Tag Archives: technology integration

Google Sites for Student Projects

Our teachers asked for more training on using Google Apps. I draw from the very thorough materials at the Apps User Group for my sessions, with modifications made based on my student populations. From HB235 Creating Webpages with Google Sites:

PowerPoint is the most misused tool in ed tech. How many PowerPoints have you see where the student has tried to cram all the information they know onto the slide, then completely neglect their speaking?

Don’t get me wrong – cramming information into a product has its place in the classroom. Just not in Powerpoint. If you want to give students the opportunity to synthesize what they know in a variety of formats (written, visual, etc), then consider asking them to make a website.

AISB 2.0: Completing the Research and Vision Phase

This year’s focus for the school has been student empowerment and service learning, and we continue to find ways to integrate these into our planning for 1:1.

Visualizing our research has helped to process all the moving parts that go into a 1:1.

At this point in the planning process we’re conducting research and building relationships with stakeholders. Students have been interviewing their peers at other schools (TAISM, AIS Kuwait, IS Dakar, UWC-SEA, SIS, UTB Helsingborg, and ICS Addis; with some help from me for Episocopal Academy and AIS Lusaka). This has required them to apply their skills in collaboration, communication and research in an authentic context.

They’re also going to present their research to a forum for parents and faculty this week and get their feedback. In addition to the obvious cross-curricular applications of skills involved here, this empowers the students to express their own opinions and have a say in the future direction of the school.

It has been a challenging sustaining student interest. I’ve now got a core of six committed students who are coming on Mondays after school to work. Developing a comprehensive plan is a challenge, and developing several competing proposals as I’d like to do would require more time than any of us have. More labor is needed. Somewhat coincidentally, the school has decided to run a service learning project the last week of this semester (in January), and we’ve found a way to take advantage of this.

We’ve designed a service learning project for the entire senior class where their task will be to synthesize the research and feedback so far into either a plan for the secondary school or elementary school. We hope to have two competing proposals in each area. The students will need to evaluate the data collected so far; learn about professional grant-writing, budgeting, and the concept of total cost of ownership; and then write a proposal encompassing all of the components of a 1:1 program. Done right, it will bundle very authentic skills into a project that will have a very visible impact on student learning in the school – a senior gift with lasting meaning.

Qualifying SAMR

We live in an age that loves to upgrade. Our smartphones get thinner bodies, bigger screens, and more features. Our meals get new packaging, more taste, bigger portions. And our schools get new buzzwords, new standards, and new technology. As tech coordinator, part of my job is to facilitate the learning process by ensuring that teachers and students have access to computing resources and the knowledge to use them. Many of us coordinators evaluate tech integration according to the SAMR model:

Courtesy of Digital Learning Team

When we’re inspecting how technology changes teaching, it’s more useful to discuss the way the learning process and product change, not how much they change. Photo Credit: paurian via Compfight cc
It’s not useful to evaluate technology solely by SAMR, though. Treating it as a hierarchy, with “Redefinition” being the goal, is the same as saying that “change is good.” But few would argue that New Coke’s taste “change” was good, or that a “change” in US election districts to make it easier for an incumbent party to stay in power is productive, or that the “change” in a virus so that it mutates into a more easily transmissible strain is a good thing. So why should we treat “redefinition” as the top level of a hierarchy of tech integration? If it isn’t broke, should we be trying to fix it?

We need a qualifier that helps us to evaluate the substitution, augementation, modification, or redefinition that is happening – something that tells us what is broken and how to fix it. We’re making a conscious choice to integrate technology, and schools hire people specifically to help teachers do this, because… why? Because of broad ideas like “21st century learning” and because students are “digital natives” and because “we need to prepare them for an [unspecified, but different] future?”

The necessary qualifier, for me, is authenticity – one of the cornerstones of Understanding by Design. Does technology help you make students’ learning more authentic – are they practicing skills and habits, and creating products, that approximate things they’d do in the real world as productive citizens and employees? It’s easier to go into a teacher’s classroom and introduce them to new and, for many teachers, difficult technology concepts when explained like this. Your students should make videos not because it’s “fun” and “different” but because visual literacy is an important way that we communicate in the modern world. They should make an ebook because self-publishing is how lots of authors, like Hugh Howey, are finding success these days. They should make use of tools like Glogster and Prezi and Xmind because presenting ideas to a group should look as professional as possible and because professionalism is effective – if you expect it in the workplace, why shouldn’t you expect it at school? Our director rejects resumes because they look shoddy and cast doubt upon potential teachers’ competency as a whole.

Sometimes I feel that my position as “IT Coordinator” actually undermines my ability to help teachers. The title carries along with it an implication that I’m getting teachers to use technology for it’s own sake, which is hardly the case. My counterpart at the International School of Ouagadougou is the Curriculum Coordinator/Tech Integrator, and was formerly a Learning Community Director in Belgrade. Someone responsible not for technology but for learning. We say that technology is not something that should be taught separately – so why should those of us who support classroom teachers be referred to as people doing something distinct from learning support? And when the next generation of teachers enters the workforce already fluent in technology, why will “technology integrators” even be necessary?

Maybe redefinition is what is needed in my career.

