Social Media In Schools

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 The fourth component of emerging issues in schools is social media.  It’s easy for technology directors to block all social media.  Yet, it is more difficult to apply social media in the classroom. That means that students can blog, work on wikis, and use social media web sites for educational purposes.  There’s every reason to use social media for learning, school communication, and community service. 

Blogs can be used for writing assignments and journals.  Clearly students must learn what’s appropriate for the public Internet, but it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

Microblogging can be used for quick communication among class members.  Teachers can use such application sites to solicit feedback and questions during class, yet we’ve banned personal technologies in schools.  It all goes together. 

Students can use wikis for community course study guides and book studies, but it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

Photo sharing sites allow students to collect or share their own photos for a myriad of ideas, such as biology, astronomy, history, architecture,  and art, to name just a few.  Yet, it’s still easier to block it than to teach it. 

 Educational technologists need to help schools find the safe path through rather than restricting it.  It is our role to help teachers and students, rather than creating barriers to learning. 

Like any other technology application, the use of social media in schools begins with a solid curriculum plan that has clear objectives and modes of evaluation.  This with a test implementation, followed by formative evaluation that leads to full implementation is a good first step.  Distributed implementation across the school’s curriculum makes social media an important cog in learning and leading.

Providing Bandwidth

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In the previous two postings, I described trends that are occurring in education that schools should consider:  cloud computing and personal technologies.

When a school district decides to move its operations into the cloud and encourage students to take their personal computers to school, the district needs to open the flood gates for more bandwidth.  Students will need more and more access to the resources placed on the Internet.  Additional personal technologies will choke existing networks.

As this shift occurs, schools will become bandwidth providers, which means stronger network gear, more wireless access points, more wired ports, and a larger Internet connection.  Schools will refocus their financial and human resources toward bandwidth and away from buying, installing, supporting, and replacing local hardware toward network bandwidth.  Alternatively, 1,000 students with 3G connections on their cell phones have an aggregated bandwidth of 200 megabits per second.  Netbooks and other wi-fi devices need local connections.  Personal devices require more higher capacities on the network.

The bandwidth component is an essential link in refocusing technology implementations in schools after shifting resources to the cloud and opening schools to students’ personal technologies.

Students should bring their computers to school

Students have more computing power in their pockets than schools can consistently provide to them. photo from:

  This is the second posting connected to the future of technology in schools. In the last posting, cloud computing in schools was considered.  This entry considers personal technology in schools         

Students should bring their computers to school and pull their phones from their pockets.  Students have more computer power in their pockets and in their netbooks at home than they routinely get at school.In all good measure, school districts and states cannot sustain one-to-one computer initatives.  Anything in schools that has an implementation timeline more than three years will get curtailed before full implementation because of budget reductions and yet another new program.  The initial excitement of providing students their own computer soon wanes in the reality of implementation, support, professional development, and other organizational issues.           

School transformation can occur when devices are routinely put into students’ hands.  They own more computing power than any school district can sustain.  Textbooks and teachers continue to be the most important curriculum materials in schools.  The school library is now very transparent with online circulation system and online resources, yet students continue to visit computer labs or have computer carts rolled into their classrooms.  With the technology available to kids, why do schools still look like this?        

Kids are forced to hide their phones and access is restricted to networks for any personally owned computers.  With the shrinkage of school budgets, schools should turn to students’ personal technologies (phones, netbooks, and notebooks).  Technology departments will never be able to keep up with the stated computer replacement cycles.  Open the wireless networks, provide power charging stations or battery exchange stations, and change the punitive anti-technology board policies.         

With more features and functions in personal technologies, students should be able to use their phones as calculators or as their assignment notebooks, but because these features are in a phone, the technology is banned.  Students have their phones; they are using them, regardless of how much the adults attempt to extinguish the personal technologies.  Prohibition has never worked. (No, I am not promoting drug use or alcohol abuse for teens.)  One thousand students with their internet-connected phones have the total storage capacity of 16 terabytes of data and a combined bandwidth of 200 megabits per second.  What school can afford that storage or bandwidth?         

