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Saturday, September 22, 2007

NJECC - 1-to-1 Assessment and Pre-Assessment

Part 1: NJECC meeting

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to NJ tech directors from NJECC at Montclair University's beautiful campus (see photo of this room) and also saw my friend Dr. Donna DeGennaro, a talented professor at Montclair who wrote Chapter 8 of my book.

The topic was 1-to-1 and the discussion was lively and challenging.  Trevor Shaw of Dwight-Englewood School (year 3 of their tablet PC program just beginning) kindly came to participate as a panelist and administrators from Springfield provided panelist expertise and advice as they are also in their third year.

Here are some ideas from that discussion.  One question came up about budget - how can a school district afford one-to-one?  We all agreed that the answer is varied and depends on the school or district.  Some have parents pay for all or part of the hardware, some use bond money, some reconsider how their budget is spent (e.g., not replacing desktops anymore but using the money for laptops.)  At The Urban School in San Francisco, selling parents on 1-to-1 was part of the approach at this independent 9-12 school, so they polled parents to see who was planning to either purchase a new computer or dedicate a computer just for their high schooler and nearly 90% said they were.  Urban offered to purchase the computer instead of the parents, put educational software on the computer, fix it, have loaners, and have it used in the classroom. As so many parents now consider a computer an essential part of their child's education, the program was a go.  

Another important discussion was about leadership.  It was obvious Springfield has solid leadership and commitment as does Dwight-Englewood.  We agreed that having both a principal/school head and tech director onboard are vital to successfully starting and continuing a program.  

One question was - what if the tech director is onboard but other leadership isn't?  Some said not to move ahead, but a few of us suggested starting with carts or with a pilot program to demonstrate what's possible.  An element here to consider is that the students are continually moving on to the next phase of their education or to their careers - and not preparing them with 21st Century learning skills hampers their success.

One agreed theme for success - 1-to-1 needs to be systemic and part of learning/pedagogy/curriculum and not just an isolated technology initiative.

Part 2. - Assessment and Pre-Assessment

The NJECC meeting discussions and several recent requests from schools have me thinking more deeply about assessment of existing 1-to-1 programs and pre-assessment for schools considering 1-to-1.  

While there are a number of components to evaluate before starting 1-to-1 including infrastructure (can the network handle 1-to-1), logistics (cases, transportation, insurance, repairs, loaners) and support issues (internal or external people to troubleshoot and repair), there are important philosophical elements that don't respond to the same "list-making" approach and require delving into mission, school culture, and the school's prevailing instructional model.  

If most teachers at a school or district are the center of the classroom most of the time and aren't comfortable with morphing from teacher to learner,  aren't sometimes the coach and facilitator, and don't walk around while children work independently or in groups, 1-to-1 won't achieve deep learning goals.  This doesn't preclude the necessity for some whole class activity and times when laptop lids or tablet pens are down.  It just means a different dynamic is operational when every child has his or her own powerful digital learning assistant.  The question becomes - can enough educators shift to embrace the potential benefits.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants - Is Our Thinking Wrong?

I am loving Classroom 2.0 right now.  This post is inspired by a discussion happening right now on the main page - go there and join up and jump in!

It's about Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants, an idea a lot of us have repeated after hearing and reading Marc Prensky - he came up with this conception that today's kids are, to quote him directly, "... all 'native speakers' of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet." And he continues  by saying that the rest of us are "digital immigrants" and retain "one foot in the past" as we try to interact with technology.   Go here for the exact article being quoted, found on Marc Prensky's site and downloaded 9/14/07.

What is being said on Classroom 2.0 is that this idea of being a digital immigrant is used by some as a "cop out", e.g., "I'm just a digital immigrant, I can't figure this stuff out." Additionally teachers are saying some colleagues are also making assumptions about kids, e.g., "they know all about this technology stuff, we don't need to teach them anything" that becomes a double cop out.  (Dating myself by saying cop out most likely!) Also, they've said that the "digital native" label was more for middle class males and left out a lot of others. 

Well, big wow for me!  Because I've been using this term to try to explain something - about today's kids, and how we have to reach them and not hold back.  And maybe some people heard the "digital immigrant" label and took a pass (although I hope not.)  

The idea of "these kids know all about this" is something heard since, well, forever, as a way to let them go learn technology without us.  Once I heard this from an administrator (not where I've ever taught or worked!): "these kids know all this stuff" as a reason for not teaching any computer classes whatsoever.  While kids are natural explorers, and many of we adults are not (probably not an intrinsic trait but probably because we were taught to "sit still, don't touch anything, and wait for instructions") - being an explorer does not mean you find the good stuff. Because unless your exploration is planned -- random exploration results in random understanding and learning.  You could be dropped off in Paris and be unafraid to explore and spend a lot of time there but if you didn't know there was something called "The Louvre" and didn't happen upon it - you missed it.

We do have to teach about technology, model technology use, question technology, jump in with kids while they're learning, challenge their assumptions and beliefs, challenge our assumptions and beliefs.  

And if a label no longer fits we should give it up.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Rethinking Tech Plans

Having written several tech plans, I usually look for a school's plan when we're talking about 1-to-1 or any educational technology initiative.  Recently a school said they didn't have one.  But ... what is a "Tech Plan" now -- and should there be one?  Should there be a Learning Plan instead (which includes technology)? Maybe with an Infrastructure Plan?  Along with a Hardware Evaluation and Replacement Plan?  And a Learning Community Plan for All Learners (Educators, Administrators, and Staff Included)?  

Tech plans used to be lists of hardware, software, network devices, protocols, operating systems, platforms, etc.  Then they started including more educational goals and objectives, and the hardware/network/software/etc. became an appendix in the back.  

But the target is moving so rapidly and schools that want to sit down and plan, as they should, might do better with a Learning Plan Wiki instead which would include how all learners will participate and progress, how infrastructure/hardware/network, etc. will support, how curriculum will evolve.  So that everyone can contribute, update, items can be added and subtracted, attachments can come and go, and stakeholders can not just view it all but be active participants.  I don't know of any schools doing this yet -- but likely some are - or will soon.