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Last night I watched the CBS Evening News 30 minutes before it was to air on TV locally. I watched it on my phone. Without advertising.

Last week I called the Automobile Association of America to ask for the best route for driving through the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Finally a woman’s voice said, “Do you have GPS?”

Now there was a long pause on my end of the phone. “Well, yes, I do have GPS on my smart phone. But I was actually looking for a TripTik.”

(For those of you under the age of 30, a TripTik was a map that AAA provided members that contained a hand-drawn route that took into account the weather, traffic and road construction. You requested it by phone and it was mailed to you several weeks later.)

Another long pause on the AAA end of the call. “We not longer provide TripTiks. We do have a free Smart Phone app.”

Ah. Technology. Sure. Even from CBS and AAA.

What do these two events have in common? Both show how two rather conservative organizations have made some remarkable use of technology. Ten years ago it was the exception not the rule when technology was driving big corporate innovation. Now the rule seems to be that you adopt and innovate or die.

And while we used to think that companies were “using” technology, it now appears that technology is driving companies. If you aren’t on Facebook, don’t have positive reviews on Yelp, can’t video stream your content on an iPad and can’t be followed on Twitter, you’re headed for the backwaters.

Which brings me to education and particularly K-12 education. We have a tendency to want to, maybe even need to, twist and bend technology to fit our existing model of instruction. Jam it in there until it seems to fit so I can still stand in front of the class as I teach. There seems to be a general fear that if I give sway to technology, all that I hold near and dear about educational structures and paradigms will disappear.

It is as if the whole world has decided to commute by bicycle and some of us are trying to drive our SUVs on the bike paths.

By the way, AAA, long an opponent of cycling, now provides roadside assistance for bike riders.

 

 

Ten years ago the administrators and a select group of district office staff each received cell phones paid for by the district. At the end of each month the cell phone users trotted into the district office to pay for any personal calls made using the phone. Since almost no one had their own cell phone back then, this awkward situation continued for some time. Eventually as cell phones became more ubiquitous and staff began purchasing better, more full-function phones for personal use, the district dropped the cell phones from the budget. It didn’t make sense to carry two mobile phones.

Fast forward ten years and we’re almost to the same decision point with teachers and computers. As lines continue to blur among desktop computers, laptops, mini-laptops, iPads and smart phones, it doesn’t make sense for some teachers to have to set aside their personal device to use an older, slower, less functional desktop when they come to work. Many of the younger teachers have balked at using the teacher classroom computer and have asked to be allowed to use their personal laptops. Using the personal device means they carry everything on one machine or have access to everything from one machine.

Because of limited technical support and the obvious budget woes of school districts across the country, it isn’t realistic to think that a district would have the resources to purchase and support a variety of devices running a wide range of operating systems. And since cloud computing seems, at least for the near future, the direction technology is moving, it makes sense to let teachers buy and use what they are comfortable with, give them easy access to the Internet and then step out of their way.

Maybe, at least initially, each teacher could receive a stipend ($200) to apply to a personal device. This would save the district about $500 a computer that could be applied to other technologies like projectors, document cameras, smart boards, student computers or just used to offset layoffs and other reductions.

The same rationale could be applied to high school students. Allowing students to bring to school personal devices that they could actually use as part of their education would make the school a place where technology is useful instead of the place where personal technology devices are banned.

There are two key points here: 1) School Districts need to give up the idea that we can control when, where and how teachers and students use technology; and 2) It is critical that school districts begin to stretch the definition of what school is, when it happens and where it happens. Right now some school districts are being dragged, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the real world use of technology where desktop computers, computer labs and scheduled times to use technology are outdated.

For most educators, when asked the question “What do you need to make technology more useful?”, the answer is often “more computers”. But sometimes more computers used in the same old way isn’t necessarily better. Let’s look at a typical high school of 1500 students and three available computer labs. With class sizes of 35 students, there would be approximately 40 classes per period. The three labs would accommodate less than 8 percent of the students. If the school had the room to build three more labs at a cost of about $50,000 not including the wiring and furniture,only 15% of the students would be served.

