Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BYOC: Bring Your Own Context

by Shelly Blake-Plock

A lot of discussion recently over the pros and cons of BYOD -- Bring Your Own Device. Some folks have been quite adamantly in favor or against.

For all the hub-bub, I think it's worth thinking about devices not just in relation to what kids do with them in the classroom, but rather how they relate to the connection those devices represent for them in the real world.

Fact is that we are living in a time -- not unlike those previous -- when one device will not do it all. 

Context is the key.

If I am processing audio, I want to be on a Mac. If I am tweeting on the bus, I want to be on a smartphone. If I am reading the news, I want to kick back with a tablet. If I am learning a new language, my iPod will do just fine.

Does this make life more difficult when you are trying to find a "solution" for you school? Yes. Technology is not making life easier.

Again, context is the key.

Personally, I don't think that forcing a "school standard" will change the fact that for a lot of people, the smartphone represents their connection to the Internet.

Nor is giving me a laptop going to change the fact that I personally read better on an iPad. Nor is giving me an iPad going to change the fact that I type better on a laptop.

There is no "one device".

So why do schools pretend they can provide it?

My wife loves Android. I'm waiting for Windows 8. Fortunately, we can make decisions to experience technology in the way that is most conducive to the way each of us work. So, I can't afford a new fancy Mac to do high-end video, but luckily there is a community center in town that offers time on theirs. I take my iPad to the library, but when I want to do some heavy writing, I use the desktop PCs they have there running OpenOffice. In other words, between what we can provide and what the community can provide, we have a range of options for using devices to do what we need to.

Maybe instead of trying to find the "device" or the "solution", we should step back and think about our role in schools to provide a range of computing experiences -- and to allow kids to bring a range of computing experiences with them. This after all is fundamentally what a school is meant to do: provide a range of learning experiences and accept that kids bring a range of experiences with them.

One of the biggest failures of 1:1 computing in education is school's inability to understand that there is a difference between having a machine and having a lifestyle device.

One of the biggest potential failures of BYOD is thinking that kids can provide equity on their own.

My own approach as a decision maker would probably be to strike a balance whereby the school would provide machines capable of handling the task at hand and the students are allowed to bring their own devices to complement the tech infrastructure.

We need to integrate both into a learning experience.

We need a range of devices to handle a range of problems and provide a range of opportunities.

Going hard one way or the other -- for or against BYOD -- is missing the reality of the way most of us actually compute, and missing a chance to leverage the context in the way we and our students actually understand and relate to technology.

In reality, this isn't about BYOD, it's about BYOC -- Bring Your Own Context.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1000 Posts

Somewhere over the last couple days, we published our 1000th blog post here on TeachPaperless.

I'd just like to say that I have really enjoyed and appreciated the variety of forms both in terms of writing and philosophy that have taken to these pages since the blog became a community-created endeavor back in January of this year. Thank you to all of the writers, contributors, commenters, and readers who have -- in my mind -- made TeachPaperless the special thing that it is.

Looking forward to 1000 more.

- Shelly

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From a PLN to a Guild

by John T. Spencer

I had a lengthy Twitter instant message conversation with Russ Goerend.  We talked about hard issues of desires for teaching, reform in our classroom and burnout.  It was a time of vulnerability for both of us.  On other nights, we might have talked theory or exchanged instructional ideas.  But tonight we were both needing a conversation about the parts of teaching that aren't mentioned in the staff lounge or a PLC meeting.

A few nights ago, I "met" via Google chat with Gregory Hill.  Again, the conversation pingponged between teaching and life and the sense of hope and crushed hope that we both experience at different times.  On Saturday I met with Robert Greco.  We had had coffee and shared stories, geeked out about teaching and society and spoke honestly about what it's like to be a dad.  A few nights before that, I Skyped with Jeff Russell.  While the focus was on filming student documentaries, he had a chance to see my kids misbehave and my response to him.  I felt embarrassed, but he was gracious.

