Tag Archives: Leadership

Students should bring their computers to school

Students have more computing power in their pockets than schools can consistently provide to them. photo from: http://thepreppyprincess.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/iphone-parallels.jpg

  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
Image source: http://blogs.channelinsider.com/cloud_computing/cloud.jpg

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          


photo from: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3659/3518516629_5377ec76ae.jpg    

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


photo from:  http://www.undercurrent.ca/images/surfing.jpg                             

Use your educational technologist to help focus forward.

Hoping that your curves line up.

What do I need to know?

In my family when the males are together, the conversation topic quickly turns to football, Big Ten football, er Ohio State football.  From the great Buckeye State, that is the focus athletics.  Folks support the Reds, Indians, Bengals, Browns and Cavaliers, but the real sport is Ohio State football.  A recent conversation quickly turned to the possibility of adding more teams to the Big Ten and it brought me to the notion what I read in educational technology blogs:  What do students need to know?

How is football related to what students should know?  What do students need to know when they can look up the answers?  Do they need to know the capital of Idaho?  Do they need to know the Constitution when they can look it up on the Internet?  Is there fundamental knowledge that everybody needs, or is the next generation of children the “Lookup Generation?”  They don’t need to know anything except how to use Google or Bing.  (So as we start the next decade, although I never start counting at zero, will it be called the the Lookup Decade or the kids known as Gen Lookup?)

To the contrary, fundamental knowledge is significant and necessary.  Students should learn their state capitals, know the Constitution. 

Back to the football conversation.  How did we know enough to talk about the topic?  Never learned about the Big Ten in school, except for my 7th grade music teacher who taught us the fight songs of the Big Ten.  From what I remember about the Ohio State Band — All Brass, All Boys, and All Ohio, although the last two requirements have been changed over the years.   Still no clarinets!

So we learned about this informally, through an interest that was home grown.  How do we cultivate the interest?  With all the money spent on technology in schools and on the myriad of reform efforts, kids still sit in rows and have to raise their hands to participate.  Group work becomes a dudgery of non-participation and conflict between participants.  Outside school, at home, on the playing fields, we work and play in groups.  Yep, it’s drudgery at times; yet in schools rows and and raised hands are the rule.   Yes, certain work and learning are not always pleasant, but we do little to personalize learning, and so everybody is in a row with a raised hand.

Make the learning interesting, problem based and personlized.  Ask real world questions, appropriate for the age level, that allow students to think, develop understandings and factual foundations.  Personalize learning so that students can progress at their own rate.  Does it matter if a student completes third grade in 18 months and fifth grade in 6 months?  Encourage individual achievement and the importance of group work from a young age.  Get the kids out of rows with raised hands!

The football conversation was clarified by references to facts found on a smartphone or two.  Conversations during work references the web through a search or two, but that is not the foundation of the conversation.  Searching for information clarifies and sharpens the focus, not forms the foundation.