Spend another $100,000 for six more labs and you’re still serving less than a third of the students each period. Of course, teachers might not need to take students to the labs daily. So  assuming that each teacher would agree to take  her class into the lab just once a week, three labs would serve  less than 40% of the student body. And the real problem with this way of using technology is that computers aren’t used in a real world sense. You and I don’t use our computer from 1:45 to 3:15 on Thursday. We use the computer when we need to use it. If we want to construct meaningful learning, then we have to come up with better ways for our students to interact with technology in meaningful ways.

So let’s try a bit of creative thinking and not assume that more desktop computers sitting in more labs is the answer. So, for a few minutes, turn off the voice in your head that says “that won’t work” and let’s look at some out-of-the-box ideas:

1. Free and Reduced Computers: We do it for lunch, why not for technology? Let’s require that every student own a computer. Those that can’t afford a computer can get a reduced price on a computer. Those who still can’t afford it will get a free one. We’ll use the same form we do for free and reduced lunches. Computers could costs as little as $100 each. If we took 1/100 of the money spent in fighting wars in the middle east.  . . .well that’s another discussion altogether.

2. Encourage Cell Phone Use: The battle to keep cell phones out of schools, or at least turned off, has been lost. Wave the white flag and surrender. Since most students already have these little hand-held computers, let’s take advantage of them. If we don’t somehow blend public education with how students use technology when they are not in school, we’ll be the losers. Let students text homework assignments, use phones as student response systems, and, for smart phone owners, let them look things up on the Internet or post answers to your WordPress site. What about equity? See #1 above.

3. Change the School Day: If we’re preparing students for life as adults, let’s make sure they develop the skills to deal with complex issues. To do that we’ve got to stop compartmentalizing everything. Project based learning works at all grade levels and it allows greater integration of technology than breaking subject matter into finite pieces. Students in grades 9 and 10 might be in an all morning integrated program where science, language arts and math are blended  together with technology around social justice issues. Tenth and eleventh graders are in a similar program around other core content. Computers and other technology would be available for individuals or small teams depending on need, not the time of day.

4. Make the beneficiaries of a Good Education Pay for Part of it: If local employers want a well-educated work force, then make them pay for part of it. Sure we all pay taxes, but let’s up the ante a bit by starting a “buy one get one free” program. Let’s match dollar for dollar contributions by local companies to purchase individual computers for students. The One Laptop per Child Foundation has it right.

So what do YOU think? What ideas can you throw at the wall to see if they stick? What among the 4 ideas above makes any sense and what is off the mark? Any and all ideas are welcome. Comment away and let’s start the conversation. Here’s where more is actually better.

I love WordPress. I currently have five WordPress blogs even though I don’t have enough to say to fill even one. I’m like a kid in a software candy story. Okay, I admit it: I even made WordPress t-shirts. To know WordPress is to love it. Here are the top 10 reasons you’ll love WordPress too:

10. Anyone can learn to use it. I can teach someone to use WordPress in 20 minutes and they’d be happy as a clam blogging away for years.

9. It is open-source. That means it is free.

8. WordPress is a Web-based application so it doesn’t run on your computer. There is no software to download and manage. You can go to a number of Web sites and set up your blog in minutes for free.

7. It’s complicated, but only if you want it to be. The beauty of WordPress is its flexibility. It can be used by the total Web novice or the high end user. There is enough to WordPress to keep the most avid techie engaged.

6. Themes galore! Unlike BlogSpot, you aren’t confined to a limited number of themes and functions. There are hundreds of free themes to download and use. And you can change themes with a click of the mouse.

5. It doesn’t have to look like a blog. WordPress is so flexible that you can make it look (and work) like a Web page but with the ease of managing a blog. You get the best of both worlds.

4. One word: Plugins. As open source software WordPress is available to anyone who wants to develop new features and functions. These plugins and widgets are almost always  free and as easy as clicking the mouse to install. Even a caveman can do it.

3. It’s interactive. WordPress gives you lots of ways to create community on the Web by allowing comments, RSS feeds, user registration, email notification and co-editors and publishers. And, after all, isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about?

2. It’s everwhere. WordPress is one  the most popular, if not the most popular, blogging software packages on the Internet. That means you’ll find discussion groups, new features and help around every digital corner.