The day before that, I sent some books out to David Loitz, read an amazing post by Justin Stortz and heard some of the best push-back and compliments I've ever gotten by Chad Sansing.  That same day, I had a very geeky, intellectual, honest conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock and a long Twitter conversation with William Chamberlain and Michael Kaechele.

If you had caught me on a different week, I would have been interacting with David Wees, Jabiz Raisdana, Jerrid Kruse, Shelly Terrell, Michael Doyle, Angela Watson, Mary Beth Hertz, Stephen Davis or Jose Vilson.

At this point, my entire post could easily feel like a long list of names.  However, for me, these are the people who have kept me teaching, writing and thinking when I was nearing a place of burnout.  It's a bigger list than I had ever imagined.  I am, too a large extent, an introvert.  I tend to hang out with Javi the Hippie and Quinn the Business Bohemian.

I've written before about PLNs.  I've created sketchy videos to explain how a PLN works.

And yet . . .

I'm not looking for something that works.  Not when I have somewhere that I belong.  I have a loose band of online friends (many of whom are not mentioned in this post) who offer ideas, ask questions, share stories and, most of all, allow me to be myself.  I have a non-geographic place that transcends any medium and it is in this place that I can not only be transparent, but also vulnerable.

So, when I search for a metaphor regarding this space, I'm most likely to think of it as a guild.  It is a place where I am known as a whole person engaged in a challenging, meaningful vocation.  It is a place where I can share ideas on my craft, tell stories from the classroom and make sense out of my struggles.  It is a group that I trust who will fight for me against the forces of apathy, insecurity and standardization that so often derail me as a professional.

Ideally we would all live in a physical community.  Then again, ideally I would ride a unicorn to work and instead of a stress ball at work, Carol King and Samuel Beam would stand by my desk and each offer their own singer-songwriter melodies.  However, we live in an urbanized, fragmented, compartmentalized world. We can allow emerging technologies to push us toward amusement and fragmentations or we can form a guild and share our lives.

*     *     *

Note: For the rest of this week and all of next week, you can buy any of my books for one dollar. You can get all five of them for a price of a venti latte. Oh, you'd rather have that venti latte? Okay, I don't blame you entirely.

Troubleshooting Tips

By Steve Katz

In the ed tech office we often get teachers coming in with computer problems that are solved with some very basic troubleshooting tips. I created this document (in the form of a certificate) with the hope of helping teachers to learn the most basic troubleshooting. I created it as a certificate thinking that people might be more inclined to post it on the wall and refer to it. Please feel free to share the document.

Download the full-size Certificate

Cross posted on my blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Real Public Media

by John T. Spencer

The Radio

"They seem to lack a unified message."

Really?  I heard that phrase twelve times over the course of two mornings on NPR, which implies that unity can only occur through a set of specific talking points and a hierarchal structure.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy, social media and what a grassroots movement is all about.

I'm not a reporter.  I get that.  But I noticed quite a few signs with words written on them.  After reading the words, I noticed people were angry about the bailouts, angry about the corporate take-over of public institutions, upset about the Supreme Court allowing corporations to be treated as people.  Sounds to me like a unified message that there is an oligopoly, plutocracy and kleptocracy running America.

Then again, I'm not a "real" journalist.

At one point, a reporter (not someone being interviewed) said, "they haven't seemed to figure out why they are protesting."  I've never known anyone who protests just for the hell of it.  I doubt anyone said, "Dude, there's gonna be awesome bongo drums.  I don't care about why we're protesting.  I'll risk being arrested because those bongo drums, my God, they sound great."

