Razor’s Ed Show #17: The Death Throes of the Interactive White Board

A whiteboard

Has the interactive whiteboard technology run its course? Is it worth the time, money and effort to install? This week on the Razor’s Ed, I look at interactive whiteboard technology and riff on if it is the right time to buy.

Update: Word is the Reflection app is almost ready for PC beta testing. Stay tuned to their website for details

Razor’s Ed Shall Return May 1

Sunrise and an EagleI received a message recently over Facebook asking when there would be more Razor’s Ed podcasts. I was flattered that someone was actually listening to my words. I realize that I have not been attentive to developing my show more. I will remedy that next week with a new show at 6PM Tuesday night.

It is a very difficult concept to pull off, this show. To be critical of educational topics on a weekly basis can change the mind of a person. While I was at the Illinois Computing Educator conference back in late February, I discovered that I was being very critical of even great ideas educators were sharing. I was worried that what I was becoming was the Statler and Waldorf of EdReach. As constructive as I could attempt to be, I could not help but feel that my style was not being well received. I certainly do not reach for low hanging fruits such as top 5 lists, or vamp about iPad apps. I try to raise the level of discourse, much like how I try to do in my own school district, in my college classes and with my colleagues. And to do this show solo without commercial breaks put my adrenaline up well after recording.

But I have developed a plan for the show that I think will make this concept still work. Shows will be 30 minutes. Tops. If I cannot take a topic, break it down and build it back up in 30 minutes, then I will carry over to another show. Hopefully your feedback will help with the guidance and reflection from the previous show. Somehow, someway, I will also broadcast the show. Most likely I will broadcast the show via Google+ hangout to add a level of interactivity.

I have a list of topics in my back pocket (actually stored on my iPhone thanks to Siri). I am rested and ready.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 – Razor’s Ed relaunches.

All Things Are Changing, and We Are Changing With Them

"Heraclitus" by Hendrik ter BrugghenAll things are changing, and we are changing with them.

The phrase in Latin is “Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.” This proverbial saying has also commonly be quoted as “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis”, meaning “The times are changed and we too are changed in them (or during them).” This idea is linked back to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus who is believed to have said:



ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers .”

Or as I remember it being told to me when I went off to college in 1993, “You can never go home,” which I did not understand until I returned home for Thanksgiving break during the first semester my freshman year.

However, in a school setting, not only can you go back into your old classroom, but in many cases that classroom may not have changed very much, or the lessons themselves may not have changed at all. Sad as that may seem, schools could potentially become less and less relevant as the speed of innovation and change in the world increases at exponential rates. It is a grim outlook I have on schools not willing to acknowledge the outside world, but that is certainly what it seems like.

Consider the following – developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget believed that in order for learning and change to take place, there had to be two things to facilitate it. First, there had to be assimilation, which means the learner takes in the information presented and then attempts to fit that information into their own world. Second, there had to be accommodation, which means the learner is actually transformed by the world around them. It is a simple idea that, for the most part, has stood the test of time and further education philosophy built upon. So, if you accept this premise, then for around the past three-thousand years there have been small increments of assimilation and accommodation. Small bits of learning and change that teachers were able to bring into their lessons without too much disruption.

However, those small increments of change have been building exponentially one upon the other. Think of the change as the doubling of a grain of rice. One grain becomes two. Two becomes four. Four becomes eight. Sixteen. Thirty-two. Sixty-four. One-hundred-twenty-eight. So on and so forth. Within thirty-one steps, you are quickly over a billion (I have let the calculation machine (i.e. computer) do the work for us).

As current technology and ideas help build the next generation of technology and ideas, we have reached a point that the change has become not just noticeable in a lifetime, but noticeable in just a few years as fictionalized in this “TED: 2023″ clip. My grandparents were able to marvel at man-powered flight crossing an ocean, and within the next forty-two years they were able to marvel once again as a man walked on the moon. In my generation, we have been able to marvel at a computer in the home, and within the next thirty years a computer in almost every pocket, car, and television, and then discarded like common recyclable trash. In my daughter’s generation, we have marveled at the desktop computer being replaced by ultraportable tablet computers that can be purchased in some drug stores.

But why have schools stayed largely stagnant? Again, going back to Piaget’s assertion about how learning and change occurs, we have a generation of teachers conned into believing they are digital immigrants by Marc Prensky thus incapable of being able to comprehend the modern digital world. I believe it is largely because of this assertion (whether said outright or not) that teachers are still trying to assimilate the current trends in the world and take these square pegs (“Woohoo, I have 25 iPads in my classroom!”) and place them into round holes (“How can my students type a paper and print it out from an iPad?”), but never accommodating the outside world and allowing their classrooms, or even themselves, to be shaped by it.

We live in an increasingly socially connected world and an economy based on information, and we are afraid to teach our students how to operate within this socially connected world. We still believe that we need to prepare students to work in an industrial era building, in a cube, using Microsoft Office and typing 50 words per minute. Our actions and policies as educators, especially with regards to the use of technology, demonstrate an almost complete disregard to the changes of the world. Rather than embrace the changing world as our students are trying to do, we still shut them out of it for several hours in the day (unless they can sneak their cell phones into the school to communicate with each other). Ironically, we are saying we are preparing our students to be creative beings who work outside the box, but instead we are attempting to keep the box closed by sitting on top of it and providing our students only one way to express their learning despite the multiple creative means of expression allowed of them through technology.

So what can be done? How can you and I facilitate accommodation of the outside world instead of trying to assimilate it? My suggestion is to study it and live in it (I am not suggesting becoming a gadget freak, but acknowledging the importance of a socially connected planet). I would suggest looking closely at the beliefs of your school or district and see if they really mesh well with your personal beliefs about education. Do you even know what you believe? Write them down! Also look closely at the decision makers in your school district, especially with technology. Who is making the technology decisions in your district? Is it a group of educators? Is it someone without an education background who gets to decide on a whim to block websites that they deem educationally valueless and time wasters?

