Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Relocating the blog...

I checked back and it appears that I started blogging just over 3 years ago. I've taken to it, though I don't do a good job of tracking readership or planning out what I write. As part of a personal improvement plan, I'm going to branch out a bit and begin posting to a different site. Check it out at http://kyedtech.com/blog and see what you think. I'll be partnering up with Marty Park and maybe some others and, with any luck, we'll stay relevant and push each other to new heights as we deal with everything going on in the education technology landscape.

Take care!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Streaming, bandwidth and the "YouTube effect"

This will not be a well thought-out post... more likely the general ramblings that were the basis of blogs, so let's dive in!

In K-12 technology, there's an ongoing and growing dichotomy (or it seems so) between those who want to be more open about Internet access and those who want to (choose your phrase) block, filter, lock it down, control, police access to the web. Both sides have valid points and I'll try to touch on them briefly:

Open it up, we filter too much as it is - Who are you, technician and non-educator, to say what is or is not relevant to my students' instruction? Do you not trust the teachers, degreed professionals, to properly manage their classrooms and the students' Internet browsing habits? Filters are notorious for blocking legitimate web content along with "bad sites". YouTube has tons of educational videos! I can use Pandora to teach about various cultures and their musical backgrounds! If the kids are spending their time on Facebook, why can't they use that environment in school? We can't ask them to unplug or turn off when they enter the school and expect to hold their interest! HELP!!!

Block those sites - I have a responsibility to manage the environment for everyone. Bandwidth is not unlimited. Do you know what happens when hundreds (or thousands) of simultaneous connections are made to streaming media sites? You're the ones complaining about slow Internet access and I'm trying to help. Have you seen your Internet logs? If I open up YouTube for students, bandwidth use will skyrocket and it will all be a bunch of YouTube usage! We have teachers that are not on task and that are allowing kids to play poker. Music? Let kids use their iPod because I can't have everyone streaming audio. HELP!!!

What we're talking about here are resources, utilities... and opportunities! As tech leaders, we need to run with the utility analogy and help educate our educators. As tech leaders, we need to wake up to the fact that there are TONS of educational resources on a site like YouTube. What is a flipped classroom? How do I tie a Windsor knot? How do I sharpen a lawn mower blade? Can the Oak Ridge Boys sing 'Seven Nation Army'? So, yeah... you can find pretty much anything on YouTube. It is a library. We don't keep our kids out of the library! Sure, not every book in the world in in our library and there's a time to be reading Shakespeare and a time to be reading Sports Illustrated.

As with any utility, though, there is a responsibility to promote proper use and there's a need to realize that the resource is limited. My good friend Marty has convinced me that kids can often focus better on tests with instrumental music playing. We might argue over whether hundreds of concurrent music streams or iPods are the better solution, and proper resource management is a factor. Hopefully, though, we can get past the fact that all [insert here: streaming media, social networking, etc] sites are bad. True, we have to manage utilities and everyone can't flush their toilet at the same time. Cutting peak demand can sometimes lower your electric bill.

Like your utility provider, IT staff DOES have a responsibility to help educate others and, yes, potentially help manage bandwidth as a resource. However, the school district or company as a whole needs to be involved in the conversation about the solution. The solution may be to restrict high-bandwidth content at times, and the solution may simply be to find more bandwidth for the benefit of your users. Educate and inform, but don't make that decision in a vacuum on behalf of your users.

[Image: http://www.hometoys.com/mentors/caswell/aug02/bandwidth.htm] Ironically, a post from 2002!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Data, Data, Data... and the associated pressures

Just a quick thought or two on some recent conversations I had related to data quality in our student information systems. Working around K-12 education, I reflect at times on how different things are - or how different they seem - since I was in school. There's data on everything and there's a well-intentioned desire to use that data to improve learning, assess better teaching, have a healthier school environment and things of that sort.

As that data gets analyzed, we see examples all around where the knowledge that this data exists causes changes in behavior. This school security site discusses school crime reporting... and under-reporting. As the link points out, what is my incentive to report every violent incident? Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of incentive to under-report and show that violent incidents are decreasing. No one wants to look like their school is a war zone; consequently, there are whispers that violent incidents should not be reported. That can lead to teachers having their hands full in the worst of cases with students who need to be reported and know that they will not be reported.