The Take-Home

I still like PBS and NPR (someday I'm going to meet Terri Gross in person).  However, I need to remember that while they might be the best of mainstream media, they still pale in comparison to the real public media.  We are in a new era where information is instantly accesible.  Who covered the Occupy Wall Street protests first?  (Or for that matter, who paid attention to the Tea Party first?)  Who video-taped police beating folks who were exercising their First Amendment rights?  Who covered and helped produce the Arab Spring movements?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is proving that the public is the true public media.  We are the citizen-journalists.  What this means for teachers is that if we want true social studies, we need to teach students to think well about civics and social justice.  Students need to move beyond memorizing facts and into the bigger issues of understanding context, distinguishing between facts and opinions, analyzing language, reporting accurately, expressing one's voice respectfully and understanding the bias of both the medium and the message.

Mobile devices have created the Pocket Journalist, where students can access, create, mix and analyze information as it is happening.  I can complain about the bias in public media, but my time is better spent helping develop a more informed, accurate and meaningful public media within my own context of the public education system.

*     *     *
Note: For the rest of this week and all of next week, you can buy any of my books for one dollar.  You can get all five of them for a price of a venti latte.  Oh, you'd rather have that venti latte?  Okay, I don't blame you entirely.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

#OWS Consensus

by Mike Kaechele
Stumbled on this in Google+ from Benjamin Wilkoff about the consensus process being used at Occupy Wall Street.

This has potential for so many questions and discussion topics with students.

  • What is actual democracy?
  • Is the current government of the United States a democracy?
  • Whose voice is most important in an democracy?
  • For PBL it is a great example of how student groups should function.
  • What are the weaknesses of this form of government?
  • Does this scale to a national level and what would that look like?
  • How can we make sure more opinions are heard and given a true seat at the table before decisions are made?
  • How can we implement the consensus model in schools?
  • How could the consensus model be used in your classroom?
  • How could the consensus model be used with students in curriculum planning and design?
What would you add?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paperless Coaster

By Steve Katz

Unfortunately, hard drives don't last forever. But you can keep using them. Here is my friend Kevin's external hard drive shortly after it died.

I love opening electronic equipment after it no longer is in use, so that's what I did with the hard drive. I left it sitting on my desk after opening it. I started using it as a coaster for my coffee cup.

A few days later I came across some of those rubber footpads that are used to keep things from scratching up your table. I stuck four of those to the bottom to keep my "coaster" from scratching my desk.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Originally posted on my blog.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Prediction: What Platform Will Be Running on the Tablets in Your Classes?

by Shelly Blake-Plock


That's my prediction. Here's my rationale: Windows 8 has been designed especially for touchscreen computing. Windows is the overwhelming winner in the enterprise market. Major PC manufacturers from HP to Dell are re-evaluating their business in a post-iPad world. In the short term, no PC company is going to catch up to the iPad. And the Kindle Fire will soak up much of the remaining consumer market for folks who just want to watch movies and read books on a tablet.

While Android phones will continue to gain market share -- though with a $99 iPhone 3S floating around, it will be interesting to watch what happens -- Android tablets will get squeezed out by Apple and Amazon on the consumer side and by Windows tablets in business. Windows is what business trusts and Windows will be what business goes to as tablet computing hits the workplace in a big way. Watch for a company like Nvidia to monopolize the need for increased graphics capability on tablets and watch the usual suspects -- HP, Sony, Dell, Lenovo, Asus -- all come out with Windows-based tablets.

My guess is that this will all burst on to the scene in a big way for the post-election holiday season of 2012. We'll likely see the big commercial blitz over the summer to coordinate with television advertising for the candidates and on the Internet streams of political shows on MSNBC, Fox, and the like.

And then you'll start seeing them in schools. Because high schools -- high schools are likely where the majority of 1:1 tablets will come in because of online AUP/TOS policies regarding younger kids -- will do as they have traditionally tried to do and follow the lead of business and higher ed when it comes to tech buying decisions.

And so, starting in 2013, we'll see the first wave of Windows tablets entering classrooms. That momentum will build as the price of productivity-oriented Windows tablets comes down and the need for 1:1 connectivity will become increasingly an infrastructure and instructional expectation (as well as a necessary way to deal with online textbooks in places like CA) -- starting in a big way in suburban public schools, but also building off early forays into mobile learning in urban and rural schools. Most private schools -- at least those with an eye to maintaining high college placement stats -- will make Windows tablets the standard 1:1 learning device / notebook / organizer in those settings.