These are critical areas to begin to accommodate your school or district to the world around all of us. And enjoy the change because it is only going to get faster.

Make No Little Plans

Burnham 1909 Chicago Plan

Burnham 1909 Chicago Plan

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.

Daniel Burnham, Architect of Chicago (1846-1912)

One of the biggest hurdles working in a rural community is access. With all the tremendous tools and resources a school can provide for a connected world, what are you to do when once a student leaves the building and their access is limited? We focus so much on transforming our learning spaces, melting walls, promoting ideas of asynchronous learning, and yet because of geography or economics, once some of our students leave our walls, their opportunities for connected education are limited.

Consider the following. In a rural community, sometimes the only option of access to the Internet is via a satellite in space. HughesNet is a provider of satellite Internet service. I explored HughesNet as an option and have discussed experiences with their customers. For about $100 a month, a HughesNet customer gets a 2Mb download speeds with a daily cap of 450MB of data (considering that an HD movie on Netflix will run around 2GB, you cannot even watch half of a movie). Compare that you can get 20Mb download speeds from Comcast around Chicago for about $60. And for some in a rural community there is not even a satellite option because of the position of trees or hills. Some may say that you can get a mobile cellular hotspot, but again, there are caps on how much data you can download. In a 1:1 environment with just one student at home, how soon is that allotment of download data used up? What if there are multiple students at home? And in rural communities, there is not the option to go to the library or a Starbucks. Too often many of my colleagues forget access is not ubiquitous.

So what is a progressive, forward thinking and rural school district to do in order to ensure access for their students? Well, what if the school district became the Internet service provider for the community? If you live in a larger metropolis, you may have heard of a WiMAX Internet provider called Clear. WiMAX works similar to cell and WiFi technology.  In northwest Illinois, a fiber network is currently being installed by Northern Illinois University through a grant with the federal government. There is the potential opportunity for a school district to erect a WiMAX network, which at a single tower has a range of about 30 miles, tap into this new fiber network and distribute Internet access to all residents at speeds not thought of in a rural area. WiMAX home installations are relatively easy because the equipment works wirelessly to the tower. There are no copper wires to run in a house to install WiMAX. Simply plug it in and find the strongest signal. Imagine at time of registration, parents receive, with all other materials, a WiMAX modem?

Of course, there are legal considerations. There is funding to work out. There is the big question of how, or if, this service can receive Erate funding and if it needs to be filtered. But I want to at least put the idea out there. If you look at the image above, Daniel Burnham designed a plan for Chicago back in 1909 that is still be used today whenever construction takes place. But not all portions of the Burnham Plan will ever be realized. The same planning can and should be taking place in our schools to stay relevant and not fall into the mentality that the old way of educating students is simply called the way.

Is it absurd for a school district to become an Internet service provider? Well, is it absurd for a school district to provide breakfast and lunch to kids? Is it absurd for a school district to provide social and psychological services? Is it absurd for a school district to provide a laptop to every child?

The question is not is it absurd for a school district to become an Internet service provider. The question more appropriately is why would a school district not want to redefine the learning space to all corners of its territory?

Image source

Are You Hacking Branches, Or Are You Striking Roots?

A photo of author Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, . . .” – Henry David Thoreau

I recently had the immense pleasure of having been recommended and listened to a presentation given by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. The presentation was titled “How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It.” In listening to the presentation, Lessig provided reference to the above quote of author, activist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau from his book Walden. In Lessig’s presentation, he uses this quote to provide a clear example of typical congressional reforms. Normally, we look at ways to keep our representatives honest to our wants and needs. Unfortunately, what is touted as reform efforts fall far short of their intended purpose – that is the hacking at branches. Very simply, Lessig makes the argument that in order to achieve the reforms in Congress, we have to strike at the root – the money flowing from special interest groups.

Whether or not you agree with the case made by Lessig, much of the order of argument Lessig makes can carry over into education as well. Recently, I was asked if the iMessage service could be disabled on student iPads. There was a rash of students sending mass messages over iMessage, and I was asked what to do about it. I reminded those asking the question that the technology acceptable use policy and school district disciplinary policy would guide what actions, if any, needed to take place.

What my colleagues failed to recognize was that even if I was to take an entire step back by attempting to disable the iMessage service on student iPads, this does not strike at the root of the problem. The next time there was any technology related incident, the reaction would be to hack off another limb. As I walk through the hallways, the root is glaring me in the face in that teachers have not appropriately changed their pedagogy to properly account for this new technology.

I still see rigid rows of desks. I see sage on the stage lecture. I see idle time where students are not working in groups on collaborative, creative and constructive projects. That is the root of the problem, right there. If students are properly engaged in a lesson, then the electronic note passing should be a more remote event. What I need to do, and my greatest failure as a leader in my school district, is promote professional development that helps teachers better realize our vision for education. Nowhere is technology even mentioned as a root when you look at what the vision is and what the teachers are doing to achieve that vision. But technology certainly is a branch.

At the upcoming Illinois Computing Educators Conference in the beginning of March, there appears to be many sessions that discuss ways to hack at branches, but only a few to strike at roots. This is not an attack on my colleagues, but a call for my colleagues to up the ante on the focus of the precious time they have been allotted to present their topics. Do not simply peddle a myriad of confusing and sometimes short-lived Web 2.0 applications, or another odd use for an interactive whiteboard. Clearly point out how these tools are addressing the bigger picture. Provide a substantive argument for how you are working to go to the root of the issues plaguing your school or district and how technology is affecting those issues.

There are several spotlight speakers who I have a great deal of respect and who have demonstrated, through conversations I have had with them and through arguments they have made, that they are capable of singling out and striking right at the root of issues in education that technology can address. I truly look forward to the time not in the breakout sessions, but away from the conference rooms where a free flow of ideas will result in some profound strike-at-the-root-a-ha moments. Those are the moments where a face to face social network clearly trumps a virtual personal learning network.

