Posts tagged ‘teacher professional development’

November 5, 2012

Put the action back in interAction

by t.e.d.d.y.

There are many participants in an education process.  There are students, instructors, content, different types of media and technology.  These participants are in constant contact and they have their roles to play in order to achieve a certain goal.  The goal for all participants is common – student learning.  If everyone fulfills their role effectively, the common goal is something that happens naturally.  All roles must act together and in balance in order to reach that goal.  Often though, it seems that there is a discrepancy or imbalance that causes learning to suffer.

In an environment where there is lots of inter acting, is there enough interaction?

Have you ever attended a presentation or a webinar where you wondered why you were there?  Were you thinking of anything else but the subject of that session?  You are not alone.  Personally, I have experienced this a lot too.  So here’s the gist of interaction.

There are generally two types of interaction: passive & active.  Passive interaction is when the participants do not provide feedback to each other.  This was the prevalent type in the 19th and 20th centuries.  And unfortunately it can still be seen in many presentations and on/offline events.  To understand it better, imagine reading a book.  Communication is only one way.  You read the book and receive the information it contains.  You can’t talk back or change that information as you read.  In other words, passive interaction is literally the inability to argue with a radio.  It can only go one way.

Active interaction on the other hand, is exactly the opposite.  Communication flows freely between participants.  They constantly provide feedback to each other and the conversation evolves constantly rather than stall and stop.  Imagine a group project, in which all participants have their roles and they need to find a way to work together in order to complete the project.  Their interaction has to include constant discussion, feedback, and coordination.  Participants need to find resources and include them in the interaction, they need to share and evaluate together as a team.  Eventually they will create a final material full of information that is a result of their collaboration and active interaction.

Both types of interaction have their place at the right time and the right circumstances.  As I always remind my student-teachers: If you use a tool or method appropriately and in the right context, you can’t go wrong.  The overuse of anything is going to have a negative impact on the learning process.  Too much lecturing will limit the opportunity to hear from your students.  Too much active interaction without any straight-forward knowledge transfer, may prevent your students from learning and understanding the curriculum.  So the old cliche of “balance is the key” really is… key.

The picture below illustrates some tools and methods that create both passive and active interaction.  Combining a few of these tools will create a rich and comfortable environment both for you and your students.  Combinations I have used in the past:

1. Weekly webcast + class wiki + live chat + materials posted by me
2. Peer review + screencast + forum + social media + podcast
3. Read materials by me + webinar + wiki + presentations + live chat

What are your choices?

Types of interaction

October 18, 2011

Free Webinar: “Tapping the Power of Online PD”

by t.e.d.d.y.

I have been posting a lot of events lately but I can’t help it when I see something interesting and free of charge.  The details of this one are below.

To register, click here.

October 17, 2011

Webinar Series with Kathy Schrock: “Resources for Information Literacy”

by t.e.d.d.y.

To join the webinar, click here.

October 14, 2011

Cheater-teachers caught in the action: punishment and lessons learned

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How should school districts deal with teachers who participate in cheating schemes?  Is it a matter of personal moral problems or the system should be blamed?

I have been following the story on teachers in Waterbury, CT involved in a cheating scandal.  Although they have returned to work since the scandal unfolded, they still face possible loss of their credentials.

UPDATE: From the New York Times: “In cheating cases, teachers who took risks or flouted rules”

UPDATE: So now the solution is to increase test security.  How about change the system that promotes studying for the test?  Then cheating will be redundant because tests won’t matter.  I am amazed at the problem solving skills of some senior administrators.  Read about it here.

What’s your take on the matter?

(choose all that applies; add your comments too)

October 13, 2011

“Breaking Down the Walls of the Physical Classroom”: Complimentary Webinar from Adobe and the Learning Guild

by t.e.d.d.y.

