Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Race To The Bottom: Tablet Wars

One of the Educational Technology issues that I have always felt very strongly about has been equity and access of technology for all students.  I was shocked to hear about the Aakash tablet that was being introduced in India.  The Indian Government is subsidizing the tablet for schools to purchase at $35 per unit.  The reports also have the tablet selling retail for $60.

Aakash Tablet from Venturebeat on Vimeo.

As the associated article states, this is a "leap frog" technology, which introduces a technology into a culture that has never seen a previous iteration of the technology in their lives. Think of the poorest people in the world who have never had a telephone in their lives, suddenly getting access to a cell phone, this is a "Leap Frog" technology.  The article is straight forward stating that the unit is slow in the way it processes some basic tasks, but they were very surprised when they watched a YouTube Video with no delay or buffering... WOW!

This is just the beginning of the Tablet Wars that will be played out in the market place over the next few months.  Yesterday; ViewSonic, a company best known for producing quality computer monitors, introduced the ViewPad 7e, which is a 7" tablet running Android version 2.3 and lots of extra features, including: SD Memory Card slots, HDMI output, front and back cameras and 4 GB of internal storage.  Retail Price.... $200.

About two months ago, Lenovo (the spin off of the IBM desktop and laptop computer line) introduced the  IdeaPad, a 7" Android tablet which boasts some of the same features as the ViewPad, like dual cameras and SD card slots.  The IdeaPad also has onboard GPS.

Not to be out done, Amazon has re-imagined the Kindle reader and introduced a new version called the "Kindle Fire."  It also retails for $199 and has some nifty features as well.  Amazon already has 95,000 pre-orders for the device, and with the Christmas rush, there will be plenty more sales to come.

What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a "race to the bottom" on the price of tablet devices.  Who benefits from this race to the bottom?  Our students do.  As teachers, we do.  Society does.  All of these Android devices have access to multimedia creation applications that are free and access to the Internet. With a variety of free and low cost standards based text books already available, school districts can purchase these devices with text book funds and still come out ahead. This also means that the only limitation on our teaching and our students learning is our own minds.  

So, the only question left is.... What are you and your students going to do with the world at your fingertips and a tool that will let you create anything you and your students can think of?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Text Messaging: The Lost Tool In The Educators Tool Kit

One of the greatest tools that teachers never take advantage of is text messaging services, or Short Message Service, (SMS)  There are several tools available now to take even more advantage of this service that almost every student in your class has access to and if they have a cell phone this is the one thing they probably have unlimited access to, 

The first is one that was popular a few years ago, but most people don't even know it exists or completely forgot that it is still there.  Searching Google using a text message.  If you or your students have some basic knowledge of Google Search Strategies, they can get an answer anywhere, even with their "Dumb Phone." Check out Google's SMS Search Page. 

Google also has ways to interact with some of their more popular applications using SMS on their SMS Applications Page.  I think one of the best is the ability to post to a Blogger Blog from their phone using SMS.  That is something almost any kid can do and gets into the idea of authentic assessment that will definitely be part of the Common Core Standards.  Check out the demo of Blogger SMS below. 

Google Voice is another great ways to leverage SMS technologies in your classroom.  You can message your class by putting in their cell phone numbers in your Google Voice account and text them directly by sending a message through Google Voice.  The nice thing... All the students see is your Google Voice number, not your personal cell number or your personal e-mail address. 

Another cool way to interact with students via their cell phone, via SMS is a new free service called, Remind101.  Remind 101 allows teachers to create a class, the system issues a code to the teacher and then the teacher distributes the code to their class.  The best part of this is that the students never see the teacher's phone number and the teacher never sees the students cell phone number.  This gives us that level of privacy we need in education, while leveraging the tools available to teachers and students.  Check out a demo of Remind 101 below.  

Remind101 from remind101 on Vimeo.