There has been too much hacking made recently on topics in education that truly are branches. Let us focus our time and efforts to engage each other on how we are striking the roots.

The New iBooks Release Means . . .

TextbooksIn 1999, Ruth Jaynes was my first-year teacher mentor. Ruth was tasked with giving me the run down on the inner workings of Sunnybrook School District 171. While we were going over curriculum, we talked about all subjects since I was going to have a self-contained class. The was particular passion when talking with Ruth about science. What was then told to me as we went over curriculum was that Sunnybrook had never adopted a fifth grade science textbook series. I was a bit floored by this statement. It was explained to me that the fifth grade team felt that no science series did anything particularly well to convey the curriculum.

As a result, in my first three years of teaching, science was taught without a textbook. We taught science by actually doing things. We made trips to Indiana Dunes. We built conceptual models of a Mars base. We built toothpick bridges, with a construction budget, that we tried to break by attaching cups of pennies. We did not do science in a book, but found materials that would accentuate our lessons. Kids at all reading levels were still able to get the experience of science that cannot be found in a static textbook.

Ruth and I would joke that she should just write the science book, but keep it simple and to the point and without too much fluff.

Fast forward to the announcement today by Apple about the new iBooks/iBooks Authoring/iTunes U platform. While I was reading/watching this announcement, all I could think was, “Ruth would have had a ball writing her science textbook with this technology. She would have kept it focused. She would have addressed all types of learners with her book. This would have been her culmination of her career.”

So I walked into the office of my superintendent and said, “What if we instead of asking for a syllabus from our teachers, we instead ask the teachers to write their textbook?”

I want to leave that question hanging out there for a reason. I am reminded by a quote by Neil Postman from his 1992 book Technopoly:

For 400 years, school teachers have been part of the knowledge monopoly created by printing, and they are now witnessing the breakup of that monopoly.

What has happened in the last 20 years was the proliferation of big corporation curriculum in control of the knowledge monopoly, not so much teachers, in my opinion (and for full disclosure, I did work for McGraw-Hill as an independent quality assurance analyst for about two years). Schools shelled out big dollars for a copy of a textbook. And if you wanted ancillary materials, you paid extra. If you wanted a digital copy, you typically had to purchase the paper copy as well. And that digital copy was merely an unsearchable PDF of the same paper book.

Today, with the blessing of the big three textbook publishers (names redacted to not further promote them), Apple in one swoop shifted the entire textbook publishing world away from the control of the publishers and at least back towards the teachers (and students as well). I think that blessing and huge price drop came from the big three because they knew Apple was going to release this software anyway. Apple has just made their entire platform of products appealing to educators, even if they had gone ahead without the blessing of the big three publishers.

So, what does this mean, and how does this tie in with my opening story? What this means is that the everyday teacher can once again cut around the fluff and create meaningful content that goes right to the heart of the curriculum trying to be conveyed. The teacher has a delivery model that can be adjusted on the fly. The teacher has a delivery model that can address the needs of all learners. Why not create a book for a student with special needs, for example, written at their reading level? It could be presented in a way that allows concepts to be grasped in a completely different way. And why are the teachers the ones who can use this technology to create content? Students could certainly take ownership of creating meaningful representations of materials to be shared among other people.

To my colleagues who were bemoaning the technical minutia of this announcement, i.e. it requires Lion, it only works on iPads, it’s a closed system, this is the same shift in the right direction we saw when Apple announced the iPhone. Before the iPhone, smartphones were a completely useless mess. You may not remember that when the iPhone launched there was not even an App Store! This Apple proprietary attempt at educational content creation is their attempt to break the stranglehold by the big three on our curriculums (and maybe make a few bucks doing it). It may not be the best way to do it when we look back, but this is certainly a start.

Razor’s Ed Show #16: The Media Focus Is All Wrong . . . Again.

Once again, the national media has made the focus on stuff in the classroom, and NOT on educational pedagogy. This story on NBC Nightly News focuses on The Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, California. The Waldorf School does not include high tech devices in their educational curriculum. That I have no problem. Listen on to hear where the problem absolutely lies in this story.

Show links:

The Waldorf Way: Silicon Valley school eschews technology (video)

Waldorf School of the Peninsula Mission & Vision

Leave me some feedback! 

Contact me with any questions or comments- razorsed@edreach.us

Outro Music Credit: Goin’ Home by Chris Bergson Band

California COULD Be A Leader Again in Higher Education, But . . .

A ruling by the California Supreme Court granted illegal aliens in-state tuition to all public California universities as long as they completed at least three years of high school and graduated in California.

What was given little notice, but made a huge impact in my yearning for more education is that people living out of state who also graduated from a California high school are eligible for in-state tuition.

Hey, I graduated from Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, California in 1993! If I am reading this right, I, too, am eligible for in-state tuition. Unfortunately, I live in Lanark, Illinois. Commuting is not an option despite my relative location to I-80W (it’s a straight shot to the Bay Bridge). And since there is a $19 BILLION budget gap in California according to the Legislative Analysts’ Office, I do not foresee California working out any type of matter transportation system to make my commute any easier any time soon.

How to solve this problem to open education to those of us who graduated from California’s high schools but live abroad and would like to take advantage of the state’s well known University of California (UC – Berkeley and UCLA for example) and California State University (CSU – San Diego State and East Bay for example) schools? I need only look to The University of Phoenix (UOPX). It is a university system that boasts 412,000 undergraduates and 78,000 postgraduates and is ever expanding it’s course offerings almost entirely online. This is the same university that is for-profit and has made enough money to purchase the naming rights to a state of the art football stadium and yet has no football team. UOPX was the top recipient of student financial aid funds for the 2008 fiscal year, receiving nearly $2.48 billion for students enrolled (though those figures have decreased due to tightening of financial aid rules). However, UOPX does not nearly have the prestige of a UC or CSU school (ironically, UOPX was conceived at San Jose State University).