Breaking Down the Walls of the Physical Classroom
A Vision for Continuous Learning in a Technology-Enabled World
Thursday, October 27, 2011
10am-11am PT

As workforces have become more geographically dispersed, more mobile and more reliant upon multi-threaded, continuous learning approaches, live virtual training is beginning to take center stage in the organizational training strategy. Simultaneously–and for precisely the same reasons–the effectiveness and relevance of physical classroom training has diminished greatly.  In this exclusive webinar, Martyn Lewis, Principal at 3g Selling, will explore key societal and learning trends that have fundamentally changed the way training experiences must be designed and delivered.  Focusing on learner engagement and motivation, the webinar will provide a pragmatic perspective on today’s numerous learning modalities and which work best for different learners in different contexts. We’ll then look at how–with live virtual as the centerpiece of the organizational training strategy–these modalities can fit together to create an effective and continuous learning environment.

In this webinar, you will see and learn:

  • Societal and learning trends that have changed the face of training
  • How and why live virtual training has emerged as the centerpiece of the organizational training strategy
  • Why physical classroom training has diminished in effectiveness and relevance
  • What drives learner motivation and engagement in today’s world
  • The different manifestations of virtual: why real-time collaboration and interaction is still crucial to training results
How numerous training modalities can fit into your overall training mix to create an optimal (and ongoing) training experience.

Win a Free One-Day Workshop!
Participants who register for and attend the webinar will have the opportunity to qualify to win a FREE one-day, onsite consulting workshop from 3g Selling. The workshop offer includes facilitator travel and accommodation and is valued at over $5,000.

3 Steps to Effective Continuous Learning: Creating an Architecture that Enables
Click to learn more about this workshop.
This one-day workshop takes an innovative yet pragmatic approach to defining an overall learning architecture that is required to enable a continuous learning environment for the organization. The workshop will help define the optimal training approaches, vehicles and plan for your organizational learning requirements.

September 26, 2011

Studying and teaching for the test: Students’ and Teachers’ worst nightmare

by t.e.d.d.y.

Traditional or the way I like to call them “military” types of assessment have no place in an education system of the 21st century.  Are we still studying for the test?  That’s because our teachers are teaching for the test.  Teachers in the U.S. (in North America in general but mostly in the U.S. especially after NCLB was implemented) are held accountable for low test scores of their students.  So what do we have here?  Teacher who sneaks answers to students only to get good evaluations on their own work and get a pay raise based on these results.  How sad is that?!

Test scores mean that you can or cannot take a test.  They don’t represent your knowledge or understanding of a subject matter.  I have said this a thousand times.  Having worked in the test prep industry, I know that a test is taken not because you necessarily learn the content covered by the test, but by learning the tricks of test-taking.  Believe or not, it’s called “methodology of test-taking”.  Now that’s pathetic.  Who says for example that people with higher IQ are smarter than people with lower IQ?  The creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, warned that measuring someone’s intelligence is not a linear process and it cannot be represented by a single number.  In other words, Binet insisted that intelligence does not have a fixed quantity and it can also improve or deteriorate depending on many other factors.  Unfortunately this part of this explanation behind the infamous IQ test were ignored.  Even today, based on an IQ test, a lot of states make decisions on whether to convict someone based on their IQ test score.  How ridiculous is this?!

Anyway… before I go off topic… the bottom line is, studying for the test is wrong and cannot lead to anything good or productive… like learning for example.  Studying does not necessarily lead to learning.  There are many examples of why tests have negative effects on learning.  And there are examples of why having no tests leads to better results.  I was reading an article about the education system in Finland and I was amazed.  Finland has no tests for its students and teachers and is rated among the highest achieving countries on innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.  Why is that?  What’s the magic formula that got them there?  Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains it like this:

There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.” The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all.

Can you believe this is actually working?  Not only is it working, it’s making the education system in this country flourish.  It’s making its teachers and students flourish.  The focus is on teachers’ professional development and trust.  Every teacher in Finland must have a Master’s degree.  For every ten applicants to become teachers, only one gets to go into a classroom.  This high expectation but also flexibility has turned the teaching profession into one of the most prominent in the country.  Professor Wagner continues:

So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland’s performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.