Technology departments should begin to work with teachers who are ready for students to use their personal technologies in schools.  This should be led by the curriculum not the technologists.  Teachers can refine their existing materials to put learning more in students’s hands and their technologies. This is a practical direction for school districts.  Schools can provider loaner system for students who do not have personal technologies.  Book fees and technology fees would cover such loaner systems.  It’s time to move toward student technologies rather than rely on shrinking school budgets that cannot keep pace.        


Moving to the Cloud


Cloud Computing
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Schools should consider moving their networked resources to the “cloud.”  In cloud computing networked software programs and stores of data files, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and the like, exist in a data center or multiple data centers outside the organization.  The district’s financial system may reside in one data center, student information system in a second, email in a third, and file storage in a fourth.  The most important component of this idea is that the end customer does not know the difference.  The data centers are better equipped than schools to manage equipment, back it up, and prevent fires.  Yes, the unknown and unspoken issue among school CTOs is that school district data centers are high risk operations because of their lack of redundancies, under capacity cooling, and stretched electrical capacities.  Simply stated, school district data centers are fire hazards.

Further schools cannot keep up with the upgrade paths required of newer technologies, especially in an era of reduced budgets.  School districts are pulling back rather than focusing forward.  The paths are unsustainable to meet recommended upgrade cycles, and impossible for those on shoe-string budgets.  New servers and new operating systems push limited human resources beyond their capacities.

Further school districts’ technology staffs will be concerned about jobs.  New servers and new software require new learning by the technical staffs to meet the upgrade cycles.  Formal training is expensive.  It’s difficult for staff to learn new systems while they are implementing them.

Further technical staff will be need to maintain the data in the systems, to create reports, and serve as the link to the data center for various purposes.

So schools should move their operations to the cloud and let the data center providers worry about the upgrade paths.  The technology staff can be put to higher value operations, such as assisting trainers and directly assisting teachers to make technology work in schools.

Such a move will require a policy creation and a sense of confidence in the move.  Data centers are likely more “secure” than local school data centers.  Afterall what’s there to steal from a school data center?  Schools do not have nuclear secrets and what would the headline read, “Data Center Hacked, School’s Powerpoints Revealed” or “Data Center Hacked, Exams Posted Online?”  Who would want the files schools have on their servers?  Schools are low-yield hacks.

Moving to the cloud is more an emotional consideration than a technical, budgetary, or staffing initiative.  The leaders of the school district need confidence and assurance that the data and operations are better in the data centers than in the school district’s data center.   As a strategic leader, the CTO can address issues that executive administration and the board of education have.  Additionally, the CTO can develop a plan to put bring the technical staff into a higher yielding support system rather than chasing upgrades of hardware and software.

Focusing Forward

When funding shrinks in a school district, one of the first items on the list is the purchase or replacement of hardware and software. This action continues to support my hypothesis that when schools consider “technology as a tool” that they see technology as a liability rather than an asset to help them focus forward. I am not writing that technology and its associated activities should be exempt from budget reductions.  When the budget crunch occurs, the district is sent reeling backwards considering program reductions, larger class sizes, and personnel reductions.

When technology is viewed as a systematic process of reaching goals, then a district in budget crisis can focus forward, rather than seeking disaster prevention.  There is that famous saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  This takes in the focus forward mentality of educational technologies.  Where many see restrictions, reductions, and disasters, we see opportunities to continue to improve, sharpen our skills, and help our districts continue to meet their goals, yet in different and new ways.  After a short period of shock, educational technologists are ready to roll up our sleeves and find or invent new ways of communication, teacher productivity, and ingenious ways to support teaching and learning.