Consider that the UC system has a budget of approximately $19 billion (exactly that of the current deficit), and that figure is reduced from previous years. Students who come from families making less than $70,000 pay no tuition at all according to an interview with Mr. Mark Yudor, President of the University of California. If the fee waiver modified for online education, I envision the public institutions of higher learning in California looking at the world stage and considering that they should be on the forefront of online education. The state of California could once again be a symbol of all that is right with education, instead of a has been. A UC or CSU degree still means something. Consider that minimal capital build-outs would need to take place to educate these students. Data storage and bandwidth are becoming cheaper by the day.

However, the myopic teacher’s union in the state of California (under the guise of the American Federation of Teachers) is trying to ban online courses for fear it will reduce the number of teacher jobs. Rather than look at the broader base of students living outside the Golden State that could participate in these quality courses provided by one of the finest state college systems in the world, this union looks at the then and now. Trouble is, they have every right to feel this way. The mistake made by the UC Regents was not starting with why online courses would be a viable option. In lieu of focusing on the classes, they should have gone for the emotional pull of the golden age of education in this country. A perfect why statement would have been:

California has been a leader in quality public education. We believe that a degree from a California university carries a level of prestige that particularly in this tough economy carries a certain gravitas that cannot be found in a for-profit university. California is the land of opportunity. California is a state where innovation for the world takes place. And with millions of expatriates living outside it’s boarders, California once again has an opportunity to provide quality education in a meaningful way. That is why the University of California System, in partnership with the California State College System, will develop a series of online only degrees to provide an unprecedented education experience for current residents and all California high school graduates no matter where in the world they may live.

The growth potential of such a vision for education, if done properly, will not dilute a UC or CSU degree, nor will it result in less jobs for teachers. It will result in different jobs for different teachers. In the future, All things being equal, if considering two people for a position – one with an online degree from UOPX and one with an online degree from UC Berkeley, I would be inclined to take the UC grad.

Note: While fine institutions, Stanford, USC and Pepperdine are private schools.

Be Ready! Learning Happens Anywhere

The iPad 1:1 in Forreston is moving along nicely. Our bandwidth usage has curtailed a bit. Students and teachers have become more comfortable with the technology in the classroom. And so far there have been two casualties with equipment. One iPad, out of almost 500 handed out to students grade six through twelve, has suffered drop damage due to just too much on the desk (cannot wait for the paperless/textbook-less classroom). The other casualty shows that learning does really happen anywhere.

I received a phone call today from a concerned parent letting me know that their child’s iPad case had gone missing. Thankfully it was just the outer case, and not the inner shell with the iPad attached. However, the parent decided to share how this case has gone missing.

The student in question came home from school and went from the bus to the corn combine to help with the harvest. Corn harvesting involves driving long stretches of fields, cutting down swaths of corn, and can be monotonous. Why not use this time to put the corn combine on cruise control and get some homework completed?

So, while the student was using their iPad in their unusual learning space, the outer case of the iPad fell out the open door of the combine cab. The student did not realize the case was missing until after completing their work, well after the sun had gone down.

Unfortunately for this student, his uncle came early the next morning to bind the leftover stalks in the field. Thus, the iPad case is now located somewhere in a large bundle of corn stalks. And while I am befuddled how the case fell from the cab, I am a little excited just how this student was using their time and technology to redefine their learning space.

So think about this . . . how do you think technology is allowing students to change their learning space? Has your school taken steps to create spaces where students feel comfortable using their portable technology? If the cab of a corn combine is enough for a student to engage in their lesson, where else can learning happen?

iPad 1:1 Early Reflection/Reaction

Probably one of the scariest propositions of the iPad 1:1 Program at Forreston Junior/Senior High School was the idea that we were filtering only gambling and pornography via our Lightspeed filter system. Facebook is available. YouTube is available. iMessage is available. FaceTime is available. We have made our expectations of appropriate behavior clear to students and parents through documentation and meetings. We have almost five hundred students in grades six through twelve who have full access to these tools and websites wherever they have Internet access and whenever they want (minus pornography and gambling).

There has not been a rash of Facebook bullying. There are no reports of kids sending inappropriate images to each other. Students are not attempting to bypass our filter. Inappropriate emails have not been broadcast to all in the fvdistrict221.org domain.

So what is it folks? What scares districts so much to not work with students to truly educate them how to work within a digital, connected and social world? And if one or a few students do betray our trust that they do the right thing in this digital world, do we then punish the entire student population? Or do we do as we should and educate and start being relevant in a digital age?

Razor’s Ed Show #15: Reflections on an iPad 1:1 Rollout

This week is the return of Razor’s Ed after a long hiatus. Focus of this show is the rollout of almost 500 iPads to students in grades six through twelve, and on what has made this rollout a unique and successful experience, in particular the administration, community, teachers and infrastructure. The students are in on the act, too (as they should be).

Continue Reading …

#1 Cop Out: But I’m a Digital Immigrant . . .

I cannot take anymoreIn my last post, Are We Screwing Up The iPad, I made reference to the term “digital native” and “digital immigrant.” It is not that I like those terms first coined by Marc Prensky recently 10 years ago as a service detriment to a generation of struggling teachers, but it has become the accepted nomenclature in education. My lazy writing disservice by continuing to use this term only perpetuates this asinine idea that our brains cannot grasp certain technology in a constructive and educational way. And the latest information about the teaching population in this country indicates that Presnsky’s native-immigrant argument may be fading fast. According to the National Center for Education Information report titled “Profiles of Teachers in the U.S. 2011“:

The proportion of public school teachers who have five or fewer years of teaching experience increased from 18 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2011. At the other end of the spectrum, the proportion of teachers with 25 or more years’ experience dropped from 27 percent in 2005 to 17 percent in 2011. These newer teachers are considerably more open to proposed reforms in the profession and in American education.