Professor Tony Wagner narrated a documentary on the education system in Finland called “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System” and is the author of a book “The Global Achievement Gap” (find a link and full title in the BookBuzz page of this blog).  Professor Wagner says that Finland has “defined professionalism as working more collaboratively”.  Teachers actually have time during the day to work together and constantly improve their skills, curriculum, and lessons.

So why can’t we take this lesson and move away from the “military” 19th century type of teaching and teacher preparation?  Tests are not the bottom line of who our students and teachers are.  Giving a raise to a teacher because her students scored high on a standardized multiple-choice test is so wrong that it is beyond anything natural that might happen in a school.  I may sound like a broken record but I will quote Sir Ken Robinson here.  He says that schools should go back to a more agricultural model of functioning and move away from the industrial model; to a customized model and move away from the fast food model.  They should create the circumstances under which students and teachers can “grow” organically.  Just as you provide water and sun for the crops to grow, schools should nourish students and teachers to reach their potential and be motivated to create and love what they do.  I believe Finland’s education system has done just that.

UPDATE from the news:  Here’s what happens when college admission depends on a test score.  When colleges only need the score, then students care only about… the score. –“7 Long Island Students Charged in SAT Scheme”

UPDATE: I found this excellent interview with Dr. Ben Levin, University of Toronto on the value of standardized tests and the differences between the US and Canadian education systems.

UPDATE: Edutopia’s article on how technology will help move away from a test-driven curriculum: “Critical and creative thinking cannot, and will not, happen in our schools unless we unshackle our teachers from the confines of our test-driven curriculum.”

September 7, 2011

A new book from BC professors sheds light on the new generation of university students: valid points or a one-way story?

by t.e.d.d.y.

I found this article about a book, “Campus Confidential: 100 Startling Things You Don’t Know about Canadian Universities” by Dr. Ken Coates, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at University of Waterloo, Ontario, and William Morrison, history professor at University of Northern British Columbia.  In the book the two scholars examine the   current state of Canadian universities and pressing issues faced by the institutions.  In particular, they bring up a point that students nowadays have changed and their expectations of universities are very high without actually wanting to work hard for their grades.

The authors explain that there is a big change the way students perceive universities.  “The authors blame societal permissiveness, child-centred educational and parenting styles, overwhelming materialism, video games, sexualized media and the guilt of two-income families. It’s not all bad, the authors write, because these new students are also more assertive and more confident than previous generations and not intimidated by professors or any adults.

I don’t necessarily agree with all that view.  I listened to an interview with Dr. Coates in which he also says that students nowadays don’t read books or articles and professors are lucky if they get them to read one article out of 5 mandatory readings.  While I think this is definitely a negative trend on its own, when put into perspective, there is a good reason for it.  Most lectures in universities are older and not always updated with the latest information.  Students prefer to do their own research on a topic than wait for a professor to provide the info.  That leads us to the idea that the lecture type of teaching is long gone and the professor/teacher is not the know-it-all source of information in the classroom.  Even prof. Coates says that we need to change the way we teach.  The university should become the place for exploration and excitement about knowledge. Teaching material should change towards a competency based knowledge rather than an abstract old-fashioned type of knowledge which is static and never changes with the world.

I always get a bit sceptical when teachers give advice on how to make students focus more.  An argument that prof. Coates makes is about the attention span of students and how they prefer to use their laptops during class to update their Facebook status rather than listen to what the professor has to say.  The reason I am sceptical about such remarks is that they show a certain degree of insecurity about those teachers.  So the only way you can make someone pay attention to you is if you forbid them to do anything else but listen to you.  That’s a bit of an artificially created learning environment.  The fact that students are looking at you and not their computer does not mean they are listening to you.  So banning computers from the classroom in order to get everyone’s eyes on you will not bring students’ interest in your lecture up.  On the contrary, they will be looking at you thinking about what they want to write on Facebook once your boring class is over.  So instead of blaming computers for the lack of interest, how about we blame our teaching method?  One thing that prof. Coates points out in his interview is that he scrapped all his lectures for this year and he will work with the students to re-create the lectures together with them.  He suggests that setting the topic and getting students to research and contribute with information through discussion and group participation is a way better teaching method, which enhances learning, than sitting everyone down in a quiet lecture room and reading your lecture notes to them.  And I agree with him.