By 2016 or so, Windows tablets will be the industry standard.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. This is just a prediction. And in many ways it's a ludicrous prediction, but I'm willing to put it out there.

Why Steve Jobs Couldn't Fix Your Classroom

by John T. Spencer and Shelly Blake-Plock

The first time I watched a Steve Jobs product announcement on YouTube, I was struck by the way the media seemed to hang over his every word without questioning the high price tag, the closed system he advocated or the war metaphors he was using to describe winning over the market share.  It straddled the line between Amway pitch and religious revival.  Don't get me wrong.  It was much prettier.  Jobs was a master marketer who understood the Zen of design.  But in the end, it was the same li(n)e that many of us experience: "If you consume, you will find happiness."

I don't hate Steve Jobs.  For what it's worth, he's never broken any Windows in my home.  However, in the euphoria of Apple-philia, I think we need to remember that his company made a ton of money selling very expensive computers to schools.  Whether or not they were worth it (and often they were worth the money), it is important that educators remember the reality that Apple has a vested economic interest in public education.  It's why I shudder every time I walk into the district office and see the sheer number of Apple stickers branding the public space.

I mention this because I've read many tributes to Steve Jobs describing how he transformed education.  Bloggers have gushed about how Jobs was a visionary for 21st Century Learning.  However, like Bill Gates and other technocrats, it's important to remember that engineers often make piss-poor education reformers.  Simply glance back at history and see how well techies have done in moving education forward.  Thomas Edison believed that classrooms would be radically transformed with phonographs and motion pictures.  He envisioned a futuristic classroom where students passively experienced the information.  Henry Ford was a technological genius, but his vision of factory schools are the very thing that have gotten in the way of authentic learning.

It's important that we remember Steve Jobs accurately.  His teardrops did not cure leprosy and his products themselves did not radically transform education; rather, it was only once the full force of the Internet became a mainstream staple of our culture -- decades after the first Apple IIe was ever sold to an elementary school -- that Jobs' products even had an opportunity to transform education.

If we want to look at the values of Jobs, we need to ask, "Are these really what should drive education in the future?"
  • High price
  • A rejection of open source and open knowledge for everyone
  • Closed systems
  • An embrace of aesthetics over capacity
  • Innovation intrinsically tied to corporate power
  • Competition to the point of forcing the issue of monopoly
  • Relying on expert-created content (for sale) rather than encouraging user-based content creation (share via Creative Commons)
  • Intuitive user experience that demands users intuit alike
  • Emphasis on quality and craftsmanship produced on the back of globalization
  • Sustainability through products that last until their manufactured obsolescence kicks in
  • Centralized organizational structure and corporate secrecy
  • Marketing to children
  • Lack of Social Justice: Heavy use of manufacturing from under-developed countries
  • Selling hardware and software for profit rather than relying on connected networks 
The list isn't all bad, but it clearly has its flaws and it suggests that maybe it's time educators take a long, hard look at the apple.  Consider contrasting Apple to Wikipedia.  Yeah, Wikipedia isn't sexy, but it's a far better model of education than a transnational corporation.  Apple is the-one-the-only-the-top-of-the-line-thing-to-buy.  Meanwhile, Wikipedia is a symbol of the transformation that has occurred as technology became de-centralized and democratized.  Which serves as a better model for the future of the relationship between technology and education?

It comes down to this: the iPad is a great device; it could be argued that the iPad will be an essential device.  But the iPad is not an essential device because of what it physically is.  The iPad is an essential device because of what it represents: mobile access to the fruit of the Internet.  The idea that the Internet itself is mobile and accessible by all is far more transformative than the number of megapixels in the webcam or the ergonomics of the leather magnet cover.