But before I brush away the Native-Immigrant Prensky Cop Out, or NIPCO as I shall from here on out refer to it, let us explore further just how ridiculous this term is today and is only there to salve delicate teacher egos. If you subscribe to the coming Singularity, as I do as described by futurist Ray Kurzweil, then the change will only become more rapid in our technological society. Everyone will have to keep up just to function in “normal” western society. That does not mean just the young need to learn how to live and work within the accelerated changes in society, but the old as well. But within my own children, I am noticing just how rapid the technological changes are occurring within our young population.

My son Sean is three years old. My daughter Kylie is seven. Kylie learned how to use a computer with a keyboard and mouse. I remember the day that she figured out that the mouse in her hand controlled what was on the computer screen. I remember her teaching herself letter and word recognition so she could get to the websites where her games and videos resided.

Sean on the other hand, learned how to use a computer almost exclusively through touch. With almost no training, he was able to very easily operate an iPad or iPhone simply because, in my observation and not because I am a medical doctor (which it is painfully obvious I am not), he was about to touch what it was he wanted.

Does that mean Kylie is at a complete disadvantage? Does she not use the iPad because she does not get it? Of course not. Kylie is as proficient on the iPad as her younger brother. But what about a wider age gap? Maybe ten years . . . twenty . . . fifty? I myself find that I am skilled at using my iPad in ways that amaze my peers. And it isn’t because I am on the cusp of being a true “digital native.” It is because I take the time to learn how to use this technology. Is there any reason that age should be factor in what technology a human being with a willing capacity to learn can understand?

Of course there is not.

Are We Screwing Up the iPad?

Oops, a Broken IPadOver the next few weeks, school is back in session. Fresh paint. Waxed floors. And for some, a new cadre of iPads. Ah, the fresh iPad smell. It is not new technology. The iPad is about a year and a half old. Already we are deep into the second iteration of this device, and on the precipice of the third. But if what has transpired since the launch of the iPad, we, as educators, administrators and tech might be screwing up the iPad.

Before you get all bent out of shape, allow me to explain my thoughts.

First, before the iPad (B.i.) students, by and large, were forced to be tethered to a desk. Laptops were portable, but still fragile. And the software placed on these machines were what the IT coordinator could support or manage. Websites were seen on a screen and manipulated with a keyboard and mouse. The modern keyboard had been in its basic form since the invention of the typewriter. The mouse had been in its form since 1963. And in the B.i. Era, schools installed over bearing filters and placed, at times, severe restrictions on how a student could use a computer. There was little flexibility for a student to define their digital learning space.

Now, after the iPad (A.i.) the landscape has once again changed. Touch replaces kludgy keyboards and mice. What we thought was portable is now really portable (remember when Osborne created a “portable” computer?). Students are free to move around outside the cinderblock walls in the A.i. Era. A plethora of apps are now at our disposal that require almost no central management at all. And these apps are as diverse as our students. Students are able to redefine their digital learning space and meet their diverse learning needs quite easily.

The iPad is a device that allows for freedom that few teachers and administrators seems quite ready to embrace.

For all this potential freedom, there has been a push to “lockdown” and decide for students how best they should use this device. The “digital natives” (if it makes you comfortable to use this term) are being told by “digital immigrants” (again, if it makes you comfortable . . .) how to use a truly new and unique device.

Teachers are trying to codify and define a proper use for this unique device. Techs are trying to control and manage this device. Unfortunately, the control and codification we are doing is with 20th Century ideas about education that people who espouse 21st Century ideas about education say were really 19th Century ideas about education (not that I have a problem with Montessori ideas)! I am baffled by excuses about teachers who use being “digital immigrants” like it is some sort of crutch to make it OK not to open your eyes to the restrictions being placed on the iPad and like devices.

What we are trying to do with iPad codification for teachers is tantamount to trying to apply the Dewey Decimal System to the Internet for librarians. Regular people use the Internet without much thought about the classification of the website, nor is there thought about whether the website fits a certain intellectual criteria.

If you subscribe to the ideas behind Universal Design for Learning, you might begin to understand that in the A.i. Era we now have a tool that offers multiple paths to demonstrating knowledge and learning. Instead, we, the “digital immigrants” are trying to tell the natives how to do it “right.” Thirty years ago there was this thought that computers needed to serve pedagogy. But today, we are still trying to fit this wonderful device into that idea of serving pedagogy in lieu of transforming pedagogy. People are categorizing apps into Bloom’s Taxonomy and happy to do so, I think know, because of the comfort it provides some teachers.

Well, guess what? I’ve been in education for 12 years. Those teachers you had to put technology into comfortable terms are retiring. In the A.i. Era, it is time to strip away the comfort and metamorphose the pedagogy. Seymour Papert wrote and talked about using a computer to transform pedagogy 30 years ago . . . when I was 5!

My ideas specifically for the iPad, in situations where possible, students need 24/7 access. If you really want to codify apps, do so with three easy categories (taken from the OLPC XO wiki):

  • Tools for Exploring
  • Tools for Expressing
  • Tools for Communication

Let the students define where their use falls on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students need administrative controls. Students need the freedom to complete assignments and demonstrate knowledge in ways that give them intrinsic motivation to do so.

No one ever rebelled, or felt unable to express ones self, against too much freedom.

Lessons from the OLPC XO

Over the last several weeks, I have spent time thinking about the subject of access to the Internet. Even in the United States in the year 2011, Internet access is still a question and struggle for those living in rural areas. Many of my colleagues live in areas where access to the Internet offers many choices. However in rural areas, options can vary greatly neighbor to neighbor depending on topography, trees, line of sight of the nearest tower, or even the height of the crops. Satellite Internet access is available almost everywhere in the United States, but the cost is expensive, the top speed is 2Mbps, and there is a cap on how much you can download in a day (max 450MB of data per day – a movie purchased on iTunes could be almost 1GB).