More on the topic:

Interview with prof. Ken Coates, Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Waterloo, Ontario

News article from the Vancouver Sun on “Campus Confidential”.

“Campus Confidential: 100 Startling Things you Don’t Know about Canadian Universities” from Amazon.ca

August 12, 2011

Holding on to the 19th century – the academic paper’s days are numbered

by t.e.d.d.y.

Continuing my rant about change in education, I found this article (Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com) fascinating.  It reviews a book that’s coming up by Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It”, which questions a few beliefs in the academic world, such as the “academic paper” as a form of assessment in university.

Education does need an upgrade to match the digital age and it needs it fast.  Methods of teaching and assessment inherited from the 19th century (and even the 20th) are not relevant any more.  There are a couple of issues here that impressed me the most and made me think that wanting change and pushing it forward isn’t such a bad thing (makes me feel less guilty about doing it) :)

One of the issues is related to using the “academic paper” as a form of assessment.  The author of the book says that she noticed her students failing to write good academic papers at the end of their university courses, but at the same time were producing excellent blogs and Wikis which were perfectly well written and attracted a huge audience of interested readers.  She noticed that her students were capable of researching a topic, relating the information to their own experience and writing about it in their blogs and Wikis in a clear, interesting, and engaging way.  However, when it came to doing the same in an academic paper, they all struggled to express themselves and most of their assignments were hardly at a publishable or even acceptable level.  So what was wrong? The author came to the conclusion that her students’ writing skills may not be the problem.  The “academic paper” as a form may be the problem.  It’s a form we inherited from the 19th century when people had to learn certain rules and sequence of writing in order to be easily assessed by their professors.

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

In this day and age, however, this form becomes irrelevant because less and less people will search for an academic paper (unless you work in academia) in order to get information or learn something.  Usually, people would look to the Internet to find what they need and that would be sufficient.  Another change from the 19th century is that professors nowadays do everything they can to limit their work with students.  Yes, I said it… it’s true.  How many professors have lost their jobs because they can’t teach?  None.  How many professors have jeopardized their jobs because they don’t publish enough research academic papers or don’t bring enough funding for their departments?  The number is quite large.  Professors have limited their direct work with students so much, that they don’t even grade student assignments any more.  They delegate the work to external “professional graders” who have never met the students and provide a “fair” grade that they think is appropriate.  Another option professors choose is computers… the matrix for grading is entered into a computer program and the program grades the assignment.

So if that’s the case, why do we have to continue writing academic papers which we don’t know how to write in the first place?  Why do we have to learn how to write them if nobody will ever be interested in reading them? (not even our professors)  Something has to change.

The second issue that the author of this book brings up is the question of whether multimedia and multitasking is as distractive to students as educators and parents think it is.  The author says that what seems as a distraction is actually the way students learn today.  I always mention this in my courses as well.  The fast that we can’t “multitask”, meaning watching TV while creating a video on the computer, while chatting with a couple of friends, browsing the Internet, and texting on our phones, does not mean that students of the new digital age can’t do it and do it efficiently.  Learning is not done during “me time” any more.  Students do not need quiet and piece behind a closed door with the TV and computer turned off in order to learn.

A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.

The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

This type of opinion and initiative gives me a lot of hope that things will soon start to turn around.  Education should enter a phase of transition not only in terms of allowing computers in the classroom… we are pass that stage… but in terms of teacher preparation, assessment, collaboration, methodology, even psychology.  I am hopeful that this will become reality sooner than later.

Read more on the topic at the Classroom as Microcosm blog.

August 9, 2011

Choosing instructional tools for: student authoring

by t.e.d.d.y.