This compilation of thoughts is based on Neil Armstrong’s analysis that the Apollo moon mission occurred because several important curves lined up at the right time.  One of those curves is leadership.  In a course changing crisis, such as large funding reductions, leadership from executive administration and boards of directors should be to focus forward, not retreat.  How can we sharpen our processes and products that make our districts better?  How can we leverage emerging technologies, cloud technologies, and the power of networks — personal, professional, and electronic — to strengthen progress toward goal success?

Additionally, in a recent posting, I wrote that the district’s educational technologist can be a strategic leader, not a technician.  This individual knows the inner workings of departmental processes and how they interface across the school district.  Strategic leadership from the technologist can help refine processes, identify redundancies, and help with economies.  When district leadership adds the strengths of the educational technologist to its austerity program, the district can focus forward to help teachers teach and students learn.

To visualize metaphors for what retreat and restraint looks like compared to focusing forward, taking calculated actions in the face of adversity, the following images show this.

Here’s what a district looks like that is reeling and moving backwards; holding hands, watching the action          


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Here’s what a district looks like that is focusing forward; Part of the action.


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Use your educational technologist to help focus forward.

Hoping that your curves line up.

More Online Promising Practices

More online promising practices. In a recent posting, I outlined five promising practices for online programs.  Here are more:

  1. Teacher Communication:   Teacher communication with students must be regular and purposeful.  This can occur through email, phone calls or virtual classroom software.  This is to provide consistent, meaningful feedback to students.  It could be to offer encouragement to students to get on track, to schedule a meeting for remediation, or to substantiate a student’s good work.
  2. Oral Examinations:  At significant course milestones or as part of remediation cycles, students should be explaining their learning to their teachers.  In math, students can work through a problem or two in virtual classroom software.  For other classes, students can present their projects or teachers can ask questions that students answer to demonstrate their understanding and application of the course content.
  3. Problem of the week:  Accelerated students enjoy challenge problems and group problems.  This focus question or problem allows students to deepen their understanding of the topic.
  4. NCAA Approval:  This is important so that prospective Division I athletes can complete the courses.  NCAA has a course approval for core high school courses.  If a course is designed with a school’s traditional content structure and assessments, the online version can get approved easily.  Once approved the courses will appear under the school’s approved courses on the NCAA web site.

Many promising practices exist for online learning programs.  These practices ensure rigor and course quality as well as assure your community that students participating in them learn at least at a level consistent with traditional classes.

Promising Practices in Online (Remote) Learning

Online (remote) learning has several promising practices that schools can use to assure that students meet the same quality standards of traditional classes.  Below are five promising practices for adolescent learners.

  1. Quality (Rigor) — This means how well students understand what they are learning.  It is the depth of learning.  Rigor does not necessarily mean difficult or more work.  Sometimes my colleagues think that rigor means that they can academically flog students with extra work.  “Let’s give them 30 math problems,” rather than the five or six that will help students understand the content they need to know.  One way to ensure rigor and measure it is with the same unit assessments and end of course assessment that are used in the traditional course.
  2. Proctored examinations — A second way to assure course quality is with proctored exams.  Faculty members or other employees proctor the important assessments.  This may require the school to have a testing center or other place where students attend for help sessions.  The online program then assures that the student taking the course is the student taking the exam.  This is a quality check.
  3. Live Sessions — Using software like Wimba or Elluminate allows the instructor and the students to connect for live sessions for teachers to present and students to interact.  These sessions can be recorded for later viewing by students who could not connect live.  Additionally, a student can review the session again, at their own pace, stopping the recording, rewinding, and replaying as necessary.  Recently, while proctoring an exam, a student reported that the recording was valuable because in a traditional class, she would have stopped the teacher’s instruction to ask a question.  With a recording, she reported that she could replay the section until she was ready to move on, not interrupting the flow of the class or disrupting other students.
  4. Planned completion dates — Whether the student is working in a teacher-directed course or a self-paced course, the student needs a plan to complete the course, including frequent homework.  In a math course, students need frequent assignments and feedback to learn the mathematics’ spiral.  In my teacher directed-astronomy course, that has weekly requirements during the semester, I use a checklist.  It is a pdf that students can print and track their activity completion during the week.
  5. Student interactions with other students — Our end of course surveys indicate that students miss the regular interaction they have in traditional courses.  Online discussions, live sessions, wiki postings, and blog activities help with student interactivity.

