Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NSBA highlights six innovative technology companies that will improve education

The National School Boards Association has chosen six companies to feature at their first-ever Technology Innovation Showcase at their national conference in San Diego April 13-15, 2013.

There are two really positive things I'm taking away from this announcement.  First, it's great to see school boards recognizing the importance of technology in the classroom.  School boards approve the vision and mission statements written by the schools, they approve the technology budgets, and they hire the top administrators in the district who in turn hire good principals who in turn hire technology-savvy teachers. As educators and as technology integration specialists we need the support of our school boards.  Seeing the NSBA showcase technology is a clear sign of their support.

Two, I love seeing technology that can help improve education but is not necessarily a classroom technology.  I love classroom technology.  I love +Nearpod. I love one-to-one devices.  We need more than just content, though. BloomBoard provides technology to improve the teacher evaluation and feedback cycle. Rather than fear evaluations, how amazing would it be if teachers actually looked forward to getting feedback from multiple points of view - principals, department heads, and colleagues - in addition to creating their own personalized professional learning plan? Improving our teaching practices will have an impact on classroom learning just as much as providing better resources and devices, and honestly I believe it will have more of an impact. So I really appreciate the NSBA recognizing that the focus should not solely by on classroom technology use.

Here is the list of the 2013 NSBA Technology Innovation Showcase companies:
  1. BloomBoard – Helping educators grow by providing a free platform to manage the entire feedback cycle for improving educator effectiveness (e.g.: observations, coaching, and individualized learning plans, etc.), connected to recommendations from an open marketplace of professional development resources.
  2. Guide K12 – Using the power of geovisual analytics, districts can look at student data in new ways for the purpose of forecasting, capacity planning, and boundary discussions and get immediate answers to “what if” questions.
  3. Nearpod – An all-in-one solution for the synchronized use of iPads (and other mobile devices) in the classroom that is helping redefine the traditional classroom lecture through interactive presentations and real-time assessments.
  4. TenMarks – An engaging web-based learning environment that super-charges math instruction by delivering contextual help, automatic interventions, real-time assessments, and a personalized curriculum for every student.
  5. VizZle – District Edition / Monarch Teaching Technologies – Committed to providing technology-enhanced solutions that offer districts more effective, yet cost-efficient data-driven tools that support children with autism and other special learning needs.
  6. World Wide Workshop, Globaloria – A blended-learning platform with a results-proven curriculum and educator support system to teach youth to produce STEM games with industry-standard methods and tools to increase digital literacy and global citizenship skills, and promote engagement in STEM and Computing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

OERs vs. online content

Online content is crucial to teachers.  It does not matter if you have just one computer in the back of your classroom or if every student has an iPad 24 hours a day - online content will enhance the teaching and learning in your classroom.

+Edudemic  "How to Find Open Educational Resources"

There are several types of content.  The most common is, put simply, educational content which includes anything you would give to your students to read, watch or listen to.  This will include books/ textbooks, videos, audio recordings, maps, graphs, photographs and historical documents. This group could also include courseware which is typically an all-encompassing, pre-packaged set of instructional materials created by textbook companies like Pearson.  If Apple's iBooks ever hit their stride they will probably the best example of courseware where one iBook focused on a particular topic will include all the text, photos, videos and interactive animations in one tidy location.

(related article: Edudemic: The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools)

Teaching isn't just about providing educational resources to read and watch - good teachers design activities that go along with the resources.  This is why teachers should never feel threatened by technology.  Technology will not take away teaching jobs; it will help good teachers become even better teachers.  Some online resources that will help teachers design their lessons include teaching guides that have been written and tested by other teachers or professors.  Google has a lesson plan search that is still a little sparse but it is growing rapidly.  You can also find practice work which are the activities that your students will complete once after they have viewed the educational content.  You'll have to search a little deeper to find practice work that goes beyond typical review questions and worksheets, but it is out there.

Of course, teachers need a way to distribute the educational resources to their students in a logical and searchable format.  Using a Learning Management System is the best way to gather and present your materials, and LMSs also provide calendars, discussion boards, grade books and online assessments on top of it.  There are many free LMSs you can try, and I recommend you start by trying out +Schoology which is the best overall LMS package available - and it's free.