What better way to teach students how to responsibly share information than to incorporate an authoring tool into your teaching.  Getting students to create information and place their names as authors is a great way to address a few issues:

  • copyright
  • belonging and contributing to a community
  • sharing true information for the benefits of the community
  • writing skills
  • information literacy
  • digital literacy

…the list is long.  It’s a fantastic method in or outside of the classroom which will engage your students into a collaborative environment which everyone will enjoy.

There’s benefits to the teacher as well.  you will now have more free time and won’t necessarily have to constantly send individual notes with the same information to the whole class.  Think of all the feedback that you need to provide for every class; or instructions for next class.  You can now share links and useful information that your students will be able to access with one click.

So lets explore some options on how to incorporate student authoring into your teaching.

One option that has already been explored and proven successful is setting up a website.  On it you will create content for your students to access at any time.  However, the real benefit is providing the option for your students to blog in real time from the classroom and post their notes on the website.  That way if you have someone who missed a class, they can just go to the website and find all notes and content that they missed without you having to spend time individually with that each person.

Another great way to set up a blog.  Students can access the blog and contribute to posting you or other students made.  The discussion goes on…  You can reset the blog for each class of yours, or for the school year, or make it an ongoing project without erasing any of the notes posted.

Another collaborative tool which is also widely used is a Wiki.  This is a fantastic tool which allows your students to create their own Wikipedia for the class.  The idea is that students will not be just posting on it, but they will be adding and editing pages for the purpose of improving them.  At the end you will end up with the perfect page for the perfect topic that everyone will find useful because it was created based on students’ interests and preferences.

What I have used and find really helpful is setting up a class space on a cloud platform, such as Dropbox.  This space will give you an opportunity to have all course content in a familiar environment to your students as it it similar to a folder they would see on their personal computer.  The difference is, it does not live on a computer, but on a cloud server.  This allows you to share the folder with everyone you want to contribute to it.  So every time a student (or you) adds something, everyone can see it.

Now lets take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the above options.  I will start with the disadvantages because they are not that many.  For example, the first one that comes to mind is that we need to be connected to the Internet in order to access any of the tools.  Another disadvantage may be (I haven’t seen this too much) screening all posts to make sure that what students post is true and useful.  One way to solve this is to set strict rules for posting – sort of a template which everyone must follow.  If the post doesn’t follow the template, you can erase it.  Having these publishing rules will also discourage students from posting “just anything”…  One disadvantage is that students’ comments may make your website, blog or Wiki huge.  When you have people commenting on comments and posts, things can get out of hand.  One way to deal with this is to set restrictions for time and length of posts.  For example, you can close a discussion at 7pm on Friday because on Monday you will open a new topic for discussion.

These are just part of the small issues you may encounter.  However, you should focus on the advantages.  They definitely outnumber the disadvantages.  Here’s what to look forward to:

WEBSITE BLOG WIKI CLOUD
It looks like an official space for your course.  You can upload tons of your teaching materials, handouts, assignments, instructions, etc. in separate pages for your students to access and download.  It takes a bit longer to set up as you may have to use some HTML skills or make sure your template can accommodate the purpose of the website.  You don’t need to update the website that often once it’s set up. The likelihood of your students knowing how to use a blog is really high.  They probably already have their own.  You can upload materials on a blog but remember that its main purpose is to share information which provides for discussion.  Blogs are usually a bit more informal than a website.  They are dynamic and always changing and growing.  They also need to be updated regularly. One of the most favourite tools for educators.  You can share information, upload documents, spark conversation, edit and update regularly easily, your students will be able to edit and update, publish their content, constantly improve the content.  A Wiki is the perfect collaborative and sharing tool for education.  It’s dynamic and all participants are authors which increases the responsibility to share good information. This tool doesn’t take up space on your computer as it lives on a cloud.  Although it has storage limits, they are usually so big that you will never worry about going close to the limit.  Dropbox offers 2GB of space which for a course is more than enough.  This tool is the closest to what you would see on your own computer in terms of interface.  It looks exactly like a regular folder.  It’s very easy to upload materials as it’s a drag and drop function.
July 28, 2011

Change is scary to those who stay the same

by t.e.d.d.y.