The last tool is in private beta, but could be one that is a game changer and could put the "responder/clicker" producers out of business.  The service is called "Socrative."  What this service does is turn any connection a student has to mobile services, a laptop, smart phone, SMS, etc. and allows them to answer questions to a quiz, a true/false question in class, etc.  The other benefit is that you can see the student results come into the system in real time.  There are also some templates that you can automatically use, like "exit ticket" and more.  This is definitely worth checking out, if you are someone who has used responder systems or clickers in the past.  Check out the video below.

I have also added an infographic below that shows some of the ways that SMS or texting has changed the lives of people around the world in ways that many of us could never imagine.  Is there a way that you can change or improve your instructional practice by adding a text message every so often?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Skills: Mad and Necessary

Things are changing, yet they are staying the same.  The introduction of a variety of technologies, which have changed the way educational services can be delivered to students and the vast variety of ways that students can interact with that information and develop their own "reality" or "context" is probably the most important theme in education as we move forward.

It has long been understood that all students learn in different ways, whether that is in a typical classification system or something much more personal for each and every student.  It was close to 15 years ago now that I told my Advanced Placement American Government students that the most valuable commodity in the economic system they were entering was "information."  In the old educational paradigm, the one that most of us were educated in, the ability to "possess" information was the reason most teachers have their jobs.  I was initially hired as a teacher because I possessed a certain level of knowledge in the Social Sciences.  In today's economy, possessing knowledge or information is not the most important skill for today's students.  The more important skill is the ability to quickly access and evaluate information and employ it in a way that allows students to answer questions that their experiences pose to them.  

This means that students need to construct their own contexts and connections between information systems. The writings of Howard Gardner and Sir Ken Robinson illustrate the need for students to construct their own personal contexts.  Standardized tests, assess an artificial context that politicians have determined is the most important for students to have, while that may be one measurement that can be used, it is one that is artificial and cannot accurately assess the skill level of any student.  The use of rubrics in educational settings, has done quite a bit to make what was once a very 'subjective' process in assessing students personal contexts into one that is much more 'objective' and can be used to compare students' academic achievement with one another.

Employing a hierarchical structure like Bloom's Taxonomy (Cognitive and Affective Domains) can make sense of this from an academic perspective, but it is not a structure that can be easily applied in the context of traditional school.

So, moving forward, what is a structure that can allow educators to assess and knowledge, synthesis and application of the connections and contexts that teachers have? Storytelling and Folksonomies.  Storytelling and folksonomies, make it easier for the work of a variety of individuals to be compared and evaluated.  Storytelling, allows students to follow an idea or theme from beginning to end and support their context with the connections they make and how they communicate that with the audience.  The level to which they are able to connect with their audience creates a bond to their personal knowledge.  Folksonomies allow individuals to place their own filing or categorization framework on the knowledge they possess in their own minds, along with the information they can access, synthesize and create a new framework.

If you want to know what a student really knows and can employ in their personal lives, have them tell a story about it. From simple to complex.  From comical to dramatic.  From instructional to playful.  Their stories will allow them to connect their knowledge in new and different ways.  Digital technologies allow us to do this in so many new and powerful ways that we are only limited by our own minds.  My challenge to groups I do professional development sessions with is this:  Can anyone identify a project that they would like to do with their classes that cannot be completed using free technology tools?  As of yet, no one has been able to identify a project.

Why haven't we adopted this framework to move education forward?  Because it isn't easily assessed using a scantron form.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Students Use Technology

Here is a nice infographic from  If there was any question about the fact that the students we teach do not heavily rely on their own personal technology, this will close the argument.

Students Love Technology

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is Facebook Looking in the Rear View Mirror?