Curating your material by placing them in folders (by chapters or topics) in an LMS is effective, but it isn't very eye-catching.  Combine other methods of curation with your LMS to keep your students' interest.  A playlist on YouTube, a photo collection on Flickr, or a magazine-like collection on Flipboard are all ways to curate a collection of materials that look great - and hopefully they inspire your students to do the same on a future project.

What is the difference between OERs and online content?

Online content covers all the materials you pull from the Internet to use with your class.  You can use the material yourself and you can link to it so that your students can use it.  However, you do not automatically have the right to copy that material, make changes to it, or distribute it to others without permission of the person who created it.  YouTube is the best example of online content.  It has millions of videos you can watch or ask your students to watch, but most of those videos expressly prohibit you from copying them, editing them, or using them in any other manner.  Of course, there are even some videos that have been posted illegally and as a classroom teacher you are not permitted to use materials that break copyright laws.

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are materials that are written by educators (or educational non-profits) for the specific purpose of using them in the classroom, and the materials are often aligned to Common Core standards.  Most OER providers have a mission of providing high-quality resources for free so that all students in all cities and nations can improve their education. You see the same desire to improve education for all people in places like Harvard, Stanford, and Penn State. Professors in those universities are offering all of the course materials for free. (Check out a list of 700 free courses listed on OpenCulture.)

This is the mission statement of +CK-12 Foundation, a company that provides OER textbooks:

"CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to high quality educational materials for K-12 students all over the world. We offer free high-quality, standards-aligned, open content in the STEM subjects. By providing these free resources, CK-12 is working toward educational equity for all."

I've listed about some OERs on my Delicious social bookmarking page.  Do you like my not-so-subtle use of a curation site to list the resources? It looks much nicer than a bulleted list inside this blog.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Reasons, research and Rogers: Why you should roll out technology in small groups first

Purpose of pilot groups

Why do schools roll out new programs or courses in small "pilot" groups? I would point at two reasons: the decision makers either (a) want to test the programs out first before deciding if the program is viable, sustainable, and worthwhile, or (b) they need key people to lead the way in the first year which will make full-scale adoption over time quicker and longer-lasting.

Agents of change

Many school districts are rolling out one-to-one programs where every student has a computer or tablet, and they are usually doing so with small pilot groups of teachers in the first year.  Are they really testing out these one-to-one programs to see if they work with the possibility of shutting down the program after just one year?  In most cases I would say no.  It's more likely that they are choosing their best change agents and best innovators to help implement the program, improve the program, and spread the message to other teachers so that the program can expand successfully.

A one-to-one program is a huge fundamental change for a school, and for every person excited about it there is another who is deathly afraid of it.  For every person who is mildly interested (but still unsure), there is another who is mildly disinterested (and could care less).  For the one-to-one program to be successful, EVERY teacher will need to get on board.  The entire organization needs to change.

Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation theory

Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation theory is the basis for several different models of organizational change, and it is the theory that is taught in most instructional technology programs at the Masters or Doctorate level.  Organizations will not change until the people within them are ready to change, and those people have differing attitudes towards change.  In a one-to-one program, often the resistance isn't towards using technology but instead it's resistance towards change itself.

Why use small pilot groups?

I am going to apply Rogers' model to a one-to-one technology program.  In the first year of a program you want small test groups which allow you to bring in the teachers who are ready, willing, and able to make things happen.  They are the innovators.  They are willing to take risks, they will not give up when the work becomes difficult, and they will learn from their mistakes rather than speak negatively about their experience.  This is a very small group - only 2.5% of your staff according to Rogers - but it is still the perfect size for your first year.  These teachers need large amounts of professional development, technical support, and most of all, TIME.  Give them time to make things happen.

In the second year you can target the early adopters. This group is still not very large - 13.5% of the staff - but it's still five times larger than your first group.  It allows for continued support of the teachers before rolling out to a much larger audience.  You are now two years in, but you only have 16% of your staff participating.  That is perfect! Do not try to go bigger just because you can.