How Web 2.0 should change schools’ decision-making on integrating technology

When it comes to technology, the most difficult thing to decide on is what should a school purchase – from hardware to software – in order to effectively support teaching and learning.  The decision is difficult because first the research up until recently shows conflicting findings in regards to the benefits of technology on teaching and learning.  Some authors demonstrate a positive outcome of using instructional technology arguing that it better engages students and provides a more relevant approach to learning that students can relate to.  Other researchers argue that technology has no impact on improving teaching and learning because it is the teacher that essentially provides the guidance and support for the students regardless of the media this teacher uses.  Some of the arguments are that technology can even be distracting to students because it encourages multi-tasking and doesn’t prompt students to stay focused on learning.

However, the biggest blunder when it comes to deciding on technology integration is… yes, you guessed it… cost.  School budgets are always shrinking and never enough for anything else, let alone equipping computer labs and paying software licences.  And because the effects of using technology were so controversial, it is just not justified enough to spend on renewing the technology.  I am sure that if using computers increased academic performance by 40% (or even 20%), school districts would be  more inclined to spend money on buying more computers.  However, that’s not always the case (or at least not consistently).  So what drives the decision to spend on technology?

Well, the picture is not really black and white when it comes to effects of technology on teaching and learning.  First, we have the factor that technology needs to be used properly to be effective.  That’s a strong argument considering that the overuse of Power Point, for example, without any thought put into it creates more confusion than support in the classroom.  So now the question of teacher preparation to use technology comes up.  In other words, we cannot ignore the fact that lack of understanding, or technology, media, and digital literacy among teachers may be the cause for lack of increase in academic achievement.

Second, a factor that drives the decision to spend on technology in schools is keeping up with the times.  Schools are preparing citizens of the future.  The future is close to impossible to predict, but one thing we know for sure is that smart phones and computers aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  In fact, their use keeps growing and the devices become more and more advanced in principle and easier to use in practice.  Think about it… how long did it take you to learn how to use your smart phone?  Did you take a course to figure it out?  Technology nowadays is directed towards the user – it has to be user friendly.  Otherwise it becomes exclusive and loses ground with the common user.  Simply put, if I need to take special training on using my iPhone while there are other products out there that don’t require it, I’ll move onto them and never even consider buying an iPhone.  That example was not very realistic especially considering that exactly Apple changed the way user needs were met by technology manufacturers.  To summarize, schools need to stay relevant to every day life where students live.  This is another substantial argument for continuing to spend on technology.

Of course the pros and cons don’t end here.  The point is, though, decision-making on technology integration has been frustrating, slow, and the least favourite part of a school administrator’s job.  Here’s what the this processes looks like today:

WHAT DO WE HAVE –> WHAT CAN WE AFFORD –> WHAT DO WE NEED = RESULT

Basically, schools go with what they have first.  Whether it’s hardware that is still usable, software which licence hasn’t expired yet and is not too old, facilities to house a computer lab, projectors, screens, etc.  Once they have inventoried everything usable, administrators will consider the budget to see what they can afford.  How much can they spend on purchasing new technology, updating the existing, and maintaining the existing.  Only then, they do a needs assessment – if we have that much money, what can it get for us that we can use to meet our needs?  The result is purchasing more hardware which is usually not the best for the recognized needs but it’s cheaper.  The software usually remains the same.  There is a bit of investment in maintenance and if there’s anything left, teacher training.  In short, we do the same things, expecting different results.