In the end, we have to remember that Apple made and continues to make products.  It's the artists and designers and thinkers who use those products, it's the people who make connections using those products, it's the rebels who subvert and augment and redefine the uses of those products (think the origination of iTunes University) that defines transformation.  Jobs himself would likely agree.  It has been therefore ever the more disheartening to see the flood of memorializations and hagiographies that seek to portray Jobs' inventions (as though there were no engineering teams working at Apple) the important thing rather than what those inventions represent within the ecosystem of Internet-era technology.  And by Apple's own corporate code, those inventions have represented secrecy in an era of openness, closed systems in an era of collaboration, and high price at a time of great financial anxiety.

Steve Jobs couldn't fix your classroom. In fact, he never really had that in mind.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Essential Anthology of 21st Century Education Blogs

A colleague recently asked me what I considered the most important writing from 21st century education blogs. I started to respond, but then cut myself off. I did so because I really don't think that question can be answered by a single person. So, I'm asking you to help.

Let's crowdsource our own anthology of the most essential writing of 21C education blogs.

I'd like you to say what the most important writing in 21C edu blogs has been to you. And I'm not asking you to just forward your RSS or Diigo over here. I'd really like you to take a moment, if you would, to think about all that you've read in education over the last few years. What really sticks out? What moved you? What made you think about changing your attitudes and your practice? What compelled you to connect?

Here's the form I'd like you to fill out with the name of the author and the post as well as an explanation of why it's of such significance to you:

I already posted one of mine as an example; you'll be able to see the results here:

Let me know if there are any problems with the form or spreadsheet. I look forward to reading (and reading) what you all post. Please forward this around to all the educators you know.

Shelly Blake-Plock

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Opportunity Versus Influence

by John T. Spencer

I'm co-writing a novel right now with my wife.  It's an exciting, confusing, invigorating, messy process.  It's something we talked about a few years back, but I never pursued it, because I didn't see any opportunity in it.  After all, I had to say something re-tweetable on Twitter chats in order to maintain my Klout score.  I felt the need to prove myself on a few group blogs and chase every opportunity for teacher professional development.  I had the chance to boost my ego, but to co-write a book felt humbling.  I wouldn't have control.

I wanted to matter.

I wanted influence.

I wanted my voice to count.

But instead of refining my voice, I grabbed the megaphone and shouted into it with a look-at-me mentality.   I chased an Edublog Award nomination and engaged in a who-says-the-smartest-tweet pissing contest.  I chose snark over substance.  I became increasingly competitive, even when writing posts about cooperation and collaboration.  I became envious of the gurus and superstars who garnered so much attention in conferences.  I hit embarrassing moments of self-despair over my lack of adequate book sales.

I woke up one morning and began a ritual of checking my stats: subscribers, followers, friends.  I Googled myself (not as disgusting as it sounds).  It felt empty.  I was after opportunity when what I wanted was influence.  Not Klout or even clout.  I had lost my voice in a yelling contest.

I'm not sure I walked away from that entirely, but slowly I shifted from opportunity to influence.  I gave myself the permission to take long breaks from Twitter and to retweet even if a person doesn't retweet my work.  I quit censoring what I wrote through the filter of branding.  I started talking up some of my favorite blogs instead of silently competing.  I decided that I would do Facebook in person for forty days and I would blog about it even if I appeared less professional.   I spent more time commenting on blogs.

I'm still in a place of transition.  I'm still discovering what it means to bring others into my world.  I'm still figuring out what it means to to ask rather than shout. I'm still stumbling over my ego and learning to say "yes" to the things that matter rather the things that will benefit my make-believe pseudo-self brand.    

So, back to the novel.  I'm writing the kind of novel that I would want my students to read.  And, honestly, they might be the only ones to read it.  (Or it might be popular.  Popularity is a crap-shoot). But if they are, that's okay.  I want to speak truth in nuance and narrative, pulling students toward a story that matters. I'm not sure if there's any opportunity in this, but I'm convinced that there is influence.