kirsch when it comes to the majority of Apple’s products and their heavy-handed tactics that tend to pretty well squelch creativity of any significance by the average individual student.

Oh, don’t know who Mr. Kirsch is or how he feels about Apple products?? Read this cool story…An Unexpected Ass Kicking

I am also a big proponent of Google Docs and Google Drive…and cloud-based tools in general. The collaborative aspects of these tools have great implications for the classroom. Additionally, the hardware independence of cloud apps adds to the simplicity and greatly enhances the classroom functionality and experience if nothing else but by reducing what the teacher needs to know to assist the students’ usage. However, many of these tools are difficult to use within a mobile browser environment…some simply will not work at all outside a traditional laptop browser environment.

If, however, in a B.Y.O.D. environment, a student brings a laptop, that is at least a step in the right direction. Laptops will likely have the same operating system among the various brands which greatly reduces the “D” in B.Y.O.D variables a classroom teacher will encounter in a day. Additionally, a laptop brought into class will also accomplish a primary goal of a true technology plan…that is to create an authentic learning environment utilizing 21st century tools that are critical to a student’s success beyond the classroom. I have an iPhone and an iPad and while I may use them on the periphery of a project, I still use mainstream, PC-based tools to create things for my job…as will students at least in the foreseeable future.

 

So to recap, I am of the opinion B.Y.O.D in a K-12 school environment is B.A.D. as an administratively mandated technology program…for any number of the reasons detailed above. Do I understand why schools choose this option? Yes. Is it right? No. Can it be beneficial to students? If done well, yes. Are there IT departments and classroom teachers making it work in the best interest of their students?  Absolutely!! But seriously fellow administrators, grab your pencils, erasers, computers and spreadsheets, your sense of what is right with respect to creating a relevant, authentic learning environment and lock yourselves in the conference room and don’t come out until you figure out how to do a standardized one-to-one technology program. Oh, and make it one that is centered around a traditional laptop, not an iPad.

I will end with a “however”.

However, I know there are educational environments where B.Y.O.D is more reasonable.

Here are a few:

Colleges and Universities.

Here, student instruction is less individualized and professors take a decidedly “hands-off” approach.  A student of college age:

…will likely be fairly well set in their ways regarding personal computing devices.

…will know what works well for them and what doesn’t.

…will have found their stride with on-line resources, social media and the like.

…will know how best to deploy a variety tools to accomplish their educational goals.

…and will need little input from a teacher/instructor/lecturer/professor on the “D”evices they choose to use.

Additionally, higher education is lagging in the technology integration race…often feeling the pushing up from elementary and high school educational programs. They have been somewhat hasty in their deployment to play catch up so a wide variety of “D”evices may be required even within a single institutional environment.

Flipped Classroom.

Here the bulk of the core interaction with the device occurs at home. That interaction is most often streaming video or audio and those tools have become standards compliant across virtually all devices.  Class time is then devoted to topic issue discussion and is a bit more one-to-one with and between the students. Want to know more about how to flip a classroom?  Go to twitter and search flipped classroom and you’ll find tons of resources.

Virtual Classroom.

Here support for devices is almost completely up to the student. Hardware and software requirements are specified up front by the educational institution and detailed device knowledge is required prior to enrollment. Class interaction is web-based and standards compliant so that most devices can access course content but the creative aspect of assignments and projects is still best achieved using a traditional laptop. For more about virtual schools, check out what schools like The University of Miami’s Global Academy are doing.

 

Want to know more about how we did it at Fort Worth Academy? Let me know, I’m happy to assist any school leadership who are earnestly seeking to create an authentic, technically focused educational environment. Find links to me at www.about.me/darrylloy

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