1. WordPress makes you the Web master of your own Internet world. You can do it all yourself. Okay, maybe you’ll need me to help you make the t-shirts.

I could be almost anywhere, I suppose, and you could find me. You don’t need to know where I am, just how to get a hold of me. Need some help with your blog? Can’t register for a workshop? I’m right here, just a click away. Two weeks ago I was three time zones away but right here when you needed me. That’s why living on the Internet is so important. And I don’t mean you need to be in constant contact glued to a screen. I’m not a Tweeter and I make just limited use of social networking. Yet I always pack my virtual Internet bag with presentations, word processing documents, blogs, calendars and forms no matter where I go. I don’t leave home without them.

I live in the land of Google. Some might think trusting everything to Google is risky; and you might have a valid argument; but not living in Google means you either aren’t in contact or you have to trust someone else like Microsoft or Sun Micro Systems. I’ll take my chances with Google. I do my writing in Google Documents, prepare and share presentations there and keep track of the world with Google Calendars,  iGoogle and Google Reader.

Living in cyberspace is the way the digital world is headed. And the Oregon Department of Education has figured that out. Oregon is the first state to sign an agreement with Google to bring Google Apps for Education to every school district in Oregon. Google Apps will put us all together all the time. Students will be able to access documents anytime they have access to the Internet not just when the class troops down to the computer lab. Students can share documents, collaborate simultaneously on the same document, give access to teachers, publish to the Web and join virtual classes and meetings. Teachers can even grade papers on Google. Think of the money schools can save on paper, printers and Microsoft Office licenses.

Google Apps for Education is a big step in the direction of the blended school day. Way to go Oregon!

In the early 1990s Web browsers were in their infancy and anything but interactive. Web pages held information, mostly text, and there really wasn’t much to click on. But even with a lot of green screen text and almost no graphics, communities of online users were built and flourished. Here are a couple of personal examples from almost twenty years ago:

I had been working on a database software problem and I was stymied. I went online and found the software vendor’s Web page. I noticed a link to an online forum where you could actually type in your question and others visiting the site could respond. A novel idea I thought; but because it was Sunday afternoon I doubted if anyone would be reading my plea for help. I logged off to continue my struggles. A half hour later I logged on  again to see if I had gotten lucky. And there it was: An answer to my question and a solution to my problem. It was a very detailed but clearly delineated answer. And it came from a person in Sweden.  Today that wouldn’t even make us blink; but back then it amazed me that sitting in Eugene on a Sunday afternoon I could get help from someone half a world away.

Here’s one more example: Three friends and I were awarded a grant to attend a summer institute at Stanford University. We flew to Palo Alto where we saw each other for the very first time. All of our interactions prior to that meeting had been online without the benefit of a Web browser. We had no idea what the others looked like yet we knew each other as friends, helping one through a loss of a job, another with the death of a parent and a third through a divorce.  To say we had built an online community was an understatement.

The Internet can create community and, for better or worse, social networking sites like facebook and My Space are demonstrating that everyday. But there are other communities that don’t necessarily involve the sometimes mindless postings about what we had for lunch. These networks of people often revolve around a common interest, vocation or passion.  And even though most of us would prefer and greatly benefit from face to face interaction, it doesn’t mean that online interactions can be any less powerful or meaningful.

Web 2.0 applications can position any individual or group to create or participate in virtual communities whether or not the participants are in Sweden or Pleasant Hill.

Bethel administrators almost universally agreed that they were not tied to the six hour school day, five day school week or nine month school year. So what would schools look like if we were able to make changes to these often taken-for-granted structures?

As I was thinking through this, it occurred to me that there might a very different way to view how school time is organized. Specifically, we might consider a totally different mind set about when learning takes place. Instead of changing the hours, days or months, it might make more sense to blur the the lines of when school ends and when it starts. Why not make schools 24/7? Could after school programs like KidSports or daycare be a component of a child’s learning? How about weekend activities involving parents? Why do we just give up July and August to summer school remediation? Doesn’t every child need to learn as much as they can?

eLearning.com says blended learning “combines coursework in a traditional classroom (synchronous) setting with an online (asynchronous) component. Students get the sense of community with other students, but are allowed to complete a portion of the coursework independently in a virtual environment.”