Another example I've heard about is the confusion around "in-school suspension". I've been told that districts are to track these suspensions in their student information tool. However, I've also talked to a couple of contacts who gave me an example where a student might have been pulled out of class... not for a 'suspension', but because they're behind in another subject and need additional time for homework or tutoring. That sounds noble, but I was hearing from a teacher who pointed out that she had good students asking her why they should do their homework. Apparently, these students saw that others were - in their eyes - simply being given more time or another chance to complete an assignment. In this case, the school didn't want to flag the students as a 'suspension', nor did they want to give the child a zero on a homework assignment.

I suppose my question is 'how do we get truly accurate and useful data when the overriding concern by some is that the data simply look good'? Perhaps if we weren't so punitive in our discourse and were simply concerned with accuracy, we could get some data that could be relied upon more often.
[Image: http://teflbootcamp.com/tefl-skills/student-discipline-efl-classroom/]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Data Quality and the Responsibility Parable

Our leadership and CIOs have been talking quite a bit lately about data quality. When talking to CIOs about it, the responses are all over the map. This is partially due to the varying authority and expectations placed on them by the local district's administration. One task in the effort to ensure high-quality data is to increase awareness, and there's been quite a bit of that taking place. Somewhere along the way, though, awareness has to be converted into action. The whole situation reminds me of the "responsibility parable", which you can find all over the web and is stated something like this:
Once upon a time, there were four people;
Their names were Everybody, Somebody, Nobody and Anybody.
Whenever there was an important job to be done, Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
When Nobody did it, Everybody got angry because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Somebody would do it, but Nobody realized that Nobody would do it.
So consequently Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done in the first place.
I think it's worth keeping this in mind, whether your issues relate to data quality or any technology initiative. This could be applied to proper technology planning and evaluation, open work orders that the whole department knows about or just about any task or great idea that's brought up in a group. We all have so much going on that it's easy to assume that just because everyone is "aware", then "someone" must be taking care of it. Are they?
[Image: I got it from http://fyimusic.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Blaming-each-other.jpg]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

If it isn't easy, it won't get done (or used)

I had planned on making a blog entry describing how to map my SkyDrive to a local drive letter. As it turns out, there are many blog entries describing the same thing. Search for yourselves and you'll have no problem finding instructions. Most instructions I've found involve getting your alphanumeric ID for the folder in question and then changing the mapping text to some URL involving docs.live.com or something similar. Then, perhaps you change forward slashes to backslashes and remove https and add a ^2Documents or some similar text and are you really going to do this? THEN, I scroll down to read comments on these write-ups only to find users saying that (1) it didn't work and/or (2) it is so slow that the user gave up or removed the mapping.

All of this, mind you, to map 25GB of storage to a local drive. I'm a fairly technical user and I have chosen not to bother with it. I can only assume that most non-technical users won't bother.

So, I shifted gears and thought I'd check out the price of USB flash drive storage. Naturally, I'm working off the assumption that I want easy access to some amount of storage, which theoretically caused my need to map that drive in the first place. As of today, I can go to a big-box store and get an 8GB flash drive for $10. Personally, the bigger problem will be keeping up with the flash drive rather than finding the $10 for 8GB of storage. That's a whole other matter.

For history's sake, I wanted to see how much prices had dropped over the years. Here's a Black Friday ad from 2008 where I can get a super deal of 8GB for about $20. Mind you, this was Black Friday and the retail price ($10 on 11/4/11) was $50 about 3 years ago.

Even more interesting was a look back at a 1996 Best Buy flyer. USRobotics 33.6 modem for $160? You bet! $130 for a 16MB memory upgrade. $400 (after $30 mail-in rebate) for a 3.1 GB hard drive. $70 for a Uniden 30-message pager. I wore a pager at one time! Would kids today even get the Dr. Beeper references in Caddyshack?

Ah, I digress... but I'm not mapping my SkyDrive to a local drive - not today, anyway.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Integrating Technology: A Baseball Analogy

A quick post in honor of the St. Louis Cardinals, who pulled off a miraculous win in Game 6 of the World Series last night.