Google+ is growing by leaps and bounds.  Current growth estimates have it at over 20 million users.  It took Facebook close to 18 months to get to the same number of users. Facebook has definitely paved the way for services like Google+, but because of the tight integration with all of the other Google services and the ability to video chat in a split second, Google+ will continue to grow rapidly.  Google+ may never overtake Facebook, but it will definitely be "THE TOOL" for those of us who use technology as an integral part of our business and social lives.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Lost Generation

Ten Years Ago, we were introduced to the idea of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.  We were told that people who were born before 1990 were Digital Immigrants, because most of their education will have taken place before the ubiquitous use of technology in our lives.  Marc Prensky, the author of the paper, stated that teachers, who were Digital Immigrants, needed to change their instructional strategies to reach the student they were now teaching who are Digital Natives.  While on the surface, this looks like a logical explanation to a problem, but in reality it has had the opposite effect on our educational system over the past ten years.  Marc Prensky's premise has given an entire generation of educators an excuse to not keep up with the current trends in their profession and allow the way we to educate children to remain unchanged since the early 1900's assembly line brought to popularity by Henry Ford's automobile factories.  While I know it was not Marc Prensky's intent to create a system where we perpetuate the past, it has in effect created a Lost Generation of Educators, where they have used the label of "Digital Immigrants" as an excuse for not being able to learn the necessary Educational Technology skills requisite to teach the students of the 21st Century.

I have been involved in Educational Technology for the past 20 years of my professional life as an educator. I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on educational technology during this time, some of it very well spent, but unfortunately much of it spent in ways that do not improve teacher's professional practice or student achievement. There are a variety of reasons we can analyze in an attempt to answer why we haven't been more successful with Educational Technology initiatives, but in reality it comes down to a few very simple premises.

First, there have been a lack of professional standards put in place for teachers to meet.  The first ISTE NETS standards were published in 2000, but had little or no traction in schools or districts.  We can look  at why teachers did not adopt the ISTE NETS standards, but in reality it comes down to the simple fact that teachers, like employees in all other businesses, will only do what they are evaluated on.  Since these standards were not included in a teacher's evaluation, they did not feel the need to abide by them.  In most cases, we need only to look at NCLB and the conditions the Federal Government placed on schools with high-stakes testing to understand why districts put the ISTE NETS standards lower on the list of instructional priorities.  ISTE revised their NETS-T standards in 2008, updating and making the standards more specific.  We are seeing some adoption of these standards in isolated schools in districts, but that is more dependent on school or district leadership. This leads to the second premise...

At the present time, we do not have enough administrators who can adequately assess whether teachers are successfully integrating technology into the educational process.  This was one of my primary motivations for becoming an administrator.  In California, there is a very specific piece of the "California Standards for the Teaching Profession" (CSTP) that states: "Using materials, resources, and technologies to make subject matter accessible to students." I watched year after year administrators mark "has met" on teacher evaluations for this Key Element when all they had done relative to technology was to post their syllabus on line.  Administrators didn't have any requirements for their own professional practice until there were some standards established by ISTE in 2009.  Even with the establishment of standards for Administrators, there has been no rush by most to work towards attaining these standards.  There are some administrators who will say quite confidently that, "the younger teachers coming in have grown up with technology and don't need professional development or to be evaluated on its use." I will tell you very simply that the teachers coming into the system know how to use technology for their own personal use, but have no idea how to integrate technology into instructional practice.

The last issue that needs to be addressed is the "squeeze factor."  The squeeze factor is that the students are integrating new technologies into their academic lives, but that the teachers are unfamiliar with these tools and either completely ban or severely regulate their use.  There are a variety of reasons that can be identified as to why teachers and schools are doing this, but you can boil all of them down to "the fear of the unknown." There are many teachers who don't know what these tools can do and how their use will effect the curriculum, so they will "squeeze" them out of practice.  Students will continue to "squeeze" them back in with some accepting teachers, but there has been no wide scale adoption of personal technologies in schools.  Think of the fact that, given the current rate of "smart phone" penetration, close to 90% of high school students have a device that they can use to access the libraries of the world and access rich educationally appropriate content with them everyday.  Students are more likely to have their "smart phone"with them, than they are to have remembered to bring their text book that day.  (Pew Internet and Life Project)

  These technologies allow students to complete the assignments that teachers have used over the last 100 years in a fraction of the time. A quick example would be asking students to look up 30 vocabulary words in the dictionary, this would be a task that would take students a decent amount of time using a hard bound dictionary.  Using a smart phone, most students would complete writing out the definitions of 30 vocabulary words in 1/3 the time or less.  So, really what does this mean?  Teachers, you could recover tons of instructional time and teach more... yes, MORE!  