Your change agents will start appearing with the early adopters' group.  They do not have to be the most excited about the program or the most knowledgeable about how to use technology in the classroom.  A change agent is someone who can get other people to follow them.  They are leaders.  When your change agents try something new, other people will also be willing to give it a shot.

In the third year it is time to engage the early majority.  They make up a large population of your staff who are willing to try something new but they needed to see other people do it first.  There are still many change agents in this group, also, such as level leaders and department chairs. The number of staff members participating in the program has now doubled from 25% to 50% which continues to make expansion manageable. That is one out of two people who are involved and invested in the program and who can help to pull the remaining staff members along.

Before the fourth year you have a choice: either target the late majority (34% of staff population) in year four and the laggards (16% of staff population) in year five, or lump them together and bring the remaining 50% of your school on board all at once.  Some of your laggards will embrace the change eventually, and after three of four years it would be extremely disappointing if they still were not ready.  Unfortunately some of your laggards will NEVER accept a new program and will even go out of their way to try to sabotage it with resistance, complaints, or excuses.

From the very beginning, the leadership team should be assessing where they feel each individual staff member falls on the bell-shaped curve and then create action steps to help shorten the amount of time it will take to get ALL staff members to buy into the new program. Identifying your change agents is also vital to your success.  The sooner you can get your key players involved, the sooner they will be able to bring others with them.

Should the first pilot group be volunteers or should they represent an entire grade level or department?

My district's administrators hand-picked their first small pilot group of one-to-one teachers, with 37 of our 700 teachers forming that first year's cohort (5%) who represented many different academic departments.  Before the second year's group was chosen there was a lot of pressure to simply choose an entire department (like science) or an entire grade level (the freshman class).  We stayed the course, though, and asked for more volunteers for the second year.  An additional 60 teachers were selected through an application process for year two (8.5%), and again they represented all of the academic departments and all of the grade levels. We intentionally chose to spread the program out across all areas and all grade levels.

Expanding the program to include an entire grade level would have made many tactical decisions easier in terms of professional development, collaborative time, data collection, and even just handing out tablets on the first day of school.  Many, many districts choose to roll out their one-to-one programs one grade level at a time.  It's easier, but it does not take into account that an entire department or an entire grade level will not necessarily be ready or willing to implement the program.  Giving the entire math department two days of technology training will give them the skills to be successful, but it won't automatically give them the attitude and motivation to succeed.  In one of our high schools we could have over 50 teachers working with freshman courses.  According to Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation theory, 8 of those teachers will be innovators or early adopters, people who are truly ready to get started.  But there will also be 8 teachers who are laggards, people unprepared or unwilling to participate in the program.  Of course there are still 34 people in the middle looking for a little guidance before they jump in. Pushing out a program by grade level is not advised in the first year.

Even in an elementary school where three or four or five teachers work in the same grade level you would be hard pressed to ever find that all of them are innovators ready to pilot a one-to-one program in the first year.  From a principal's point of view, her fifth grade team might look like the best group to pilot an iPad program.  In reality, even on the best team, there is probably only one innovator and the others are probably early adopters.  The fifth grade team would be a great choice for the second year of the pilot program, but in the first year only one teacher should be in the program.

Keep your pilot groups small

Remember, there are two reasons you need to keep your pilot programs small in the first and second year.  One, you need people who are ready. They must be ready to succeed, and they must help re-shape the opinions of their peers and help prepare them for change. Two, the administration needs to ensure that the pilot group has adequate support: professional development, technical support, and time to work through the problems that invariably come up when trying something new.

(This post was published by +Edudemic on May 22, 2013. Click here to see the re-published article.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

How do your students find free wi-fi? With an app, of course

I would argue all day (really, I would) that having an Internet connection at home is more important than having cable TV.  The Internet keeps us connected, and we need to stay connected to each other for educational and social reasons.  An Internet connection is also way cheaper than paying for cable TV.