Clearly, online practices for adolescents are different from the adult practices.  In an upcoming posting, I’ll write about more promising practices.

Chasing Results

The district technology leader must understand the business of education, apply technical knowledge, be aware and ready to implement emerging technologies, and be the district-level leader a district needs. The district technology leader can be and should be a significant strategic educational leader rather than just the chief technician.

Technology has the capabilities of changing education and personalizing it for each student. Currently most schools hold down technology’s strong attributes by implementing it for existing practices, like showing overheads or teaching word processing.  They call it a “tool” or speak of integrating technology.

This vocabulary indicates that districts should treat it differently from typical school practices.  Interesting how schools never describe books, curriculum materials, busses or even lunch as a “tools.”  The term integration suggests that hardware and software do not belong in classrooms and that we must commit some special action to make them part of learning.  I suggest that schools that have these mental constructs could be better spending their taxpayers money.

Education technology focuses on results, on student learning, and on accomplishments.  It’s not about the latest gadgets or software.  How can we help students learn, work together, and join the “new normal?”

The digital district, that is on the horizon, provides a myriad of learning opportunities for students through the Internet. Cloud computing removes the technology upgrade cycle from the district’s work basket. The digital district will  focus on a strong infrastructure for students to use their personal devices. This includes wireless and wired access, along with locations for students to charge their batteries. Additionally, digital content is becoming available through open education resources initiatives, from low-cost consortium memberships to that purchased from content providers.

While the anvil of NCLB hangs over all school districts, the long-promoted promises of technology can make a difference in the development of all students.

“Yes, but”

Today Will Richardson spoke to a group of school administrators.  He provided a compelling description of the changes (shift) that’s occurring in society and that schools have been immune.  He demonstrated ways that he is learning by connecting to others.  He asked the questions, “What can I learn from you? How can we learn together?”   Learning networks can be created through Twitter, his recommended first step.  He pleaded that schools should turn from fact-based learning (you can search for it) to problem-based, inquiry learning, although I’ve written in earlier postings that students should leave schools with some facts to have reasonable conversations with others.

Further he presented that we should be teaching information literacy by teaching wikipedia.  While the content has inaccuracies, so do many text-based authoritative sources.

Additionally, he presented some compelling evidence from the business world about managing our online reputations and that we should teach our students the same. 

In the afternoon, he asked the participants to begin to develop a vision and formulate a plan to help bring the shift to their schools.  The discussion centered on things and the adults.  Little was about the schools we want to create for our students and how we want them to learn.

All day the participant conversation included many “Yes, but” statements from the administrative group. 

I have been listening to many conversations at administrative conferences in past decade.  The conversation with school leaders usually devolves into a list of what we want to purchase (laptops for students) rather than how students should learn.  While I was energized by Richardson’s ideas, I was “depressed” about the school leaders’ views of where we need to go.   I am not sure that we, as a school leadership group, will ever get the changes that are occurring in society, where many students have more access and better technology at home than they have at school.  Perhaps school as we know it will become obsolete and one day we’ll turn around and wonder where our students went.

Richardson’s evidence is very similar to Christensen’s formal study of disruptive innovation.  The change will hit fast and schools will not be nimble enough to adjust to the change.

Richardson, Christensen and others continue to warn us of what’s just across the horizon.  If only we could  or would do something about this.  Rather all we hear is “Yes, but.”

It might be too late before these curves line up.

Watching the Sun, Moon and Planets