The last point to make here is to ask the question of why?   Why won't teachers embrace the use of these technologies?  Why won't teachers allow students meet the course requirements in new and different ways using technology?  Why have students had the tools they use to access all types of media and information outside of school taken away from them as soon as they walk on campus?  Fear of the unknown.  Plain and simple...  Anything that takes away from the teacher being the person who possesses the information in that particular academic discipline is going to be met with resistance.

The answer is that we can't re-form education, we need to create a new educational model. Schools don't need an incremental upgrade, what they need is a Forklift Upgrade.  We need administrators who are willing to move forward and trust some educators, who are actually doing what needs to be done. The key to all of this is trust.  Those schools and districts who have trust and work collaboratively with administrators, teachers, students and the community will reap the greatest benefits in the years to come.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Transferring the Model Downward

While many college students have had the opportunity to take online classes, those opportunities have been very limited for high school students. Most school districts have looked for ways to make sure the education students receive in these courses meets their standards.  This is something that is going to happen, the only questions we need to answer is when and how?  Take a look at this infographic to see where online education can make additional inroads into the high school arena.

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Tool Box of the Internet has Gone to the Birds

We have finally arrived.... We are free and most of us don't even know it.

Software and compatibility issues have been a thorn in the side of educational technology for years.  I can remember when I was a Technology Coordinator and a student would get a new computer for Christmas and sometime in January or February of the next year they would bring in a disk with a paper that they had typed on their new computer and try to print that paper at school.  The paper wouldn't print.... why?  Because most PC's came with Microsoft Works, instead of Microsoft Office, which was the word processor that was installed on the machines at school.  There were several ways to work around this, but it was difficult and frustrating for both the student and their teacher.  It reinforced the idea in the minds of students and teachers that using technology in class was hard and difficult.  This was also an issue that occurred on Macintosh computers as well, since there were many schools where the only Apple based computers were in a lab dedicated for some type of creative content creation. (Video, Graphics, Multimedia, etc. ) This is no longer the case.....  The issues with Microsoft and Apple will still exist, but one simple way around it is to use Google Docs and other Google Tools.  If you have Google Apps for Education, you have some pretty cool free instant add-on's that will provide even more tools and services for FREE. 

So, looking at all of the things that schools and students spend their money on, software is no longer something they should spend their money on for students or teachers.  Google tools are also better because they are available 24/7/365, absolutely anywhere there is a computer and an Internet connection.  (See my last post about "Where are Your Black Holes")

Here are the applications that most schools currently use and what are their free Google equivalents. 

- Microsoft Word - Google Documents:  Can upload and download .doc and .docx files. 

- Microsoft Excel - Google Spreadsheets:  Can upload and download .xls and .xlsx files.  There are fewer functions available in the Google Docs version of the spreadsheet, but it is enough for most users.  There are also some very cool Google Formulas you can use.

- Microsoft PowerPoint - Google Presentations:  Can upload and download .ppt and .pptx files.  One of the benefits of Google Presentations, is that it is much easier to add images and video into your presentation. 

- Besides the typical applications, Google also has G-Mail, Calendar and Sites, which all integrate with the other Google Apps.  For example, you can attach a document to a Google Calendar entry or you can integrate a Google Form, a YouTube Video or a Google Calendar into a Google Site.

-Speaking of YouTube, there is a new online YouTube Video Editor that allows anyone to upload their video from any source and edit it online.  There are some music you can add and some basic transitions you can use between clips, but to teach the basics to video editing for students this is a great introduction.

The newest set of Google Tools comes from another company that has intentionally built their set of tools to quickly and nicely integrate into the Google Apps platform. The Aviary Suite of content creation tools.  If you have a Google Apps EDU domain, you can even have the Aviary Suite integrate into the Google Docs menu and you can save all of these files in your Google Docs account.