I've seen several emails and web sites that rank the 100 best iDevice tips or the 50 best web sites for education. Honestly, I have no problem with those sites and I've learned about several useful web sites and apps by reading such articles. I also understand that these sites want readers and articles that 'rank' various apps or sites can get a good number of page views.

My problem, though, is that it's tempting for instructional technology leaders to present these large blocks of resources to teachers as a method of assisting them with technology integration. If you are a teacher and are already overwhelmed with the need to cover content, manage student behavior, give periodic assessments, contact parents, develop lesson plans, grade assignments, enter all of this into a student information system, (and on and on)... you may be doing them a disservice.

When I was younger, I loved baseball. I wanted to pitch but didn't have the size, arm strength or accuracy to be a good pitcher. That didn't stop me from wanting to know how to throw a curveball, slider or knuckleball. I remember goofing off while warming up for a game and our team would throw (OK, try to throw) all of those pitches to one another.

Of course, most of those pitches aren't practical for the vast majority of aspiring young pitchers. Most of what you'll read about coaching youth baseball will tell you to focus on developing a fastball and a changeup. Why is that? Part of the reason is certainly about avoiding injury to young arms while trying to throw an arm-stressing pitch like a curveball. That isn't all of it, though. Even at the major league level, there are pitchers that can have great success while having only a couple of great pitches. One of the best relief pitchers ever has dominated hitters with basically one pitch. We know why, don't we?

A young pitcher with a good fastball and changeup has some great qualities. The mechanics of the two pitches are similar, with slight adjustments to grip style, pressure and ball position. Good coaches will work with them to know how to throw those pitches properly, where to locate them and when to use each pitch. Those decisions are based on the hitter you're facing and aspects of the ongoing game like the score, any runners on base, the number of outs, who's on-deck and things of the sort.

We should be using a similar strategy when helping teachers integrate technology in the classroom. Let's find the best resources that can be used in most any situation. We won't start with 50 or 100... let's start with a few. We'll work with teachers on those few resources until they're confident that they know how to use them. Once they know how to use the resource, a good teacher should be able to determine when to use each resource based on factors like the subject area, the particular student(s) involved, the time of day and year, what other activities are taking place in the school and community, and so forth.

In baseball, good coaches teach kids the basics and ease in to the more advanced concepts. Make sure you're doing the same with your technology integration strategies. There are some great pitchers out there that only have one or two superb pitches, so let's not assume that every teacher needs to be an expert on all of the technology resources available.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Managing hype as technology gets more affordable

I was thinking about dusting off the blog and making and entry and, lo and behold, one of my co-workers just posted a great blog entry about managing the hype in education technology. He makes several points that are worth stressing.

He references Moore's Law, which originally dealt with transistors on a circuit. Over time, it's been slightly altered to include power and price. The basic point is that we're regularly seeing the computing power double and the price points for technology of that power getting cut in half. Don't believe me? As of this writing, netbooks with 1GB RAM and 250GB HDD are under $300 and closer to $200-250 in some cases. Depending on how much processing power you need, a laptop with more RAM, disk space and screen size can be had for $500 (more or less, as I said, depending on processing power and some other factors).

As a matter of comparison, I found an old contract update from one of our state technology vendors. KY school districts, from state contract, could buy a Dell Latitude C840 in April, 2003. It had a P4 1.8Ghz processor and a 15" UXGA display (and also a 56k modem included, BTW). We got VERY good discounts from these contracts and this device, with 256MB RAM and a massive 30GB HDD, could be had for about $1600. Think about that for a minute.

Technology is getting more portable, more affordable and more capable. Not that many years ago, tech leaders were fretting that the device would have to have the right capabilities at the right price point before we would ever see a scenario where every student have a device for their own use. We are there.

So what do we do about it? As the originally linked article indicates, we manage the hype in a constructive fashion. We should be passionate about the possibilities and excited about what the technology can do. Rightfully so, we have to aware of the challenges and continue to lead in conversations about TCO and the need for proper staffing, professional development, infrastructure and management policies regarding the technology.