Living now in rural northwestern Illinois, and working in a school district where we are rolling out a one-to-one iPad initiative, I have looked for insight how to work with students who live in a rural area where access is limited or restricted. Most of my colleagues write about education technology from the standpoint, I feel, that ubiquitous high-speed Internet access goes without saying. Imagine though a household that shares a satellite Internet connection. That 450MB cap is for the entire family per day. Now a student might have a problem completing an assignment if during the day one family member was streaming Pandora all day, or watched several Netflix movies. Access to Google Apps (especially if it is running HTTPS) could become very problematic. And forget about experiencing the latest Web 2.0 flash-in-the-pan-media-darlings Khan Academy and Glogster.

In may ways, I feel more in common with the challenges faced when deploying the OLPC XO to remote parts of the world then with my colleagues back in Chicago. If you are unfamiliar with the OLPC XO, I have added in a review of the device by David Pogue.

The XO was designed with the idea that Internet access might not be available. Software installed on the XO is categorized differently then what we might be used to. Look at this list of standard software:

Tools for exploring
Browse, a web browser built on the Firefox engine;
Read, a simple document viewer accessed through Browse, based on Evince (including the ability to view PDF files);
News Reader, an RSS (“really simple syndication”) subscription reader (PenguinTV);
multimedia playback using gstreamer (the Real Networks Helix™ platform has been ported to the laptop and is available for download but is not part of the base distribution);
OpenDocument Viewer to read documents in OpenDocument format, a highly-compressed format that is a fully open international standard (ISO 26300);
The Opera web browser and the Real Networks Helix™ platform have been ported to the laptop and are available for download but not part of the standard distribution.
Measure, a tool for exploring the physical world by measuring DC and AC voltages, observing them on a oscilloscope-like interface, being able to watch waveforms in frequency domain (spectrum analyzer), logging data at a specified time interval, and drawing the graph of logged data;
Distance, aka Acoustic Tape Measure, measures the distance between two XO laptops.

Tools for expressing
TamTam, a music synthesis and composition tool;
a word processor based upon the Abiword project;
Record video, audio, and still-image capture and playback (a “video wiki” is under development);
Draw, a pixel-paint programming;
a journal;
MikMik, a wiki with WYSIWYG editing, using Crossmark (under development);
VIM and nano text editors.

Tools for communicating
Chat and serverless instant messenger;
Video Chat (under development);
VoIP client (under development);
Email through the web-based Gmail service;
Native email client (under development).

Other tools
Spreadsheet (under development);
Terminal, a shell to the Linux command line using Bash;
Develop, an activity editor (under development);
Remote display, and Remote Desktop, tools to remotely control the XO laptop.

Online Applications
Google Docs (spreadsheet and word processor) work flawlessly from the XO browser. In addition, they are also shareable applications.
Apple Web Apps, although designed for the iPhone, work well for the XO. You access them from your Browser. In many cases just zoom into the page to fill the screen.
ALEKS (adaptive self-paced learning system) See ALEKS for information on getting ALEKS running on an XO
Drupal explains how to install the Drupal community content management system on your XO
THE ALAS PROJECT (Advanced Language Acquisition Software) is a free online program for teaching English to speakers of Spanish, and Spanish to speakers of English, through sister schools in the U.S. and Latin America. The program is designed to run on the XO laptop.

Numerous games, including variations of the “memory game”, strategy games, etc

Shared Applications
All applications share a common data store accessible through the Journal. Several applications, including reading, writing, recording and browsing, allow for child-to-child and teacher-to-child collaboration to varying extents through the network.

What is interesting with this list is the lack of subject applications of these programs. No where does this list suggest that a specific program is to be used for math or reading or writing.

It would be worth looking at your own software deployments and asking yourself where does our own software fit into these categories. Are you heavy in online applications? Weak in tools of expression? Are these categories appropriate for your environment? Much like how the Space Shuttle program had many applications to our everyday life, A lot can be learned from the OLPC XO project.

Internet For The Rest of Us

Only Satellite Internet HereYesterday, I took a drive out to my new home in Lanark, IL. It is an area where there are many unpaved roads, roads that travel at odd angles, and friendly people who wave as they pass each other on the drive. I really love everything about the new area I am moving.

Well, almost everything.

While getting my utilities setup, I realized that the local cable company, Mediacom, would not service my location. I am four miles from their termination point of service outside of the village of Lanark. I was scrambling to find home Internet service. DSL service was not available either.

My options turned out to be a Verizon MiFi or HughesNet Satellite Internet. The prices for these services are appalling.

A Verizon MiFi, while it has 4G capabilities, only operates in my area at 3G speeds (about 1 megabit per second (Mbps) download). And for $80 a month, I get a whole 10GB of data per month. The HughesNet Satellite solution, the Pro 200 level for ONLY $89.99/month, allows speeds up to 2Mbps down and capped at 450MB downloaded per day (I pay $10 for the extra 50MB). The “Pro” 200 level plan provides about 12GB of data per month (BUT I can download willy-nilly without caps from 1AM to 6AM everyday). However, high latency with both of these services can have an adverse affect on SSL and VPN connections that I need to perform my job.

In looking into my usage data with Comcast, my current provider who provides me 12Mbps for $65/month, I average about 50GB of data downloaded per month. I have really bought into a Web 2.0 lifestyle – Netflix, Apple TV, Pandora, Sirius/XM, MLB.tv, ESPN3 – not to mention my kids when they come to visit using their iPad and computer to play their online games. The idea of restricting my downloading to a fifth of the usual data downloaded is distressing considering that my job heavily involves connecting to the rest of the world.