Purnima Valiathan defines blended learning as a “solution that combines several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, EPSS, and knowledge management practices. Blended learning also is used to describe learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced instruction.”

But this still makes the distinction between the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom. Why not just call it learning or education no matter where it happens? Although learning beyond the four walls of the classroom is a great match for Web 2.0 technologies, it doesn’t  have to be exclusively a technology environment. Reading to a child, helping with an art project or taking a field trip on the bus could just as easily enhance learning.

If as community members, professional educators and parents we come together  in a community of learning, we can make everyday learners into life-long learners. It seems to be as much a state of mind as a structural change in how children learn.

Blended education might be Bethel Learning Environment Night and Day.

It was when I said, “I was reading something on the Internet about. . .” that my doctor rolled his eyes. He assured me that it wouldn’t help to rely on Internet resources. He had years of experience with diagnosing and treating my condition. Having a lot of information wouldn’t help me, he continued, because what was important was his ability to analyze all the data (he pointed to his head and winked) and then make the appropriate decisions. He might as well have said to not worry my pretty little head about my health. I was stunned.

Are doctors and teachers out of touch?

I needed to be a partner in understanding my health and he was telling me not to bother. Had we had this conversation 10 years ago, even 5 years ago, it might have been more palatable. But with today’s Web 2.0 Internet, physicians have to understand that patients can watch a video interview with an expert from the Cleveland Clinic and post questions she will answer offline. They can join multiple support groups where people with similar health issues can compare care, discuss medications and discover alternative treatments. And we have access to the latest research written for the lay person. My doctor no longer controls information. What he apparently doesn’t understand is that this genie is out of the bottle. Embrace a patient as a partner or be left behind.

This post could have been written by a 16-year-old sophomore and titled “Why My Teacher Doesn’t Understand Me.”  With today’s Web 2.0 Internet, teachers have to understand that students can watch a video interview with an expert in biology and post questions she will answer offline. They can join social networks where students with similar assignments can compare notes, discuss answers and discover alternative solutions. And they have access to the latest research written for students. Their teacher no longer controls information. What teachers might not understand is that this genie is out of the bottle. Embrace a student as a partner in learning or be left behind.

Here are the results of the “What I can’t give up in education” survey from last week. Anything surprise you? If we dropped the items with less than 10 votes, how would things change?

When I was an eighth grader in Spokane, the desks in our classroom were bolted to the floor. The aisles between rows of bolted-down desks were so narrow they didn’t accommodate the 16 mm projector cart. With the projector at the back of the room, the image was about one third larger than the screen causing the top 25% of the picture to show on the ceiling. This lead to some peculiar optical illusions. Our teacher, Mr. Bohanan, managed to adapt this state of the art technology to the less than state of the art classroom furniture.desk

Yes, this was 50 years ago and things have changed. When it comes to technology, as educators we often pride ourselves in how successfully we’ve adapted or adopted a new technology. We manage to twist and push the latest gadget into our classroom structure whether it is the physical structure or instructional framework. And that, at times, seems to be the problem. What if, instead of showing the movie from the back of the room, Mr. Bohanan had the desks unbolted and rearranged or had us watch the movie in the hallway or in the gym? The school structure could have changed to meet the demands of technology.

Fifty years later we’re still showing movies, albeit through a video projector, from the back of the room or from a makeshift teacher station in the front of the room. And our unwillingness to change structure is like bolting the chairs to the classroom floor. Maybe, just maybe, the technology should, at least occasionally, dictate a change in the school structure, not the other way around. It certainly is dictating change in society as we are seeing with smart phones, social networking and online business and news.

So here’s my question: What part of public education are you NOT willing to change? What things can you unequivocally say must stay in place to fully complete our mission. Below you’ll find a short anonymous survey. Take a moment and check those things that are NOT negotiable, that you absolutely aren’t willing to give up. I’d also encourage you to post a comment to this blog to start a dialog around the issue of technology and education.

If Mr. Bohanan is still alive, he’s in his mid 70’s and probably posting on facebook. I’ll have to look him up.