Instead of worrying about keeping up with the fast developing technology, schools should focus entirely on changing the way decisions are made.  They need to change their outlook and approach on integrating technology.  The most important question here is, what can be changed so we have different, better results?  Instead of focusing on the budget and losing sight of the school’s needs, administrators should research the new management methods out there and apply some of them in their own work.  For example, a decision shouldn’t take 2 years to make.  There are way to approach a problem and act on solving it immediately.  When I say school administrators, I mean everyone involved in the decision-making from the school principal to the Ministry of Education.  And when I say schools, I mean educational institutions from K-12 to college and university.  The current process is too slow and heavy.  This is also another reason why schools can’t keep up with the real world – they move too slow.  Anyhow… Instead of starting with what a school already has, the decision-making process should start with what the schools want.  Where do we want to be in the upcoming school year?  The key word here is “want”.  Yes, this is very rarely taken into consideration when it comes to decisions about technology.  If we start with what we want, the process takes a different turn.  Take a look at this new process:

WHAT DO WE WANT –> WHAT DO WE HAVE –> WHAT DO WE NEED –> BUDGET = RESULT

What this means is, we have to consider our goals for technology integration first and the budget last.  Some of you may think I am a bit confused – budget always comes first.  Actually no.  Think of all these small start-up companies that start with $1000 in the bank and in no time grow to be multimillion dollar enterprises.  Yes, schools are different.  Yes, schools are mostly public.  And no, we can’t act as if we are a private company.  That’s all true.  But everyone would agree that the biggest reason why these small start-ups were successful, is because they started with a vision and a goal.  Their goal was far from making millions of dollars.  They had a passion and they acted on it.  You know how Facebook started.  You know what the principle behind open source technology is.  Not money!

So once we know what we want and the direction we want to go, we take a look at our inventory to see if it meets any of our wants.  What do we want to use from the existing inventory?  If all of our computers are in working condition but they are not efficient, then we don’t want them.  There is a difference between “working condition” and “efficient condition”.  If the computers have 512MB memory and are 15 years old, the fact that they work is not enough for us to want to keep them.  If we have Internet in the school but it’s all wired and can only reach 10 of the 20 computers we have and restricts us to a specific room in the school, then perhaps investing in wireless Internet is worth looking into… especially if want our students to use their smart phone for learning.

Now that we know what we want and what we have that can be used, we starting making a list of what we need to get.  What do we not have already that we need?  Needs are referring not only to hardware and software, but also to flexibility of technology, maintenance, technical support, etc.  In other words, what features do we need the new resource we purchase to have?

And only then, we look into budget.  Spending is based on wants and needs combined.  We may have a big budget but we don’t have to spend it all just because we have it.  So the question is not “what can we afford?”, but rather, “how much do we want to spend?”.  Take for example Microsoft Office and Open Office.  The education licences for MS Office per computer is cheaper than the regular package, but it still costs a substantial amount of money.  How about updates?  How about compatibility? If we want to go with MS Office, we can allocate money from the budget for it.  However, if we don’t want to spend that much, we can go with Open Office which is free.  It has nearly the same functions and will do a great job in the classroom.  In short, it will serve our need for text editing, presentations, spreadsheets, etc.  Or perhaps we can use Open Office in combination with Google Docs.  That way, students and teachers don’t have to email or use a portable USB to transfer files they created at school to their home computers.  They simply save their files in Google Docs and open them at home through their browser.

The above example is just a simple picture of what is possible with emerging technologies and how a school can quickly save money on certain aspects of technology integration and allocate it for something more important.  This option is available and possible because of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, smart phones, apps, open source learning, web 2.0 tools, freeware, social media, etc.  In other words, when it comes to decision-making, school have three things to consider and take care of:

1. Hardware

The average price of a laptop these days is around CAD600 if not less.  Schools get special rates too.

2. Infrastructure

Internet, intranet, facilities, technical support, etc.

3. Teacher training

Constant teacher development is essential and pays off immediately.  In fact, new technologies as the above mentioned, are motivational drivers for teachers to initiate their own professional development.  You wouldn’t believe the look on my teachers’ faces when I introduced them to screen capturing.  They were like kids in a candy story hungry for innovation and ready to use everything that’s available to them.

In conclusion, decision-making about technology integration in schools must change.  While we have had a passive approach to decion-making always starting with what we have and expecting improved results, we should start with what we want.  Where are we heading and where we want to be.  In other words, we must take a proactive approach and proactive decision-making process.  The real world where our students will live does not cling on what’s there, but looks towards what is possible.

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