- Photoshop (picture editing) - Google does basic image / picture editing with Picasa and Picnik, but in Google Apps EDU you can add on Aviary and use the Phoenix and Raven applications within Aviary to create layer based vector graphics like Photoshop creates. 

- Screen shots:  Microsoft and Apple both have basic screen capture tools within the operating system and there are some good free tools like "Skitch" to do screen shots and then edit and annotate them, but you can also use Falcon and Talon from Aviary, which are add-on's for the Firefox and Chrome browsers that will produce screenshots and the tools to annotate them.

Garage Band / Audacity - Aviary also has tools to edit Audio and create Music.  Roc for music creation an Myna to edit audio files for podcasts.

So, with all of these free tools, there is no limit as to what you, and your students, can do with a computer and an Internet connection.  Everything I have mentioned in this post is free.  What could you do?  What will you do?  How will this change the way you teach?  I would like to hear from you. Post a comment with your ideas and suggestions.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where are Your Black Holes?

Over the past twelve years, I have been fighting the same fight.  I have long been an advocate of teachers integrating the use of technology into their professional practice, but the excuse that most teachers I spoken to about this have used the same excuse for not wanting to jump into the EdTech waters.  "I'm sorry,  not all of the kids have access to the technology or they don't have access to the Internet in their homes and it isn't fair to them."  This was an excuse in 1999, when I first became the Technology Coordinator at Capuchino High School and it is an even bigger excuse today.  Equity and access issues have been at the forefront of the battle I have waged to make sure that every student has access to technology.  Why?  Because I believe that giving students access to the libraries of the world and any information 24/7/365, is the great equalizer of our time.  I also did everything I could to provide the technology and access to the Internet to the students I worked with through the Digital Bridge program.

The video above, from the TEDxNYED (Technology Entertainment Design x New York EDucation) Will Richardson talks about the importance of the Internet on the lives of our children.  Will talks about how our children use the Internet to learn on their own, without the use of teachers.  They search the Internet to solve real problems, as they occur in their lives.  It could be as easy as who was the 16th President of the United States, or as complex as how to solve a quadratic equation with multiple coefficients.  In this video, Will talks about how his daughter learned how to play Journey's "Lights" on the piano.  As teachers, we need to realize that this is the way our students learn and in turn, how can we best teach our students given their desire to be constantly connected to a variety of electronic resources.

So, to bring this back to the issue of equity and access, how can we level the playing field and make sure that all students have access to the wealth of resources that are available to them on the Internet?  We have between 85 and 90% of the students we teach carrying cell phones and most of these devices can access the Internet.  The cost of computers, especially netbooks and tablets are low and are continually dropping closer and closer to the $200.00 mark. Free access to the Internet is becoming more and more available, yet there are several areas where this access is lacking.  The map below, taken from Ji-Wire ( a site that shows free and paid wireless access for any area around the world,  shows a large area in the Woodside High School attendance area that does not have any access to free wi-fi access.  Why?  The area that is outlined is an area that has plenty of retail businesses and homes, but it is a lower socio-economic area.

This to me is a "black hole."  A black hole where the light of the information available on the Internet does not enter.  The people who live in this area are more than likely, people of color and mostly Latin American.  One of the more pressing issues facing education is how to bring light into the Black Holes that exist in our communities.  Can we talk to the public libraries, Boy's and Girl's Clubs, YMCA's and other public agencies to provide free wireless access in their buildings for students?  Can we talk to the independent coffee shop, ice cream store, fast food restaurant to add free wi-fi or to open up their existing wi-fi for their customers, mostly the students we teach.

So, where are your "Black Holes" and what can you do to bring light to them?

3/30/11 - One of the things I left out in the post was that one of our district's "Black Holes" was the city of East Palo Alto, but there is some light there now with the Wifi101 project, that has blanketed the community with free wi-fi with towers on public buildings and apartments where the owners have granted them space.  The group also takes in computers and refurbishes them and donates them back to the community.