In further researching the number of users on Satellite (reserved for those in rural areas) there are only about one million subscribers to this service either through HughesNet or their rival Wildblue. So the outcry to “light up” rural areas really is not there. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) did provide funds to assist and subsidize satellite service. And there is hope on the horizon with new satellites about to launch that can provide speeds more in line with DSL speeds (ViaSat | HughesNet).

My concern now has turned though to my students. Ready to launch in November, my school district is going ahead with a 500 iPad 1:1 initiative. Many of these 500 students live in an area similar to mine – rural. As educators, we talk about all these collaborative tools and technologies, but even if the student can connect to the Internet, will their service be sufficient to allow them to perform certain tasks? It is vital to consider, especially as my colleagues are congregating in Philadelphia at ISTE 2011, that in the conversation about our students, we think about all our students.

To combat the lack of true high-speed Internet access, I am moving forward with plans to build a secure hotspot in the JR/SR high school parking lot and partnering with our local businesses to provide a network of hotspots at all hours. But even if these hotspots exist, will the rural student population be able to use these services? It is a frustrating conundrum.

NeoCon 2011: Underwhelming, Overwhelming and Inspiring

Razor's Ed Enjoying the Steelcase Node

Razor's Ed Enjoying the Steelcase Node

As a follow up to my last post about a professional development studio concept, I decided to come to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for NeoCon 2011 to see what the interior design world is selling. What I have seen is underwhelming, overwhelming and inspiring.

The underwhelming – how many ergonomic office chairs can one attempt to make? On the seventh floor of the Merchandise Mart, it seemed I could not get far enough away from a cheap Chinese, Taiwanese or Korean desk chair knock off. I do not know if these chairs were selling as it seemed I was totally alone in this section of the building. Through the rest of the exhibits, there was little attention paid to schools. I saw several companies selling school desks but with only marginal changes made; mostly the change was in color or building material. Why make a desk, if the desk will be like all others already in schools? Seems like a big market is being missed, at least at this conference.

Just Another Desk

Just Another Desk

Morning Latte is BACK

Morning Latte is BACK

The overwhelming – the sheer size of this conference is amazing. The Merchandise Mart has four million square feet of space and it seemed all of it was used for this conference. And why is it that almost every designer comes up with something that looks Dr. Evil’s Quasi-Futuristic Underground Lair? I do like that style, and it did draw my attention. I spent quite a bit of time walking through and sitting in the Herman Miller Design Studio. Not very educationally focused, but still very appealing.

The inspiring ran the gamut of ideas. This being a non education conference, it was difficult to get my bearings, but I think I found some great furniture and devices to enhance learning.

ErgoErgo Chair

ErgoErgo Chair

In my time at Cove School, we have several students who have used exercise balls as chairs. Whether for therapy issues, sensory issues or whatever, these students have used exercise balls as their primary chair. The problem with exercise balls are their size, they deflate, and they are not terribly sanitary. The potential solution is ErgoErgo. This chair looks more like a flush screw. The idea is the same as an exercise ball where small movements develop core strength, proper posture, and blood flow. Where ErgoErgo is different is it is much more stable than the traditional exercise ball and is designed to be a chair. No inflation necessary and is a sealed air pocket. It comes in two sizes – large and small. The large chair is $100 and the small is $70. I sat very comfortably on the $100 model. It actually felt a part of me. I sat on it for about 10 minutes and it was very natural. I think this would be a fine office chair.

Bretford Edu 2.0 Furniture

Bretford Edu 2.0 Furniture

Bretford, the maker of fantastic laptop and tablet carts, has developed an entire line of social-focused furniture for schools. Their motto for this line, called Edu 2.0, is “Here’s to forward thinking over facing forward.” Unfortunately, what I saw in their studio does not go public until October and there is no information on their website, but the image shows furniture that can be reconfigured and includes power outlets and USB charging ports. I had the opportunity to speak with the designer (who is also the son of the founder of the company). He was enthusiastic about this furniture’s durability and design with students in mind. The furniture felt fantastic and durable, but I do worry about the price, which has not yet been announced.

Diemmedi Upgrade

Diemmedi Upgrade

I almost missed the next product buried in the upper floors of the Merchandise Mart. The Diemmebi Upgrade is an end table, no it is a chair, no it is a step stool. This sturdy, multi-use piece of furniture looks perfect for a library with very limited space. In speaking with one of their sales reps, it turns out this furniture is being used in an Irish prison to provide inmates with furniture that can meet multiple needs. I was impressed how light it was, yet was able to handle my weight without problem. Again, I was not able to get firm pricing on this furniture.

The Nexus Tablet and Caddy

The Nexus Tablet and Caddy

The Nexus by Ghent is a system of various size whiteboards that work together to create a collaborative environment perfect for those areas where Idea Paint will not work (i.e. cinder block walls). For an investment of $5000, you receive a series of tablet whiteboards, as well as a caddy, easel and large mobile whiteboard. Pegs and clamps allow the tablets to be easily attached to these ancillary boards, or even to the walls. The six tablets you would receive are very lightweight (only three pounds) and double sided. The angled foot design of these boards allow for more coordinated collaboration that envelopes the collaborators. You could create a similar system using Idea Paint, in theory, so if you are inclined, check out their website and research their design to get it done yourself.

Smaller People Can Use the Lip of the Dish

Smaller People Can Use the Lip of the Dish

Finally, my favorite product is not a new product, but one I finally got to experience. It is the Steelcase Node. Designed with high school and college students in mind, this desk could handle my ample frame without too many issues. My shorter colleague realized that her feet did not touch the ground until noticing she could rest her feet on the dish on the bottom. So from the biggest to smallest high school students, the Node is a viable product. Noticed was the level of the seat could not be raised or lowered, but that is to allow for uniformity when easily re-positioning the desks into a group table.