Unfortunately, many homes in America still do not have an Internet connection. The website Internet World Stats says that only 78% of Americans are connected to the Internet, which places us 27th in the world.  Did you know that Niue ranks ahead of us?  I've never even heard of Niue!

Americans have two advantages over many other countries when it comes to WiFi: McDonald's and Starbucks.  We have LOTS of McDonald's and Starbucks locations which offer free WiFi.  In fact, many businesses offer free WiFi.  When we rolled out our first batch of iPads to 1,500 students I created a map of the local businesses that offer free WiFi to help show our school board that even if our students do not have the Internet at home that they would still have many options for staying connected.  That map was small and it only covered part of our geographical borders.  Our five high schools serve towns with a combined population of over 200,000 which makes creating and maintaining a WiFi map very labor intensive.

An app called Free Wi-Fi Finder has replaced that small, outdated map.  You can search for free WiFi by entering an address into the search box or by letting it search based on your current location.  It produces a map with the location of free WiFi locations marked with green arrows.  Each location lists the name, address, and phone number of the business where WiFi can be found for free.

A 26MB download of its database will allow you to search for free WiFi even when you are not connected to the Internet.  

The app claims to work in other counties, but my colleague's search for free WiFi in Jamaica, his spring break destination, yielded zero results.  The app relies on its users to enter new locations, so it looks like he's going to have to tag the free WiFi zones for the rest of us when he gets there.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Using Schoology and Khan Academy for individualized instruction

Education is shifting towards individualized, personalized learning for every student.  Students currently in a special education program have their own Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Individual Learning Plan (ILP).  What educators realize is that every student is different and every student would benefit from their own learning plan.  Technology is going to play a major role in creating these individual plans and also in helping our students meet their goals.

Our students - all students - are different from each other.  They have different attitudes, different motivation, different abilities, and different learning styles.  Educators are finding that all students would benefit from lessons and materials that most closely match these differences.

Technology is going to help educators provide an individualized learning environment in two ways.  First, it will provide the backbone for delivering the content and lessons.  Second, it will provide the educational resources needed to meet our students' needs.

Schoology is the delivery system for individualized learning to your students.  It is the backbone of your school.  Schoology is a Learning Management System (LMS) that allows teachers to provide videos, articles, texts, websites, online quizzes, discussion boards , flipped lessons, and review materials to their students in an organized manner.  Schoology also allows teachers, students, and parents to communicate electronically about their teaching and learning.  Schoology provides teachers with the ability to provide differentiated learning materials that meet a variety of learning styles and learning abilities to all students, and it can even let students work at their own pace by opening new sections once a student completes the previous section. Harlem Academy in New York chose Schoology as their LMS, their web site, and their intranet all in one.  It truly is the hub of the school where everything a student needs can easily be found.

Once the backbone is in place, teachers need to provide high-quality resources that are aimed at different age groups, that meet different learning levels, and meet different learning styles.  Open Educational Resources (OERs) are free resources "documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research purposes." There are many individuals and organizations who believe that everyone deserves a high-quality education at little to no cost, and OERs are a way for the whole world to benefit from well-written educational materials.  OER Commons states, "equitable access to high-quality education is a global imperative."

One OER that is making big headlines is Khan Academy.  Salman Kahn began creating video lessons and practice problems on a variety of subjects.  His mission is "to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere."  A pilot program was announced last week for 47 schools in Idaho that will receive a total of $1.5 million to provide teachers with the two days of proper training in using Khan Academy with their students as well as a study to measure the effect it has on student achievement.  This study on the blended learning environment - direct instruction from a teacher coupled with self-guided video instruction from Khan Academy - is being funded by the J.A. and Katheryn Albertson Foundation.

In some instances the teacher will try to "fill the gaps" in a student's learning, but often it will be the student himself who recognizes what he knows and what he does not know and then utilizes the resources provided by the teacher to fill the gaps himself.  Whether a student is trying to catch up, trying to fill in holes, or trying to get ahead, a student will often take that initiative on his own - but the teacher needs to provide the appropriate materials to make that happen.

What is more important, the content used to learn or the way that it is delivered?  That's a subject for an entirely different article.