Learning 2.0 in a Web 1.0 World (or, the “One More Thing” Problem)

I’ve worked at AISB since August. As IT Coordinator my responsibility is to manage all things technical – from making sure that the lab computers have the right software installed to helping teachers create a blended learning classroom to managing the school’s online presence. I’ve definitely done more of the former than the latter. I’ve followed these principles:

  • Before you help teachers use technology, you need to ensure an acceptable level of access.
  • An acceptable level of access means “does not disrupt the normal flow of class.” If it requires more effort than it takes to grab a length of butcher paper from the supply room, then most teachers aren’t going to bother with it because they are educators, not computer mechanics. I’ve found that even having to go to a lab is enough of a disruptive that it makes technology use an exception or disruption, not an integration.
  • The important thing about technology integration is not how impressive it is – it’s how intuitive and seamless it is. Technology should be used because it makes the class a more enriching and efficient learning environment, not because it’s what everyone else is doing or because it lets you do something new. You can be an amazing teacher without using technology, so getting teachers to integrate technology requires that it be obviously – though not necessarily immediately – superior to what they’re doing currently.

Following these principles to create a Learning 2.0 environment has been tough, though, because my international school – and quite a few others in Africa and around the world – are stuck in a Web 1.0 world.

Remember these? My school actually still has some being used as library catalog terminals. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Stopping teachers from giving up

A lot of schools get left behind in the “bleeding edge” discussions about technology integration because they don’t have the resources to leverage the latest tools. Last year I participated in the fantastic COETAIL program and attended a Google Apps summit. I learned about all the cool things you can do when your students have access to a fast internet connection and personal internet-connected device. The problem was that at my last school a significant part of any assignment involving connectivism entailed a great deal of problem solving on my part to give my students access to the tools they needed (though once they had the access, the learning was great). It was the dreaded “one more thing” problem – that using technology added more work to teaching. Here at AISB, I face that problem even more, since our internet connection is glacial, our computers are aging, and our budget is too limited to fix it all.

The danger is that teachers will give up in frustration. I work with an amazing elementary teacher who does e-portfolios with his students on Blogger, makes mind maps using Xmind, has his kids create PSAs using his iPad, and dreams up other deeply enriching activities that embody the collaboratively creative spirit behind technology integration. For the first two months I received regular emails from him complaining about how the internet was too slow to upload his photos or to load the Blogger interface and questioning whether he should continue to integrate technology at all. And it was a fair question, especially when teachers have so many responsibilities competing for their time.

My efforts since August have thus centered around making AISB’s computing resources as reliable, accessible and intuitive as possible on a shoestring budget. The results:

  • Leveraged NetRestore to roll out an imaging workflow for our two computers labs, making it easy for us to roll out more current software packages
  • Deployed Papercut to manage our printing environment, giving us the ability to make printing more accessible for students since we can charge them for B&W and color print jobs
  • Repurposed old PCs into Linux Mint-based Rosetta Stone ESOL workstations.
  • Consolidated our old faculty resource sites into a single portal based out of our SIS, to make it easier for teachers to access curriculum and administrative documents
  • Virtualized our print server, router, and bandwidth management solutions using VMWare ESXi and a disused XServe, thereby making most efficient use of our resources
  • Set up pfSense as a router, web cache, captive portal and traffic shaper, allowing us to let each student have a device on our Wifi network while managing access and enforcing fair use policies
  • Clarified customer service expectations for the IT department (including myself) to make us as responsive as possible
  • Streamlined our progress report workflow to deliver the most essential information while greatly reducing the amount of time, paper, and manual labor required to generate them
  • Set up a scanning workstation in one of the labs
  • Managed the entire MAP testing process
  • Taught three secondary school preps and supervised three other elementary classes while doing all of the above

Communicate your way around problems

Along with working on the school’s infrastructure I realized that good communication and education is just as important as having great resources. For example, I sent out this email to teachers explaining why the internet was so slow. It didn’t fix anything, but it explained a problem that most teachers found baffling and unpredictable. I received numerous appreciative replies. But it was about more than managing expectations, because I want my teachers to set their sights high. Rather, it was about finding ways around problems and making sure teachers could be self sufficient in those solutions. I pointed out a couple of ways that teachers can download YouTube videos, and I’ve since seen a marked rise in their use – rather than letting teachers be deterred by the low bandwidth, I found a way for them to do just what they wanted. I also steered teachers away from from using Gmail’s web interface and got them using Mail.app so that they could read and compose emails even if our line was congested.

Come back down to earth

With a slow pipe, moving services into the cloud is not a good option for us. Sites like Glogster and Prezi are just too slow. Aggressive web caching with squid has helped, but I’ve realized that investing in desktop software and locally hosted services is the way to go. I’ve set up a Friendica instance on site so that teachers can do fake Facebook projects complete with wall posting and comments. I’ve done trials with ToonBook and Comic Life since they run locally. And I’ve looked into making our locally hosted instance of Moodle more robust in its content hosting abilities by experimenting with owncloud. But the nice thing about services like Glogster is that they obviate the need to teach design and how to use a complex program. You could make a digital poster using Indesign or even Pages, but you’d spend a lot of time teaching the program, leaving less for content, creation, or collaboration.

Now that I’ve worked on the issue of access to technology, I can spend the rest of the year helping teachers to use it. And I’m hoping that I can share my experiences at the upcoming Learning2 in Addis conference with other schools trying to do Learning 2.0 in a Web 1.0 world.