The Node is not designed for elementary level students. It is too large a desk. My colleague and I felt that if they could make a smaller dish on the bottom of the desk, you might have a market for elementary schools. But really, this desk is a product of form follows function. It is intended for high school and higher students, using laptops and carrying backpacks for classrooms that need to be easily

The Arm Wrest Double As A Place To Hold Bags

The Arm Wrest Double As A Place To Hold Bags

reconfigured. No where is there space for a hidden alcove of pencils, paper and brick-a-brack. It does have a deep cup holder perfect for Starbucks! I do not know many elementary students bringing in a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte to class, nor elementary teachers who would want to encourage that.

Starting at $399, the Steelcase Node is about double what a normal school desk costs. However, the potential to create a mobile learning space, I think, warrants the extra cost. And much like all the knock off office chairs, I am sure this desk design will be copied at some point.

NeoCon 2011 goes through tomorrow, June 15, at the Chicago Merchandise Mart.

A Professional Development Design Concept

Professional Development ConceptOne of my first tasks in my new position in Forreston is to take a 29′ X 21′ space and turn it into a professional development room for teachers. I was not given a clear budget amount. I was asked to dream it, propose it, and worry about the finances later. So, I fired up my copy of Google SketchUp Pro (Illinois schools and educators have access to a FREE license) and I came up with the design idea at the top of this post (a larger image is linked here).

To get a little feedback, I put this image up on my Facebook page. My Facebook network is filled with current and former teachers, friends from college, family, etc., and their feedback was very interesting. My attached message to the post was “Here is my proposed design for my teacher professional development room. I am considering ditching the smartboard though.

From a long time educator and personal mentor, Bob Hayes:

It appears you are going for collaboration. You’re right smartboard seems superfluous. More important to have wifi and electricity for laptops. Inviting room.

From a relatively new educator, Regina Aniolowski:

Leave the smartboard.

From a parent and cousin, Natalie Morhart:

Kayla and Emma love the smartboard.

From a cousin and professor, Larry Massey:

Are you sure that’s all that will fit in there? I mean there’s still some actual open space left over… LOL

From a colleague and EdReach contributor, Scott Meech:

Like it … Serious thoughts … Ditch big furniture for mobile … Storage should be close by but outside as the room should be completely immersed in learning and collaborating. Paint walls with idea paint.

My reactions varied to this feedback. First, why does my school district need this space? I believe in sending a clear message to the staff about the importance of professional development. I believe that educators need a place away from their classrooms where they can focus on their own growth in formal and informal ways. I believe that comfortable environment promotes collaboration. I believe that sometimes you just have to create of what you want to be a part.

It is worth noting that this school is in a very small town. The closest Starbucks is 31.5 miles away. The closest McDonalds is 11 miles away. No where is there a place for a teacher to just easily get away. Taking from the design concepts of those restaurants (McDonalds, in particular, is performing a major overhaul of its restaurants), as well as what I have personally witnessed in Google‘s Chicago offices, I wanted to create an oasis where people want to be. While the main purpose for this space is professional development, it also becomes a second teacher’s lounge in a town where the local coffee shop is also the gas station.

Notice the different size tables and chairs. This allows for different types of conversation to take place. Notice the pub-style high chairs at a small table that allows for quiet conversation for two to four people. These small tables may also be easily rearranged. Notice the large lounge chairs and the low table in the middle. This is great for prolonged conversation, long term work, or single reflection in a comfortable space where you could have four people sitting and not engaging each other, yet not feeling they are on top of each other. The standard table is actually two tables that may be used together or rearranged for smaller groups. The chairs around the table are your more conventional nesting chairs on rollers. The mobile whiteboard, located in this image near the low chairs, may be used anywhere in the room, but may be easily seen from any of these chairs.

The wall space presented a particular problem. First, I went with an accent wall. Typically, accent walls should be the first wall that greats the person as they enter a room. I also chose a feng shui friendly red color. Three of the walls are cinderblock, which do not lend themselves to being painted in Idea Paint. Idea Paint allows any flat surface to become a whiteboard (a table top could become a whiteboard just as readily as a flat wall). The one wall that is cut away is drywall, which would be perfect for Idea Paint. With about five or six Idea Paint kits, we could cover the entire wall. And since there are the mobile pub chairs and tables initially placed in front of that wall, the wall is not permanently impeded with large furniture. I say “initially” because who is to say the room will stay in this configuration. This furniture could be changed over at any time by the users of this space.

I do disagree with my colleague, Scott Meech, that I should remove the storage from this room and focus on the learning. Not pictured in this mockup is a sink in the countertop (I just could not make it look right). I also think it is important to have the coffee maker, and the refrigerator stocked with various drinks. I believe that food and drink helps to bring people together. Not only does Google do this for their employees, but I also saw this in the Glenbrook South professional development room. Note, I did not place a vending machine. It is a refrigerator where teachers can get free drinks. If treated with professional courtesy, teachers will act like professionals, I believe.

Probably the most controversial component of the room is the interactive whiteboard. I actually did struggle with whether I should include this device in the room. This school district is moving towards a 1:1 model with iPads, partially due to the 35% Free-Reduced Lunch (FRL) numbers, where Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) would only perpetuate the digital divide. If moving towards a 1:1, would an interactive whiteboard be an appropriate piece of equipment to install now? There are plans to have eight interactive whiteboards installed in various classrooms in the fall, so there would need to be appropriate professional development. A colleague and EdReach contributor, Judith Epcke, recommended an Epson interactive projector. And since the main 1:1 device will be iPads, there is less need for additional electrical outlets due to their tremendous battery life.

Thoughts? Feedback? I also need a name for this room. I do not want to just call it “The Professional Development Room.”

Razor’s Ed Show #14: And Now For Something A Little Different

This week on Razor’s Ed I go away from the conventional talk about technology and reflect on how college athletics has changed so much over my lifetime, and how there needs to be a focus on college sports for college kids. Do away with the donor and booster seats. You would not give high school donors the VIP treatment at football and basketball games, would you?

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