There is another group doing this in the city of Richmond, across the bay from us.  Building Blocks is a non-profit that provides computers and Internet access to families who could not afford their own access. Here is a video about their project in Richmond.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

2011 - The Year Education becomes Flat

It's been almost 6 years since the initial publication of Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat."  This is  one of the books that transformed me as an educator.  There are others that I read before it (Negroponte's "Being Digital") and others that I read after it (Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody"), that had a profound affect on me, but it was the one book that was truly transformative.  The World is Flat is a book that talks about the forces of change and clearly delineates how these forces will change the world.

As most professional educators know, it takes 5-7 years for things that are common place in business to even get a basic or cursory usage within education.  Well, that is where we are now....

The 10 Flattners that Friedman spoke about in "The World is Flat" were directly related to society as a whole and the first three directly related to historical events that occurred to create the openness necessary to allow the final 7 "flattners" to take place.  The first flattner, "The fall of the Berlin Wall," is an extremely important event, because it eliminates the competition of socialist societies.  In education, we are wholly controlled by the government from management to funding, therefore any advances that run contrary to the current government structure are banned.  The one flattner, that has had the greatest affect on education is the rise of Open Source and Free Software.  Friedman talks about software like the development of the Netscape web browser and the development of other open source projects like the Apache web server software and Linux operating systems.  Now, we are seeing a convergence of many of these tools into one, which has brought the price of Internet connected devices down and made them more common place than they had been before.  The most interesting of these new devices is the Chrome Notebook.  It is a netbook computer, which has retailed for as low as $250 with Windows pre-installed.

A Chrome netbook, is running the Google Chrome operating system, no Windows, and runs much faster than typical devices because all of the data is stored on Google's Internet servers.  The anticipated cost of a Chrome Netbook is expected to be in the $250 range.  If Google could deliver this to school at a cost less than $200, it would be a game changer.

Here is an explanation of the Chrome OS.

I am also going to take a look at the equity and access issues in society and how things are quickly becoming more and more accessible for all and they are all FREE.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Year - New Tech Strategy - Week 1

With the beginning of the New Year, we all make some resolutions that we want to make this year a bit better than the last.  I am no different in this regard, I tweeted this afternoon that my New Year's Resolutions were to Tweet once a day, Blog once a week and to work on being healthier by joining Steve Dembo's Fit42 Fitness Challenge.  I am hopeful that I will be able to achieve all of these goals.  In the Blogging arena, I am going to resurrect this blog.  I had posted regularly between 2005 and 2008, but when I took the position as the Administrative Vice Principal at Woodside High School, it left me little time to blog.

 I have continued to present at a variety of Education Conferences in California and I have done some presentations for CUE, in their CUE to You program.  I was also elected to the CUE Board of Directors in April 2010, so I have continued to be very active in the EdTech community, but I have been less on the cutting-edge than I had been in the past and I realized that I very much miss the implementation of new and emerging technologies in the educational process and having conversations with my colleagues, local and around the world.  I am hopeful that this blog will allow me to jump back into the conversation and re-engage with all of you.

With that said..... here we go!

One of my rallying cries over the past several years has been to increase the amount of technology that is used as part of the educational process.  I have been a huge proponent of this since the mid-1990's.  I have always had to deal with some teachers that refused to integrate technology into their classes for a myriad of reasons.  One of which was always access and the other was that because they were "seasoned" teachers they couldn't learn how to use technology like their younger counterparts.  Teachers in this group typically held up copies of Marc Prensky's "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants," as a justification of their position.  While I think that Marc Prensky is an intelligent man, I want to let him know that while he may have just identified behavior that he observed in educational settings, he set the integration of technology into education back at least 5 years.  I know that there are other factors that come into play, including: unions, finances, professional development, standards, NCLB, etc., but the "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" gave teachers the easy out.

Next week.... Access, Access - 2011 is going to be the year when we get so close to "ubiquitous access" and there won't be any more excuses.